Saturday, 30 April 2011

Yamaga send Parceiro packing

A rare treat for me to have a Saturday afternoon 'free', and to spend it at our local football stadium (Alwin) watching Matsumoto Yamaga tackle bitter rivals Nagano Parceiro.

The gale force wind brought sleet as well as accounting for most of the action taking place at the away end. No matter; Matsumoto's team did the job.

Getting a hard-earned equaliser just before the break gave the 'Gans belief that with the considerable gale at their backs second half, all would be well...took nearly all the 45 minutes to grab the winner but grabbed it was, and all the wind fell out of Parceiro's sails. Good enough for a step up? We'll see.

Crap public transport links and woeful parking/access makes the Alwin "Stadium" a bit of a joke, especially as it is nearer Shiojiri than Matsumoto. Complete lack of policing makes the traffic situation increasingly annoying.
BovrilImage via Wikipedia
I'm off home for a Bovril.
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Thursday, 28 April 2011

Experience lesson - Jim can do toddlers lessons!

Old Jimbo doesn't get in many class photos...

Yukari's "one coin" policy is proving popular, and also a lot of fun. Our nice big classroom is a very bright, warm and adaptable space. Today it became a bus, as we sang ourselves silly a la "Wheels on the Bus". We used Devon's version to prime everybody, then the full speed version to get the juices going (if you have an iPod Touch/iPhone/iPad, get yourself this as an app from Duck Duck Moose - and while you are at it get all their other apps - your kids will absolutely love them!)

The average age of our initiates was one and a bit years old, and all of our mums were keen to join in too (important!). Jim made sure they did, doing the gestures to other songs like "How's the Weather" and participating in "What's the time, Mr. Wolf?" Mums also had the chance to meet Simon and Eriko, who both wanted to join in the fun.

And a quick note: Jim is not "Employee of the Month" - Yukari is.

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Wednesday, 27 April 2011

Bad witches - excellent warlocks

 My lads are startlingly good at recognising patterns...because I have given them time to see them, and argue about them (and these lads DO argue!) and been consistent. Sean Gallagher (Happy English Club) in Nagoya has meetings with his teachers to keep them consistent (phonetically) which I think is tremendous.

In the course of our text book enquiries (English Time 3), we came across the way we need to add a syllable to some words when they get an 's' on the end.No real need to explain the 'why' (as usual) just "That's the way it is" (sorry Bruce Hornsby)

They key to any learning is making it your own - shifting it from your book into your head, from your classroom into your bedroom etc. I still don't think OUP have realised what a Titanic-sized contribution the Story Tree (yes, that's right, the Story Tree, not the relaunched Reading Tree) has to offer EFL. It so kicks ass for me!

Consider this wonderful "coincidence". At the exact same time my chaps have stumbled across this extra /IZ/ sound in our class books, we are reading "Castle Adventure" featuring some nasty pasty witches and a wicked collection of extra /IZ/ sounds. Believe in coincidences?!

No, me neither! Colour-coding certain grammatical highlights is something I occasionally ask my students to do (a 2D version of Cuisenaires if you like), but it also works for contrastive sounds. Today, blue for no extra sound (no matter /s/ or /z/) or red if the word got longer (an /IZ/ sound). They'd been asked to listen to the CD and get familiar with the story. Yes, extra to homework assignment; when we have only an hour together  every week...we won't pick up much English 48hrs a year. Anyway, today read the story back again with red & blue pencils primed. Weaker students, we'll do this with the CD and stop a lot! Then, we read it together.

Follow up? Subliminal of course (but we can always go back to our red/blue page/reader!) To finish off before the Golden Week Holiday, and to motivate them to finish the last book in the bundled pack in one go...we jumped onto Quizlet and bettered each others' "scatter" times with vocab from the last unit we had finished (find all our work there "lunateacher" or "lunajim")

Wake up OUP - we adopted Story Tree to because our YLE candidates were not doing as well as we wanted in their reading/writing paper. Reading Tree is fun, but aimed at native speakers - the Story Tree is already there. And so are my students :)

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Sari - my name means "Honeymaker"


We are going to miss you - but HELLO London!

I am always very happy when we lose students because they are chasing their ambitions...super sweet Sari is ditching a good job, career, friends, to chase her dream and to study in England. I am so proud that at Luna we have helped her get there - and that she has proved to herself she has spent her time and money wisely by passing FCE in December.

Tana, take a bow.

Now, a condemning word to Japanese men. WTF are you guys not doing? Answer: Nothing (as opposed to recognising a total babe and making her stay home). Warning to London; smart psychologist, driven & determined achiever, fabulous personality and somewhat hot...please make an orderly queue!

Disasters in Japan

神奈川沖浪裏 Kanagawa oki nami ura ("The Great ...Image via Wikipedia

 Japan has many volcanoes, for example Mount Fuji and Mount Asahi.

Japan has many earthquakes too.

There was a huge earthquake at Tohoku on March 11, under the sea at 2:45 pm. People were at work and schools. After the earthquake a tsunami was produced and it was 10m high. The wave traveled very quickly and it hit the coast.

The tsunami broke a lot of buildings. About 27,000 people were killed, and many more people were injured. The people who were safe ran to the schools. About 500,000 people were made homeless.

Tōhoku region, JapanImage via WikipediaThere is a fuel and food problem because everything is broken. There is also a bigger problem at Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear power station which had some explosions. For me it is very scary.

My dad went to Tohoku and he gave medicine to the survivors.

by Tomoro (11)

Apostcard from...Indonesia

Yukari, Simon & Tomoko & all our students!

I've had a very quick trip to Indonesia - I spent more time flying than actually in the country! I enjoyed my presentation but had to sing. Indonesian people are lovely - always cheerful, just like me. The language is easy, and I can read more Bahasa than Nihongo. I'm transitting in Singapore, and I arrive in Osaka tomorrow morning.

I am sure you are not missing me?!

Do your homework, play nicely and share the toys!


Testing children - a day in "How to"

 On Sunday I was in the delightful company of some very dedicated teachers of children, for an entire day of teacher talk and child-focused assessment. I reckon I can tell within five minutes of practicing with materials/script if a trainee is going to be a good examiner or's all about how they can/can't chew gum and walk at the same time - in this case read a script accurately and manipulate a few flashcards.

OK, so that sounds easy, doesn't it?!

Without a lot of classroom experience, a teacher as examiner will fumble the cards every time, guaranteed. It is crucial that examiners get into a good routine, so that they are able to maintain their teacherly, cheerful, encouraging personality with the (young, nervous, non-native) candidate. The candidate does not need to see the strings the examiner is pulling, but be put into a relaxing, smooth, flowing little mini-lesson. Remember the child's name & use it; don't repeat answers (so take off the 'teacher hat') or make judgmental comments; don't panic or speak too fast; smile, nod, keep your elbows in etc.

Every new examiner comes to training expecting to be shown how to assess; few actually realise the key role of the examiner is to actually set up the candidate to perform. "The script, Michael, it's all in the script" (with apologies to Kenny Everett). In YLE, particularly Starters, candidates are most likely taking their very first genuine English test - certainly the first one with an 'unknown' person assessing their speaking. This is truly intimidating, isn't it? A good examiner will have a child in and out of the examining room an a wave of positive vibes and chuffed with "Can do" vibes. And why not? Seriously, why shouldn't a child enjoy showing off their skills?

So a large part of a regular morning, for me, training new YLE examiners is a bit of boot camp - stripping back the teachers' habits and tics until we get to polished rubric delivery. Nothing more, nothing less. Pictures in the right place, at the right time. Heads up focus on candidate, know what you are going to do next. Have the back up question at your finger tips if necessary, and use it appropriately. If you are not looking at the candidate, you will miss their facial reactions to questions. As an experienced teacher, these are the signs we recognise day in, day out, about perception/reception. This is what our examiners bring to the table.

The 'other half' of the examiner's role is the assessment bit. Importantly, examiners must get into the routine of couching their assessment, comments, interpretations of performances to Cambridge ESOL's assessment scales.

"I think that boy had a bad accent" or "That girl was so sweet", "That boy couldn't say 'elephant' " or "That girl wasn't very good"....and similar reactions to sample videos have no place in our "Can do" analysis. Candidates are not penalised for mistakes they are making if they try to extend an answer, they are not penalised for offering a different answer than the one scripted (which is merely a suggested answer), they are not penalised for 'sounding French' or not 'looking as cute as the Italian girl' etc.

On Sunday my new team coped with the ridiculous situation where the school we were expecting to conduct training at was locked up. The school was completely unaware of the plan. Not good. Thankfully, after a subway ride to Lesley Ito's school in the city and a late start, we did  eventually manage to tackle our three levels (Starters, Movers & Flyers). Thank you all for keeping the faith, and for accepting the cramped facilities for viewing the DVDs - Kim was half in the fridge! I was very happy with my new team's performance...they took in what they were asked to do, and accepted my (mostly) constructive tips! Experience will out, and today we had a fine talent pool to draw from.

Well done Kim, Bonnie, Alex, Andrew, Cora and Lesley. Thank you all for making your journeys and for being flexible; thank you Lesley for taking us in and for lighting the YLE flame in Nagoya. Who's next?!

PANSIG Conference abstracts

Donna FujimotoYoshifumi FukadaYong MiYoko UzukiTim NewfieldsThomas H Goetz
Theron MullerTed O'NeillTara McIlroyTamaki ShibuyaSarah BirchleySamuel Crofts
Robert ClaytonRobert Calfeepress releasePhilip McCaslandPeter WannerPeter MacDonald
Peter HourdequinPANSIG boardNozomi TakanoMiyoko OkazakiMegumi Kawate-MierzejewskaMartin Pauly
PANSIG abstracts, a set on Flickr.
Over the weekend May 21-2 my local bunch of professional colleagues, in the guise of Shinshu JALT, are hosting the PAN-SIG (Special Interest Group) Conference.

There will be no less than 140 presentations from specialists in all corners of EFL classrooms; foreign and Japanese situations and in English AND Japanese. Real time translating will be available for many presentations, and an effort has been made to concentrate Japanese presentations relevant to JHS/HS teachers.

I have had a few late nights playing with every single word of every presenters' abstract to produce something called a word cloud. Very coolly (but please don't ask how) a canny bit of software generates an image with the text you have chosen, and recognises which words are used the most frequently. The more commonly a word had been used, the larger it presents in the image.

Can you see a common theme running through the images? I hope so....but if you can't, ain't no thang: shed some cash and come the conference. Cheaper than twitter & so much more fulfilling. You do not have to be a teacher to enjoy this "teachers talking about teaching English" fest - I really wish a lot of our parents will be interested enough to come. Anyway, check out the art and make a bee-line for Shindai if you are remotely interested. I would really appreciate any sharing you'd care to do to make sure we get a great turn out as well.

Via Flickr:
What is coming to Matsumoto May 21-2? A whole lot of English teachers to talk about their niche interests, share ideas and make new professional connections. What are they going to talk about?

Tuesday, 26 April 2011

Milking it - getting the most out of resources

 New teachers often find it difficult to extract the most out of students/materials, as they are nervous about ending up boring students. A commendable concern, and problem is filtering out all the things I'd like to try so that we can actually move on from time to time! The phrase 'milking it' is something I like to do - squeeze all the activity you can out of the materials & time you have. Sometimes having a cast iron lesson plan can get in the way of realising a fabulous opportunity when it presents yesterday afternoon.

We had a precious five minutes left and I wanted to review some of the vocab we've probably forgotten from earlier in the book. First off, we tried recent words we've picked spelling the word on our partner's (ticklish) back. They loved it. I only usually do this with younger children, and then only letters, but this worked at word level. The 'readers' concentrated very hard on the tracing on their backs - much more than usual - and I am sure they were 'seeing' the letters in their minds, remembering order and then trying to fit that pattern to a match from memory. As they got the hang of it, and recognised their 'writer's' touch, we went back into previous chapters for a bigger challenge. Very rewarding and I said nothing!

Prior to that we'd read one of the songs in the back of our book (English Time 2). I like doing this to help reinforce their confidence and speed things up a bit by taking turns (line by line) or recording/timing them. Using the music last in this way helps them relax - it's not a singing class! (I do like the music as well, especially as it makes them stick to a faster beat than they normally adopt, and they have to keep up...can't false start/correct yourself - plunge onwards to the end! Anyway, the final step for them today was to cross out the icky food from the song and replace with their own preferences. Again, not much input from me!

Now they own the song and are much more likely to want to sing it - in pairs to help each other out, we now have three versions for the price of one. Good work girls!

Reducing TTT (Teacher Talk Time) was something I was reading about here and it is something I consciously try to do less of myself. Sounds contradictory to some parents, who think if their children have an "English shower" then they'll learn by osmosis or something! Kids learn off each other...I just facilitate.