Thursday, 30 June 2011

Swearing in the classroom

One of those grey corners of the EFL classroom for sure.

Under our table seemed like a very appropriate location to address the issue of 'bad' language - we were taking a time out from our planned activities anyway.

To be honest, I actually feel it is quite an accomplishment as a teacher to marshall coarse language. It is a very common feature of everyday discourse, and to suggest that it isn't is to ignore a very large elephant in the room! I actually feel quite proud when my students can let a suitable four letter word go without it clattering around dangerously.

Peoples of Britain circa 600
Birthplace of fruity language?
Now I do not think teachers should set out to actually teach Anglo-Saxon unpleasantries; I doubt few do. More often than not, an adventurous student will experiment with something they heard in the street or playground, pub or TV. Then the teacher needs to use a lot of sensitivity to assess on the spot how to respond...cordon the word off with "Do not break the glass" kind if warning label? Let it go? Take offense? Put it aside & tackle it later (important if you need to find guidance on school policy/keep your job).

The fact that my students and I all selected the very same word from a large and active vocabulary in the same second or two suggests to me we got the balance right.

There were only three more earthquakes during the rest of our lesson, so the challenge was to use different expletives but only if we were under the table! Our trigger event had been a mere M3 - but the epicenter was a shallow half a mile away. Ironic, as at the time I was pulling their legs about enjoying the longest life expectancy in the industrialized world & asking them what they were going to do to save the planet.

While we checked the USGS website & Japanese Met Office for the seismic skinny, it was agreed that I swore loudest but last, as they were already under the table. Score draw?!

It has taken me 20+ years teaching to be comfortable with swearing students, so a few words of caution. Don't go there unless you have to, and even then make sure you know all the parameters of your job description. And make sure the broader picture (the rest of your class) will be OK with where you go on this touchy subject. Whatever you do, don't use bad language yourself  in class.

Context is everything!

Wednesday, 29 June 2011

Helping students be cool!

The sun had been boring into my classroom all day, and even with the windows open & blinds down, it was still a bit of a students turned up looking like sad lettuce leaves too (it annoys me that kids here are not encouraged to hydrate properly - quite the opposite in fact).

One if my favorite examiner training stories that I didn't bore everyone with last weekend was the one about an examiner who wore a suit to examine YLE candidates in the middle of summer in an un-air-conditioned JHS. During the session he lost about a stone in weight and ruined all the flashcards. I'd found a fan in a cupboard but it blew all my flashcards off the table - much more fun :)

Anyway, the boys didn't need much encouragement to find an excuse to use the PC (on the cool side of the room). In this instance, using Quizlet in 'learn' mode to complete their picture dictionaries at the back of their text books. I know it sounds lame, but it is a variation on a theme, recycled 'easy' vocab (which they could read but not spell) and prevented them from simply copying - no learning in that...which probably will come as a bit if a shock to a fair few English teachers in the state system here in Nippon?

As long as the slowest lad was hogging the PC in "boring" mode, the others couldn't have a go at the games. Didn't take long for that penny to drop! "Help" is an underestimated teacher's tool, but one of the best - all the more powerful if peer-provided!

Sooner than he expected, it was his turn to be offering the prompts & being the go to guy. Is that scaffolding? Certainly lots of practice spelling out the words we found hardest!

Examiner training at the International

This past weekend I had the chance to do some professional development at Luna International.

I attended the KET and PET workshop with some other interested parties and have some reflections on its usefulness for teachers.

One of the first things I learned and can take away from the weekend is what the examiner is looking for.
Examiners aren’t looking for mistakes, per se, but rather the examiner is looking at what the examinee can do. As a teacher I sometimes catch myself looking for mistakes, in order to teach my students something. It is quite a different perspective, in my opinion, because it’s a negative versus a positive approach. Initially, I began the day looking at the mistakes examinees made, and ended the day looking rather at what they were able to produce. Sort of a building up, rather than a breaking down type viewpoint.

Secondly, in the PET exam, 2 examinees take the test together and there is a collaborative component. They do their best to describe, and discuss situations together, helping one another while the examiner listens. This is a great example of student talk time. It can be easy for teachers to fill the class time with instructions, suggestions etc, but at the cost of too much teacher talk time. Finding ways to increase student speaking while reducing teacher talking is an important skill and this is a good example of how. With a short explanation and clear materials the examiner is able to set the goal and let the examinees take the center stage.

Thirdly, the examiner is required to follow a specific script. They aren’t permitted to deviate, which at first seems potentially limiting, but in fact employs a solid teacher tactic of sticking to the plan. It can be easy to branch off into tangent lessons, that in the end neglects the plan at hand. The examiner must be prepared, knowing what comes next in the sequence, which is exactly what a good lesson plan is, a sequence of events that the teacher has predicted.

Lastly, I found it interesting that the test is administered by two people, each with different roles. It reminded me of a class I took at university that focused on the design of teaching which employed a team teacher approach. Both teachers offered different expertise, and worked well off each other, kind of like a play-by-play announcer and a colour commentator in sports events. Sometimes two sets of eyes are better than one.
Moving forward, perhaps something that should be explored is the idea of more, and better team teaching in ESL/EFL environments. This is currently being used in various elementary, junior, and high schools, but my experiences haven’t left a good impression on me. Too often the teachers are not in sync with one another, or simply aren't a good match, and for many other reasons. It appears to be a skill that takes time, effort, and co-ordination.

Thanks to all the other teachers that made their way and shared their views and experiences.
- Simon Eden-Walker

Tuesday, 28 June 2011

ijiwaru jimbo's photostream

Co-ordinating scores for MoversListen carefullyPracticing the deliveryStephen picks a point with SueTeam workAnna & Alan in the hot seats
Focus on functionPlanning 'how to'Assessment scales in hand? Check!Ryan & Simon backrowSuitable premises?Monitoring
DSC03281Mario, Simon & StephenLower Main Suite traineesGreg & Sue teamDSC03275Examiners & school owners
Long distance examinersLocals & touristsMike the HatStephen & AnnaMike on the jobAnna & the script

Over the weekend June 25-6 Jim ran a training course for teachers wanting to become Cambridge ESOL speaking test examiners.

Here are some photos from the weekend, which mostly show you how much concentration is involved in this process!

Friday, 24 June 2011




期 日  平成23年8月6日(土)小雨決行(予定)
場 所  市街地中心部歩行者天国内(17:00-22:00)
時 間  踊り時間18:00~21:21(予定)
参加費  当校の生徒様とご家族は無料、左記以外の成人の方は¥1,000 



Saturday, 18 June 2011

My nightmare journey - France

The Eiffel Tower and La Défense business distr...Image via Wikipedia

My nightmare journey was in France last year with my girlfriend and her friend. We went to our friend’s wedding party in Bordeaux. We had some plans to go sightseeing in Paris for two days.

The party was great, and we had a lot of fun. We left our friend’s house and went to Bordeaux airport. We had to arrive one hour before check in time, but we couldn’t, because I remembered the wrong time. Therefore, we missed the flight.

I was so blue in Bordeaux airport. Fortunately, we could get the next flight if we paid fifty Euros extra. We could go back to Paris, and we enjoyed ourselves there!

You can imagine the situation!


Thursday, 16 June 2011

My study partner - Chisato

Chisato looks like a very kind and affectionate lady. She has straight, black, shoulder-length hair. She looks very good for her age.


My study partner - Takeshi

Takeshi looks gentle and humble. He has got salt and pepper hair. He is clean-shaven and looks like a nice gentleman.He looks younger than his real age. He wears blue frame glasses and a dark blue polo shirt. They are good combination.


Wednesday, 15 June 2011

A postcard...from South Africa

Dear Jim et al.

Hello! Hello! to you all from Africa!

It's winter now so a very pleasant 22 degrees C. A perfect day for the beach!

Studying hard with exams just round the corner...

I hope you are all well?

Take care, and lots of love,  Tana x

Saturday, 11 June 2011

You learn something everyday

In my profession, we teachers sometimes lose sight of this little nugget. Taking a personal time out during the day is important. Not with students or parents or colleagues hovering, but a proper moment when we can sit and reflect, rewind through a class as a whole or focus on something that happened.

Nobody will ever accuse me of being particularly deep, but I do try hard to think about my students as learners rather teaching subjects; this often means I "allow" a fair amount of autonomy in my lessons if my students are prepared to haggle a bit! Even the best prepared & rehearsed lesson can come crashing down - built on a misplaced assumption of previous learning or remembering to bring books etc. Very occasionally, you get sideswiped by something so out of the blue you can't get back on track. Inexperienced teachers can let this happen too easily, and digress off into the deep grass ne'er to return, with a lot if floundering & over-talking on the way.

Over the last three weekends I've been examining - Tokyo, Aizuwakamatsu & Nagoya. Protocol means I can't get into an unscripted 'chat', and the class I was teaching on Thursday night was an exam prep one, focussing particularly that night on speaking.

The wheels fell off remarkably quickly. I asked about her lecture last week (not the ubiquitously lazy "What did you do last weekend?" but not far off) to warm up. Before I knew it, she was at the board explaining how she'd had a very exciting time illustrating Fibonacci, with examples from nature such as pine cones, snails & petals...this much I could follow, as I'd listened to a superb radio broadcast ("In our Time" with Melvyn Bragg talking to three experts) 18 months ago.

However, the leap of faith to using the Napier number (he was Scottish, by the way) to come up with a rough estimation of the energy released in an earthquake (topical, here in Japan - and in our class, as we had a minor tremor midway through the week before), was a step too far for this mathematically challenged sensei!

For the curious, here is a rough sketch of how you would use Napier to calculate the amount of energy unleashed. The axes and algebra was explained to this math dummy. Fortunately, my student is a good teacher and I got the gist. A small increase in M (magnitude) = massive difference in energy. I think we have all become armchair physicists lately and know the scale of earthquakes is not linear but exponential? How else to explain that the M9 here on March 11th was approx. 65,000 times more powerful than the M7 (ish) one that clobbered Christchurch?

Anyway, I wanted to share "What I learned this week". Not that Fibonacci leads to Napier which explains earthquakes, but that all of our students have got surprises up their sleeves. Even if we do not really know what they are on about, part of our job is surely to give our students the floor, if they want it. Along the way in our classes not to revisit hoary old stories but to be interesting with useful anecdotes when appropriate to illustrate a point if necessary. But remember, all of our students have back stories too, and likely even more fascinating than ours!

So, what will I learn next week, students?!

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPhone

Friday, 10 June 2011

Flim review - "Gaku"

A mountain rescue team operating at Alpe d'Hue...Image via WikipediaI went to see the movie "Gaku" last weekend. The movie is a large, very successful movie.

The movie is set in the Nagano Alps. The main characters are Sonpo and Kumi. Sonpo is a mountain climber and he loves the mountains. Kumi is a member of the mountain rescue team. This movie is about how important life is. Sanpo tells Kumi what you can't throw away in the mountain. One is garbage, and the other is your life. The sound track was just the right one for the scenes so it was exciting. The scenery was tremendously beautiful and the actors were great. It was a believable storyline.

I have no reservations about this movie and I really recommend it.

Toshiya K

Thursday, 9 June 2011

And then there were 2

Hello all. My name is Simon and I’m relatively new here at Luna, but definitely new to blogging. First post!Add Video

I’ve been here in Nagano for just under 2 and half years. I was lured by the mountains, onsen, and the snow. The summer here is a touch too hot for me, but I love being outdoors. Who’s up for some English under the cherry blossoms?? Oops, we’ll have to wait until next year. I’m more than happy to teach some English on the ice rink, too. I’ll bring the English, you bring the desire and meet you in Okaya!

Thank you to Jim for giving me the opportunity to work here. Also, a thank you to the students for making an effort to learn English, it’ll open doors for you. We’ll do the opening, and you continue the walking through part, deal?

Jim’s been doing all the posting, so I’ll start by sprinkling here and there, hither and thither for some different flavour/flavor, and colour/color. It’s a wonderful, zany world of English out there, isn’t it? Let’s have at it, shall we?

Until next time, Simon Eden-Walker

Wednesday, 8 June 2011

Passive teacher, active learners

These lads have convinced themselves that playing a game on my computer is far more useful than using the book. Suits me - after we have used the book...they do so much more than they'd be prepared to if I was in front of them (rather than being the 'enabler' behind them).

Of course, well-planned teacher knows what they are going to do! Rather than just play a game, on Quizlet this week I added the challenge that they actually make the flashcards as well. I pre-uploaded the images I wanted, and had them type in the text (important to be tough on quality control ie spelling here!)

Job done, we published the set and then tried the various drills/mini-tests/games. Yesterday, two of my students did really well and blasted up to level 7 and nearly identical scores. Yuta gave up with cramp, after he notched 38,000 at level 12! His mates were very impressed, but had helped him with prompts (they felt less able to find the keys quickly enough on the keyboard, but could remember how to spell the words (short /u/ sounds).

Quizlet is great, and we can share it in Edmodo with each of our classes. Two of the best tools available for YLE classes/language schools.

Tuesday, 7 June 2011

Pre-school 2011 starts

Magnetic train
It is a massive shame that we had to let our first intake of immersion pre-schoolers graduate!

More tea, vicar?
They grew out of our schedule, and are now immersed in a mono-lingual environment. Of course, I still see them every week, but no longer free of time restraints.They impress me with how much they can now recall, and their ability to sight read some common words and have a good stab at decoding words phonetically. Clearly, we did something right. I hope the legacy withstands the bombardment of less than great English they will be forced to endure in their more formal educational careers...We did more than 'play with blocks' here (my daughter's stock response when I ask her what she did in her school now).
Building a gate

Eriko-sensei is a very cheerful and charming new member of our team this year. She replaces Naomi, who we wish well and thank for her commitment to "Season One". Eriko will introduce herself here soon, promise.

Eriko has been sat on, cried on, cuddled and dribbled on so far - not, I hasten to add, by me! Our very young recruits are experiencing time away from mummy for the very first time, and we know this is very disturbing. This year, we have more boys than girls, and we expect the dynamic to be quite different. For example, lunch time is already a completely new experience. Everything munched down quickly, no messing or dancing about! Wow, we get an extra 45 minutes to play with...I think games will be more physical than tactile, toys will be tested for their tensile strength rather than admired. I could be wrong - and it is going to be a lot of fun finding out.

Bench jumping
Once the tears subside, we will be able to 'do' more, rather than trying and missing with 'cheer up' activities. Fortunately, going for a walk and exploring our neighbourhood appears to calming. We've already gone on our first butterfly hunt (we found a lot of chrysalis in a holly bush), explored the shrine and trawled the hardware store.All good!

Monday, 6 June 2011

ESOL venues inspected - Tokyo & Tohoku fit for purpose

Tsuruga Castle 1Image by ijiwaru jimbo via FlickrOn Friday night, after ten and a half hours classroom time and a snatched conversation with my wife, I caught a few hours sleep on the sofa before catching the early bus down to Tokyo. I was standing in for one of our examiners who was unable to change his own schedule this morning. These things happen. I got a really stiff neck sleeping awkwardly on the bus :(  Should have taken the train.

My English friend Tim arrived at King's Road just as I got there, and we found school owner Trevor looking a bit more serious than usual, but professional as ever. It was soon obvious why - an inspector from Cambridge ESOL had turned up to monitor the venue's performance today. These are unannounced spot checks to make sure all the rules &  procedures are being followed. We welcome this quality control, as it is very important that the Cambridge ESOL brand is kept unblemished. It is important for our candidates as well as venues to realise that there are very high standards that have to be maintained. I sometimes think the inspectors could be a little more sensitive to the exams supervisors on what is already a very stressful day, though. Bit of a bull in a china shop.

Anyway, everything was very much under control. Tim and I conducted speaking tests for candidates at PET and then KET levels,as we had done together back in November (although then I'd lost my voice & was unable to interlocute!). He is very warm with the candidates which I think is important, as it helps them relax - something I need to remember.

An equally early start to Sunday, as I had to pick up Disco Paul to drive up to Aizuwakamatsu in Fukushima prefecture (about 100km west of Fukushima city). We made good time and could have a well-earned breakfast in Denny's before finding Stephen Holland's lovely little school up the hill. He already had the kettle on when we arrived, and he gave us a guided tour of Cambridge ESOL's newest venue in Japan; Windmill English Centre is the first to offer Cambridge ESOL examinations in the whole Tohoku region. Coming so soon after the uncertainty wrought on the region by events March 11th & subsequently by TEPCO, I think this is a marvelous example of commitment. Stephen's description of how strong the earthquake had been made Paul & I shudder - and we were still 2 hours+ drive away from the coast. So, hats off to all the school owners who have stuck it out,  the often under-appreciated, unheralded 'local' foreigners a who are going about business as usual without any fanfare. Paul & I felt the very least we could do was be there on time and show Stephen's students that they could expect the very same standard of assessment here as anywhere else in the world - London, Buenos Aires or Athens.
Olivia Newton-John at the Grand Opening of the...Image via Wikipedia
Annoyingly, Paul knew that Olivia Newton John was No.1 in Perth (WA, Australia) in December 1981. Don't ask how he knows - he just does! We were listening to a radio station from Perth on my iPhone as we drove back, trying to predict what the Top 30 would be. Disco Pants is rarely wrong! Good company for the 737km round trip today - 1,200 for the weekend.

Last word for all the candidates who took KET & PET this weekend - wish you the best with your results, which will be available online soon. Please remember to check your log in details.