Sunday, 31 July 2011

Key words

During a snooze break in pre-school, I found a new toy to fiddle around with my photos on my iPhone. This is unusual - I usually fall asleep as well, ha! ha!

Saturday, 30 July 2011

The New House - graded reader on Voicethread

Room to grow

 We were just messing around on Friday, in pre-school, crayons and scraps of paper. Shige was busy drawing his hands, then his feet (think his mum will be happy he took his socks off first)!

Simple is best, and I think this effort a tad spiritual?

Which is odd, as I am not a spiritual kind of guy. I love everything this little picture says though.

Young Learners - in Fukushima, Niigata, Yamagata

We are delighted to announce that children will be taking their Young Learners examinations in the above prefectures on September 11th

Last month we hosted a YLE training session at Luna, with teachers coming from very far and wide to make sure this event would be viable. Hats off to Mario from Sendai, Ryan from Yamagata, Stephen from Aizuwakamatsu, Mike from Sakata, Alan from Ojiya, Anna from Ueda for the miles you covered. They will be on the road again to conduct the speaking tests...

So, which are the very good schools where these exams are on offer?
What is the connection with all these schools? Well, they all have very committed, professional owners who recognise the importance of internationally bench-marked examinations which are suitable for their young students. Jim knows these owners pretty well too, having met them here and there at JALT/ETJ/publisher events over the years. So, if you teach kids up north and want to prove how well your students are doing, why not get in touch with the nearest venue - they are still accepting external entries. Hurry, hurry!

(Want to become a venue? Want to become an examiner? Drop Jim an email)

Friday, 29 July 2011

Introducing our pre-school teacher - Eriko

 It's about time we talked about Eriko!

Who is she?

She's our very own, properly qualified teacher who has joined us to co-teach our immersion pre-schoolers this year. How come you haven't heard about her yet? She's very good at avoiding the limelight, and very good at looking after our tiny ones. No drama, no shouting, no panic...sensible, organised, and lovely (cute!)

So how are our young gentlemen responding? As you can see, they are already picking flowers! What else are they up to? Well, more or less stopped crying as soon as they enter the building - Eriko's shoulder has been a damp place so far. We have been building stuff - but bizarrely more intent on cleaning stuff up (must be a world first that Super Simple Songs' most popular song is the 'clean up' one?)

We've tried the big guns - our rather large case of Lego: Zoo of Champions! The even larger 'castle' - we can build it like Bob the Builder and it comes down even quicker (and harder!). Magneto things - half the room long.

How about reading a book or doing some drawing, tracing, colouring? Uh uh?! No thank you! Diving into every box that we have within arm's reach and flicking every switch (fan, fish tank, PC, CD player etc? Oh Yes! Chucking things (projector on the wrong shelf) and eating lunch as fast as possible? Grabbing the camera and taking control of the DVD player?

Eriko is super patient and quietly in control of things; it is very reassuring for us that she is very good indeed with little children and does not panic. Her teaching background is quite obvious, too. Quick nappy change? OK. Spilt a drink? OK. Lego everywhere? OK. Having her nose pulled? OK.... I think we got lucky! Why not come and have a look for yourselves?

Saturday, 23 July 2011

Who held Havelange's gongs, Nagano 1998?

Before Jim could join the evening's social event - the nomihodai at the beer garden with some of our adult friends and students, he was soundly thrashed at Scrabble by Misaki-chan. Looks like we'll need a bigger table next time? Well done Misaki, but please remember to give your brain recovery time as well (not from the game, from your exams swotting).

As for the beer garden, it looks like they have changed their employment policies, and gone for the oldest, slowest, most hassled looking snaggleteeth they could's very awkward drinking against the clock on a hot evening with every intention on enjoying yourself when you feel bad asking someone's granny to hurry up with those beers you ordered ten minutes ago, and feeling even worse when she does eventually totter along and they look like lead weights for her to carry - and they're only half-full. What do you do?!

Well, make the best of it and deploy several 'waitresses' with multiple orders, and snag any stray beers on the way past as well, just in case. By the way, I can't see why we 'have to' order food to qualify for the beer. First of all, it's crap food. Second, if I wanted food I'd go to a food garden, not a beer garden. Shoe shops don't make you buy socks, do they? Whinge, whinge, Jim?

They tried to overcharge us! They tried to throw us out 40 minutes early (and our first order took 15 minutes to arrive! The oyaji owner bowed at who? Jim booked the table! Snarl!

The beer, when it arrived, was cold enough and easy to finish (as the glasses were not full!) we soon discovered Nunung's secret occupation, Naomi's secrets, Yumi's secrets, Tomoko's secrets, the colour of Simon's underwear...and absolutely nothing about Swedish girls hitch hiking in Australia :)

We must do this again soon (different location, perhaps?) - before Bon Bon we hope!

*Answer to the title question = Yumi, delivered all the Gold medals during the Winter Olympics on a cushion for President Crook.

Thursday, 21 July 2011

Using Voicethread with graded readers

It is possible, if you work frantically, to have a full scale Voicethread production of a graded reader, such as OUP's Story Tree orange level one seen here, up and published in an hour.

We did not get into this 'cold'. Students have been asked to listen to the CD and to read along at home. This is not homework as such, but our efforts at an extensive reading programme. A book a month is a very gentle commitment I think!

We have also 'milked' this source heavily - it is full of verbs in the past tense - regular and irregular - which we have worked on previously eg using a word cloud to retell the story as best we could & to find the verbs in their past form > write the present tense form. We have also identified how to pronounce the three different /ed/ endings (from the CD).

I gave my boys the camera and asked them to find some of the main 'ingredients' in our story. Those things we couldn't photograph we drew quick pictures eg museum & shop. The students were assigned characters to speak for (reading ahead skills) and then Jim's quick keyboard skills were needed to find the right images/press record etc. We were against time pressure so we did not go back and edit - so what you hear is very much what we did. Pauses are there when someone wandered off thinking they'd finished!

Image representing Edmodo as depicted in Crunc...Image via CrunchBaseI hope you'll take a few minutes to follow the link over to Voicethread and leave a comment yourself for us (or leave us a note here). Personally, I think this is a lovely (free) tool that teachers should be able to exploit easily for this kind of personalisation. Involves everyone in a production that would otherwise stay 'hidden' in the book. Performing brings out the characters and imagination, and a lasting finished product is something they can share & go back to with pride. All our classes work is linked for parents to discover on Edmodo too, which if you have not thought about using for classes yet, I'd take a look. We love it!

Wednesday, 20 July 2011

Facebook in the classroom

I whinged a while back about the situation I found myself in which resulted in the dismal classroom experience which the image (left) illustrates...not much happening. Nothing to see here. Move along. Bell will ring in 45 minutes. Avoid getting noticed or saying anything. Just scribble in the spaces, it won't get checked or corrected - or even read. This is the before picture.

It was explained to me that the students here were 'all failures', so don't expect much. For a moment that shocked me, but then I remembered my context. There are other schools around with bigger reputations, and there is a definite pecking order in this country. This is reinforced by the ridiculous nature of the entrance exams system, and the 'educational' infrastructure of jukus etc that hover around the honey pot. What an awful realisation to be presented with before you even start HS that your prospects are in tatters. Not very hard to understand the "Why bother?" mood in the room then.
Breaking the ice

I went to a really crap school in Worksop (Nottinghamshire) in terms of academic results - mostly as a result I'd say of the socio-economic background of the catchment area. The two other schools which shared our playing fields were worse. I had good teachers who gave a rat's arse though, who had not given up on us. They certainly didn't fob us off with the helper (there wasn't one). The PE teacher helped me overcome the bullying and gave me opportunities I'd never had before.

So, I don't think schools are crap here...I just think they are stuck in the slow lane, hazard lights on with a flat tyre and a dodgy radiator. Is this going to change anytime soon? Well, it hasn't done so yet in the 20+ years I've been here, so why be optimistic? The system does not motivate teachers, after all. To continue the banger analogy, keep to the kerb, don't do anything sudden and you'll get there in the end.

Now we're talking
Unfortunately, teachers have never been given any specialised pre-service (or in service) training to teach English professionally/competently. Plenty is available, I hasten to add, through workshops constantly put on by publishers, ETJ & JALT etc, but this is not formal and given short shrift. It is also too late. Modern EFL instruction should be dealt with in colleges & universities by default, and preferably with a work experience in industry or even better, overseas. And while you are at it, promote a formal qualification to prove competence in core skills. And why not boost those English language skills too? Win win? Re-boot the AET/JET program to be a formal job exchange for novice foreign language teachers with study time & performance improvement expected. Come back culturally aware, linguistically competent and professionally fit for purpose.

In the last few weeks I have been 'left to myself' in my particular classrooms. This actually means my oppo has relinquished all responsibility, but that is a separate (and serious) issue. From a practical point of view, I am unencumbered and the students likewise freer to express themselves a bit.
This is the 'after' photo
  • We have managed to (mostly) escape from from 'eraser hell'
  • standing up does not induce vertigo-like chair clutching
  • boys actually talk to girls, and vice versa
  • sleeping is no longer 'a hobby'
  • Japanese is not L1 teacher talk
Our last classes together this term (I am not invited to the school festival, school trip, etc) was a rewarding break through kind of a day. The maths teacher was still in his chair in the teachers' room five minutes after his class should have started with 'my' lot...I'd already said 'Cheerio' and formally left the room (no team bow, at last), but I wandered back in because they were still on task, working hard and having a giggle.

The idea came from a couple of sources, including the frustration that we are not allowed to use mobile devices...for example, I am thinking that a 140 character limitation is an excellent 'ceiling' for shy/unconfident learners. Previous classes had revealed that some 'surfed the internet' as a hobby (besides generic 'sleeping', for crying out loud!). One student nearly fell over when I said I did know what 'twitter' was. The actual plan comes from Cambridge University Press, the excellent multi-level photocopiable resource "Teen World" - 2.1 'Teenspace'. Not very achievable in 45 minutes but worth a dab. As I said, we ran over (mostly because getting started with hangman took forever). By the end, the students were very keen to see what their friends had produced as an analog 'Facebook' page, and were jostling to get their comments scribbled and glued up on each others' 'message boards' (they had 8 slips to get rid of, signed, one per page). They were tasked to react to something different, so first come first served. eg "I live in Hata too", "I hate AKB48 and shopping too", "I'm also hungry".
On task, motivated and achievable

Useful teacher tip regarding the 'friends' section - suggest banning names of people in same class or even school - makes it less cliquey/room to upset those less popular.

Given the chance, I would like to continue this exchange on a 'safe' SM site such as Edmodo...

Monday, 18 July 2011

Word Trek - phonics game

I dug up an old game ("Word Trek" from Early Learning Centre)I've not used for a while yesterday, and my girls had a lot of success with it. Taking random cards, with common object pictured on them, the challenge is to find the two halves of the words by moving around tiles on the board. The dice only goes up to three, so a bit of strategy is required.

We played the 'harder' version, with long vowel sounds, which is just right for the work we are doing in class. After we got started there was not much need for me to get involved, other than repeating how words were pronounced. I didn't correct mistakes - they could check once they thought they had the word spelt out. Correct, move on to the next word. Wrong, start again (next time I think we'll change the card and start again).

Saturday, 16 July 2011

Monkey see, monkey do!

 Just want to share some cool pictures from my cheerful Friday class, who don't need much encouragement to mess about - mostly constructively! These days I've been giving the camera to the children, as I'm interested in their perspective - interesting to see what the classroom looks like from where they're sitting.
 Last week we were putting together a song about "What can you do?" and found that the more silly we made it, the more they got into it. They particularly liked calling each other out at the beginning of a verse or pointing at me "Jim-chan, Jim-chan, what can you do?" The nominated person then has to tell three things they can do with a mime/gesture before the music goes to the chorus. They kept picking on me!

Last week I also asked them to come up to the front to read their original bits of homework. With the camera being traded they were all keen to have a go and get a Hi-5 shot for good work. Very motivating & competitive!

The motivation for this idea of giving the camera away came from two   stories I read recently. One was about children in the slums of a west African city being given cameras to chronicle their day. No training in how to use, just point & shoot. Another article that caught my eye was of an anthropologist letting his monkeys under study take his camera & do what they could with it. Funnily enough, they took pictures of him and their mates...naturally!

Friday, 15 July 2011

The Long Road - Terry Fox

The official Terry Fox memorial statue at Thun...Image via WikipediaWhere does Terry's "Marathon of Hope" start?
  • Terry's ''Marathon of hope'' started at St.John's in Newfoundland in Canada, on April 12, 1980.
Where does the marathon finish?
  • The marathon finishes at Port Renfrew in British Columbia, 5,300 miles away ( 8,530km)
Why does Terry run the marathon?
  • He runs the marathon to get money and to stop his pain from the cancer. Now he has an artificial leg.
Why does he stop?
  • He stops at Thunder Bay in Ontario because he has a bad pain in his lung.
When is the first Terry Fox Run?

  • The first Terry Fox Run is in week three of September, 1981. It brings $3,500,000 to the fight with cancer. Today , there are Terry Fox Runs around the world

Posted for Tomoro (11)

Wednesday, 13 July 2011

Gadgets in class

A stack of the iPods I now own... included are...Image via WikipediaA tweet from @markbarnes19 last night caught my eye. "ROLE Reversal: Why aren't we using gadgets in class?"

Here is the link to the article - which asks a simple question: as 75% plus of children are using iPods etc, how come teachers aren't?

SAN FRANCISCO - SEPTEMBER 09:  Apple CEO Steve...Image by Getty Images via @daylifeMy own experience at a high school in Japan is that students' own tech is forbidden in the classroom - phones are actually collected up and locked in a cupboard in the teachers' room. I asked if we could engage the students using their phones to write each other messages (in English, as part of our writing course) and was looked at with a mixture of condescension and horror...the foreigner asking extremely dumb questions again variety of look. So, the chances of getting their gadgets out are very remote indeed. And there goes a fabulous opportunity to engage the students on their terms. 

Another year of students will graduate without realising the wonderful potential of the technology at their fingertips - beyond gaming and MP3 players. Fail.

Do we use gadgets at Luna? Not as much as I'd like - I would personally like to see all of our learners using apps, songs, audiobooks etc on iPod Touches, but the expense is a big ask in the current economic climate. We do use our own iPhones/iPads to showcase certain apps that we like/recommend, and they are genuinely useful and educational. Sadly, a lot of teachers are technophobic/still got chalk in their hands...

Thursday, 7 July 2011

What? No books?

Martin Sketchley writes interesting morsels on his blog ELT Experiences and shares on twitter as @ELTExperiences.

Recently I came across a brave video of him teaching his class with his pants down - not literally, I assure you...but for a lot of teachers not having a table to lean on or a book to prop us up, 'dogme' means the same thing. Dogme is a bit of a buzzword at the moment, and seems to be the Marmite opposite to Web 2.0. You either like one or t'other.

Personally, I can't see the point of slagging one approach off, when maybe next week another angle of attack will work just as nicely! For example, my students rely heavily on their books...when I want them to become a bit more independent I often move books (open) to the far end of the room. Same with electronic dictionaries (I hate them with a passion!). If students want to have a peek, they can, but it is just enough of a nuisance to go and do so, that a remarkable flash of inspiration or memory comes to the rescue. Funny how that works. However, they'd find it very hard to join up their learning without a book at all (and find it intimidating). I do not have enough tricks up my sleeves to bedazzle every lesson, either.

Marmite jarsImage via Wikipedia"Teacher uses twitter shock". A lot of people don't get twitter. I don't get how they don't get it - for work at least. How else would I have come across Martin's ideas & found a new way for my business class to get their brains going a bit quicker? Followed a short link to his video on my phone while I was waiting for train, and filed the idea away for a very rainy day. That was Monday evening, and I wanted my students to 'hurry up' and activate a fluency issue which has been slowing them down/tripping them up. Namely, using /to/ or /ing/ after certain verbs (which they were familiar with - mined a reading passage for them, sorted them, reviewed as homework, did pair work...)

I enjoyed the view from the other end of our classroom table, handily next to the coffee & biscuits. I offered them a verb from our list, and asked them to move to the /to/ side or the /ing/ side of the board (or the middle, one or two take both of course). I enjoyed the "I'm right/you're wrong" that this produced, and the kudos it gave the less able students who had done their reviewing properly versus those that had not done it thoroughly.

Once the grammar was agreed (checked at the annoyingly distant book if necessary - I was tempted to charge for this/add an element of time perhaps) students were then challenged to quickly come up with a suitable sentence using the verb properly. I didn't say anything, but pulled a face or used my body language if I heard something a bit out of place - encouraged them to look at their listener, to listen to each other closely, & to be competitive/nick each others threads.My plan was to do this  for about ten minutes, but they got so animated I let it run - standing up they were gesturing a lot more than usual, interrupting each other, and reacting much more forcefully. They were visibly annoyed when we ran out of words!

Fortunately, Martin does not run out of words. Check out his blog some time - your students won't notice but you might get an extra cup of coffee out of it!

Friday, 1 July 2011

Finger bobs

When you have one class coming in after the last with very little time in between, it is important to have your day thought through. Doing anything in the messy department of arty and crafty certainly needs thinking about carefully - if it can go wrong, it will!

Children are enthusiastic mess-makers, as I'm sure any parent/teacher will already know. Give them 10 tubes of colour paint, and you have the recipe for disaster on your hands - literally. But, today I wanted to see if we could be semi-messy and still keep on track. We were doing an activity that I had not thought of before, and one I will certainly be using again, namely finger-painting. A decent dollop of colour on one finger tip, and make a nice smudge. Repeat until you have sets of ten worryingly colourful & wet fingers.

Instructions here are important - "keep your hands up and in front of your face - do NOT touch anything! Now go and wash your hands, slowly!" Also important that teacher is not tempted to join in (you'll be unable to do anything 'sensible'). Our aim was to put a bit of life into our verbs, by making stick drawings around our fingerprints to show eg "I'm running" or "I'm drinking" with a speech bubble. I find a lot of my students need a line to place their letters on, and poorer writers need two more parallel lines to make sure they get the different heights of letters right (Japanese characters are all the same size).

Another important point I realised here is to write the phrase first, then wrap your bubble around it, otherwise you get clumped up letters/all kinds of confusion squeezing into an inappropriate shape/space. My Japanese students 'naturally' switch to writing down the page vertically if they have to, which is something I want to avoid.

So we have creative work reinforcing a 'physical dictionary' of movement, in colour and 'my' art with a bit of book work (finding the right words, copying the letters correctly)....students clearly had a good time, and with luck a bit more than usual went in :)

I can do it!

My favourite phrase - it's so empowering!

A colour, cut, and stick-it-back-together again kind of activity that helps children review vocabulary, read (rather than guess!) and develop logical/predictive skills.

Basically this is a variation on dominoes, here making a circle. You can do this with any lexical set (or grammar structures too), but you need to make sure the last card will join back up to the first, or it won't work (and that you don't have duplicates).

What did we do? Coloured in big dots according to the words written under them. Big flashcards with the colours and words were on the board. Don't know?  - Go check! Then cut out your cards carefully (so that your pairs are separated). Give them a good shuffle, and then put it back together again! Use the flashcards again
to double check. If you want to keep sets separate, use different coloured base paper and avoid pink (girls will all want this one!).

Most enjoyable was the children showing mummies their puzzles, and mummies not being able to figure it out. Made the children feel very clever indeed - and they are, of course!