Wednesday, 28 September 2011

High school ambitions

 My first year high school students were asked to write about their 'dreams' in terms of future occupations. I thought the breakdown of choices was interestingly varied. The way the actual lesson went is another thing completely...

Data management                Game programmer                
Literary editor         Fashion designer
Nurse                    Doctor           Sports doctor          Pharmacist x2       Cancer researcher      
Botanist          Chemist             Vet              Police/Guide dog trainer
Mental health counselor              Clinical psycho-therapist
Policeman              Firefighter
University student
Undecided x5 

Compare with the second years (who were given exactly the same dreary lesson, no tweaking or reflection involved)...who seem to be a bit more conservative - 50% looking at some sort of medical career. This not a major surprise, as the local hospital is a big training hospital.

Doctor x2          Nurse x4          Speech/physical therapist
Civil servant          Public prosecutor
Tour guide        Wedding coordinator
University  student
Illegible x1

 I think this lesson plan lacked quite a few things, but most importantly the chance to ask students if their perceptions on life goals have changed since the Tohoku earthquake. Instead, another blank sheet of paper and the 'Start now, you have 25 minutes, Jim will correct your work' directive. Each and every student set about copying their electronic dictionaries onto paper. Sound at back of the room as Jim bangs head on the floor!

At least I read their work afterwards and tried to make positive comments for each. My oppo tossed them on a pile and got back to chatting baseball with the maths teacher. "See you next week". Can't wait .

Sunday, 25 September 2011

Professional English teachers in Okayama = ESOL examiners

If it’s Sunday, this must be Okayama? And it isn’t raining?

I am extremely grateful that Malcolm and JP176 put me up NOT in the Tokyu Inn; and that I could travel up yesterday and relax last night rather take the overnight sleeper (fun, but not preceding a serious day’s work!). Observant readers may recall that my last visit included a night in casualty?

I wanted to get to know my examiners better; and they are mine, no matter which Centre they are affiliated to, if I do the training. Their bad habits (heaven forbid) are mine; their interpretations of the Gospel according to ESOL are coached in “but Jim said…” It really annoys me when people forget my name – indicates examiners are likely to forget to use candidate’s names appropriately. First impressions count for a lot, don’t they?

Paul, Tom, Jim, Zack, Malcolm, Simon in Ruoen Thai
So, last night I found myself in the very good company of examiners known, and an English home-brewer I need to get to know, in a superb Thai restaurant “Ruoen Thai”. I love good Thai food, and this was a love affair. Why can’t I combine coriander, basil & squid like that? This a group of people I would happily want to meet up with for a pint more than once a year…

Last minute arrangements had left the make up of this morning’s YLE development meeting hanging until 8pm last night; this afternoon’s contingent only finalised during lunch. At least that meant examiners were demonstrating a desire to stay on the books?

I was delighted to meet Reiko again, who has been working so hard to promote the exams  hereabouts for JP176, a lovely person who has a lot to offer the organisation. I have the sneaking suspicion HG might be the best kept teaching secret west of Osaka. Joan again showed she has actually sat down and read the materials and was the go-to girl with the rude awakening of a revamped quiz.

In the morning we tackled various aspects of YLE examining, departing from the usual video/material log-jam to have a look at managing problems, controlling timing, avoiding obvious (but easily fallen into) man-traps. I like this format, as once examiners have set out their fierce criticism of performances on view, they really do not have anywhere to hide when the same criteria have to be applied to their own participation. Likewise this afternoon, looking at adult levels we took a hard look at the interlocutor’s role and in particular timing (with a pair of candidates we have previously studied to assess in detail…) I was privately delighted that this apparently ‘easy; just watch” exercise produced wildly different answers. “Pay attention: watch the clock!” Likewise, the ‘now give me a score for performance – you’ve got 10 seconds’ produced gasps of protest but…on the job, that’s what you have to be doing. Want to wander off for a coffee half way through? Keep going…
A new distraction!

I impressed on my examiners today the need to consider, and make arrangements for, the unexpected, the unusual, and the uncooked arrangements. Acts of God cannot be mitigated for, but good examiners (all of mine) are expected to be able to think and respond on their toes without dropping the ball. Under pressure, manage a group of three. You have a deaf candidate; deliver the listening test with your colleague (how can you examine the speaking test at whatever level if you are not familiar with other papers at this level?) twice through, without messing up, so that you can be lip-read. Brainstorm what could possibly go wrong if you were asked to examine a Braille-based speaking test? Work out a ‘to do’ list, come that day.

Okayama team: Malcolm, Tom,Joan, Billy, Paul, with  Jim
As unusual as it is to enjoy a fabulous Thai salad in Japan, I hope my Western Nippon team got more than they bargained for out of today’s re-scripted professional development workshop. My intention is that our ESOL examiners are adding ‘can do’ strings to their bows and taking fresh ideas into their classrooms tomorrow morning, and hopefully influencing their peers in turn with good practice, positive analysis of candidate/examiner (as teacher with another ‘hat’ on) performance.

Thank you, Malcolm, for having me over this weekend. Thank you dedicated examiners for your (glorious) day stuck in doors. Looking forward to applying YOUR monitoring template to YOUR performances soon!
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Wednesday, 21 September 2011

Providing for EFL Special Needs - examiner training, Nagoya

Focusing on the small print
My examiners were guinea pigs for a refreshed format of meeting today. I was extremely nervous before hand, as I have relied on tried and tested format & materials which I inherited since becoming a Team Leader. I have realised that this does not make the best of our precious time together, apart from maintaining their ability to assess adequately & practice reading the scripts. Both of these are very important, make no mistake: they are the key aspects of the actual examining job i.e. Deliver the speaking test to script, and assess the candidates accurately.

But, in the broader scheme of things, my examiners are grown ups. They have already shown me in training that they are up to the task. If they did not, they would not have been approved by Cambridge ESOL as examiners, and would not be on Luna's team – it’s very simple!
Kim, Corazon & Bonnie

Nowadays, examiners have access to the most recent videos of candidates to polish their assessment skills on. We can still dip into videos if we need to – in fact we do, but with a much more detailed analysis that is not assessment driven. Instead, we can focus much more on the interlocutor’s role, which impacts on the candidates’ performance/perception so strongly. We can pull the wings off the script and put it back together again, figure out which level it is. We can dissect the assessment criteria and put it back together again, without any ‘spare’ pieces. We can add to our examiners’ teaching toolkits and actually put meaning into another line on their CVs.

I want to thank my Nagoya/Gifu team today for not noticing the change of emphasis today – or at least not making a big deal out of it and asking me eg “Why did Naomi only get a 2 for Pronunciation?”

Instead, we achieved:
Focus on lip-reading
·        Ability to manage the delivery of speaking tests to sight-impaired/blind candidates.
·        Ability to enable hearing-impaired/deaf candidates to take their listening tests through lip reading
·        Monitoring peer performance in detail, fine-tune own performance
·        Tightened timing, material handling, rubric
·        Weaned Jim off over-reliance on videos

 Thank you team for travelling into the teeth of Typhoon Roke and for giving up your National Holiday/World Pirate Day, and for all of your Facebook concern for my missing pint of Guinness! You are all very much legit Cambridge ESOL examiners now, and I am looking forward to you examining soon. Find us some candidates and venues if you can too?!
Exactly the kind of people you want examining Young Learners!

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Tuesday, 20 September 2011

On the job training - experienced EFL teachers in Nagoya

I had the pleasure of training at Happy English Club in Nagoya on Sunday. This is where we were supposed to have been training back in April, except no one told Sean (the owner). So, it was nice to actually meet him this time and a relief to find his door open and my recruits already waiting for me.

It is always interesting visiting another (foreign-owned) language school, as there are always things to learn – d├ęcor, layout, classroom organisation, materials (I am an avid bookshelf spy!) & vibe (even if the place is empty, you can get a feel for how things might be). I reckon HEC must be well-organised & child/learning centred. Certainly not one of the cowboys.

Anyway, we used their lovely Apple TV to get acquainted with our levels (First Certificate and Advanced) and to establish good interlocutor practice wrt handling materials, sticking to the script, timing, use of back up questions against allowing a lull to prompt more from candidates, non-verbal communication, intervention. In the past, examiners have been handed the materials ‘cold’, and expected to be able to ‘become’ an examiner magically. Even the experienced teachers find this difficult to achieve, as they have no template upon which to base their behaviour. After all, teachers often feel their classroom role is to provide a safety net/scaffold for their students, and assist in the progression of a discourse…which is an instinct we are trying to ‘pause’ while examining. Closest analogy I can think of is getting England rugby players to provide quick ball to the backs, when they actually produce dinosaur eggs.

These days, examiners are able to access the relevant levels to refresh their assessment online, on demand. It is important in training to have examiners discuss their application of the assessment criteria to candidate performances…plumping for the right number can be a seat of the pants estimate. I insist my examiners produce samples/examples from the videos to back up their assertions as to performance (‘live’ they do not need to do this). They need to be able to ‘place’ these examples within Cambridge’s frames of reference and adopt ‘Cambridge’ speak to negotiate with peers. The hardest thing teachers find with the assessment scales is that they are fully ‘can do’ orientated, so they are driven to focus on what the candidates are able to do/attempting to do, rather than picking up errors/mistakes and cataloguing what they can’t do. So, no “couldn’t use that tense properly”, “didn’t take turns”, “mangled a relative clause” or “has a really strong accent”.

My trainees today did everything asked of them, and impressed me with their willingness to take on new directions. I am very confident that they will be firing on all cylinders in December when I expect them to be in action in Nagoya & Matsumoto – lucky candidates, and lucky JP004.

  • If you want to get more info about becoming an examiner, contact Jim by email (or just leave a comment on this posting) & check ELT Calendar.
  • If you want to enter your students for any exams go to
  • If you want info about the exams/leaflets, email
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Saturday, 17 September 2011

September 11th - a positive story

September 11th was an important date for our examiners recently trained/professionally developed in Yamagata, Niigata and Fukushima. They got to get their teeth into some candidates – not literally of course. At least, not that I’ve heard!

Our examiners also had another hat to wear, as the nature of their examining was a co-operative deal with other school owners/venues running Young Learners….which is exactly the way I saw this working when the idea was conceived in a cross country drive with Steve Holland to Sendai nearly two years ago. I do like it when ducks get lined up – doesn’t happen too often, and the Tohoku disaster did put a rather large wrench in the works (Tomomi is still our hero for her examining in April).

Steve’s school (Windmill English Center) in Aizuwakamatsu became a venue for the first time back in June, offering KET & PET to Fukushima. Disco Paul was my co-pilot for that rocket drive, where we were able to help Steve “cross the t’s and dot the i’s”, besides interview the speaking candidates. Steve showed us the field next to his house where he could not stand up during the earthquake March 11th. We know it is not easy to get everything right first time as a venue – but it is very important that things are done by the book. We even translated the book (it is the fifth Gospel, ‘according to Yuki’). It was our privilege to get WEC on the map.

Alan Morrison’s school (Sunshine English) in Ojiya, Niigata, also became a YLE venue for the first time. Mark & I drove down the river, quite literally from Luna to his school two hours downstream, a couple of years ago when they had KET & PET. We might be repeating that journey in November now, by the way – great! Another town, incidentally, with considerable earthquake issues of its own.

Both of Ryan Hagglund’s schools (MY English) in Yamagata (Yamagata city and Sakata) were very first time venues, so particular congratulations to Ryan and his staff. I am hoping to visit their venue soon – not least because I have very fond memories of a motorbike trip through beautiful Yamagata year gone by!

Thank you Stephen, Alan, Ryan for getting organised & working together to make this unique session successful. Not quite a profit turner for any of you yet, but obviously an immediate pay off for the students at your schools and an indictment of the professional approach you take to teaching English. I sincerely hope your first YLE sessions are the thin end of the wedge. Let’s plan your 2012 session now, and get Mike, Anna, Ben, Mario examining too!

We are proud of you!
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Friday, 16 September 2011

Christiaan Barnard - biography

Christiaan Barnard was born in South Africa in 1922. he studied medicine at the University of Cape Town and became a doctor in 1953. He went to the USA and studied at the University of Minnesota. He returned to the University of Cape Town in 1958 to teach surgery. He specialised in the heart. Barnaard was not the usual picture of a surgeon, young and handsome he spent as much time in night clubs as he did in operating surgeries.

In 1967 he did the first heart transplant and became world famous. He changed the heart from a dead woman into a 55 year old man. This man died 18 days later. In 1968 he did the second translplant to a man and he lived 563 days. He met the Pope in Rome, and President Lyndon Johnson in America. He knew many beautiful film stars of the time, like Sopia Loren, but all three of his marriages failed.

He also performed free surgery on hundreds of very sick people.

Christiaan Barnard died in 2001.

Posted for Tomoro
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The most important sport in New Zealand is rugby.

Lots of young people watch or play in winter.

Charles Monro brought rugby to New Zealand from Great Britain in the late 1860s.

Rugby is a fifteen people sport and the ball is an oval shape like an egg. New Zealand national team is the famous All Black. All Black is famous for their special dance - called Haka.

Posted for Tomoro - as we speak Japan are playing the All Blacks in the rugby World Cup....

Wednesday, 14 September 2011

The Call of the Wild (by Jack London) - book review

I’d like to introduce " The Call of the Wild", written by Jack London, and write about the person I most liked in this story.

This is a big dog's adventure story. The dog's name is "Buck". Buck had a happy and peaceful life in California until Mr. Miller’s bad and greedy gardener stole him. Buck was sold to people who were hurrying to the north-west of Canada to look for gold.

At this time, Buck's life changed dramatically!! Buck had to work like a horse, pulling people on a sledge every day. In this new life, four sledge owners had Buck. The last owner, Thornton, was a very kind and good person who always took care of Buck. He gave Buck plenty of food and rest. Every night, Buck slept with this man..

One day, Buck heard the call of the wild from the forest near Thornton's house, and he understood the forest was his house. When Buck came back from the forest , he followed Thornton's smell to a deep pool, in a river near their house. He stayed by the pool, walking restlessly. Thornton had been killed by someone. ....Buck went to the forest and got together a wolf team, as a team's boss, after Buck and wolves were biting each other. Buck's dream came true, being the strongest, top wolf.

I recommend this book. It's good for easy reading, and I believe you'll enjoy Buck's adventures.

Thank you ,

SUPER STAR (by Doug Campbell) - book review

Hi, Friends !

I'd like to introduce " SUPERSTAR" , written by Doug Campbell.

Being a super star is a dream for us once a life. In addition, working in the music business brings a dream to be famous and make lots of money, too. I also believe it must be a very exciting life. Actually, I do not know whether a super star is happy or not.

John tried to escape from his boring life . One day, he met a very good band. Then he offered to manage this band because he was sure that the band would become really successful. After that day,his busy life began. He called many music companies and introduced the band to newspapers and TV.

John's good management brought a lucky opportunity - they had a chance to perform on " Talent Tonight " a TV contest. The final winner could get a key to the entrance of being a super star. However, this lucky break gave them a test at the same time. When the band came on the stage and sang a song, the judge mentioned the bass guitarist should be out for going through to next round. John had to make the decision to throw him out. Th e guitarist said to John, " See you at the top and goodbye". This band was his last chance to be a super star......

I know you want to know who the winner was in the final competition of " Talent Tonight", but I do not want to write down. Please read this book and find the final winner and how to win.

After a few months of TV programs, a person standing next to John looked familiar at the supermarket. It was the guitarist. He was smiling. John did not remember him smiling so much. He looked so happy,too.

He made more money after he joined a professional band and now he played at parties with a DJ. After John and he said their goodbyes, John heard him shouting , " See you at the top !". He was laughing and walked away

Being a super star always does not bring happiness. However, to try being on top with our best is good way to live in a happy life , I thought. What do you think about it ?

See you,

Saturday, 10 September 2011

Luna students doing well, home and away

King's College London, clock tower of The Maug...Two bits of good gossip this week, of our students doing well.

First, a shout out to Sari, who left us a couple of months ago to go and study in the UK. Before she left, she was brave and took FCE. Sari studied hard and deserved to pass...and now she tells me she has passed her foundation course and has been accepted onto her MA course at King's College London. Wonderful news and very well done Sari. A fine example of Cambridge ESOL exams being recognised and serving as a great foundation for further learning.

Second, Sari's old class mate Yumi made a presentation during the week at her company, attended by a worldwide audience. Although her boss failed to give her any credit for the late nights she put into her presentation, the feedback I heard on the grapevine was that she did very well - of course it was in English! Pat on the back to you, and thumbs down to your manager.

If you know of more good news from the Luna diaspora, let us know!
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Friday, 9 September 2011

Creative writing - A Special Celebration

Barcelona's Lionel Messi was voted as man of t...Image via WikipediaYesterday was Sam's birthday, so we did a party in Hotel Buena Vista's restaurant. The food was brilliant. We ordered a "A class menu". There ws a seafood salad, steak and chocolate ice cream. George, Sam & I went to the party. Two girls called Misato and Miyu came too. First George, Sam and I were talking about soccer. George likes Manchester United and Sam likes Juventus. I like Barcelona and Inter. George likes Rooney the best. Sam didn't say anything. I like Messi and Sneijder the best. Finally Sam blew out the candles and the party ended.

Posted for Yuya.
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Thursday, 8 September 2011

Business English - telephoning

Chinasa checks an order
 Using the telephone can be one of the hardest ways to interact, but it is also a common feature of a working day. It is therefore vital that language students get practical practice if they are studying for business/work. The the number one piece of advice I give all my students is "check, then double-check" ...imagine you forget to ask for the surname of your customer, get the company name wrong or the order/phone number/bank account numbers mixed up. Could be your last day at work!

An important hurdle to overcome is the fear factor. Whatever you are trying to do on the phone, plan it out. If you are making the call, know who you need to talk to, how to start the conversation and what you need from it. Likewise,, get into the routine of always answering the phone in the same way. We always warm up before sport; need to do the same thing with the phone.

I think the fear comes from several angles - these we have no way of knowing before we call:
Aya listens attentively
  • The other person might speak too fast
  • The other person might have a strong accent
  • The other person might think I am stupid
  • The other person might be 'better' than me (at English)
  • The other person might be 'worse' than me (at English)
  • The other person might not be 'there'
  • Something might go wrong!
Practice makes perfect, and practicing in a realistic way makes a big difference. Sitting next to your partner is a good way to become familiar with the pattern/turn taking routine, work out pronunciation etc, but after that, we really need some separation!

One aspect of 'fear' I didn't mention was colleagues listening in or being critical. I am lucky with my class here, as they all work in the same section. We went back to our desks and called the partner who was furthest away, and practiced checking an order for various parts, nuts, and bolts. A nice noisy environment, just as it is in a regular working day, with other conversations to compete against to be heard. And the boss was watching!

Noisy environment - focus!
Another way you can achieve this practice (teachers) is Skype; mobile phones also good if the students don't mind paying for their own calls. For teachers trying to monitor this, don't jump in and correct - see what is happening & if any of your advice needs repeating. You'll probably find the students will give each other the best feedback like 'speak up' or 'you forgot xyz'. Try to position yourself where you can hear 'both ends' of the conversation - if it breaks down, huddle the participants, identify the breakdown (eg "You didn't say blah blah blah to signal you had finished")

The best feedback I got from my class was that the practice we had just done was exactly what they were trying to do on the phone the previous day with a Chinese customer, who they needed to 'manage'. Next time, they have the toolkit to take care of business better.

Final tip (for teachers), is aim low. As with graded readers, students need to be competent in general English above the work you are trying to achieve. You are teaching new tricks and specialised vocabulary/communication situations, and you need good foundations to house this on. Be consistent - same pattern over & over. Yes, the phone is scary. Better the enemy you know!

Tuesday, 6 September 2011

Open week at Luna

Classroom questionnaire - involve mums!
 I love Open Week!

This is the chance we get to show mums and dads how well our students are doing, and how they are doing it. In the last year we have made big efforts to share our work with Edmodo, but there's nothing like an actual peek around the classroom door. (Of course, parents are welcome to come and see what's going on anytime...we wish even more parents could come, because there's so much cool stuff we want to show them!)

On Tuesday afternoon, nearly all the mums came to see Jim's busy class, which uses the Primary Colours coursebook. As we had a decent roomful, it was a great opportunity to move around more than usual and get unexpected answers. It also meant mums were as engaged in the activity as their children were, and got a feel for the language/interaction instead of merely looking over shoulders. Frees the teacher up nicely too, to soft pedal any classroom management issues.

Mums on the spot
This class has covered topics like numbers, colours, and school bag/household items lately, and can handle questions from the teacher if they are in context. I wanted to put them in charge of the questions today, and deal with answers they had not heard before. eg Japanese children (maybe all?) want to tell you every single colour that might be on their t-shirt/pencil case/socks...funnily, today mums did the same. Thank you. There was only one 'space' for the answer to go in, so they had to rationalise the answer! (And everyone realised a simple answer works best).

Each child had a slightly different questionnaire to complete, asking everyone else "What colour is your...toothbrush/bike/bag etc?". They then wrote the name of the respondent (all up on the board to copy) in the right row/column (itself something this class needed to be taught to do, which astonished me at the time). Once finished (only just in time) we coloured our charts as a nice bar graph. Mums got a first hand experience of their children speaking English in action (not the odd word or out of context) and were able to assess for themselves pronunciation, memory, letter formation, interaction and behaviour.

We are looking forward to seeing more parents through the week, and are really keen to give face to face updates on progress, problems and praise. Come on and see what's going on!

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Monday, 5 September 2011

Cleaning up at Luna
 Observant readers will notice a common thread in these pictures, namely, cleaning up! This is the first song my son ever learned...and I am at a total loss to explain how come.

Whenever we go anywhere, he hunts for a brush, broom or vacuum cleaner and starts doing the rounds. If he can't find anything, he'll grab a stick or a pole, and get busy. Failing that, a cloth and he'll get down on hands and knees for a few laps. The action shot here is at pre-school in Luna, where the alphabet soup is getting the treatment.

Tiny hoons
Before we had all the rain from the typhoon, our plants were looking a bit jaded, so we got the boys to give them a drink. But, the scooter was in much more need of a clean, apparently! As you can see, no nook ignored. The boys also gave themselves and us a hosing down, just for fun :)

On the graded reader
Even reading time becomes an opportunity to tackle dust and cobwebs (we vacuum the joint before & after each day's pre-school!) and if not allowed, a sit down protest. We never did get to the end of the story, but the book is really clean - I think!

mini Monday mornings

Luna's mini-Monday Club
This is a great way to start the week, a nice civilised early lunch with some young gentlemen and a fine young lady. We need a good feed after the busy hour we have every Monday morning.

Our participants are not yet two, so we are dealing with a few things like sharing nicely, not asking to be picked up every time there's a song/dance/movement activity, and running headfirst into each other/furniture. All fun if a bit challenging at times!

There is a major fascination with our fish, as well as the Thomas train set and various other things that are not nailed down. There is no interest AT ALL in puzzles, colouring, play dough or stories! Hmm. So we usually end up with an end product miles away from the lesson plan sketched out - leaves plenty for next time of course - but it is important that a teacher with this kind of group has a lot of resources metaphorically and physically up their sleeve. Whenever I have taught very small classes outside of the school, it has always been stressful because of the way even the best lesson plan can unravel. As the very wise OUP Oli reminded me, there is one big ASS in assumption, and if it can go wrong, it will.

So, in the comfort of my own classroom, I can cover most contingencies as best I can. And I can have lunch on the job!

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