Chapter Reports - July 2014

AKITA: March — Teachers’ reaction to team-teaching with ALTs and an example of a teacher training session by Tomohisa Machida, Akita International University. The presenter conducted (and will continue conducting) short-term teacher training programs for local elementary school teachers who are currently teaching or who will be teaching English.  Several teaching styles, including team-teaching, were analyzed based on his previous research. Then the presenter provided some discussion questions, so that the participants were able to more deeply grasp the key issues that surround team-teaching. In the final part of the session, the presenter showed a well-organized example of a teacher-training program. The participants saw how ‘anxious’ elementary school teachers could develop into ‘confident’ ones by employing his program. This presentation was an excellent learning opportunity for teachers who are interested in both team-teaching and motivation issues.

Reported by Mamoru “Bobby” Takahashi

AKITA: April — Exploring English and foreign languages in the elementary school classroom by Jonathan Stimmer, Mitane-cho Board of Education. In 2011 English and Foreign language became a mandatory subject in elementary school education. Many schools are already teaching English from 1st through 6th grades. First, the presenter illustrated common problems ALTs experience working with JTEs and gave examples of how to overcome them. Questions included; “How can these schools go beyond textbooks?” and “Where does one start when teaching younger grade levels when there are no textbooks and no set curriculum for teaching English and foreign languages?” This presentation not only addressed these questions, and others, but it also explored different facets of English and foreign language education in elementary schools. An extensive Q&A session accompanied every topic that was covered.

Reported by Stephen Shucart

GIFU: March — Practical and unique ideas for classroom management by Dr. Howard Higa. For those of us who have had problems with student motivation, engagement and concentration, Higa’s presentation showed us how to generate and harness student interest. He showed how this was possible through developing creative lessons, holding students accountable, classroom management and utilizing simple technology. The audience was actively engaged throughout the presentation, exploring and trying out a wide range of fun activities which promote student engagement. The tasks and activities introduced used readily available material and could easily be explained to students. Many in the audience were anticipating the new academic year with a mixture of excitement and trepidation, so the timing of the presentation couldn’t have been more appropriate.

Reported by Brent Simmonds

GIFU: April — Yardsticks of quality in Japanese higher education by Dr. Sarah Birchley. Birchley gave a concise insight into how strategic assessment is already being applied in the higher education sector in Japan. But she also made it relevant to everyone in the room by highlighting where it fits into other settings too. As she said, "Somewhere, someone is already writing about you". She explained that most of the organizations where we work will have a mission statement which will include objectives, policies, goals and action plans. She suggested that we research how the statement affects our future prospects. At its worst, it can create tension and negativity but, at its best, it can be used to define where we should focus our efforts. Birchley is a skilled presenter who explained complicated issues with eloquence and fielded questions concisely and encouraged audience contribution. The discussion points were very useful and gave us the chance to think critically about whether our role leads to educational outcomes that are "fit for purpose." The presentation outlined rating scales and how they are applied in our teaching contexts and stressed that understanding and influencing the shape of action plans is essential.

Reported by Brent Simmonds

GUNMA: April — Gunma Kokusai Academy’s pioneer vision in promoting English immersion with the International Baccalaureate Diploma Program by Shizue Yoshida and Gale Zimmerman. For the first time in memory, Gunma JALT held its meeting in Ota. Gunma Kokusai Academy (GKA) was the meeting site as well as the theme of the event. Principal Shizue Yoshida introduced the merits and challenges of this first of its kind school. Her introduction touched upon her refusal to accept the status quo in regards to the traditional system of learning. She spoke of the unique mission of GKA in delivering English education through immersion. Attendees were shown how GKA students learn in English while being trained to develop their critical thinking skills. To fully develop these skills, GKA has become an International Baccalaureate (IB) school. Gale Zimmerman, the GKA IB Coordinator gave attendees an overview of the IB program and how it operates at GKA. As a new IB school, GKA faces some challenges, such as classes with few students and difficulties in finding qualified teachers for this unique learning program. However, as Zimmerman pointed out, the success of the system can be seen in the fact that the first time graduates of the grades 1 to 12 immersion school were accepted to reputable institutions across Japan, and even abroad.

Reported by Joël Laurier

HAMAMATSU: April — Surrealists in the classroom by Susan Laura Sullivan. Set in the context of how language was used by surrealists, this workshop began with the audience being asked to create an onomatopoeic word for “chair” that they felt best expressed its concept, but which was not tied to existing languages. Next, in pairs, we were asked to make a small Futurist poster/poem showing these sounds as symbols, such as English letters, mathematical marks, or musical notes that expressed some kind of experience in life, but which again avoided established words. Especially important were onomatopoeia, font, size, colour and positioning on the page. On completion of the poster/poem, the pairs were changed, so the person who knew the meanings of the symbols would have an opportunity to explain them to someone who didn’t – an example of negotiation of meaning, which is key in using an L2 effectively. When free from the stricter rules of English, students are able to produce a creative composition relatively quickly, which provides a sense of accomplishment, especially since poetry and fiction are often seen as inaccessible parts of a language. This ownership can raise confidence and language acquisition, particularly as this now familiar material can scaffold further activities. Using the writing methods of art forms that were developed from 1900 to the1960’s: Cubism, Futurism, Surrealism, Dadaism and Gutai/Fluxus, the speaker demonstrated how freeing oneself from the constraints of conventional language can open up one’s perspective about what it means to communicate.

Reported by Dan Frost

HIROSHIMA: March — "Pitfalls in intercultural communication by Hideyasu Tanimoto and book reviews by Goro Yamamoto and Fuyuko Takita Ruetenik. Tanimoto entertained us with examples of pitfalls related to meaning, common in interactions between native English speakers and non-native English speakers. These pitfalls fell into five categories: lexical, socio-cultural, figurative, idiomatic and pragmatic. He also spoke briefly about the difficulties of English to Japanese simultaneous translation, and the technique used to cope with the difference in word order between the two languages. In the second half of the meeting Yamamoto reviewed a book called Teaching English: Computer Assisted Language Learning by Katya Heim and Markus Ritter, which he recommended for teachers with little or no knowledge of CALL. Takita Ruetenik then recommended a book called Different Games, Different Rules by Haru Yamada, about the differences between English and Japanese communication strategies and how to manage these differences in business communication.

Reported by Carla Wilson

HIROSHIMA: April — Collaborative critical thinking for real world change by Chuck Sandy. Sandy gave some inspirational examples of classroom activities where critical thinking had been used to address problems and had resulted in actual change. After sharing some personal stories involving critical thinking, and emphasising the importance of stories for the learning process, he gave participants a choice of themes to which critical thinking was applied. He demonstrated how such activities in the EFL classroom would require various language skills, patterns and vocabulary, while at the same time getting away from the traditional classroom dynamic and instead trying to provide more choices for students. He referred to Bloom's revised taxonomy of learning objectives and stressed the importance of getting beyond the lower levels of learning – remembering and understanding, and moving towards the higher levels – evaluating and creating. 

Reported by Carla Wilson

KITAKYUSHU: March — Task-supported language teaching: Factors for communication and grammar use by Colin Thompson. Thompson gave us Rod Ellis’ definition of a task as an activity that requires learners to use language with an emphasis on meaning to attain an objective not simply as conversation. There are four criteria: it focuses on meaning; there is some sort of information gap; learners rely entirely on their own resources both linguistic and non-linguistic; and there is a clearly defined outcome. Some advantages of task-based learning are that students’ communicative level can be readily seen by the teacher (facilitator) and it develops second language communication skills because in the “real world” students must depend on their own resources. We then did a picture-sequencing role-play in groups to check task criteria.

A key feature of task-based learning is that there is no pre-teaching; the pre-task just introduces the topic. The teacher helps students to complete tasks, teaching them the language they need as they look for meaning. On the other hand, in task-supported language teaching, the pre-task provides model language and the task adds meaning and form, compromising learner autonomy for more teacher input as with a traditional PPP (Present, Practice, Produce) approach.  The presentation finished with a discussion of which approach is better suited to develop students’ communicative skills.

Reported by Dave Pite

KYOTO: March — Back to school my share. This event featured four speakers sharing activities and ideas for starting classes right. Our first speaker was Michael Furmanovsky, who introduced a collaborative activity that gives students interesting and humanizing information about the teacher. The teacher places around 10 items that reflect his or her interests and background in a bag. These can include books, magazines, CDs, favorite snacks, photos, etc. The class is divided into groups of three, A, B and C. A goes outside the room with the teacher who then talks for 5 minutes about her/his background and interests while students B and C stay in the classroom and look at different items from the bag that are placed in different parts of the room. The three then reunite and discuss what they learned about the instructor. This is followed by a simple true/false quiz about the instructor in which all three groups of students must collaborate to get the answer. 

The next speaker was Dr. Atsuko Kosaka, whose presentation discussed the use of unexpected questions in teaching introductory composition to beginning writers. After discussing the difficulty of finding topics for beginning writers, she helped the participants in creating unusual questions for others that may help to uncover and extract interesting information. The presentation ended with examples of questions that participants created, such as “What would you do if you woke up as a different gender tomorrow?” or “What would you buy if I gave you ¥10000?” and with a brief analysis of how interactive topic finding helps L2 students to develop their voice with reference to research in L2 composition pedagogy. In all this, Kosaka emphasized the importance of encouraging positive topics, and in helping students to develop beyond safer, more conventional topic choices.

Our third speaker was James Rogers, discussing his continuing research on the insufficiency of word lists and isolated vocabulary training in language teaching. After showing problems with current resources, Rogers had the audience attempt to make their own collocations on a common verb in order to demonstrate the need to use corpora like the Corpus of Contemporary American English (COCA) to make collocation-based classroom materials instead of relying on teacher intuition alone. The presentation closed with an explanation of future research on comparative collocations between Japanese and English, and an overall move beyond word lists.

The final speaker was Dr. Gordon Liversidge, who shared his activity using the “Tiered Wedding Cake” of class in British society to discuss differences between 20th and 21st century stereotypes. Liversidge first walked the audience through the relevant vocabulary, and how this activity comes from a Japanese interpretation of British society, though much of the information contained is common to late industrial societies globally. Combined with other survey data presented to the class, the Tiered Wedding Cake shows that actually the traditional middle class in fact no longer really exists. This visualization offers a framework for the creation and analysis of many vocabulary groupings, and a starting point for later discussion and project work.

NARA: April ― Students’ stories of the extensive reading experience by Kevin Stein. ER or Extensive Reading is a hot topic for English professionals these days, especially for those teaching in secondary and tertiary education, and one of the reasons we enjoyed a larger than usual audience, the others being Stein’s personal appeal and interpersonal network. He utilized group dynamics to make his presentation more personal and engaging by pairing up those who have already implemented ER programs in class with those who have not. Active discussion led to a lively atmosphere and the audience had a chance to share their ideas, progress, and problems with ER. Rather than going into detail about the effectiveness of ER as a learning approach of the English language, Stein introduced cases of some of his ER-experienced students. Some of them had made great progress over a certain period of time, with improved working memory, upgraded reading levels, and through self-confidence in their English skills, while others not as much. The successful implementation of ER in class requires that students acquire reading techniques and training. More importantly, teachers’ encouragement, care, attention, and suggestions are essential for students to keep motivated to read and become better English learners.

Reported by Motoko Teraoka 

OKINAWA: April — My Share. Around 19 teachers and students from all over Okinawa (and one teacher from Hokkaido!) attended JALT Okinawa’s My Share on April 27, held at Meio University in Nago. Nine of the attendees presented lesson plans, project plans and general teaching philosophies for a range of student age levels. Many of the lessons focused on increasing students’ spoken communication confidence: using a Pecha Kucha format for short, impromptu speeches; using unordered sequential pictures to prompt students to communicate with each other as they reorder them; and reconfiguring speaking out during class as a reward instead of a punishment (once you speak you can sit down!). Two activities required students to use English in order to describe their hometown, one a conversation based activity and the other an online writing activity. Lesson plans for Spanish verb conjugation, English listening activities, and developing phonological awareness using bingo were also introduced, as well as ideas for using language teaching as a way to develop respect for one’s own culture. Presentations were given by Kurt Ackerman, Hokusei Gakuen University, Meghan Kuckelman, Meio University, George MacLean, Ryukyu University, Fernando Kohatsu, Ryukyu University, Michael Bradley, Okinawan Christian College, Masanori Tokeshi, Meio University, Norman Fewell, Meio University, Tokuya Uza, Meio University, and Tim Kelly, Ryukyu University. 

Reported by Meghan Kuckelman

OSAKA: April — Film analysis: Word and image combinations in romantic comedy scenes by Kumiko Kizu. Conversation Analysis (CA) generally looks at recordings of natural, unscripted interaction, but Kizu adopted a rather distinctive approach by applying CA findings to film dialogues. Her analysis of how the words and images are combined suggested that editing decisions prompt the audience to interpret the images by using their knowledge of turn-taking practices in natural conversations. Kizu focused particularly on the so-called shot/reverse-shot exchange, in which the audience sees the face of the character who is speaking and the back of the character who is listening; when speakership changes so does the shot, such that our focus is on the new speaker. She pointed out that the timing of this shot-change is crucial to the audience’s interpretation and is intricately linked to the pragmatic action and face-work that is going on in the dialogue. CA’s analytic strength is in a radically emic approach in which findings are based on what the recipient does in the next-turn. This is something that is not possible with film dialogues since we don’t have direct access to how the audience interprets these phenomena. That said, Kizu made a compelling and innovative case for the application of CA findings to moviemaking contexts. 

Reported by Tim Greer

SENDAI: March – It is our chapter’s tradition to host a themed My Share event just prior to the start of each new school year. This time around, we focused on motivation and were treated to eight highly informative presentations covering a variety of aspects related to this important topic.

Kicking the event off was Embracing failure by Kyle Maclauchan. Maclauchan introduced a number of games and activities which provide multiple opportunities for students to experience failure, and enjoy it. He explained that when students learn to accept failure as an integral part of the learning process, they will be more motivated to meet challenges, speak, and forge a more active learning environment. In our second presentation Music in the classroom by Peggy Ishikawa, our Iwate JALT guest demonstrated how she brings popular and current English language music into the classroom to improve listening skills while increasing students’ motivation to develop independent learning outside the classroom. We were then treated to a very informative talk by Ryan Hagglund that outlined how he, as a language school owner, has implemented various initiatives with his teachers and has created an atmosphere of professionalism and respect rarely seen in this sector of language education. Hagglund illustrated how, even with the typically restrained budget of an eikaiwa, he is able to provide an impressively high level of opportunity for professional development and advancement. Austin Lantz then followed with an in-depth look at his junior high school lessons designed to motivate young learners and instill a positive attitude towards language learning. This was followed by Parking lot archaeology by Ron Campbell in which attendees learned of a creative and unique approach to language teaching that came suddenly to Campbell during an in-house corporate TOEFL immersion course filled with unmotivated learners. This approach attempts to take abstract reasoning concepts out of the field of scientific inquiry and apply them, in a fun way, to the real world. It began with Campbell emptying the class’s trash basket onto his desk and discussing the behavior of the class by analyzing its contents. This was then followed by a trip to the company parking lot, where students were challenged to describe the personalities of company employees by analyzing parked cars and their contents. In Motivation: What is it? by Daniel Ross, attendees learned of project-based collaborative language learning techniques that Ross has used in his language school that connect learners with their community. We were encouraged to analyze our own successes and failures, and find ways to avoid unnecessary frustration in our teaching practices. In what may have been the climax of our day, Motivation: The importance of social influences by Maggye Foster took a very different look at motivation. Drawing on her many years of experience as a psychologist, Foster highlighted the findings of several studies which analyze the significance of human interaction in the processes of teaching and learning and its importance for sustaining motivation. Capping off our day, Gerald Muirhead identified key motivating factors for tertiary students in Japan by highlighting current research in the field. This was followed by a brief description of techniques that Muirhead has learned from teaching class, and ended with a few key points on what has kept and continues to keep him motivated as a teacher.

After completing these eight presentations, there was a lively question and answer session, which eventually turned into a group discussion. This was certainly one of the more successful My Share events our chapter has hosted.

Reported by Cory Koby

SENDAI: April – Professional development through collaboration on quantitative research by Gregory Sholdt, Kobe University. There are few individuals within our language teaching community who grasp quantitative research methods and statistical analysis anywhere near the caliber of this presenter. Our members were treated to an afternoon filled with a highly informative and enlightening presentation that kept even the least numerically inclined individuals amongst us engaged. Sholdt began with an overview of some essential terminology and theory necessary for understanding the foundation of quantitative methods. This was followed by some very practical guidance for designing, conducting, and analyzing research, with strong emphasis on the critical role of validity. Members were clearly interested in this research methodology, as evidenced by the numerous questions that followed this part of the presentation. Following the break, attendees learned of a large-scale project currently underway, organized by Sholdt, which facilitates professional development through collaborative research. This project allows participants to stay connected, ask questions, and share experiences using a Moodle-based online coordination site. In the final portion of the presentation, attendees learned about the 2014 JALT Research Grant available to JALT members in need of research funding. As a member of the selection committee, Sholdt was able to offer our members a complete and highly detailed overview of the grant application requirements and process. After the presentation, several of our members were able to catch a quick bite with Sholdt before he returned to Kobe. The presentation contributed very much to our members’ body of knowledge, and we are very grateful to have had the opportunity to learn from such an expert in this complex field.

 Reported by Cory Koby

SHINSHU: April — From interpretation to implementation: The new course of study. This first of a four-part series aimed at providing opportunities for ALTs was presented in coordination with the Association for Japan Exchange and Teaching (AJET) and the Hokuto Board of Education (Yamanashi Prefecture). Greg Birch (Seisen Women's College) opened the event with a brief overview of previously published material and his own survey findings regarding team teaching (TT) and the roles of Japanese teachers of English (JTE) and ALTs in the TT classroom. Panelists Mark Brierley (Shinshu University), Haruhiko Shiokawa (Teikyo University of Science) and Dr. Sue Fraser (Seisen Women's College, Shinshu University) next discussed with audience participants a number of points regarding their positions in the English language teaching profession in Japan, ALT roles, future prospects for ALTs, and the current state of English education in Japan. Finally, Shiokawa shared his interpretation of the most recent course of study  published by Japan’s Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology (MEXT) and presented findings that the best-selling English textbooks approved by the Ministry in fact include the most grammar-based content, appearing to contradict the course of study’s emphasis on more communicative classroom instruction.

Reported by Chris Clancy

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