Monday, October 31, 2011

Monday classes

In the first class, one of students couldn't make it due to a meeting at her uni. Which left two of us, a girl and myself, talking about the same old subject - how to improve English. I thought to myself, "Gosh, how many times have I said the same thing!" This girl has been my student for 10 years, actually more than that. She has got a job right after graduated university but has been thinking to go overseas to get a master's degree. The question is, she says, in what field she wants to study. Which is a huge question I reckon.

We were supposed to read one of the stories in the book we use but we ended up talking about the same question. She asked me a couple of questions regarding the reading but her major interest right now is to get high score in TOEFL. She has a vivid photographic memory which has been her advantage while she was in Japanese educational ladder, however, getting M.A. is a very different ball game. It takes more than memorizing all the information in a textbook. It takes more than getting right answers in multiple choice questions. It takes desition-making, problem-solving, critical-thinking and analyzing skill. If she doesn't have a clear vision on her goal, pursuing it is challenging. Giving up her current job and doing self-searching business alone in overseas sounds a bit too risky for a 24 year-old Japanese woman with a serious sleeping problem.  I am not certain whether I should tell her or not this biting truth. After all, it is her life yet I feel responsible to inform what she should expect.

The second class was the last one, at least, for a while, till they finish the entrance exam for high school. We did a reading practice and an interviwing activity. After that, I shared my favorite quote, "Learn from yesterday, live for today, hope for tomorrow. " with my interpretation. In the last class, the question is thrown back at me: Did you do your best?
I am sure there are so many ways that can be more enjoyable, productive and meaningful for those students but my question is whether I have tried enough to facilitate the most enjoyable, productive and meaningful learning environment for them. The answer should be YES yet pathetically it is always YES/NO. Yes, I've done what I thought it would the best. No, I haven't really figured out what exactly works for each of them. I suspect that I can never say YES to the question but it is a good question to keep on asking myself.

The third class has just started a month ago but I had them last friday since they had a football practice this monday. Those new faces motivate me to do better. So far, they are absorbing all the new information brilliantly. My mission for them is to be ready for Jr. high and to cultivate positive attitude towards their ability to learn this new language. So far, so good.

 Overall, I had a very emotional day.

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Wednesday Classes

I have two classes in the evening. One is with three 6 graders and the other is with 4 high schoolers and 2 university students.

The first class has done Step test level 5 textbooks and lately switched to an intensive reading course book. They read a short easy story and answer comprehension questions along with it. Two of them have good reading skill but one boy is the way behind. The good news is he is still trying quite hard to catch other classmates but from time to time, he loses his patience. He is one of the brightest kids I had and his brothers are brilliant at reading. I have been puzzled why such a smart boy struggle to acquire simple phonics rules so much. He loves reading in his own language and extensively read books. So, it is not about the literacy problem some of other kids have. He doesn't hesitate to interact with others in English. In fact, he usually the one who enjoy communicative activities the most. At school, he is definitely one of the most inquisitive students and his high intellectual level is more than obvious. His motivation gets low from time to time but not significantly low, even a little higher than most of high schoolers. Especially lately, after we started using the course book, he has shown so much interests and really lively in the class. Other two students are quite motivated and get to the point where they would work without anybody's support. They knew their high English proficiency for their age and quite proud of that. In other words, they have become autonomous learners.

This week, I experimented to give some Japanese translation as I read the story for the first time while they listened. I tried to make it less obvious as I make the japanese part as short and brief as possible. This idea is from interlingual communication which I have heard at one of workshops for poets. Quite interesting idea and wanted to see how it works in my classroom. So, since we read a poetic story about a lonely moon, I spontaneously switched English into Japanese and then English again at some words I assume they didn't know. Interestingly, one of the students started taking notes and other two followed. I peeked at their notes. Unexpectedly, those translations I put were written.  They surprised me greatly, which I love, for I often need to ask high schoolers if they don't need to take notes what I said. some students, if not many, are trained to be absolutely passive in a classroom and they don't do anything unless they are told so. Therefore the spontaneous action of them are unexpected and finding learner's autonomy in the class made my day.  Furthermore, the boy did excellently in comprehension questions.
This might be controversial to give some Japanese translations for it would spoil the joy of discovery or guessing skill, however, I wonder if it is rather effective and pleasurable for students if we do so limitedly not throughly word by word translation. I wonder if this interlingual concept can be a middle ground between anti-grammer-translation and deadly tiring grammer-translation. It is too early to say anything but at least I had such a positive reaction from some students.

The second class has quite motivated students. All of them have stayed with me more than 6 years and three of them have nearly 10 years of history with me. I feel fully responsible on their English proficiency and I am not satisfied with my teaching skill. They are great kids but I don't see learner's autonomy in them yet. They are rather passive in spite of their friendliness and well-mannered behavior in the class. We are emotionally bonded for sure due to the long history we shared, however, my ultimate goal is to cultivate their intellectual curiosity and I haven't fulfilled the mission yet I am afraid. Two girls in the class have mentioned they would love to go abroad and expand their horizon in the future but other 4 students have no intention to get out of their cozy small world. After all, it is not entirely my responsibility how they live but it is a shame if they can't see their full potential. And I believe it is my fault if lack of confidence in their English abilities is the reason for their apathy toward overseas.
In order to stimulate their adventurous spirits, I started using stories written by other EFL teenage students, hoping one day they would get out of here to see the world for I believe we perceive who we really are only in comparison and I also believe we want to know who we are as much as possible.

This week, I asked them why they study English. What motivate them to do so. I got only one expected answer. Which is "To get into an university." Other answers were quite surprising and exciting as follows:
To live in Spain in the future
To study in Canada in the future
To visit Australia in the future
To be able to write original English songs
To be able to read all the papers regarding the world history

I hope each of them find a way to achieve their goals and wish I could be a bit of support for them.

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Tuesday class

I have only one class on Tuesday at the moment with 4 boys aged 7 to 10. Three of them are fairly new faces. I do TPR a lot to outlet their incredible energy in the class. I can't expect them to sit still and listen to unknown sounds for 50 mins. They love to get out of the classroom and do something in the garden. It is very fortunate that our little school has its garden, big enough to play Mr. Wolf or other fun games.
We spend more time in the outdoor classroom when the weather is mild. It seems to me it is more productive for no need to ask them to sit still or settle down repeatedly. They can be as wild as they want to be. In fact, I find it quite disappointing because they are not really wild. I was much wilder kid.

Yesterday, we had a guest who was 7 year old boy. 5 boys in a classroom can be  quite messy especially with a mum observing the class sitting next to the new face. One of them who is also 7 went really wild. For some reasons, he needed to show how rebellious he could be with big boys and the leader of the class, me. He acted so badly and tried to spoil all the fun of all the games we tried to play. It was awesome effort to get me really angry at one point when he started laughing at the visitor's pronunciation. It worked so well that I gave him the most frighteningly disgusted look. He couldn't help to say "Scary..." It was too adorable to be mad at even for a few more seconds.
Other boys must have felt sorry for me because of this insanely behaving classmate and were so helpful with the class and the visitor, encouraging and even praising his effort to do something. After a couple of activities for phonics with the severe peer pressure, the little rebellious one stopped being unreasonable. The visitor seemed to have fun with other big boys and for my big reward, he gave me the cutest and sweetest smile as he left. He would join us for the Halloween trick-or-treating this Saturday.

Overall, it wasn't really the best class I had but quite interesting one to observe. I must admit I tried to show the best class I could possibly manage to the visitor and his mum. Which must have smelled fishy or at least awkward to the little cute monster and his terrible behavior is just a reflection of his uneasiness, concern or disappointment. Or can be the test many children often give us to see how reasonable we, teachers/ parents/ grown-ups, are. Having a visitor is a big test for me for I am apt to get to know the person instantly and convince him that I am on his/her side within a class. Which is quite silly and arrogant notion of me. I wish I could have another chance to show who I am and let him decide whether he likes me or not. Also I must gain the mutual trust with the rebellious boy again. Big ego often gets in a way. It is my dilemma how strong I should show certain leadership for without a captain, all the ship might be lost or crushed. I'd love to be the lighthouse, warm and stable, to guide the ship gently and surely to the destination but I am too noisy and clumsy for that.

Monday, October 24, 2011

Monday Classes

I have three classes on Monday. The first one is from 10:30 am. It is not so dauntingly early for me but for my students ,who are in their early 20's, it seems it is. They almost always miss the first 10 mins. Which is really understandable considering their daily life styles, however, the society we live in is not so understanding I am afraid.

We read a book True Tales of American Life together. It has nearly 100 true stories, written by everyday people, not one of those HOT writers. We can relate to each story easily for it is short, easy and friendly, dealing with something familiar to us. Nothing academic but very enjoyable. Some issues emerged from our readings are quite serious yet very relevant to our lives. Each week, one of my students pick a story from the book and we discuss our questions and opinions about it.

This week, we shared a story called "The Interpretation of Dreams". Which was scarily appropriate that I just had a vivid nightmare this morning. I got up because of the scream of myself. At a breakfast table, I asked my daughter if I often scream or talk while I am asleep. According to her, I OFTEN scream...

Anyway, we then talked about the dream we had last night or recently and checked the meaning with the dream dictionary.
We shared quite interesting findings under "Lizard" and "Scream". I doubt the reliability of this site and its information but it makes fun readings.

In the second class, we study Step test pre-second level, using one of those textbooks. To make it a bit bearable, I use the last 10 mins for an activity, having students interview each other with some questions I found online. I usually  encourage them to add some of their own questions. The fun part is to set a timer for 3 mins. and do some intense interviewing ( some may say interrogating) . I named it "Time Shock" which is stolen from one of the quiz shows I used to love as a kid. In the show, if the participants of the show failed to answer all the questions, the seat, which is set  high up on the top of a few meters long pole would fall down as it spins like one of those scary ride at an amusement park. Unfortunately I don't have the seat and must do that manually. It is a hard work but worth the effort for it generates such a great laughter. Please note that you don't do this all the time for it may spoil that excitement.
For the reading comprehension part of the test, I introduced scanning and have students do the reading within certain amount of time, depending on the mood of the class. This also can be a fun Truth-or-false game.

The last class is the most exciting one at the moment because it is new one and all the students are amazingly motivated. Their eyes twinkle  like those of 3 year olds. I have three 6graders, all football loving boys. Those pre-teen kids usually are quite shy to make mistakes but they are not shy at all. I usually ask my students not to speak any japanese at all but for those boys I don't stop them to interact each other in japanese. But I keep on speaking only English to see what happens. Interestingly, in the third lesson, all of them have started to guess what I say and even try to answer my questions in English.
On the first day of their class, one of their mum came and said he might have to drop out after a few classes for he showed no interests in English.  More interestingly, he has become one of the most motivated one of all.

In the class, I did TPR and phonics as well as a spontaneous activity. The last one worked so well and we had a blast. The activity is just to draw a picture as I instruct them using the new voc. such as face, eyes, nose, ears and etc. They drew a face on a piece of paper and all the pics were so good with some personalities so that I couldn't help asking them a bit of stories behind. I asked the name, age and their preference on food and sport. Unexpectedly they created the character very well. I didn't plan to do so but it turned out to be one of the most fun activities we shared.
I look forward to seeing how they progress!

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Thursday classes

I have two classes on Thursday. One is Elementary school kids class and the other is Jr. High class.

Elementary kids class: I have only a boy and a girl in this class. 
The girl is 8 years old and has been studying English since she was 3. She can speak, read and write quite well and her comprehension is excellent. 
The boy is a year older than she is but he started learning English a few years ago with me. He is one of those kids with no enthusiasm. He was sent to my class by his mum, feeling hopeless in learning this new language. His 5 year older sister used to come to my class and she was one of the best not only in the class but also in her private Jr high school. She is blessed with brilliantly efficient brain, at least in Japanese education system where memorization is one of the core skills.  I suspect his apathy towards everything might be something to do with her excellency in the academic filed as well as sports. 
In contrast, this girl is fully motivated and seems to believe that she can acquire English. The difference in their ability is getting greater and greater for he doesn't do any works unless his mum pushes him enough but the girl enjoys her progress and doesn't forget to do homework. They both have busy working parents. 
I introduced them phonics and ER. It is amazing to see how much she can learn from those graded readers. But for him, reading is nothing but torture since he hates it. He is good at handwriting and his memory is amazingly vivid. All he needs is a bit of focus. He shows amazing enthusiasm and focus when he plays learning activities. 
I have just started to use a textbook designed for intensive reading for them. The book is a bit to easy for her but very challenging for him yet they both can read the easy and short articles and answer some comprehension questions with my instruction. This class is quite teacher-centered and I am not happy about that. But my goal at this stage is to get him understand the basic rules of reading and to offer him a chance to find something interesting in learning English. The latter is not so easy but I have been trying to find the breakthrough moment with him. 
I think having a fairly good reading skill will help kids when they enter Jr. High. In spite of some serious errors in English Education in Japan ( The most well-known one is very odd translation), having positive view on their English proficiency from the beginning has very positive results in most cases. This is also based on my personal experience. I always love English even as a subject at school because my embarkment to English education was so smooth and enjoyable because of the positive prospective I had towards my ability in learning English. The best explanation of this is my mum was an English teacher and she listened FEN (Currently it is called AFN) and the records of all kinds of jazz and soundtracks everyday. She never taught me English but I had sufficient English shower to feel comfortable with the sound of the language as I entered Jr. High. Plus I have already had a motivation to learn it, that was, to understand the meaning of all the lyrics I could sing. 
Anyhow, each person has a different way of learning. I must find a way for the boy.

Jr. High class: This is a dream class with all the enthusiastic students. They are quite top level at their school as far as English is concerned and they are quite proud of that. I don't really need to work on their motivation. I still want them to see English not as a mere subject but also a way to communicate with others using it as a common language. But having an entrance exam and all the pressure they feel, I really understand why they want to focus on tests such as Eiken. I often talk about the joy of leaning this global language, hoping one day they will realize what I mean. Perhaps this class is goal-oriented rather than process-oriented yet I can't complain so much since those students do their best in the class. The dilemma between ideal and reality can't be avoided I suppose. Nevertheless, there is always a way to have fun under any circumstances. For us is 8 to 10 mins game time at the end of the class. We do all kinds of quiz ( most cases about the content we have learned in the class) in game show style and enjoy short but fun time together. The laughter I get is priceless. 
This week, we run out of time because of the amount of worksheets to do and couldn't get the laughter. I must come up with better time-management strategy.

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Teaching Journal for TEYL Oct. 20th

Finally, I did it. I am on the Master's course I have dreamed of ever since I started undergrad degree.
So far I read an introduction book about AR and some papers on the same master's course. Recording teaching journal is recommended in both readings so I will give it a try.

Yesterday I had three classes, Nursery class, 6th graders and teenagers. Great variation to deal with.
Kids class: 11 kids, aged 3 to 5. We had a Halloween party, trick-or-treating around the school, getting sweets. After that, we played some games and read a story about Halloween. Most of kids looked pleased and excited for their first Halloween experience except a few hypersensitive ones for changes. They cried their head off when dressed kids in Halloween costume marched in their class. It was predictable and manageable incident. What bothered me is the behavior of a 5 year-old boy, who usually plays the role of a leader in the class, acted very shy and looked puzzled. It wasn't fear. It was something else.

6th graders class: We have started read intensively, using a textbook for developing mainly reading skill.
The textbook is visually attractive with friendly illustrations and short stories. Each unit has comprehension questions to confirm how much students understand the story. I hope they enjoy the improvement they make in reading skill with the book.
The problem in this class is a boy who has been struggling to grasp some simple rules of phonics. He is good at answering comprehension questions if I read the whole texts for him. He shows progress but it is the way slower than the other two in the same class. How I can operate the class without making him lose confident is my big challenge.

Teenagers class: Students have been motivated to a certain degree and do what they are assigned for. The challenge they face is to be more active in their learning. They do what they asked for but nothing more. I hope I can inspire much more autonomy in the class.