Sunday, December 30, 2012

The last message in 2012 for the wizards and philosophers

Wow. Amazing! With a lot of help from EFL wizards in Japan, I could managed to collect 125 responses for my survey. Compared to the usual number (about 20) I can collect, this is amazingly high and got interesting result which supports some of other research results. About 70% of teachers use a bit of L1 for various purposes but mainly for student's benefit such as facilitating friendlier and more comfortable learning space, especially for low leveled students. It shows very practical and pedagogical function of L1 usage in EFL classes.

Based on some of literature regarding L1 usage in L2 classes with the result of survey and 5 transcripts of my classes, my hypothesis is that the minimum and judicious usage of L1 can facilitate effective learning environment for young learners in terms of class management and motivation. This realization was made with amazing support from one of EFL wizards, Steven Herder who generously share his research paper on the same topic with me.

In spite of the lack of actual classroom and sufficient help from my tutor, considering the supportive and jolly study group with experienced and devoting educators that I regularly meet on Skype, daily helping hand from my partner, another EFL wizard & PhD candidate in TESOL and the connection with the miraculously generous and supportive group of wizards in EFL that I luckily have made in the last several years by involving ETJ Tokyo and attending numerous TEFL related events, I am in one of the most fortunate learning environment for professional as well as personal development.

I can't imagine myself getting involved and building connection with the wizards before getting involved with ETJ Tokyo Jolly fellows, Terry Yearly, Colin Skeats and Phil Brown, the first wizards I met in my life. It was 2006 I joined the group in order to be active in grass-root movement to stimulate collaborative learning among English teachers in Japan as I started taking a corresponding course at Nihon University, majoring in English literature after long absence from academic field that I felt resentful with based on the numerous horrible experiences I had in high school days. For a rebellious, wacky and ignorant teenager with full of skepticism towards the world of grown-ups, top-down and dictatorial style of school system she saw was nothing but torture and demotivating than anything else in the world. At that time, I completely lost my curiosity towards academic areas and rather hastily concluded that it was not my filed to be. I still somewhat doubt there is any room for me to be in the hard-core academic area where no rooms for practicality but only hypothesis and theoretical assertions. I strongly believe in the philosophers at nursery schools who respect the Goldren rule, "Do unto others" and practice the rule sincerely. But by joining the march with the jolly fellows as I got out of my comfort zone and explored the world of academia and TEFL at the same time, I discovered it is not only nursery schools but everywhere I can find those sincere and devoting philosophers. It was such an inspiring experience to get to know philosophers and wizards outside of my comfortable kingdom I have build around myself.  It was also the time when my own daughter took the first step in the educational ladder and started showing me beautiful vulnerability and amazing courage on daily bases as she steps out of her comfortable nest and face the bigger and more complex reality on her own. Her presence in my life get me reconsider my way of dealing with my life.

Through this serious and continuous reconsiderations of my beliefs  and opportunities to get to know those wizards and philosophers, I have come to a realization that instead of arming myself with full of skepticism and cynicism in order to defense the softest part of my heart, I would rather dive into my vulnerability with optimistic hopes and wishes, steadfast belief in the Golden rule and child-like curiosity and sincerity. From the day the realization was made, I actively seek the answers for my puzzles via participating workshops and presentations related to TEFL as I wrestled more academic facts via heaps of readings that the corresponding course offered. Through the workshops and presentations, I luckily made more connections with wizards and philosophers in TEFL and intensive study through the course, I've earned BA in English literature. Upon the path to the graduation from the course, inspired by devoting and hard-working teachers / mates in TEFL in Japan, my curiosity grew big and strong enough to explore more in depth in TEYL.

I am sure that any teachers who knew me as a teenager would not believe who I become in 2012 - Not only a mum / a teacher for young learners, I made the debut as a presenter and a material writer in EFL field. Thanks to all my Aston, ETJ, JALT and facebook friends for your inspirations and encouragements. Special thanks to Alastair Lamond, Aurora Dobashi, Barbara Sakamoto, Brian Cullen, Catherine Littlehale Oki,  David Paul, David Harrington, Eric Kane, Irine Sugizaki, Mari Nakamura, Sanae Kawamoto (in alphabetical order), who encouraged and supported me greatly to dare presenting at ETJ Expo. And of course, a big thanks and hug to my partner, Andy Boon for doing everything he can possibly do to make my life more comfortable yet exciting.

My appreciation also goes to the first inspiration and the motivator, my daughter who still keeps igniting the mum and teacher in myself by mumbling things like, "I like learning but I don't like studying." as she was tackling with her homework reluctantly at the face of heaps of seemingly meaningless facts and figures.
"What and how can I do to facilitate the most comfortable home/classroom for my children so that they can keep on going out and seek the answers for their puzzles fearlessly?" was the first thought I got at the moment. Wouldn't that be nice to wake up in the morning, thinking, "What can I learn today?" like Phil Brown stated on FB? After all, it is only fair if I at least try to provide such a space for children I fortunately meet in my life because I am offered the most fortunate learning environment from those wizards and philosophers whom I humbly and proudly call friends of mine.

Again this year, 2012, I have made more connections with more wizards and philosophers in EFL and the academic field via expanding and participating actively in EFL and academic filed. Thank you for inspiring me constantly and all of your presence in my life. I am here sitting in the kitchen, feeling thrilled as I think, "What can I learn today, tomorrow and  next year?"

Happy Learning for everyone in the coming new year !!

Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Something to think of during the break.

The young musicians, aged from 13 to 15 have dared to play a challenging tune on a big stage for a competition which 160  ensembles of junior high schools in Tokyo entered. It was held at one of the largest concert  hall in west Tokyo. In front of them, there were heaps of audience and some intimidating looking judges. Their pressure might have been enormous due to the expectation from peers from the school and the club. In spite of the daunting situation, they stood high in the center of the stage and played their music in harmony. Their outstanding efforts and devotion brought them the Gold prize and admirations from their peers, instructors and parents. Nobody forced them to do. It was merely their free will to enter the ensemble and the competition.

Had witnessed what kids can do when they put their heart into it, what Kohn asserts in this video make sense more. Part of his assertion can be a bit too extreme and too generalizing for I also know that some kids can find their places even in a traditional education system, memorizing facts and figures and flourish in their own way. And perhaps the real world is not that ideal place to live on with heaps of controversial issues and contradictions as we all know. Perhaps the patience and steadfast will can be emerged from rather bitter experiences in school days. One of the auto biological books of a legendary teacher from one of the elite school, Nada, says hard work and lots of devotion from an educator make differences at school. His way was rather unconventional in terms of contents to teach.  Yet in terms of amount of work and devotion required from students and teacher-centered style, his way is conventional. I am sure there are many other cases that traditional education work well and some of them might have found their places at school and become teachers. With passion and devotion, children might be able to absorb something from the class. But I think traditional teacher-centered way doesn't work to everyone, either.  So, it is only fair if schools come up with unique and alternative ways, depending on the learning style, social and cultural circumstance, mindset and other variables each student might have or may deal with. Because it is not impossible if all the educators and stakeholders put their heart into the reformation. Progressive education Kohn asserts might not make the ideal and perfect education but at least the ownership of learning would be given to the learners and there are more chances that they might feel more engaged and enjoyable in learning. What educators and stakeholders can do is to facilitate the comfortable and welcoming spaces for learners to flourish and also provide supports when needed. Then learners might be able to apply their own style to learn how to solve puzzles that they wonder in the real world. Finding some convincing answers for your puzzles can be time-consuming and requires hard work as well but at least you are actively involved in the quest and perhaps that is what excites us.

In much smaller scale, what I can do is to provide such a place for young learners of English. Just imagining the faces in flow get me excited!

Sunday, December 23, 2012

A Christmas Story

There are heaps of traditional Christmas stories to share during Christmas holiday. You also find little dramas and stories everywhere and I found one to share today in the morning on the Christmas eve.  

As my forgetful daughter, Momo left for school for practicing and preparing the concert she is participating today,  I sat in the kitchen table with freshly made coffee, thinking what and how to cook the Christmas dinner  we are having tonight at home. Then the phone rang. My heart doesn't dance as I pick the phone in the morning because those calls at the time of the day are usually emergency calls. As I looked at my cell phone, my heart actually sank because it was from my daughter and I knew it would definitely an emergency one. 
Oh no...I thought to myself. 
"Bring the costume to school. I forgot them all."
Of is the concert day, isn't it? Why didn't I make sure that she had everything? 
"Mum! Are you listening? Bring the band uniform! ok?"
After taking a long sigh and deep inhale, I finally manage to say, "Ok.", thinking how I was gonna complete this mission without my car. 

As soon as I put my phone down, the well informed critics in my head started shouting at me, 
"You are spoon feeding Momo. She can't be responsible if you help her all the time. "
" You are overprotecting mum." 
"Do you know who would be called? Helicopter mum!"
" You are sending her a wrong message by doing what she asks to do. " 
" You are spoiling your daughter!"
"You will regret what you are about to do!"
Another big sigh, coming out of my heart.

I needed to sit down on the chair in the kitchen and started to reflect what Momo was going through. On the Christmas eve, she left home for school in the early morning, practicing for the concert she would give with other high schoolers of the city where her school is located. I imagined her little dried hands with heaps of small cuts from carrying the heavy musical instruments for her club mates. I imagined her little swallowed lips from practicing trombone for the concerts during this holiday. I imagined her smile on the stage when she successfully performed her part. I imagined her numerous sighs and mumbles when things get too challenging to deal with. I imagined her jolly whistles as she wipes her tears. Then I had to put myself together and find out how I could deliver the uniform on time using the public transportation. 

Then my phone rang again. It was from my mum, telling me to get the uniform ready to deliver. Apparently, she was also notified by Momo about the emergency. Most of you might go, 
"What a spoilt child she is!" 
"That is awful to ask such a thing to her grandma in the early Christmas eve morning." 
And I agree with you. She is a spoilt brat. But she is also considerate and sweet girl who often acts considering others happiness and tries to do her best. She didn't mean to forget things but her mind is not capable of retaining all the information she gets. She feels stressed out and annoyed by her forgetful mind as well. I know how awful she feels whenever she forgets to bring something because I've been there. I was exactly like her at her age but I had a less crazy schedule. I had plenty of time to check and support in case of "emergency". My mum laughed at my forgetfulness and never got angry with it. And even with her grand daughter, she shows the forgiveness and humor. Again this morning, she called us to give helping hand again. But while my little critics shouting to my ears, I almost refused her help, saying Momo needs to learn how to be responsible. Then Mum said, 
"She's got plenty of time to learn that.  But you don't do that today. It is Christmas eve and let her enjoy the spirit." 

Lately my mum aged so quickly and forget things. She also struggles with her forgetfulness and understand how irritating it can be.  It has been upsetting for me to see her in a mess for she was a super mum. Selfishly and childishly I expect her to stay the way she has been without considering her age. But I admit I haven't been considerate or supportive enough with her. In spite of my childishness, she gave us a help without any conditions. She just gives without any expectations. She shows us how to be compassionate and what the Christmas spirit is all about. 

Perhaps Momo won't realize how amazingly wonderful her grandma is till she has the same experience as I did today. I felt so small and awful but at the same time so lucky to have a great role model as a mum. I was a spoilt brat like Momo when I was her age and sometimes I still am if not worse. But I remember  how helpful the laughter of my mum when I did something stupid and realized how those laughters and humor made who I am today.  I am full of errors and faults but my mum loves who I am. Why can't I do the same to my daughter? 

It is so unfair if I don't accept who she is because I was forgiven and accepted as who I was. It is my turn to do so. My mum said to me when I had Momo, 
"Enjoy your motherhood! It would be full of discoveries. Enjoy it while you can!"

 What a gift I got on Christmas eve! It is the messy and crazy motherhood for a teenager that I can experience and learn from only once in the life time. As my mum says, I would let myself enjoy the thrilling ride with occasional emergency calls and lots of laughters. After all, those crazy and silly moments would make unforgettable memories.

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Stories to tell.

I am working on some stories to tell at the moment. I am not sure where those stories would end up in. It could be just a teaching material for Sunny-field English or could go into a bit bigger world. Things are still uncertain but always good to come up with some stories to tell, especially before winter holiday.

One of the stories is about Tomo, a girl who is a typical teenager who has become apathetic to life itself. She has fallen into the worst mindset that she can possible be: Apathy. She doesn't care about anything. That is when life itself loses its color. Anger or stress might be a bit better than apathy for it is an emotion. Apathy is the final stage of spiritual death. It is not the absent of desire such as enlightenment or mindfulness to the present moment. It is the absent of emotion. Whatever the reason, all the emotions are frozen or terminated. It might be one of those defense mechanism working to prevent any pains to feel. It could happen to anyone with exceptionally tender heart. When the heart can't take the pain from life, it would stop taking it, would it? It can be a lonely fight till you realize that you are not alone. I've been there and done that. I struggled, stressed and wished that I had no emotions at all. At some point, I became quite apathetic to some aspects of life but my emotional nature didn't allow me to kill all the emotions but some exceptionally tender-hearted children might terminate the function in order to survive. Tomo is one of them. She has lost faith in her and life ltself. Everything looks futile and meaningless. In the world of massive productions and wastes, what kind of meaningful life can she possible have? She would say things like, "We all die anyway." She doesn't know there are some wonderful things she can enjoy on this comparatively short journey called life if only she opens her eyes and heart wide and take all in. Some pains involve yet the pleasures are worth enduring the pains. Perhaps she would learn this via finding passion in music, namely playing trombone. The bond she would build with club mates via practicing for a contest she happened to get involved in spite of apathy. Life can work in an unexpected way and opens up a new path for you from time to time with a bit of luck  in a form of an extra helping hands. For Tomo, it is the brass band club she unintentionally got involved ironically because of her apathetic attitude towards life itself. She just singed an application form of the club while she was aimlessly wander about the school corridor on the first day of the new school year. The enthusiastic members of the club caught her and got her in as a new member. She didn't have any ideas what she was up for but didn't bother to question it. She did what she was told to avoid further troubles. But actually this event got her in a whole new world.

The second story is about a teenage who immigrated with her family from Mexico to Seattle, Washington, where her parents were offered jobs as a cook and a waitress at a Mexican restaurant. Her parents took the offer thinking it would give their daughter better life. Catalina lost all her best friends and her home country at the most challenging stage of life. Knowing her parents good intention and love towards her, she tried to cope with the changes wholeheartedly in spite of all the challenges she faced. The first challenge was the language. Although she learned English a little at a primary school in Mexico, her English wasn't good enough to talk with her friends and she couldn't follow any works at school at the beginning. The language barrier looked too high to overcome. But again music the universal language would help her to make friends with her classmates. In her case, it is the guitar she has learned how to play from her dad paid off. On top of that, her lovely and tender nature nurtured by love from her parents and music get her overcome all the obstacles she faced. Her music opens her mind and people's hearts eventually. An idea hit her on one Sunday when she saw a busker, playing the guitar on the street in downtown Seattle when she wandered around alone because she had no friends and parents were busy working. Because of the performance and the people's reaction, she decided to give a try to perform with her guitar on the street. She had nowhere to go and no one to talk with anyway. It seemed like busking could make a fun activity.

Umm...lots of consideration and revision would be needed but two teenage girls might inspire me to tell their stories more. Ta-ta to you till the further inspiration allows me to pen some more lines.

Sunday, December 9, 2012

Who is the best role model for my language learning?

I've spend a day at Joint JALT Tokyo conference and had a chance to think who my role model was when I started learning English. The theme of the conference was, "There is no best method." but the discussion during the first plenary speaker, Dr. Andy Curtis, ended up in "Who can be the best role model for the language learners?" while he got us walk through the history of English language education and its methodology. It was quite interesting shift from talking about the best Methodology to the best roll model. To me, it was engaging topic for I constantly wonder if I am good enough as a language instructor. I keep on asking myself, "How can you be the best roll model for your students when your English can not be "Perfect"?" I Would try to make it as good enough as possible as a communication tool, however, I can never see myself to build the same sense of ease and confidence when I produce sentences in English as I do in my 1st language. My heart resonate with the phrases such as Daring greatly and the gift of imperfection because of the fact that I can't see myself achieving the native-like proficiency in English. And if the best roll model means someone who show the perfect model, I am a failure.

However, when I look back to my learning experiences, I remember some persons who were adorably imperfect and beautifully messy in a very wholehearted way. They motivated me to be able to communicate with them in order to get to know them more. Even for the different areas such as parenting, my roll models are not perfect human-beings yet they dealt with me as real and sincere as possible and accept me as who I am.  So, for me "the best" means not "the perfect". The best means more like sincere or real.

So, just in time before Christmas I found one more wish to add to my wishing list. That is to be courageous enough to show up in the classroom as sincere and real as possible in spite of all the anxieties and fears I might feel.

I am thankful for the opportunity to attend such a thought-provoking conference.

Monday, December 3, 2012

Momo's Learning Journey: Where does she go?

As I have mentioned more than a few times, my daughter has been getting terrible scores on English tests at school due to spelling errors and other careless errors in writing. She must have thought that she could be a super cool A+ student in her English classes, considering the time she spent with me, reading and playing in English until the age of 12 when she started studying for the entrance exam. In spite of the fact, she ended up taking extra-class-for- dummies at school. The outcome? She started saying "I HATE English."

Those classes are designed for slow learners and they supposed to help students to improve their learning skills and she should be glad to have such opportunities. But considering the humiliation the slow learners might feel to be in the class when the whole school kids know the reason why they take the classes, I felt uncertain about the effect of the effort of teachers. In spite of my concern, those extra-class-for-dummies have become her favorite.  What teachers do is to give them some tasks/ handouts to work on individually while they look after other things in the teacher's room. At the beginning, the kids did as they were told to do but eventually came up with better strategies on their own while teachers are away from the classroom. They started helping each other. Momo says learning together work better in fun and quicker way. I am not sure if it was really the teacher's intention but it happened and she said teachers were happy as long as all the tasks were correctly done within a certain time.

From this semester, she is no longer the "regular" of the class for her spelling skills got better and ironically she misses the class. Her enthusiasm in the "special" class asserts that the effect of peer learning for the age group. With more scaffolding from teachers, their learning might be accelerated, I wonder. But the peer learning experience has very positive effect on her motivation and also on her English proficiency test score. She took one of them at her school last month. This one is regular national proficiency test that the school requires students to take. In spite of her much lower than average score on her school English tests, she got 10th highest score in her school. It was a sudden leap from 40 something to 80 marks.

Daily exposure to authentic interaction between my partner and myself at breakfast table in English must be one of the reasons for the phenomenal change. For my own sake, I would like to think that the memories associated with a sense of pleasure via reading picture books and playing learning activities with her classmates at Sunnyfield English (my own school) started paying off as well. I have no idea how to prove it but she often says, "I know this phrase from Dr. Seuss.","Ah, Mr. Putter says this." and uses some expressions from those picture books she read or songs she enjoyed. It seems like after a few months of English lessons at school, those memories have returned to her mind.

Perhaps I am just speculating for my own benefit but she does started remembering bits of phrases, vocabularies, stories and songs from past and uses the experiences and knowledge for her learning. If she would be able to use her memories to hypothesize the meanings of unknown words and phrases in her learning, my score as a mum might get higher, at least on my self-evaluation sheet. Process is more important than the outcome for sure. But the positive outcome do motivate us to keep on learning to learn.

Thursday, November 29, 2012

Case study of M : Some radical change in the teenager.

Last night I witnessed two radical changes in my daughter.

1 She asked me to help her English homework for the first time in several months, saying upsettingly, "When I took the trombone from my club room, one of my club mate said to me that I shouldn't take it home. Because I would fail to get good scores in English test again if I enjoy practicing music. So, I've got to study hard, Mum! "
She said for the first time in her life she felt offended by the assumption of her friend. So, she needs to prove that her friend is not right. well, whatever the reason is, a motivation is a motivation!

2 After the dinner, she suddenly asked my partner if he would teach her how to play the guitar. She said, "Just because I have spare time." But she usually plays games for pleasure. As my partner praised how quick she learned some codes, she proudly said, "I have some talent for music." This is very interesting remark for she is not really confident in her potentials and capabilities. She often says, "I am not so smart. I can't remember things." and focus on negative features of herself. I wondered where this confident come from. I heard her mumbling, "I can' play trombone well." more than several times lately but last night she was different.
The interaction between my partner and daughter lasted about 30 min. and she thanked him for helping her. Then we studied English together about for an hour.

Something magical and miraculous happened last night. I am not sure if the magic continues or vanishes but it was definitely something to note.

Progress I noticed in her English ability:

  • Better spelling strategies
  • Maintained fairly good pronunciation
  • Achieved more lexical knowledge
  • Improved reading and writing skills
  • Showed more perseverance for challenging tasks 
But no spontaneous production skill can be seem. Very interesting to see how these changes would lead her.

Is there a Santa Clause?

How would you answer this question? I read a story, "Yes, Virginia. There is a Santa Clause."

Sunday, November 25, 2012

A good question to ask.

"How would you like to feel when you enter your classroom?"

This was the question asked in the presentation that Brian, one of my jolly and wonderful friends gave at ETJ Chubu Expo. When I met him as my partner's friend for the first time last year, I noticed he has got exceptionally calm and friendly way to talk and move. I also discovered that he was a talented musician. This time I found out that he is also an awesome trainer of NLP. Each participant in his presentation got a gift to take home with him/ her. Mine is a circle that I can always go back when I feel destructed. The C-C-C circle: Confident, connected and calm. This is the mental state I always wish to be not only in classroom but wherever I go, whatever the circumstance I am in, whoever I am with and whenever I am with others.
He introduced us one of the ways to be in the mental status anytime we wish. It would take time and lots of practice to acquire this technic but it would worth the effort I think.

It was also interesting to know that all the emotions, confident, connected and calm, are related to one occasion to me. That was the moment I held my daughter into my arms after the long painful labor for the first time. I never felt so confident that I could do my best for the little beautiful gift. I never felt so connected to any other beings. I never felt so calm as I saw her peaceful face. As I was guided to remember the time when I felt the each emotion, I went back to the exact moment, feeling my heart got expanded and warmed up so nicely. And I will surely remember the C-C-C circle to step in anytime I wish or need. I will practice this new way to be in the mental status I wish to be in class in order to enjoy and share my time and information with my children/ students from now on.

My understanding of presentation is to present something worth sharing and I have attended so many fantastic presentations and learned how to make my practice better a lot. But the circle I got from Brian's presentation with his lovely partner, Sarah was something more than that to me. It was something that can transform my perspective of my whole little world into something more hopeful and pleasant. From time to time, life can be overwhelming for a person like me who has grown up in a safe and comfy home with heaps of love without going though so many hardships. I have become a mum with a teenager but I still feel like a young buddha, naive and ignorant to the beautifully complex world with lights and shadows. In such daunting moments, I would go back to the C-C-C circle in oder to find the confident, connected and calm person in my heart.

Thursday, November 22, 2012

Ooops. Going back to the starting point.

After watching the video-recording of my class through the eyes, equipped with a bit more theories of teaching children, my discovery was nothing to do with my focus, teacher's feedback. I found that giving a certain task to children as a pair or a group work increases the active participation, motivation, sense of ownership and learner to learner talk without the teacher's intervention. Lots of laughters and interactions between learners have identified and the post- task presentations seemed to make a clear goal for them. In order to achieve the task more successfully, the stronger or the faster learners help the slower ones without any instructions from the teacher. Learners discussed and came up with better strategies to achieve the task on their own. They looked more involved and interested when they work in pairs or groups rather than in a teacher-innitiated activities. In other words, more student-centered and self-regulated class was evident in a group or pair works, at least in this particular class with 3 of 6 graders, 2 of 4th graders and 2 of 2nd graders. The level gap among them due to the age differences has become one of clear decisive measures in grouping or pairing children. The age differences between students also give unique dynamics in the class rather than obstacles. Elder students are more forgiving and supportive with younger ones who are not their siblings and this interesting tendency among elder students make the group or pair work more harmonious and effective for enhancing learning. Moreover, by stepping back and observe their work, I could see what kind of supports they need in order to achieve their tasks in a short term and improve their English proficiency in long term. These findings would help me to plan or revise the next tasks and lessons.

In spite of all the positive outcome of the pair work and group work, excessive usage of L1 has been apparent and troubling me ever since. Almost 100% of student's interactions during the task were conducted in L1 except some moments when I gave them some clues to use phrases that they have already acquired. My dilemma: How can a teacher maximize students L2 usage in group or pair practice in monolingual language class without depriving of their spontaneous interactions and learning opportunities through the work?

I would ask teachers in various settings how they deal with L1 usage in their classes via Survey Monkey and find more research papers on the subject.

I feel like running in a circle chasing my own tale. But my partner who is an experienced researcher says, "It is a part of research and that's how you find your own path."

With this inspiring and encouraging words in mind, I shall start seeking my path again :-)

Monday, November 19, 2012

Why do I say that!?

After recording my class, I listed to some to find what was going on. Perhaps most of you who have recorded your class to reflect your practice feel the same: SHOCK! Even though this is not the first time for me to record my own class and listened to it but this time my focus was teacher's feedback so that I focused on what I said. It is not really friendly and comfy to see the reality.

Some findings are listed below:

-Not enough wait-time for students to contribute answers or opinions.
- More display questions than referential ones
- Excessive use of teacher echos and IRF
- More form-fosused feedback than content feedback
- No enough student-initiated talk
-Filling in the gaps
-Some ineffective praises such as "Good!" due to habitual tendency

Positive ones are:

-Sufficient use of speech modification and rephrasing for comprehensible input
- Some negotiation for meaning ( teacher- students)
- Some content feedback
-Some referential questions such as "What would you like to eat for Thanksgiving dinner?"
- Prompting

Some use of L1 is not the focus but also something to consider. In the particular lesson, I feel I used L1 appropriately in order to use time effectively and support students' understanding for the tasks they need to do. I started using L1, considering some students' personalities as well. Some students can't move on unless they understand their task perfectly.

According to the data, some serious consideration and reformation are needed. The first big step of such  reformation is to be aware of my tendencies and errors, some features of my practice which are considered as obstruction for more learning opportunities for students in EFL settings (Walsh 2002)

I am going to consider the criteria of supportive teacher talk within the classroom as a unique institutional discourse setting.

Saturday, November 17, 2012

Are you living your dream?

When I was a little girl, I had a cousin who was 6 months older than I was. We were brought up like twins and we were best friends. Every weekend, I visited my uncle's place, which was in Kamakura, to play with her. We loved make-believe, acting like I was a princess and she was my nanny. Somehow, she didn't mind her unfair role at all and we both enjoyed coming up all sort of adventures in our small la-la land. We also loved reading picture books together. I still believe this childhood fun playtime with my best friend enriched my imagination and nurture my love for narratives / stories. Consequently, I started dreaming to be a writer as soon as I entered my teenage era. I didn't practice writing or  anything productive for my dream, however, I imagined the peaceful, elegant and lovely life of writers and felt content with the possibility. Somehow I had no reality check such as would I make it as a writer? Would that be a good and realistic carrier ? Would I make living for writing something? I just simply believed that if I want to I could be anyone or anything. Thanks to my mum, a genuine dreamer for feeding all sorts of fairly tales into my little absorbing mind.

Eventually, I have realized making your own dream happen takes so much effort and perhaps a bit of luck as well. It doesn't just miraculously happen without any efforts. It takes time, patience and steadfast faith in yourself. On top of that, you need some amazing supports from others as well as appropriate characteristics for the carrier. The miracle might happen when all the elements work in harmony at the right time for you. It is not impossible at all but it ain't easy at all, either.

As a mum of a teenager and a teacher for young learners, I often come up with a situation when I need to answer some philosophical questions from them. One of them is what is the point of living dream for such a small chance. All the effort and time you have spent might not work and you might end up in a carrier that you don't exactly love for reasons that most of dads and mums have. And some of grown-ups say, "Stop dreaming. Be realistic! You can't live when you have no job!" I have no objection for the realistic remark at all, however, I say, "Who knows what the future brings us? Why do you confine yourself based on the reality of someone else?"

The truth is that things might not work but they might work as well at the same work. So, why not taking a chance and make sure what works and what don't. After all, we live only once, at least, as who we are now. Instead of fearing the consequences for pursuing my dream, I would like to invest all my energy on chasing it. That is, of course, if the circumstance allows you.  In this crazy world, ridiculously unfair events happen: some incredibly nice people got hard luck on their carriers and lives. There is no guarantee for success. There is no shortcut  for finding meaningfulness in your life, either.

Your dream doesn't have to be so big. It can be a small goal like, "I will make my child smile at least once today!" Happy smiles are contagious and you never knows where the smily positive vibe will get you. At the face of risks and consequences, we all feel small and scared but it is up to us that we take the chance or not. And every action we make has a potential for learning and growing.

So, like my mum, my answer to the question - What's the point of pursuing a dream? - is that
it will be worth chasing if you have one because you can always gain something. If it is not the goal, it is the process. Nobody can take the experiences and findings away from you. Besides, you are lucky enough to be capable of dreaming or having a goal at such a difficult time to dream.

I am here still chasing my dream and goals every single day with whatever I can and one of the drive forces is the childhood memories with the amazing friend, my cousin, my twin sister. Unfortunately, my cousin is no longer in my reach for some illogic logic of grown-ups who decided to stay away each other without any contacts at all. ( my uncle and aunt was divorced when we were 12.) I don't know what kind of life she is leading but I truly hope that my rich childhood, filled with laughters and plays because of her presence, has also nurtured her heart to be a dreamer even when she feels time is not on her side.

Sunday, November 11, 2012

"Oh...that's a kid stuff..."

Many of my friends who teach English at schools might share the idea that generally Japanese students are passive in their learning. They might not complain whatever you do in class and just passively accept and get involved in activities reluctantly. This general notion captures the tendency of my students, aged 11 and above, however, as long as the young ones are concerned, they don't hesitate to tell me either explicitly or implicitly. Especially younger than 8, speak their mind so explicitly that the comments can sound even brutal. But the straightforwardness is what I really love about them and truly appreciate their feedback in spite of an instant rage or quite sharp heartache arise inside of myself as I receive such sharp criticism from children.

Of course there are some cases reflect just absolute selfish nature of some children and need to be informed that there are some occasions they might have to do things they don't really take pleasure so much. For example, not sharing color pencils with other kids that belong to the school, being an absolute sore loser in learning activities or being excessively violent/ wild physically or verbally to others in class. In fact, any abusive behavior with others shouldn't be allowed for any reasons. At the face of abusive behavior,  a teacher as a safe learning environment facilitator, must immediately act to stop such nonsense and counterproductive behavior. A follow-up individual interview also need to be done sometime after class to investigate the causes in order to prevent such unpleasant situations.

However, when children express their displeasure or deficiency in the contents of my classes in a relatively civilized manner, such as a comment, "Oh...that's a kid stuff..." or a big sigh. The voice / sign should be taken seriously and appreciated for their sincere feedback. Yes, it is tough to face your failures especially when you tried to do your best. And also it is human nature that we upset by a negative evaluation and language teachers are humans who are extra sensitive to words. I bet I frown or show a disappointment as I take their criticism but hopefully children would forgive my immaturity and give me credit for the effort to facilitate better learning contents and environment.  In fact, most of children I know are very forgiving and give me so many chances to modify things that don't work in class.

From this week, I will record the entire interaction with my students and see what the datas reveal. Whatever it would be, it would be a learning opportunity if I take it so, would it?

Friday, November 9, 2012

How about taking a breath or two?

On friday late afternoon, I have 5 first graders in my class at TKC (my new work). They are full of energy and from time to time some boys need to scream their extra energy out of their systems, turning the classroom into a zoo. They can be noisier than some of monkeys which really amazes me since I don't really have that energy anymore. It can be a bit overwhelming but I don't mind as long as they don't scream without any particular reasons. In fact, getting excited and being a bit extra cheeky would be fine with me as long as they are engaged in some learning activities. We cheer and tend to speak in larger volume when we are excited? Isn't it a positive sign?

However, for younger kids like 1st graders, it might be difficult to know when to get wild and playful. So, we, teachers obviously let them know when they got so dangerously wild that the noise might offend neighbors. That is when I found deep breathing counting down intervention work quite well. It comes from Yoga practice.
I go, "Hey, everyone! Let's sit down for a while and take a deep breath." And I  take a deep breath and count down from 5 as we take a deep breath. By the time we take 5 deep breath, everyone gets mellower. I found this simple breathing exercise effective as a friendly transitional cue from a dynamic learning activity to mellow one.

One of Yoga gurus said once, "When your mind gets noisy and distractive, breathe."
Here is something to consider.

I haven't figure out how to integrate yoga practice and its philosophy into my classes yet but I started introducing yogic wisdom. And doing the sun dance with kids might be better than screaming back and exhausting myself when the class got a bit of out of control.

Happy Sunny Saturday to you all!

Thursday, November 8, 2012

What is a teacher's feedback for?

After having a Skype meeting with my tutor and a participant of the course for methodology module, I felt lost. The reason was that my tutor didn't get impressed at all while I was keen on talking about self -theory that explained two types of mindsets. Just before I was going to explain the connection between mindsets and an effective kind of praise, my tutor stopped me and asked me to reconsider the starting point I got for teacher's praises might not be a reason that students feel helplessness at the face of challenging tasks. That comment sounded a brutal rejection of my proposal. 

On the other hand, the other participant in the meeting got very positive feedback from the tutor such as 
"It sounds worth investigating."
"Oh, that sounds intriguing."
where the ones I got were:
"I don't understand what you mean."
"I am not sure if that (praising, my focus) is worth investigating."
"Oh, that is only psychological matter."

The tone of her voice told me that I wasn't even close to meet her expectation. The whole session was unexpectedly upsetting. Ironically, the session proved that teacher's feedback matter to a student a lot. Especially it was the first meeting and I had such an inspiring and motivating tutor in the last module, I was devastated due to the time I might have wasted and the work I need to do ahead. I felt like I was quite close to the goal in a race and one of the judges of the race disqualified me for running off track.
I went to bed feeling absolutely miserable in spite of kind and generous support from my partner. He tried everything he could to cheer me up again. But, as you may know, nothing works when the message receiver is experiencing the helplessness.

This morning, as I saw the sun rising, I got more hopeful mood and started reflecting what exactly happened last night and what I should do from there with a big support from my partner. He listened to every single messy whinging-like mumble just before beginning his very busy day at the breakfast table. I am afraid he couldn't digest all the food at all. As I mumbled away, I felt much better and realized I was in absolutely fixed mindset. Last night I was absolutely in shock at the face of challenges and lost all my motivation because I didn't see the session as a learning process but a painful criticize on my work. Then I realize how arrogant I have been to expect a positive feedback from my tutor and how silly to compare myself to the other participant. As I felt more open to  my partner's advice, I realized that the session was a great learning opportunity for me in many ways:

I can now related to how exactly my students feel when I gave them a negative feedback while giving others positive ones.
I identified my own tendency to fall in the fixed mindset easily as a student.
I can develop my knowledge on praising via reading more literature in order to find better starting point.
I feel more determined to record my class and examine more carefully.
I got better understanding of qualitative research.
I got better idea how I narrow down a general topic to a research topic.
I got better idea where the answer would be in Action Research.

All my puzzles haven't been solved yet but I know where I can go now. It is the kids, the classroom, my home. This whole session turned my enthusiastic pleasant evening into a nightmarish one. But at the same time, it got me back home where I seek the answers for my puzzles. Young learners in various stages in their lives I have met at Sunnyfield English, my home, showed me the way how to talk, learn and grow together in the last decade.  So, I am quite sure they will show me the way on this challenging path as well.

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

What makes the world wonderful?

Are you singin'? Dancin' to this beautiful tune? Can you related to this sentiment? How often do you think to yourself, "What a wonderful world!"

As I teach young learners for quite long time, I have come across with some who are chronically depressed about their lives, finding no meanings, no motivation, no pleasures at all. Their common phrases would be, "I can't do it. " "I don't know." "I am tired." "I am sleepy." "Sorry." They don't destruct other students by being noisy, nasty or naughty. They just sit on the corner of the classroom with emotionless faces. I can't feel any energy from them. They don't react any cheekiness from their teacher, either. They come and go without participating. Is this person familiar to you?

It has been tough to understand what in the world is going on in their minds because I have never been a child like them. I was physically weak but very very cheeky inside. I often imagined something really naughty to do or say in class and entertained other kids by telling the ideas during breaks. My classmates usually love my ideas and we all laughed together. Being funny was my way to connect with others. Otherwise I would be a loser and the best target for bullies for my chubby looks and sluggish way of speaking. Being funny and cheeky was my best protection in my childhood. So, sitting spiritlessly like a zombi in the classroom was never occurred to me. The bullies would have killed me spiritually if I did so.

Those zombified kids for some reasons are not slow learners or chubby like I was. In fact most of them are bright and good-looking to me. And perhaps they might be considered as "good" kids for they are quiet and most of the time do what I ask to do. I just can't feel the vigorous spirits that most kids possess which bother me so much and need to know the causes. In spite of my strong interest or concern towards those zombified ones, they won't usually open their mouths unless I managed to build a rapport with them somehow. It has been fifty-fifty whether I can build rapport or not. If parents allow me to let me be with them for a while, I have more chances to get to know them but if I have only a few months,
 I am useless.

In my long career, I met a few kids of this kind who courageously opened their hearts to me and talked about their issues. Those were very very emotional moments and I salute them for their courage to open up and share their vulnerability with someone like me who share only an hour a week with them. From what I heard from them, I got a hypothesis that they have enormously high expectation for their lives and so their parents are and they are extremely goal-oriented. They have tendency to ignore all the pleasure of learning which lies in the learning process. No matter what outcome is if the process is worth participating, you will try again even at the face of big failure or setback. The kind of perseverance or "faith" in your potential is needed for them. They are perfectionist and feel constantly disappointed with their skills and talent because of the sky high expectations. When this persons meet  other perfectionist in their family, things intensified and every learning opportunity become a test or a judgement of his/ her talent. Eventually they stop trying and go for safe way, which is not bad at all. I don't mean to criticize anyone's life style but if this perfectionism leads some kids chronically depressed or kills their natural curiosity, I can't sit around and let it go. I would like to do something with them because they are part of the wonderful world we live in. They can take part in as who they are in this strange world with full of unique creatures including humans. And the truth is I've never met anyone perfect so far. There might be some but I've never net them yet and according to my wise grandma, there is none.

This kind of zombified people due to the perfectionism is defined as "fixed mindset" and the other who have more faith in their potentiality is "growth mindset", according to Dweck. She asserts that such mindsets come from what authorities (parents and teachers) say to them in their childhood when they are still so vulnerable to their words.

This is my topic for my Methodology assignment. I would like to examine myself as a teacher/ mum so that I won't at least hurt any children. I am aware of my limitation. I am aware that there is little tiny bit of time I can share with my kids. But within the precious time, I hope I can help them to see their amazing potential and amazingly bright and positive future not in the mere opportunistic way or idealistic way. I would like them to see their potential in the more realistic way via eliciting their psychological strength, toughness and perseverance at the face of setbacks. I need to research more how I can possibly help them find all the quality they posses inside but I know I will if I don't give up.

It is quite funny that my grandpa gave me this beautiful name, Chiyuki. In chinese character, it means "Never give-up" I think my grandpa's only expectation for me was to be growth mindset and live this precious life in my own unique way. With his unconditional love and unjudgmental wish for my well-being, I become who I am in spite of more than few times of severe fights with fatal sicknesses.

Seligman asserts that there are 4 features to fulfill to flourish your life :
positive emotion
engagement at work
positive relationship
accomplishment / meaningful life

My hypothesis is that parents and teachers play key figures to cultivate the essential mindset for kids to realize well-being on their own in their adulthood.

Do you see the beauties and wonderful features of the world? Then we are on the same page :-)

Monday, November 5, 2012


What is home? Where do you call home? Where do you feel at home? Is that the place you live now? Is that the place you are originally from? Is that the place you work at?

This weekend, I had an amazing experience at an occasion that could be so overwhelming and even traumatic. For my first solo presentation, (I had more than few experiences to do presentation with some other fantastic teachers) I had more than 50 audience unexpectedly. Considering the quality of the product, Happy Valley, it is understandable that it got so much attention but it was from late afternoon and I am nobody in EFL world so that I assumed it would be rather a small number of audience might come. I asked some of my mates come and join my first presentation to cerebrate the new start but never imagined anything like that (nearly 70 audience) happens. It was so surreal and phenomenal to me. I couldn't believe my own eyes and needed to walk away from the room with full of nice smily and friendly faces. Outside of the room, I thought to myself, "What am I doing here? What if everyone got so disappointed? How I am gonna apologize to the audience who came to the presentation to learn something?" Then the panicky feeling swallowed this small being. I wasn't ready to stand up and talk to the people in front of me. They might have left their kids at home for the presentation. They might have many other better things to do. It would be a waste for them if they get nothing from this presentation because of me. All the panicky thought went through my mind and my heart started pounding so badly that I didn't know how to breath. I had to turned my back to the audience to take a deep deep breath.
At the moment I turned my back and walked a few more steps away from the door of the room, there was a tall man with a big warm smile on his face. Very gentle and assuring smile. I walked up to him and said, "I am not sure what I am doing here." He said, "They are not audience. They are your students. 3 or 4 years old. All you need to do is to go and teach them like usual. "

His words worked like a magic. My panic subsided and suddenly something exciting emerged. And I thought to myself, "Wow! That sounds fun. with nearly 70 kids in class? What kind of cool occasion it can be? Cool and awesome!" Instantly I was ready to play and learn with the audience. So, i turned around and looked at the lovely and smily my friends, students and bunch of amazing supporters who have encouraged me to present what I believe from my 17 years of experience with amazing kids. I started to remember all the rosy-cheeked cute children I had. In my mind, they were smiling and cheering me to do the best I could. The last person I caught with my eyes was my partner, quietly standing at one corner of the room with the little shy smile on his face. Then I heard his words from the previous night, "You would be fantastic." I went irritatedly, "How do you know?" But he said, " I just know." Honestly at that point, it didn't sound so promising but at the moment I caught his eyes as I was introduced as a presenter for Happy Valley, his words also got me do the best I could.

After the first song Hello was introduced, I knew how lovely the audience was and was sure that I could count on them to learn something from the presentation slides even without me. Even though my mouth was somehow so dried that I seriously thought my lips would stuck on my front teeth and I would look ridiculously funny in the first five minutes, I felt rather excited than panicked. With  fantastic helps from the audience, once in a life time superb performance of my partner and his co-auther/ good mate and of course the great support from the Happy Valley team, the presentation went extremely better than I expected. I truly felt the power of collective kindness and positive vibe. I was no longer the presenter, I was a participant of a big happy learning event.

What I learned from this experience is that the presenter's role for this kind of educational event is to facilitate a space where all the fantastically enthusiastic teachers would meet others and collaborate their skills and talents to improve our practice.  A presenter is a participant of the event and her work is to set up the ground where all the audience can work together.

My partner and other fantastic presenters I have met  have showed me so that I was familiar with the concept but this time I really understand the role of presenter from my experience. It is the same as my ideal teacher. It is still easier said than done matter for this newbie. I guess all I can do is to do the best I can and learn from the other participants whether I am with my little learners or big learners.

If the definition of home is somewhere you feel secure and relaxed and a place you are from, my home is a classroom where I can collaborate with other participants to find something new and unexpected about the world we all share.

By talking, mingling and connecting with kindred spirits, a cafe, a restaurant, an apartment room, a corner of a town can be a classroom / our home like my favorite singer, Phillip Phillips sings,

"You are not alone cuz I 'm gonna make this place your home."

Monday, October 29, 2012

Ruby Tuesday

I blame this sentiment on the grayish sky. This morning the image of myself trying to circling movement on the horizontal bar over and over with Ruby Tuesday as a BGM keeps on flashing back to my mind. The combination of  this recurrent image and the song must be some kind of reflection of my current mindset.

When I was the 1st grader, my teacher, Mrs. Takagi, experienced and passionate genuine educator with motherly love showing on her face, said to the class,

"We will practice backward circling movement on the horizontal bar today. "

Oh, no! I thought to myself.

As a bit chubby and slow kid, this kind of challenge means another chance to be a joke for the class. I couldn't see myself doing such a trick on a thin bar like a monkey. As I predicted, I couldn't do it in spite of my effort while others did it as if it was the easiest thing in the world. Children can be very brutal with a slow one especially with a little chubby girl who were as quiet as a mouse. I tried to be as low profile as possible back then because I knew how harshly I could be teased. But unintentionally Mrs. Takagi put me in the center of spotlight. Unfortunately this light wasn't really glorious. It was glooming to me. I don't recall exact words from other kids or anything but I remember the humiliation.

Then I remember as soon as I got back home I asked my mum to get a horizontal bar for me to practice.
I have no idea how she found the portable horizontal bar for me but I remember I put it right in front of a big tree in our backyard in order to use the trunk as a support to pull myself to the bar. I could pull myself up enough to spin around the bar when I used the tree trunk and this practice became my daily routine. After school, I came back right home and trained myself over and over on the horizontal bar under the tree till the sun hid behind the mountain. My mum as my best cheer leader must have said something encouraging but I don't recall any of that. All I remember is the sensation I felt inside when my body went up in the air and spin around the bar. As I did the same movement over and over, it became almost automatic and one day something miracle happened. It must have been a few weeks later since I started my secret self-training, I was able to pull myself up with only a step on the trunk. After a while I was enjoying the sensation of spinning around, I made a spin without using the tree trunk. I couldn't believed what happened and tried that again. Surely enough, I could do it. This event wasn't the last one I had to work so hard since I was a chubby and slow kid but I remember this triumph so vividly. Maybe just because it was my first big challenge and I was not a much of challenger back then. The horizontal bar and the big Ginkgo tree, the only witness of the moment of triumph, are gone but the memory remains.

At a face of a big challenge or change, I often think of this 6 year old little girl I once was and somehow everything looks possible if I put my effort enough. Ruby Tuesday is an ideal person I always long to be. She is carefree and fearless. So the combination of the image and the song is the most powerful mood booster and I am glad it came back to me today.

Sunday, October 28, 2012

The fruit of peer learning

This is the opening of a performance of the brass band of my daughter's high school. They played 5 tunes in total at their school festival yesterday. It was well-practiced and performed. I truly impressed by the entertaining and fantastic performance on the stage and also the fantastic audience.

According to my daughter, one of the members of the band (a trombone player), they usually practice without coaches or instructors. Except some special occasions such as a big competition, older students  instruct younger ones  how to play from ABC. This might have been quite common for high school club activities in Japan. To me, this common practice shows the power of peer learning. Especially for teenagers who tend to be as independent as possible from their parents, peers become more crucial players for their lives if not everything. While the words from parents irritate them, the words from peers influence them in a great deal. The influence could be either positive or negative. What teachers and parents can do is to facilitate a healthy and safe environment for teens to be thrived in the field they are intrigued with. With faith and support in their potential to learn something on their own from adults, they would be able to achieve something, driven by intrinsic motivation, the seed of self-efficacy and discipline with which they would overcome the setbacks and pursue their goals.

After the long and hard practice, my daughter collapsed on her bed at around 8 pm last night. But she got up before 6 am and went for the morning practice again. The determination won't be made without positive and powerful influence from her peers. I hope they enjoy the fruit of their own learning.

Saturday, October 27, 2012

Life In Technicolor

Since I started facilitating a space for learning, playing, discovering and sharing the world around us with children via  English about 17 years ago, I've been asking myself, "Why?"
In other words: The purpose/ philosophy of myself for my profession.

At the beginning, as a single girl, who enjoyed her life as a backpacker so much, there was no philosophy behind. I just enjoyed the presence of children in my life and  this job would certainly get some of them in my life constantly. And sharing some incredible experiences I had while traveling with kids seemed like a good idea. I also thought it would be awesome if some kids pack up and go to see the world on their own eyes. Back then, English was a mere useful tool for me to share with kids. I didn't think I would make "teaching" my career for I was busy for discovering the world.

Things turned upside down since my daughter came along. As I heard her first cry and held her in my arms, instantly she became the world to explore. I wanted to build a comfortable nest for her instead of drifting around. As this huge mind shift occurred, teaching English  for children became more than temporary job, something fun to do while traveling. It became a career to pursue. I have made so many mistakes and errors in my youth but this particular decision was right. This career provided the best environment I could possibly provide for my baby girl who is no longer so little now. She has grown up among other children and adults who learn for various purposes and ways. I really appreciate for their presence in our lives. Otherwise, single parent household could be daunting for both of us. Of course there were ups and downs like any other families have but our lives have been blessed with lots of laughters, exciting challenges and helping hands. We learn what compassion is all about and see goodness, kindness and generosity in people. Compassion doesn't know pity, prejudice or other ignorant judgements. I truly thank for everyone in our lives for I have never seen crying face of my daughter because of her circumstance.

Our circumstance has been radically changed since we moved into a new nest with a new member of our household, my partner. He is the one who has been supporting me in the closest position to pursue my career as a mum, post-graduate students and a teacher for young learners. I hope I would be able to make this most challenging career, M.A. Mama as my life-long research project because the world of TEFL for young learners is the most adventurous, dynamic and exciting place to explore through eyes of not only a teacher but a parent. Every challenge I get provokes my rebelliousness and stimulates my curiosity. Every smile I see in my classroom motivates me to be better personally and professionally. Every progress I feel in my children adds more meaning to my precious yet tiny life.

In sum, this career has become my life-long journey now and the purpose of my journey is to learn and share what I learn with next generation in the hope of generating more life-long learners.

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Parents and teachers! Here is something to consider

What would we, parents and teachers want for our children, fixed or growth mindset?
Which one can be more beneficial for their happier and fuller lives?
How would children feel at the face of setbacks?
How can we help them to acquire the mindset?

Here is another one!

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Notes from last night

I have just returned from a Halloween party with kids aged 0 to 5. It was just priceless. I am still in the dazzling of happiness. Why do I feel this? Because all the kids showed me the happy faces. Happiness is contagious and multiply the effect when it is shared. Last night, my daughter reminded me of this fact.

My aging mum has been having difficult time to adjust her own changes physically and psychologically.  This confusion has been going on for a while and we are learning what we can do for her when she gets panicked. When she does, she can't think and act as the way she normally is. She needs someone to walk along outside for a while. Knowing this tendency, my daughter volunteered in spite of her fatigue from nasty cold and vigorous brass band practice. Fortunately, just before they left my parent's place for the night walk, I caught them after work and asked my dad if he could join my mum because it wasn't safe for them to go for a walk at night alone. Besides, my daughter was still recovering from the nasty cold and looked absolutely exhausted from the day at school. She has already skipped a day from school last week and couldn't afford to miss another day in the midst of serious preparation for the first school festival and the brass band concert. Above all, she has been quite ill and really needed to get some more sleep to be fully recovered.

On the way back home, in my car, she started talking about some funny episodes she got from school. We tried to laugh away our worries about my mum's condition which can't be cured instantly. After having the good laugh, she said, "Seeing happiness on other's faces is the happiest moment. Do you think, Mum?"

"Yup." is the only word I could manage to utter because I was in tears.

I knew she wanted to go for a walk for my mum. I knew she didn't care how tired and sick she was. I knew she cared about her grandma a lot. I knew it was a chance for her to give some love back to her grandma. I might have ruined it but I also knew my mum wouldn't be happy when her granddaughter got fever again. So, I had to act a cold-hearted and nasty daughter, dealing with my guilt.

In spite of all her laziness and rebelliousness, in the midst of the inner conflict I had, her words washed the guilt, anxiety and sadness away and retrieved the big smile to my face again. She reminded me of something essential and something genuinely good in us. I truly respect and appreciate her presence in my life for all the lessons she has given me.

Because of what she said last night, those smily and happy faces of children at the Halloween party looked absolutely fantastic.

I tend to be caught up in tiny matters of life and forget something really good, the essence of well-being. I hope I would keep the words of wisdom from the rebellious yet tender spirited girl via sharing them with others.

Monday, October 22, 2012

Is no praise a good praise?

I have been reading some literature and thinking about praising yesterday. As a teacher for young learners, I realize I tend to praise them unnecessarily and frequently without considering so much about the pitfall of praising.

Some researches show that children can detect insincerity in teacher or parent's praise and that leads to hopelessness in them. In other words, insincere praise damages children's self-efficacy. These findings scared hell out of me because that is not what I intend to do at all. But it is true some of grown-ups tend to use a praise as a motivator without fully aware of the danger. Such a false praise may also damage the relationship you have build with the kid. On top of that, it can make your kid addictive to easy-rewards. Once your kids become a praise junky, he/she won't do anything without it and this tendency might take away autonomy in learning and discovering his/ her own live. False praises also create helplessness in children at the face of setback. Those children who have been getting too much meaningless praises tend to give up challenges easily. One of the research paper says, at the face of setback, neutral and nonjudgemental feedback is the best to give. 

What I have discovered so far is that no praise on their efforts is not an answer to avoid making your child or student a praise junky but being aware of the pitfall of praising and use it appropriately and wisely might be able to facilitate more motivating environment for children's personal development. We as parents or educators ultimately want our kids/ students to be independent life-time learners with full of curiosity, don't we? At least, facilitating assuring environment for children to develop steadfast self-efficacy and perseverance in order to flourish in their own ways is my way to feel flourished as a person. 

Don't get me wrong I am not one of those selfless saints on earth. I just want to see my kids flourishing with their own strength in their own unique ways for very very self-centered and selfish reason. I feel happiest when I see the proud smiles of children and hear the genuine laughters of them because that is the only time when I see something glorious in spite of all absurdity in humanity including myself. 
Does it make me a junky of their smiles? Then, so be it! 

Saturday, October 20, 2012

Angels on earth: Saturday class.

Some days things don't work at all and I feel hopeless and useless and start asking myself, "What are you doing here?" Hiding at home and taking care of my family instead of being in class, learning via trials and errors looks more appealing and sensible. I had one of those day last friday. I was totally exhausted physically and psychologically on Saturday morning and was not be able to take any tough time from children. In other words, I wasn't ready to share and learn with them.

In spite of the apathetic attitude of students in the second class, I managed to go through three classes with slightly more positive attitude but before going into the classroom, I was seriously praying that the children would be ready for learning something. They were absolutely ready smiling and sitting on the chairs with notebooks and textbook ready on the table. I was so impressed and thankful to their enthusiasm that I couldn't help telling them how fantastic they were. Then, one of students sympathetically said, "You are overpraising us. This is just a normal behavior in class." Then I explained how I felt on the day and how motivating their enthusiasm towards learning was. They were so sympathetic and did all the work I planned earnestly and when it came to Story time (I read a story for them at the end of the class), they became a wonderful audience, going "Oh!" "wow"and "phew" as I read through the story. Then, one of the students said, "Please read one more story for us!" Nothing can beat that kind of comment. They were my saviors. I am not exaggerating. I felt that low somehow on the day.

It is easy to blame a bad day on other things but I believe / know that it is me who to be responsible for the negative response from children. But usually there are so many things going around me and can't help feeling exhausted.  Without sufficient positive energy, you can't carry some of the luggage children carry and lighten up a little.

So, I asked and received help from children more than I can imagine.

Thursday, October 18, 2012

Thursday Class

This one is mixed level class and it requires creativity to manage the differences. Three kids in the class are 5th and 6th graders, becoming as critical and self-conscious as they can be. Two of them are 2nd graders, still being in a la la land, careless, easily amused, playful and chatty. Two of them are 4th graders, becoming little more self-counscious yet still showing innocent curiosity with pretty much everything. My mission is to design lessons that somewhat satisfy needs of all the students. Since they have different level of comprehension in all 4 skills, I can assign them individual activities and check their work individually while they share some of activities such as singing. I've done that and it was rather easy to handle, however, to make this unique circumstance more beneficial to all of us, I started to offer more tasks to complete as groups. I usually divide them into three groups and ask them to work on some tasks together. The elder kids automatically become leaders of each group, trying to control little ones. Their control is surely much better than mine. Little ones work more diligently to complete their missions.

Yesterday I put up a piece of paper on the white board with 20 Halloween vocabularies we have learned in last class. This class served as a review one. Then I asked them to make three groups. One of  students didn't show up yesterday so that we made three pairs. The activity goes:
1 On the piece of paper, letters, ABCD and numbers from 1 to 5 were printed on the top of the Halloween vocabulary chart and the right side of it.

2 One of the pair finds the word from the chart as I call a letter and a number, for instance, A-1.

3 Then the student tell the word such as witch to his/ her pair and he/she write it on his/her notebook.

4 The  chart contains pictures and written words underneath so that the reader can tell how to spell to the writer as he/she asks, "How do you spell that?"

5 I set timer just to add more thrill to the activity but I often stretch time as it needed.

I encourage them to use simple English phrases as they do this task such as
Student A: It is a witch.
Student B: How do you spell "witch"?
Student A: W-I-T-C-H
Student B: Can you spell that again? W and what?

However, depending on the purpose and amount,  L1 is allowed to use to a certain degree. The objectives of this task is to encourage learner to learner interaction, build rapport among learners while they work on their reading and writing skills. We did the same activity twice as students switched the role in the pair activity.

One of the best findings via this activity is that elder ones needed to be patient with the young ones and provide extra support. None of them lost their temper and tried to complete the task with little ones patiently. 6th grade girl, who has the best ability in the class in all 4 skills, lost her patience a little because her pair was the slowest learner. However, how she endured the sluggishness of her partner and started giving him a lesson on alphabet writing, using the picture dictionary I put on the table. She looked at me as if she needed my approval to use the picture dictionary to guide her partner. So, I nodded.

She has a little brother in the class but can't be that patient with him like I can't be so patient with my daughter. It is funny human tendency.

I think this kind of simple tasks with explicit goals might make meaningful lessons for they can build rapport between students, empathy and patience while young learners learn new vocabularies or phrases. While I mix with some of individual activities and group ones, I will see what other fascinating abilities of them emerge :-)

Wednesday, October 17, 2012


I've been reading a book, Flourish, written by the founder of positive psychology, Martin Seligman with full of practical ideas for well-being. He says, 

"Positive mental health is a presence: the presence of positive emotion, the presence of engagement, the presence of good relationship and the presence of accomplishment."

Being healthy doesn't mean merely being absence of mental or physical sickness. 

In Chapter 6 of the book, he talks about academic accomplishment and the essential role of self-decipline in order to flourish in classroom as a learner. Not high IQ but self-decipline/ willpower works better to get better grades. Which explains why generally girls get better grades than boys. Generally girls got more self-decipline, some research show. 

I haven't really studied this tricky business, gender yet but from my personal observation on kids for about 17 years, I suspect there are some distinguishable characteristics between boys and girls. Perhaps this view is based on conventional social belief but wherever I go, I find some boys with no self-decipline, especially at bars. And I suspect this is quite universal fact. 

Whether this view is scientifically valid or not, I personally prefer the idea that self-decipline works to be academically excellent because willpower or self-decipline can be nurtured or learned. As long as it can be acquired, there is a hope for everyone. 

There is a terrible notion that some people are born to be winners with their high intelligence. This notion seems like one of the worst common demotivators for young learners because it sends a message that it doesn't matter how hard you try because the intelligence is a fixed ability. In fact, those who are excellent in any kinds of filed are the hardest worker with full of self-decipline to accomplish the high goal they set for themselves. 

Albert Einstein says

"It's not that I'm so smart, it's just that I stay with problems longer. "

I found the same notion in the assertion of Seligman in the book and that's what I believe at the moment. 

Last night, my 13 year old, the best whinger of the world, daughter tried to push herself to study for the test at school. As she failed to motivate herself, she started blaming her lack of motivation on the school system, textbooks, teachers and the ultimate excuse, biological inferiority. So, I explained what Seligman says on academic accomplishment. The little philosopher examined the logic in the story for a while and asked me the validity of it. As I assured her with my full-hearted faith in the notion, she went back to her room to carry out her mission of the day- study for the test. 

I suppose my mission as a mum accomplished and I feel flourished :-)

Monday, October 15, 2012

Mind-storming Weekend

Unexpectedly wonderful thing happens from time to time when you are not afraid of getting out of your comfort zone and being a bit more adventurous.

 I had one of the most unexpected and exciting reunion at JALT national conference in Hamamatsu on weekend with my dearest and oldest mates of all. He was not a kind of person who would do a presentation at such a big event like JALT national. He was a easy-going mellow busker several decades ago when we were just kids on the street of northern island of Japan, Hokkaido. Almost every night, he played some familiar tunes with his guitar for drunk business people and I danced to those tunes next to him for some fun. Life seemed as fragile and light as feathers and we enjoyed living as lightly as possible. We shared a tiny flat without a bath. We had no money but bunch of jolly mates and party days. One day I remember we didn't have any money at all even for buying lunch for the day. We were starving but laughing at each other for our stupidity. Everyone must have one of those wild days in your youth. We were young and didn't know the meaning of responsibility. We didn't break rules because there were none.

After decades later, both of us got wonderful partners and a beautiful girl and learned what responsible mean. Both of us like the way it is now. We got much busier with less time for ourselves but we are still happy because we have learned where happiness is for each of us. It still was one of the most exciting moment when we met again in a completely different reality. Our hair got much much shorter, more lines and spots on our faces and perhaps extra bits of flesh but the cheeky and free souls are still detectable in our eyes. Our reunion was short and brief yet enough time to enjoy our company and realize there are somethings that never change. 

During this innovative and revolutionary weekend with educators, I've confirmed that the golden rule I've learned to keep my life as wonderous as possible: Make new friends and keep the old. 

Everyone has a different style of learning and this is my style. I learn from others via interactions. At the conner of social events, my life-long learning begins and never ends. I find new theories, approaches, ideas and faces/ sides of myself via others views. 

I feel more obliged to share this insight with my children/ students. With child-like curiosity and steadfast will to live for today, English can be a vehicle to take you to the realm where you can find never-ending resources for rule-breaking and stimulating stories to share.

Thank you all for mind-blowing weekend!

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Notes from Wednesday Morning class

Oh, that was fun with about 20 kids, totally, absolutely, amazingly motivated dream students.

I go there only three times a month for an hour session. For those 3 to 5 year old kids, I may be nothing but a silly grown-up who comes from time to time to play with them. What I suspect is that those kids long for TLC more than other kids with attention from their mum all day long. Their mums are all working mums and they spend most of their early childhood days at the nursery school. Some of them have quality time with their mums I am sure. But I also know how tired those working mums would be at home after work and perhaps they would fall asleep while they read books for the little ones. Their mums can get really cranky from time to time without no rational reasons. Their mums could be hysterical and very unpleasant to be around. Been there, done that! I remember I tried to stay awake for my daughter and read more storybooks with her but couldn't help falling asleep. Guess what she did. She let me sleep when I really needed a good sleep. She learned how to shut herself up when I was in a cranky mood. She learned how to tuck herself in the bed and make herself sleep at very young age. I assume those kids have those nights and they definitely deserve absolute fun time with a bit of crazy mum like myself.

When I was asked to teach English at the school, the principal said to me to play with them, using English. She also said she didn't expect them to speak English fluently with only an hour and three time a month exposure to English. What she expected me to do is to show and share the joy of leaning the new language. She also let me decide what and how we learn English together. What a dream job! I really truly appreciate and enjoy time with kids.

Yesterday I was thinking how I feel so motivated there.
1 I got motivated students.
2 I got welcoming and supportive teachers.
3 I got freedom to do the best I can.
4 I got a spacious, clean and equipped classroom.
5 I got some events to look forward.

When I started working/ playing there, I had a bit of confusing message from a teacher with her unfriendly tone of voice and body language. I assumed she was not so excited about the change but now I realized she had no idea what to do. She has been so supportive to provide the safest and best environment for learning.

In the last class, I introduced a new song from Happy Vally CD using gestures and facial expressions to convey the meanings of emotions in the song such as happy and grumpy. They love to express grumpiness with the danceable tune. I didn't need the doughnut perspective because the class itself is a whole cake! But the question is if I was careful enough when I give them praise. Obviously I wasn't because I don't quite recall what I said much. I remember the smily and cute faces and little hands in the air to get my attention. "Marvelous!""Fantastic!"might have been what I said to them. ah...much more descriptive praise should be given but those are absolutely sincere comments.

According to one of the research papers I read yesterday, a praise might stimulate intrisic motivation of children if it is perceived as sincere message by the recipient who has established self-efficacy with specific and doable standards and expectation. On top of that, a trusting relationship between the praiser and the recipient is essential. And of course, there might be more variables such as age, gender, culture and personality to consider. But the good news is that younger kids may not be so sensitive to words so much and perceive a praise as a motivator.

I truly hope I won't say anything or do to demotivate those beautiful kids. That is the only fear I have in the class. Gotta learn more!!!!