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!!!!

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Praises and doughnut perspective

Praises are tricky thing : They can demotivate students. Have you ever thought about that? Actually I have when I took one of workshops for teaching YLs over 10 years ago. But it didn't grab my attention as much as it does now. The notion was way too complex for me to deal with back then.
 I was like,
 "Yeah, yeah, yeah, then what?"
But this time, I have been struggling to find my own motivation to keep on trying as a mum and a teacher for young learners. I've been think about what and how I can help them to find flow or motivation in my classroom. That's what I am paying for or responsible.

After taking the presentation, I had a little chat with the presenter, John Wiltshier. He was kind enough to share the reference of his presentation and gave me an idea for AR, praising. Then my mind started working at the full speed, figuring out how and what can demotivate my student and my daughter.

In my class yesterday, I was fully aware of what words I gave to them as praises. I try to comment on what they have achieved not on their general intelligence. I've read this idea in Mindset but again my sluggish brain didn't fully get a grip on it. Now I got much clearer idea how and what I can try to see the changes I can bring to my classes as my perspective changes.

Luckily, I have a class with 20 little kids this morning. With this new perspective, I will see what happens!

Monday, October 8, 2012

Note: AR idea

Pearson Teachers Conference was held yesterday. Due to all the daily routine work, I missed the half of the first presentation but took all 4 presentations for teaching young learners.

From the informative and inspirational presentations, I got three ideas.
1. Having pre and post activities with extensive reading program.
2. Providing some easy and doable tasks at home to encourage parental involvement for their children's  
3. Setting proximal-sub goals
4. Researching what is good and bad praise

Instead of reading more research papers and books for my Action Research, I went to the conference having two annoying questions in mind;
1 What am I supposed to do with my completely demotivated daughter?
2 What would I do for my AR?

My instinct sometimes work really well. I got reasonable answers for the questions.
For the first one, I would read aloud my daughter's old time favorite series "Mr. Putter and Tabby." at breakfast or dinner table. She loves reading and I truly think it would be a huge loss if she gave up on reading English ones for there are so many brilliant literature to read. I also decided to see positive and good quality of her instead of pointing out her faults. Thanks to the doughnut theory. I may have been paying attention only on the hole not the yummy cake part. I think she lost motivation to do the best she can because of continuous disappointing results on mini-tests at school. She lost self-esteem without the sense of success. She is also trying to learn a challenging tune for the brass band competition in December. So, my job is to get her realize the cake part of her doughnut. She is kind and compassionate with her friends and good at drawing and crafts. She is also a good listener and knows a lot of good stories. I tend to get annoyed by forgetful and disorganized part of her because they are exactly the unfavorable characteristics of myself.

For the second question, I am not sure if it is doable or not yet but I would start recording my class again and identify what kind of praises I use. I realize the power of words and would like to use them carefully.

I've been learning a lot as a M.A. Mama. I found more faults in myself than positive qualities and get disappointed.  Perhaps from time to time, I should take a look at the cake part of myself as well and say to myself, "Chico, you are doing the best you can. No worries."

Saturday, October 6, 2012

Note from Saturday class

"What a bother!"
"I hate it!"
"I don't wanna do this again!"
"Do we have to do this?"
"Oh, please..."
No "F" words are allowed in the classroom but basically they screamed all sorts of style of complaining. These are real voices of several of 5th graders, who have been learning English as a mean of communication from as early as the age of 3,  about one of the typical workbooks based on school textbooks, containing heaps of translations and filling gaps tasks. 
The controversial workbook has been one of the main textbook to use at the school for nearly 5 years. One of the "senior" teacher recommended it and have been the main material to use for intermediate level of students. Most of them can read the starter level of GR without any problems but the workbooks were provided in order to have them ready for Jr. High  school. 

"Excuse me?" is my first reaction. 

Why do we bother to kill such a wonderful tendency of them to prefer reading/ stories in the target language than solving the puzzles with bunch of meaningless words printed along with L1. Some teachers asserted that grammar-translation skill is what they are required at school and thus what they need. 

"Excuse me?" is what I reacted to that comment. 

Then what in the world is the point of  learning the target language as a mean of communication for such a long long time, sacrificing their precious time to play around with their friends? Their parents pay big amount of tuition for merely getting higher level in Step test? Besides how come can they assert that the workbook provides sufficient tasks that the children need in order to be excellent at English at school? How about their motivation? How about their preference? How about their learning style? 

As soon as they whinged away and got things done, I showed a supposedly funny and short reading passage with comprehension questions, they got a little more lively but they said they prefer interesting storybooks to read. I thought they might find the short story funny and interesting but it didn't appeal to them as much as I thought. Next week, I would take some storybooks that my daughter recommended to the class. 

I've got to come up with creative ways to use the workbook because it is one of the requirements in the class at the school. This is one of the most challenging tasks I must deal with. 

Thursday, October 4, 2012

Note from Thursday class

"In the dark dark wood, there is a dark dark house..."

Halloween season has arrived. We (kids and myself) started building up the spooky mood around our classroom. Some spooky decorations has been done and some would be added little by little till the Halloween Party day. This year, we will go on pumpkin hunting and a little tea party at the Sunny-field English garden. The menu for tea will be announced next week and we are inviting mums and dads for our tea party and would read a spooky story for them.

For the storytelling, we practiced to read a story, "In a Dark Dark House" together. Except one of kids, 10 year-old girl (one and the only girl) they enjoyed telling the story. This is a classic case of classroom management  issue but I can't change this universal fact: Girls grow up much faster than boys physically, mentally socially, even linguistically. In spite of the slight issue, the girl with no enthusiasm didn't bother me at all for she was rather funny to perform her part in a super low voice without any hint of smile. It was so ironic and hilarious that she was the best performer of all for the spooky and scary story. So, I gave her the scariest best performance award to her at the end and I detected a tiny hesitating adorable smile on her cranky face :-)

After the practice, we did an activity to put all the Halloween vocabularies into three groups with the representing titles such as food. I was thinking Food, Creature and Places but I got such a creative categories.
These are the voc: chocolate, graveyard, haunted house, vampire, candy, apple, pumpkin, mummy, skelton, wood, werewolf, witch,

Group A: Food, Realistic things, Unrealistic things.
Group B: Unmovable, Dead yet movable, Alive and movable,
Group C: Food, Movable, Unmovable,

5 min activity became such an interesting lesson because of the originality and creativity of their mind.
I was well impressed with those clever category.

Next week, we might be able to come up a story using some of words.

After the class, as I told this story to the little critic I got at home (my daughter). She said she could do better in English class at school if the textbook is a little bit more engaging...ummm....

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

I wish...

I must note this last lesson with my very very first private student last night. She started taking my class when she was 5th grader. It was even before I had my daughter. I remember the little girl with her friend came to my tiny apartment, sitting politely with eager anticipation and a little concern. She was a remarkably well-behaved child but later on I found out her tendency to be perfect. She was definitely A plus student everywhere, at school, at my place and even at home. She didn't skip any lessons unless she had some urgent matters to deal with. And she continued to take my classes for 15 long long years.
She let me see the whole process of personal development of a little girl. I am so grateful for that. We have built a special kind of relationship which is so hard to describe or to label. After a while, we were no longer teacher-student but not friends nor siblings, either. I am not really sure how she would label our relationship but for me I felt like I was her aunt or something. There was a certain distance between us and she remained polite but there were some moments when she showed her vulnerability to me. I wish I could help her a lot to build self-confidence but all I did was to listen and felt her struggles. She is definitely one of my inspirations to be better understander of the modern life of children.

I have a vivid picture of her little face at the moment when she touched my growing belly. I was 8 months pregnant yet still working a bit. The first thing she said on the day was, "It got much bigger!" as she looked at my belly. I asked her she would like to feel the baby inside and she did. To her surprise, my daughter moved. It was the first contact for her with this little creature, Momo. One day she said, "I don't like kids because they are noisy and annoying but I like Momo because she is special to me..." How adorable she sounded!

Now I'm looking back all the memories and time we shared. 15 years is such a long time and I am so thankful for her to give credit to my reliability as her tutor. I perhaps took more than gave but hope she would remember this, "All you can do is to do the best you can." And It may have not enough at all but I have done the best I could to share the joy of discovery via learning English.

She is one of my personal cheerleaders who encouraged me to be the best I can and motivated me to be on Master's course. Without her presence I wouldn't be who I am now.

In the last lesson, not like any other amazing educators, I could give nothing but the same phrase, "Be the best you can. " She is about to leave this country and take internship program at a language school in Toronto for a year. She said she felt strong anxiety and asked me if I did as well when I left Japan in 1995. I told her the true story that I felt panicked from time to time but I learned that things would work out as long as you stay living.

As I told her those old stories, I felt something emerged from me - Will to live for today and hope for tomorrow. I am so thankful for the lesson- the importance of talking. Through numerous conversations with her, I have realized so many important things for my life.

May her day be filled with surprises, discoveries and laughters with new friends.

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

Notes from classroom: L&T class

What an absolute pleasure I had yesterday with my students, L & T at TKC. My mission is to get them prepare for the Canadian elementary school from next Feb. Because of their Dad's business, they will live in Canada (not sure the exact place) for a few years. According to the school owner, they went to an international school in Tokyo for  a year and then went to the US for a while due to Dad's business. They came back to Japan and currently in a public elementary school in Hiroo area. There are more returnees like them even at a public school in the area so that it didn't take so long for them to fit in the community. However, since literacy has been more promoted in Canada, her mum has been worried if they can catch up the speed of progress and other students' level. So, that is why they are there and obviously they have higher English proficiency.

Currently they study phonics with me once a week with a textbook but I feel it is a bit tedious if they only do the exercises in the textbook. Besides, they are aware of most of the phonetical rules and what they might is more opportunities to use their knowledge in the real readings. 

So, I introduced one of the most popular series of graded readers for young leaners, Oxford Reading Tree, stage 1. I showed two books from the stage and they instantly engaged in the picture and stories that easy to read. They spontaneously read aloud one of them. This kind of moment is the biggest reward for me as an ETYL. It was just a beautiful moment. They read the book for me in one of the most enthusiastic and beautiful way. Oh, I was impressed and almost in tears. 

Then we did some role play taking our favorite character. It was an enormous fun! We read aloud with enthusiasm and laughed together. 

The rewarded moment will be forgotten by the young amazing performers but will stay in my mind for the rest of my life.  

The joy of reading that they showed me has encouraged me to spread the love of reading among children. Oh such a fun should be shared, shouldn't it? 

Monday, October 1, 2012

Motivation, Flow, Autonomy, Curiosity...Where did they go?

I can't believe how my daughter WAS motivated to do her best at school at the beginning of this year. After she was accepted by the school she goes to her school life was supposed to be enjoyable with lots of new experiences and learning opportunities. As she got the school uniforms and other necessities, she was excited and looked proud what she had achieved. She was fully motivated.

After the first semester,  I need someone to tell me what the hell has happened on the little girl with determination to do the best she could? The explanation might be,"She is 13." She doesn't want to study at all. She enjoys her club activity but she has no day off from it and she gets exhausted and no energy to do anything else.

While her mum is reading Dörnyei in the kitchen table, her daughter is lying on the floor of her room and staring at the book of vocabulary she is supposed to memorize blankly. She mumbles, "It doesn't make any sense...I hate this. I hate studying."

I still remember the excitement when we went to the school for its festival this time last year. It is located at the edge of Tokyo in a beautiful nature. The air is still relatively clean. The birds are singing. The trees are welcoming. Students are lively and friendly. We thought "This is it!" We took a tour through the school guided by a teacher. After that, the teacher gave us a lecture about school policy and what students are expected to do. Then, I asked her, "What do you think about this school?"
She smiled and nodded.

What has happened? What did I do? What went wrong?  Where did she go? The little girl with twinkles in her eyes, dreaming what she can be, who she can meet and what are waiting for her.

Unfortunately, the reality bites. Tests, homework, club activity with no day offs. The exhausted girl has no energy to be the lively and friendly student we met last year at the school festival.

And I am still here at the kitchen table with the depressing thought - Let her decide.
All I can do is to provide what she needs - cloths to wear, a room to sleep, food to eat and books to read. The last one is the only at the moment I can feel proud of. The joy of reading is something I cultivated in her in her childhood. I read a book every single night till she said, "Mum, I can read a book on my own."
Motherhood is not a walk in the park. Singing, dancing, playing around with lots of laughters stage was over and forgotten. I remember what she said to me every morning as I took her to the nursery school, "I wish I could be with you all day long." with tears in her eyes. And I remember one of the teachers took her hand and told me to go as she started crying and screaming at my back, "Let me go home! Mum! I want to be with you, Mum!!!Don't leave me. " I also cried all the way home.

Now, I wish I could go back and take you home...