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."