Chapter Reports - May 2015

GIFU: January—Tailoring digital music material for the EFL classroom by Steve Quasha, Sugiyama Jogakuen University. Quasha’s first encounter with music in EFL was being driven mad by The Carpenters playing in the classroom next door. Since then, he’s come from viewing music as a sedative used by lazy teachers, to using music as a motivating educational resource. Recent research seems to show that musical input activates many parts of the brain, stimulating emotions and memories which can facilitate language learning.

Of course, choosing the right songs is critically important. Quasha introduced his own DQ method for choosing songs: “Can they do it?” (D) and “Is it a quagmire?” (Q). Songs must be largely understandable and not cause the lesson to get bogged down in unimportant language points. Also important is that the song contains some language that students can actually take out of the classroom and use.

Participants in the workshop were also introduced to an app called “anytune”. This app allows the teacher to have precise control over the speed of the song, so that it can be slowed down to aid students in hearing the lyrics.

Reported by Paul Wicking

GUNMA: March—The feasibility of using cooperative task-based learning to teach pronunciation by Kayvon Havaei-Ahary. Part of a short action research project that he conducted at his school, Havaei-Ahary’s presentation began by highlighting the importance of pronunciation and the unfortunate lack of pronunciation practice in Japanese high schools. After presenting a brief background of his research, Havaei-Ahary asked attendees to discuss their own classes and the role pronunciation plays in them. Following a brief discussion among Gunma JALT members, Havaei-Ahary explained that the pronunciation training methods used in his research were brought about by the course of study reforms suggested by MEXT in 2009. As proposed by MEXT, Havaei-Ahary’s method is 1) learner centered 2) promotes learner autonomy and 3) promotes communicative competence. After a short break, attendees looked at the details of Havaei-Ahary’s research and its conclusions. The clarity and completeness of Havaei-Ahary’s presentation showed the pains and care he has taken in his research into the future of teaching pronunciation.

Reported by John Larson

HAMAMATSU: January—The Triple Bottom Line: An approach to engaging students learning English in current issues, debate, academic writing, and critical thinking by Daniel Devolin, Aichi University. Devolin led Hamamatsu JALT into the New Year with a quick rundown on the economic and social relevance of The Triple Bottom Line (TBL). Based in economics, TBL looks at the sustainable overlapping area of societies, economies, and ecologies. This commonality can be a source of stability, and a resource for maintaining and developing the interlocking conditions required to meet our global needs. Within university-level language learning, particularly focusing on current issues, debate, academic writing and critical thinking, TBL provides an introduction to interdisciplinary approaches. Topics can be explored through the three features of the theory, providing students with structure and direction when encountering cognitively challenging ideas. If correctly and gradually implemented, students develop tools and means to express their opinions and engage deeply with classmates on numerous subjects. Naturally, students need to feel comfortable seeking out ways of expression. Accordingly, classroom rapport is important so that inhibitions are reduced. Scaffolding is necessary. TBL is custom-made for group work. Individual groups can research a topic from one of three aspects, or individuals within groups are allocated one of the three. Thorough interaction with content encourages top-down and bottom-up processing. Students contribute new knowledge to wider classroom interaction in the form of presentations, written assignments, discussion and debate, and potentially absorb it into their broader schemata.

Reported by Susan Laura Sullivan

HIROSHIMA: January—Teaching English to junior high school students, followed by My Share & Book Reports by Allan Antonio, et al. We had a wonderful explanation of the “wheelings and dealings” behind the scenes of local junior high schools by Allan Antonio and colleagues. Antonio is currently a JET working for the Higashi Hiroshima City Board of Education. He and his colleagues discussed and described the methodologies they are using for teaching English, and the Board of Education directives that guide their teaching choices. While high school teachers might have benefited the most directly from this presentation, it was highly informative to others such as university and supplementary language school teachers who can expect to see the results of the new educational guidelines in the coming years. After their presentations we enjoyed hearing several book recommendations and teaching ideas from our local Hiroshima chapter members.

Reported by Ariel Sorensen

HIROSHIMA: February—Administrative practices as institutional identity: Local impediments to the globalization of HEIs in Japan by Greg Poole, Doshisha University. Poole came to Hiroshima and presented a number of interesting issues about administrative practices in Japanese universities. This behind-the-scenes view gave us insights into why Japanese university systems do some of the confusing things they do. Greg has been working both as an anthropologist doing participant observations and as an administrator himself for many years. Due to his extensive experience, the Hiroshima chapter was allowed to peek into the issues that face Japanese higher education and the problems they are having with increased pressure from globalization. 

Reported by Ariel Sorensen

HOKKAIDO: November—CALL-Plus Workshop 2014 featuring Unleashing Potential! by Haruhiko Tsuri, et al., Sapporo Gakuin University. Language educators convened on the campus of Sapporo Gakuin University for a full-day workshop brought to them by the joint efforts of JALT Hokkaido and the Hokkaido chapter of the Japan Association of College English Teachers. Attendees were given a choice of over 25 presentations and interactive workshops on such varied topics as computer-assisted writing fluency exercises, university English education needs analysis, developing cloud and desk resources, and intercultural exchange using student-made videos in Moodle. The keynote was a team presentation by teachers from Sapporo Gakuin University who have been working together to create and teach a course for pre-service teachers. They spoke about how collaboration in syllabus development and teaching cannot be forced; it must be voluntary to work. Teachers stand to gain a lot from working together and while cooperation also entails compromise, the overall impression given was that collaboration in teaching was worth the effort for both the teachers involved and the students.

Reported by Haidee Thomson & Joseph Tomasine

HOKKAIDO: January—Understanding bilingualism by Barry Ratzliff & Shannon Koga, Hokkaido International School, with Tim Greer, Kobe University. JALT Hokkaido collaborated with the Sapporo International Communications Plaza to present a three-hour program showcasing multiple perspectives on bilingualism. The event began with Bilingualism in Education by Ratzliff and Koga. The presenters combined quantitative data with their experiences as both educators and parents to shed light on bilingual development in educational environments. Strong takeaways were that second language development is supported best when anchored upon strong first language skills; that parents should make active and early decisions about their child’s language environment(s); and that commitment to bilingualism is key. Part II featured an interactive Q+A panel where your correspondent joined fellow panelists Ratzliff, Koga, Greer and the Plaza’s own Ulli Jamitzky. Audience members asked poignant questions about supporting their children’s bilingual development. Part III featured Greer’s talk Doing Bilinguality in Interaction. Greer drew from his own and others’ research using Conversation Analysis as a tool to examine interaction at the micro-level; this provided a meaningful contrast to the more macro-level discussion of bilingual developmental from Part I. A strong takeaway from Greer’s talk was that bilingual identity is by no means a fixed trait that exists prior to interaction between individuals. On the contrary, Greer argued that bilingual identity is talked into existence by that very interaction. Greer demonstrated this vividly using video recordings of bilingual youths skillfully negotiating their bilingual identity.

Reported by Joseph Tomasine

IBARAKI: December—Note-taking in L2 listening instruction: Theory and practice by Michael Crawford, Dokkyo University. Referring to his own experience of learning Portuguese and Japanese, Professor Crawford first stated that listening can be particularly challenging for developing language learners. Popular comprehension-based exercises, however, fail to provide helpful training to learners because those exercises are designed to “test” their comprehension of certain information rather than to “teach” them the know-how of listening. The presenter argued that focusing on learners’ note-taking can be instrumental for better listening instruction because their notes bring to light what is taking place in their minds as they process information. He also introduced his recent study in which his students showed significant improvement in their note-taking abilities as well as their awareness of it as an important academic skill. Toward the end of the presentation, Professor Crawford invited the attendees to engage in listening exercises such as dictogloss and story problems. The attendees experienced first-hand how note-taking not only induces intent listening but also yields necessary information for more attentive listening instruction. The day’s meeting ended with a year-end party in which participants celebrated the officers’ exceptional work as well as another successful year of learning and sharing for our local chapter. 

Reported by Naomi Takagi

KITAKYUSHU: February—Kitakyushu hosted two presenters this month: Creative variations for textbook conversations by Bill Pellowe and Assessing gains in extensive reading by J. Lake. In the first presentation, Pellowe talked about various methods for adapting English conversation textbooks to various classroom settings, offering several unique approaches for engaging students such as having students use smartphones for recording and assessing dialogue performance. In the second half, Lake presented recent research findings supporting the incorporation of reading for speed as a means for improving learner reading fluency, motivation, test scores, and streamlining various cognitive and neurological processes that strengthen overall language competency.

Reported by Zack Robertson

NAGOYA: January—Special techniques to teach writing in English for Second Language Students by Atsushi Iida. Iida, assistant professor at Gunma University, showed two interesting methods to help guide writing in English for Japanese university students. According to Iida, Japanese students need training to convey their voices to others for successful communication. Therefore, he gives them opportunities to describe an issue, after showing them examples of “descriptive writing.” That means to observe, get information and write about it in detail. Iida emphasizes that voice is more important than grammar in writing. One more unique and effective method is composing haiku poems (5-7-5 syllables) that are culturally familiar to Japanese students. This can help facilitate the development of their voices. They should always think about audience, when they compose haiku to express emotions and construct voices. Students’ experiences are reflected in these very short poems. As they do not need to write grammatically correct sentences, they do not hesitate to write in English. Iida also demonstrated some activities for use in the EFL classroom.

Reported by Sumiko Shiraishi

NARA: February—A roundtable discussion, and The new academic year: Resolutions, reflections, and revelations from the classroom by various speakers. This first casual discussion by members was held in a friendly and supportive atmosphere and showed a promising start for Nara JALT, 2015. Catriona Takeuchi incorporated a global issue, Child Soldiers, into her upper-intermediate class, and discussed successes and failures of the class and her future plans for similar classes. Masayuki Takano talked about his first year trial-and-error teaching experience in a high school and introduced one of his class activities focusing on service-encounter telephone conversations. Harumi Matsui had her third-year high school students act in an English play project, performing in plays based on tales for children. She revealed that, although some of the students seemed to have hesitated to perform, the majority enjoyed themselves. Hideki Yamamoto presented on his English class project, “Know a Country,” in which his high school students researched a particular country in groups and shared their findings in class. Richard Sharrard reflected on his academic year of 2014, when he started doing a master’s for further professional development. He keeps himself engaged in teaching at high schools whilst pursuing his studies. Motoko Teraoka brought some samples of a language portfolio (LP), which had been created by some of her students in TOEIC preparatory classes at university and discussed further improvement of LPs. 

Reported by Motoko Teraoka

NIIGATA: February—Teaching: Art or science by Eric Kane. Many braved the cold and wind to attend a dynamic, humorous, and warm presentation by Kane. Framing his talk with a brief discussion about whether teaching falls under one category or the other, Kane highlighted ten things that make a teacher great, punctuating his talk with compelling anecdotes and practical tips for teachers of any level. Included in his talk were recommendations for building trust between teachers and students, communicating with intent, maintainable doable challenges, being clear, consistent, and caring, offering students multiple pathways to success, and acknowledging effort, among others. Facebook feedback from participants indicated a high level of satisfaction and, more importantly, motivation! It was also great to see so many new faces!

Reported by Melodie Cook

OKAYAMA: January—The “Stop, Start, Continue” method of feedback by tertiary students. Telling the story of a research project. by Peter Burden. Burden, who has done extensive research in the area of student evaluations, discussed a new type of survey for university students which provides instructors with more valuable information to act upon than the standardized ones generally administered by schools. The “Stop, Start, Continue” (SSC) was used over three semesters and feedback provided by students enabled Burden to better reflect upon his own practices and revise teaching methods and content accordingly. Students freely listed things they think the instructor should stop doing in class, those he should start doing and those which should be continued. They also evaluated their own ability on a five-level scale from beginner to advanced. Although the speaker found it quite time consuming to quantify the answers, results proved more useful than past evaluations. The open answer format, causing students to reflect on both their performance and the teacher’s, may also motivate students to reflect more about their own learning in the future and is a type of instrument teachers should consider adopting.

Reported by Richard Lemmer

OKAYAMA: January—Visual language retention by Susan Meiki. Meiki presented the results of her doctoral research on how students from different cultures and societies retain content of slideshow presentations differently. Her sample included students in Japan and the United States. Three factors influencing cultural differences in remembering content are background color, font style and size, and text density. Meiki displayed samples of how students reacted to various combinations of the three factors and the connotations associated with various colors in different societies. The speaker concluded that for Japanese students, a dark blue background with white colored fonts was most effective for retention of content. The use of Microsoft clear type fonts enhances legibility in slideshow presentations and minimal text density also aids in retention.

Reported by Richard Lemmer

TOTTORI: November—Tottori JALT was pleased to be joined by Sonthida Keyuravong of Thailand, who gave us an extremely educational and interesting presentation on the history of English education in Thailand. Keyuravong is Senior Lecturer and Teacher Trainer in the Department of English at King Mongkut’s University of Technology, Thonburi. English education in Thailand began formally in 1948. The scope changed in response to world events, such as the Vietnam War and the Asian financial crisis. Keyuravong gave us some interesting insights about the students as well. Students of English in Thailand are often those that are more enthusiastic about education in general. The audience also enjoyed hearing how these students like wearing school uniforms based on the Japanese school uniform design. 

Although it was a cold Friday evening, attendance surpassed all expectations. The event was attended by almost thirty participants, who also enthusiastically participated in a Q&A after. Keyuravong was later joined by Tottori JALT members for a sushi dinner delivered by miniature bullet train. This was Keyuravong’s first experience with that type of Japanese service, a true cultural exchange. All in all, the evening was a great success on every level. We at Tottori JALT look forward to using this event to continue to raise the bar going forward.

Reported by Tremain Xenos

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