Event Reports

Event reports from our chapters and SIGs.

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Akita Chapter

Saturday, October 24, 2015
by Bryan Hahn

The presentation was divided into two parts. The first part explained a research project surveying the language learning attitudes towards English at four universities in one Japanese prefecture. The purpose was to investigate whether attitudes might have changed today compared to a decade and a half ago, when it was proposed that English should become the second official language in Japan. Based on percentage positive response ratings, the results showed that students believe English education would increase their chances of finding a good job. However, many of the respondents were dissatisfied with their level of English proficiency despite a desire to learn the language. Paradoxically, students generally disfavor changes to the foreign language curriculum and the vast majority oppose adopting English as a co-language in Japan. This reluctance to change might explain why Japan consistently ranks near the bottom in TOEFL iBT scores. The second part of the presentation was an in-depth round table discussion of the research results.

Reported by Stephen Shucart
Saturday, September 26, 2015
Rachael Ruegg
Taku Sudo
Hinako Takeuchi
Yuko Sato

This presentation introduced Akita International University’s (AIU) Academic Achievement Center (AAC), a place that employs peer tutoring to support students. The presentation included an overview of the AIU curriculum, the theoretical background of peer tutoring, and the implementations of the peer tutoring method conducted at the center. The presenters, who all work in the AAC, discussed the cultural aspects affecting the center, what they considered to be the benefits of peer tutoring, the types of students who request support from the AAC, plus their motivations and expectations. A lively Q & A session ended the presentation.

Reported by Mamoru “Bobby” Takahashi
Saturday, July 25, 2015
by Rachael Ruegg

Words are the basic building blocks of the language and the most important factor influencing language proficiency. Despite learning English for 6 years in junior high school and high school, many Japanese students report feeling that they lack sufficient English vocabulary. This presentation explained why vocabulary is such an important aspect of language. The presenter introduced which vocabulary should be learnt, and in which order. Following this, she explained how vocabulary should be learnt for maximum effectiveness. Finally, she shared some tools that can be used by teachers and learners to help in their vocabulary teaching and learning. Although the PowerPoint portion was only about an hour long, the remainder of the presentation was a lively round table discussion on teaching vocabulary.

Reported by Stephen Shucart

Fukui Chapter

Sunday, October 18, 2015
by Cameron Romney

Cameron Romney gave an informative presentation, and facilitated a practical workshop on why and how educators should consider the design of their materials as much as the content those materials contain. Ill-formated handouts can lead to ineffective comprehension of the content trying to be taught. His ideas were supported by a wealth of theoretical and pragmatic knowledge by leading scholars in both the education and design fields.

After a thoughtful presentation of the theory and discipline behind materials design, Cameron facilitated an engaging workshop that allowed participants to put the theories into practice. The main theme that came from the entire session was that you don't need to be a professional graphic designer or editor to understand layout and other aspects of design, and you don't need fancy super expensive software. Cameron encourages using basic Microsoft Word (a standard tool for word processing and creatiing handouts) to create and edit handouts. After some work in small groups, and with Cameron's insights documents that looked bland and ineffective were edited to look better. But to the larger point, the informed edits allowed for more efficient and effective teaching to take place. Isn't that the ultimae job of teachers, and purpose of using handouts?

This was a great session that allowed for theoretical and pragmatic approaches to be blended and utilized. Participants were engaged and enthused throughout the entire afternoon.

Reported by Wayne Malcolm

Gifu Chapter

Saturday, September 17, 2016
by Barbara Hoskins Sakamoto

Teaching 21st century skills is something of a current fad in all areas of education currently, and EFL is no exception. However, as Hoskins Sakamoto argued, it’s possible that we sometimes get so focused on these skills that we lose sight of our primary objective: teaching English. In her highly practice-oriented workshop, the four Cs of 21st century skills (i.e. communication, collaboration, creative thinking, critical thinking) were activated through tasks that had English language learning as the primary objective.
Two of the task types concerned manipulatives that had students physically handling words and letters to create language. The first involved paper cubes made from milk cartons, with words and pictures on each face. Students would roll the cubes (or die) and then create sentences and stories. The second used caps from PET bottles, and students would search for letters to make words. Another activity was called “six word stories”, where students are given a photo and must tell the story of that photo in exactly six words. The arbitrary rule of length works to reduce anxiety and so encourage creative participation. These and the other activities demonstrated by Hoskins Sakamoto would make a useful addition to any teacher’s repertoire. The workshop ended with a lot of cutting, pasting and drawing as participants worked together to create activities suited to their own teaching contexts.

Reported by Paul Wicking
Saturday, July 16, 2016
by Craig Volker

Although not immediately obvious from the presentation title, an exploration into pidgin and creole languages can be very beneficial for language teachers in Japan. The study of these languages raises questions about the definition of the bounds of the English (or French or Spanish) language, which has definite repercussions for how we conceptualize and practice English language teaching. Volker has been heavily involved in researching these languages for over two decades, and presented with authority and good humor.
Volker explained two of the dominant theories concerning how pidgin and creole languages develop. They appear very quickly, unlike traditional languages with a long history, often within a single generation. Creoles are independent languages, not dialects. They have an independent lexicon, grammar and phonology. A sample of creole languages was presented: a news report from Jamaica, a Christian sermon from Hawaii and a news update from Papua New Guinea. Participants were invited to decipher each of the video clips, which differed in the amount of variance from standard English.
Issues related to pidgin and creole languages can often surface in Japan. For example, a student may go to Hawaii and come back disheartened because he/she couldn’t understand people talking to each other. Or perhaps a Jamaican (or a Papua New Guinean) applies for a job at an eikaiwa school that is advertised for “native speakers of English”. An interesting discussion ensued about the status of “native” and “non-native” speakers when applying for a job, and how much freedom teachers can have when presenting varieties of English in class. The presentation ended with a crash course in tok pisin, the national language of Papua New Guinea.

Reported by Paul Wicking
Saturday, June 18, 2016
by Brent Simmonds

Brent gave an interesting presentation on Saturday evening (June 18). The presentation outlined the various English Project Courses that are available to students as elective courses at Aichi Gakuin University. These courses include topics on sustainable development goals as outlined by the UN, for example goals to end poverty, protect the planet, and ensure prosperity for all. In the later part of the presentation, a variety of interesting discussions were generated including topics on where Japan stands in relation to other countries in terms of their carbon footprint, gender equality, workers' rights and economic growth, as well as industry, innovation and infrastructure. Ideas on teaching certain language items to students, as well as informing young adults on these issues were also considered.

Reported by Kathleen Cahill
Saturday, May 28, 2016
by Melodie Cook

Cook reported on research she had conducted into expatriate perceptions of entrance exams in Japan. The research was not taking a validity or reliability approach, but a sociocultural one. Cook’s presentation addressed four key questions. Firstly, why do entrance exams exist? Unlike tests conducted purely for pedagogical purposes, entrance exams were viewed as fulfilling primarily socio-economic purposes, such as to generate revenue, to stratify students in society, and to show the face of the university to the public. Secondly, what are the characteristics of good entrance exams? Respondents believed that trialing was very important, but that form is more important than content. Thirdly, who is making these tests and what are they thinking? Cook found that expatriate faculty on exam committees may be influenced by their own educational backgrounds and other testing contexts they have worked in. Therefore more communication between expatriate and local faculty might be helpful to avoid misunderstandings. Fourthly, (how) can you change an entrance examination? A number of recommendations were made, including: find out what the true purpose of the test is, know what your role is, make your recommendations in Japanese, and be positive and tactful with criticism.
In the second part of her presentation, Cook took us through the three publications produced by JALT, giving advice for how to increase the chances of getting published. The number one important tip: read the publication guidelines carefully! Writers will severely sabotage their chances of getting accepted by submitting work that clearly has not followed the guidelines given on the website.

Reported by Paul Wicking
Saturday, April 16, 2016
by Anna Loseva

Loseva began her workshop by reading a Russian folk tale about a fresh-baked bun called Kolobok. Participants were told to just sit back and listen – there was no pressure to remember details or answer comprehension questions. This absence of demand on students to perform or produce is central to Loseva’s approach to reading, which focuses on reading for enjoyment.
It was argued that many students expect English classes to be packed full of activities and noise, but it’s actually very good to just sit and read. It is good practice to give students freedom to write down their own ideas/impressions of the story, without asking comprehension questions or demanding some kind of formal response.
During the second half of the workshop, participants read a variety of stories from different countries and devised activities for each of them. Suggested activities included listening to the teacher reading, reading to each other, writing impressions and sharing, writing questions (messages) to characters, giving advice to characters, and role-playing scenes. It was generally felt that folk tales were often quirky and bizarre, and followed their own internal logic which was not always apparent. This makes them great fodder for inspiring discussion and debate.

Reported by Paul Wicking
Saturday, March 19, 2016
by Cameron Smith

Smith’s presentation focused on the different understandings of creativity as held by those in the West and those in the East. The past decade has seen governments worldwide pushing policies that are geared towards promoting creativity in education, and Japan is no exception. However, many of these policies have failed to operationalize the concept of creativity in any meaningful way. Without a clear understanding of creativity and how to assess it, any attempt to encourage its development is futile.
Smith went through a brief history of creativity in Western culture, and argued that the notion of creativity in the East is something quite different. While in the West the emphasis of creativity is on new and disruptive forms, in the East the emphasis is on goodness and contribution to society. In Confucian Heritage Cultures there is less pressure to be new or different.
There are a few ways in which teachers can encourage creativity in their classrooms, such as facilitating diversity, setting stable goals, supporting the process (without micromanaging) and valuing the effort rather than the result. A lively discussion followed, exploring issues surrounding creativity and how it is helped and hindered by features of the Japanese education system.

Reported by Paul Wicking
Saturday, January 16, 2016
by Spencer Robinson

Spencer Robinson began by observing that growing interest in applying the findings of neuroscience to English language teaching (NeuroELT) is welcome, but fraught with misconceptions and misapplications. He then gave a good introduction to what we know about the brain and the physiology of learning, and highlighted the importance of a supportive environment that encourages and rewards curiosity. There was then a useful discussion, with much participation from the audience, on how to create such environments in classrooms in Japan. In the second half of the talk, the speaker expressed his view that the English language was especially well suited to providing supportive environments for learning, due to its grammatical features and its infusion of cultural content from around the world.

Reported by Alan Thompson
Saturday, November 7, 2015
David Barker
Brent Simmonds
John Spiri

Participants this month were treated to a preview performance of JALT presentations by three of Gifu’s finest. Firstly, David Barker presented on the topic, “What do we know about language teaching and learning?”. Barker argued that there are two types of ‘knowing’, which are: 1) being aware of the truth of something, and 2) being convinced or certain of something. The problem is that some ELT professionals assert they ‘know’ something as being true (type 1), whereas in reality, it is knowledge that is contestable (type 2).
Barker went on to say that despite the volumes of research that have been done in SLA, we still do not really know how people learn languages. Even so, there are some things which seem to hold true, such as languages are learned, not taught; it’s all about motivation; learning a language requires a huge investment of time and effort; anyone can do it; a lot of what research tells us is wrong; it’s all about balance; a combination of formal and informal learning works best; and learners need training
Next, Brent Simmonds spoke about ‘Climate Change’, and the efforts of JALT’s Environmental Committee to promote sustainable education, raise awareness of environmental issues and, in particular, to create a sustainable conference.
Finally, John Spiri presented on ‘Extended talks for learning and assessment’. Spiri outlined some ways in which pictures can be used to launch students into extended turns, speaking to their partner for one or two minutes at a time. Spiri asserted that ‘A picture is worth a thousand words’, so can be used to good effect in the language classroom.

Reported by Paul Wicking
Sunday, October 25, 2015
by Ben Shearon

Shearon spoke as a man who has been reading, learning and synthesizing all kinds of information about money and investing for more than the last three years of his life. A fellow expatriate English teacher, living and working in Japan, Shearon warned about the three biggest dangers to financial security: doing nothing, doing the wrong thing, and getting ripped off. The ideas and ways of thinking about wealth that he presented will help guard against all of these dangers.
Basically, the key to getting on track to financial security is to change your mindset, and then change your habits. In order of importance, good financing is dependent upon psychology, spending, earning, planning, and investing. And of these, spending and earning are particularly important. The idea is simple but it’s true: earn as much as you can from a variety of income streams, and then save as much of that as possible. Various avenues for investing in Japan were also explained. Shearon often repeated that the two best books about principles of investing are, “Your Money or Your Life” (Robin) and “Millionaire Teacher” (Hallam). Those unable to attend this helpful presentation are advised to get their hands these texts.

Reported by Paul Wicking
Saturday, September 26, 2015
by Aya Kawakami

Kawakami opened by sharing how awkward she feels presenting in front of a large group of people. Presenting is quite different from acting, because an actor puts on a mask, which gives a sense of security. The dramatic mask used in acting can be put to good effect in the communication classroom.
Difficulties in the communication classroom can arise with students being shy, unmotivated or apathetic, and textbooks lacking authentic dialogues with emotion and depth. Drama techniques can address these issues by focusing on emotion, exploring conflict, and examining physicality, tone and non-verbal messages. Kawakami demonstrated this by using a dialogue from a popular communication course book. The dialogue was explored through “hot seating” and improvisation. In another activity, characters were developed from a role-play scenario and then a scene was improvised based on that situation and those characters.
It was also shown how drama activities can be extended beyond the classroom, through writing exercises (such as a journal entry as the character or a script), visual exercises (a poster or a comic), and making a movie using smart phones.

Reported by Paul Wicking
by Dorothy Zemach

Teaching process writing entails taking students through the five main stages of producing written work: brainstorming, organizing, drafting, editing (and peer review) and finally publishing. Zemach’s main thesis was that writing teachers should be focusing primarily on brainstorming, organizing and peer review. The reason is that students do not immediately see the value in these steps, and think they can just save time by leaving them out.
Brainstorming should be done in class as much as possible, and can be taught as a skill separate from writing. Not all ideas that are brainstormed need to be written up into essays, but if students engage in brainstorming every lesson, they will naturally get better at it and their writing skills will improve. As an added incentive to teachers, making students brainstorm ideas first is a good way to stamp out plagiarism, and students can show that their final product was developed by them from inception.
The second stage of process writing, organization, involves sorting, categorizing or grouping ideas together into a coherent whole. Different cultures follow different norms for expressing written arguments, so it is important to explicitly instruct students in the norms required for writing in English.
After writing a first draft comes the editing and peer review stage. This is primarily for the benefit of the person giving the review, and only secondarily helpful for the person receiving the review. Zemach recommended giving a simple grade to the student reviewer, to encourage him or her to take it seriously. Peer reviewers should not be asked to correct spelling or grammar errors, but rather comment on the content and organization of the writing.
Participants in this workshop were equipped with a variety of activities and ideas for helping students achieve better results in their writing classrooms.

Reported by Paul Wicking


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