Meeting Reports

Reports of our meetings. Click on a month to see details.

  • Reports for meetings prior to July 2008 can be found in the meeting archives.
  • If you are looking for details of upcoming meetings, these are available on our schedule page.
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8 October, 2011
various speakers

Charles Ashley reviewed the history of error correction and reported on his experience with a workbook to correct common errors, concluding that his students’ level was too low for them to recognize the errors and that teachers must be aware of the Been Here Too Long syndrome, in which they no longer recognize some errors.
Ai Murphy talked about the brain theory behind anger management and how it leads to better learning for our students and children.
Paul Collett outlined three student approaches to learning--mastery, performance, and performance avoidance—and detailed their implications for the classroom. He emphasized the need to teach students goal-setting through modeling and scaffolding.
Matthew Jenkins introduced three quick activities that can be adapted for students of all ages—the Janken Bon Voyage Mixer, the Vocabunator, and Hot Potatoes quizzes.
Margaret Orleans explained how she tries to create an English atmosphere in her classrooms with bulletin boards, computer games, and displays of student work.
Robert Murphy unveiled his formula for creating champion students—a mix of emotion, curiosity, empowerment through choice, and adequate sleep.

Reported By Margaret Orleans
10 September, 2011
Steven Herder

Steven Herder describes his epiphany after many years of classroom EFL teaching when he took an MA course in the subject as, having dutifully followed the Presentation, Practice, Production (PPP) module for all those years, realizing that his students were simply “doing anything to get out of the classroom” and he needed to change that. Herder points out that “input can be controlled but output cannot be put in a can”—and that successful language learning first focuses on fluency, then accuracy and complexity (like kids do). Writing has an advantage over speaking in the luxury of time to work out how best to express what you want to say.

To this end, the first activity in his classes (duplicated in this presentation) is ten minutes of free writing—No dictionary, eraser, stopping or talking, with follow-up activities such as counting adjectives, words in the past tense or words using time-- and then putting them together in a scale. (Some classes double their average total word count over one year in this not particularly academically outstanding high school.) Herder then went on to describe a variety of innovative exercises which made a good personal introduction to his inspiring website: http://stevenherder.org

Reported By Dave Pite
3 September, 2011
Rod Ellis

Rod Ellis reminded us that the main goal of second language instruction is to develop implicit knowledge-- because without it, you’re a lousy communicator. Implicit language learning occurs without intentionality, without awareness (beyond the level of noticing) of what has been learned—or that it has been learned, or how. This is how children learn their first language and their caregivers/ language teachers are providing all the input they need—without explicitly teaching them anything. (That comes later, in school, when they intentionally, consciously, explicitly try to help students become aware of the rules of grammar they have intuitively learned.)

Ellis encouraged us to consider the extent it is possible to facilitate the (essential) implicit understanding of a second or foreign language and its relationship with explicit instruction. He feels that confidence in communicating comes from building up implicit knowledge and that the lack of access to it by adult learners outside the classroom must be offset by appropriate exposure to it inside, with students discovering implicit rules for themselves. With a combination of presentation and discussion, Ellis guided us from awareness-raising through brainstorming of ways to facilitate that, which went way late and spilled over into a nearby café.

Reported By Dave Pite
9 July, 2011
various presenters

In a day so packed with presentations and discussions that attendees had to take notes while eating, but were fueled with Turkish coffee and cookies, about fifty people explored the implications of brain research for the EFL classroom. Robert S. Murphy began by comparing neurons to the reproductive system, in that excitation has to happen for transfer (of information) to take place. Students’ emotions have to be engaged, as in the scene from Dirty Harry curiosity had to be satisfied. Curtis Kelly followed up with an explanation of how to create a rewarding dopamine rush for students. Christopher Stillwell led an activity that simulated a cocktail party to help students realize how successful their listening can be even when they don’t understand 100% of the material. Marc Helgesen recapped the elements of happiness--which has more to do with people’s attitudes toward life than with the number of happy events in their lives--and showed how it enhances learning. Tim Murphey introduced the notion of mirror neurons, which are responsible for altruistic behavior, and screened a very moving appeal by his students to the Ministry of Education to improve the teaching of English. Hayato Mine and Suguru Goto explained a system of communication using pictures that is helpful for disabled children and those on the autism spectrum. Group discussions led by the presenters and sprinkled throughout the day helped attendees consolidate what they had learned and apply it to their own teaching situations.

Reported By Margaret Orleans
11 June, 2011
Michael Phillips

Michael Philips gave us a zany and fun glimpse into the principles of test construction (and an invitation to see it again in its entirety online at http://prezi.com/zx8dwynovou3/testing-times-ensuring-success/), insisting we anticipate answers for our as-yet un-posed questions, in groups, in a quite effective way of teasing out the knowledge we might have about the subject—such as, how and to what extent diagnostic, summative and formative assessment impact learning--and to mull over the overlapping meanings and relative importance of Evaluation, Measurement and Testing. He ran us through types and purposes of tests, pointing out that while certain high-stakes tests may rate someone as having a high level of achievement, that score does not necessarily translate into real-world fluency. Washback, which is the students’ attitudinal reactions to testing, is a big obstacle to reliability (the replicability of testing results). For him, the most interesting part of the testing cycle is testing for learning, rather than learning for testing. Philips finished up with a great little video reminder of what teaching and learning should feel like.

Reported By Dave Pite
14 May, 2011
Thomas Robb

Thomas Robb started his reading program at Kyoto Sangyo University in 1988 with popular foreign English youth literature, having students write summaries @ 1 notebook page per 40 pages read. However, syntax, vocabulary and slang in children’s books are often beyond the ability level of EFL readers, thus failing to stimulate interest in recreational English reading. And summaries may be more challenging and daunting than quizzes. Next was Accelerated Readers and in 2007 Version 1 of Moodle Reader was developed-- and implemented into the English Department in 2008.

Students have other priorities for their time, so reading quickly is good-- with less down time for dictionary searches, so they read more and get more exposure to lexis and syntax. Starting at a lower and more accessible level helps break the translation habit while, hopefully, maintaining interest. However, the bottom line is that if there is no way to check, many students will not do it. The MoodleReader quiz program lets students complete quizzes, and teachers check them, online free of charge. Each student has a personal page on the website that records their progress in books and number of words read.

Robb finished off by walking us through the simple processes for implementing this excellent tool into a school curriculum.

Reported By Dave Pite
9 April, 2011
Barbara Hoskins Sakamoto

In true Dogme fashion, rather than telling us what the approach is about, Sakamoto had us co-construct a definition by sharing in groups what we already knew about it and formulating questions to ask her. We came to the conclusion that Dogme teaching is conversation-driven, materials-light and focused on emergent language. We then did a typical group conversation activity (answering three questions about our names) while also taking notes on useful vocabulary and patterns that emerged. In order to give students an opportunity to practice the language in a subsequent lesson, we designed student-centered tasks. Finally we discussed possible roadblocks to Dogme (which was adapted for European language teaching from a Danish film movement) in the Japanese environment and how to deal with them.

Links to more Dogme ELT resources can be found at http://teachingvillage.wikispaces.com
Because our October meeting will be a PechaKucha Night, we also enjoyed a brief explanation and demonstration of PechaKucha by Jose Cruz.
(Reported by Margaret Orleans)

Reported By Margaret Orleans
12 March, 2011
Matthew Jenkins

After outlining behavior management theories from Skinner, Canter, Dreikurs, Glasser, and Gordon (he particularly recommends Bill Rogers’ Classroom Behavior, which practically applies elements of several theories), Jenkins highlighted what he considers the most common scenarios for bad behavior in Japan: rowdiness, inattentiveness, sleeping, and cell phone use and gave examples of how he has successfully dealt with them. Small groups then discussed their own experiences and role played a successful strategy.

Jenkins strongly believes that motivating activities are preferable to behavior management techniques, that it is important to listen to students and give them choices, and that teachers must be themselves in the classroom. He urged us to remember that we are dealing with bad behavior, not bad students. Sometimes the roots of bad behavior and their remedies lie outside the classroom, so it may be necessary to involve other school personnel. It is also important to be aware of Japanese culture, where what constitutes a reward or punishment may differ from the culture of our home countries.

Reported By Margaret Orleans
12 February, 2011
Paul Shimizu & Bill Pellowe

Shimizu and Pellowe demonstrated two types of tools for checking student understanding, which they described as ‘low-tech’ and ‘high-tech”. The low-technology goes back at least 30 years, when “teaching paddles” were used by medical students to demonstrate their understanding of a lecture. Simple bits of plastic marked on both sides at each end with A, B, C, and D held by each student (beside their faces so the teacher can make eye contact) keep them on-task (because a wrong answer will be glaringly obvious) and committed to their right answer, reinforced by the rest of the class display of the same answer. Not only can teachers evaluate understanding at a glance, but from there groups of students can autonomously negotiate a response, finally communicated to the teacher by a unanimous display of their common conclusion.
Pellowe has developed “student response systems for mobile devices”; cannily exploiting the ubiquitous cell-phone for homework, complete with shortcuts that avoid a lot of input and get the user connected immediately to various online quizzes and other classroom extensions. Teachers can make a quiz and give it a shortcut which will soon be extended to include peer feedback during student presentations

Reported By Dave Pite
8 January, 2011
Robert Murphy


Many of the ideas in this “Crash Course in the Brain”, were credited to Brian Hudson at Harvard University where Murphy does neurolinguistic research to try to become a better language teacher in Japan by helping students retain and use English more effectively. Contrary to popular metaphors portraying it as book- or computer-like, memory in fact exists in gist form as neural links in a hierarchically organized brain. One hundred billion neurons making a quadrillion connections offer potential dynamic skills development—if properly tweaked by the teacher. It’s all about exciting neurons and building networks to bring students from their merely functional level upon entering the classroom to an optimal level with a battery of questions or similar stimuli and then continuing to generate interest and attention through emotional connections with personal, so meaningful and hence enjoyable, attractive topics. His PowerPoint slides offered clear illustrations, including how grammar-translation methodology does a great disservice to authentic English, rendering it simply a manifestation of Japanese.
This is the kind of thinking behind Murphy’s EFL textbooks. He concluded his presentation by fielding some ideas from us for applying these principles to classroom practice, which included helping students to discover grammatical connections, set goals and negotiate syllabuses.

Reported By Dave Pite