Fun and Easy Japanesey
Matthew Jenkins used Japanese throughout his talk to demonstrate how exclusive use of the target language, while not necessarily the teacher's native language, may expedite learning, in combination with gestures and role-playing reminiscent of Asher's Total Physical Response. He asked his audience to pretend to be beginning Japanese students and gave us a little lesson, introduced with puppets modeling a basic self-introduction which we mimicked and practiced, pointing out that popular activities are ones that allow participants to talk about themselves. He then continued in Japanese to show how usefully the target language can be incorporated into classroom management (with TPR) to maximize student exposure to it.
Easy Steps to more English Use in the Classroom
Yukiko Arima shared some of her experience with genuine communication in Australia, noting the lack of target language use in English classrooms in Japan and citing surveys that appear to indicate that Japanese teachers simply do not feel confident enough to speak it. She gave us a group project of brainstorming important aspects of teaching and learning under the headings of Confidence, Chance and Contents, which were then shared and discussed as part of her main focus of encouraging teachers to be confident, active learners for themselves as well as to be good examples for their students.
Teaching English in English: Easier advocated than done in Japan
As a professional teacher of English in Japan, Hiroshi Otani finds it difficult to use a lot of English in his classes. While encouraging them to keep on trying, he described some of the major challenges that JTEs are facing in Japan, including their own command of English, the continual shifts in Monkasho curriculum requirements and the deeply rooted translation culture in this country. Though supporting grammar explanations in the students' mother tongue and not expecting students to answer in English, Otani encourages teachers to move from explanation to activity- oriented teaching to maximize usage.
After these three engaging observations of the current state of English teaching in Japan and how to deal with it, brief and appropriate mention was accorded the Elephant In The Room, the University Entrance Examination, which has to change before anything else does, and then our plenary speaker gave some pointers on teaching grammar.
How to Make Grammar Easy (By First Making it Difficult!)
In the tradition of 'teacher' as 'learning assistant', Scott Thornbury showed us how he helps students discover rules of grammar for themselves by "problematizing and personification". He presents a language challenge in the simple quiz format of questions with multiple choice answers-- but deliberately skews the answers so that the wrong ones appear correct-- until attention is paid to the grammatical format of the question and answer, which forces students to learn from the mistakes they make. He gave several further illustrations of how it is more interesting and memorable to intuit the rules than to have them explained-- along with various means of encouragement and ways to let students know how close they are to the target. More can be found here: www.thornburyscott.com
To finish our mini-conference, many of the attendees adjourned to the nearby Flamingo Cafe for a meal together and to continue illuminating discussions for as long as was possible.