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.
  • Click on an event title to see the original meeting announcement for that event.
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, 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
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
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
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
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
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
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
Richard Hodson

Humor is playing with language, and teaching it can usefully combine authentic input with creative output for a dynamic aspect to second language classes. Richard Hodson has been researching and teaching humor for several years and shared with us some of its principles and how he uses it. Incongruity, superiority and psychic release are the accepted reasons for funniness; pedagogical credibility is based on the linguistic and extra-linguistic knowledge required to teach and learn it. Some difficulties are the subject matter, i.e. recognizing and avoiding taboo topics, that it is too personal or culture specific—so that some people just don’t get it-- and varying student levels, necessitating lengthy explanations that can sometimes stall the class, losing the attention of some and the interest of others so that in the end it’s just not funny anymore. This is not a problem for Hodson, who concedes to being quite amusing in his classroom—while encouraging his students to be as well by modifying jokes, rewriting the endings—and evaluating each other with Likert scales of happy faces. For us, the evening was an entertaining and interesting introduction to a potentially very useful methodology.

Reported By
Dave Pite
Hugh Nicoll

Nicoll distributed copies of self-evaluation forms and explained how he uses portfolios in his reading classes at a small aspiring Liberal Arts college doggedly pursuing its perceived vocation as a teaching institution in the face of pressure to pursue grant money and the blurring line between “standards” and “standardization”. He offered various meanings of portfolios-- and a picture of one, pointing out that quasi-privatization and the politics of pedagogy and research have put teachers between a rock and a hard place, looking for alternatives to TOEIC for language assessment.
Growing out of the student autonomy movement, Common European Frame of Reference (CEFF) and European Language Portfolios (ELP) using dossiers, self-regulation, life-long learning and can-do statements, are models for the Personal Assessment Checklist System project. PACS is about rationales, goals and constraints; pilot data gathering for English and IT courses; and building systems, where students answer questions with their cell-phones (fun for students and easier for teachers) and self-assess their burgeoning language skills and confidence with Likert scales.
There was some discussion of how other teachers used methods similar to portfolios for their classroom and coursework organization— with alternatives and improvements offered by Nicoll’s research.

Reported By
Dave Pite
Matthew Jenkins; Yukiko Arima; Hiroshi Otani & Scott Thornbury

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:

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.

Reported By
Dave Pite
Malcolm Swanson, Jose Cruz & Greg Holloway

We had another great session of experienced teachers and expert computer users who are continually finding and testing what’s new and applicable to language teaching out there on the net— and provided us with some succinct, accessible explanations.

Swanson told us what kinds of classes he teaches and what sort of online resources he has found appropriate for each—and cautioned against trying to sign in a whole class at the same time to Google Docs— maximum ten per session is doable. It is free and easy to create and edit documents online while collaborating in real time with other users. Picnik can enhance and present your photos with just one click; is a researched new teaching approach that follows responses and graphs mistakes and successes into a learning curve; Howcast gives step by step instructions to do anything imaginable, similar to wikiHow; Survey Monkey will create and publish up to fifty online surveys for free, at a time; Animoto will make a show from photos—and video, up to 30 seconds for free; 280 Slides is like PowerPoint but easier; TypeWithMe is useful for online (student) collaboration, each in a different color; Audiopal tweaks your recorded voice or text message; VoiceThread is a multi-participatory multimedia slide; 50+Web 2.0 Ways To Tell a Story uses over fifty web services to help users put a story together. With Bill Pellowe’s Mobile Audience Response System (MOARS), the students take quizzes and surveys using mobile web-based browsers.

Cruz uses the internet outside of the classroom to find ‘real English’ for reading and listening practice, because not everyone speaks like the voice actors on language CDs. His list includes Japan Today and Voice of America Special English as well as English Listening Lesson Library Online (ELLLO) -- supplemented with his own site, JapanLEO, which offers ELLLO’s conversation transcripts completed with the deleted pause markers.

Holloway accesses the web to download materials for his Junior High School students, as well as to find support for his views when arguing with colleagues. From his long list of useful sites, he uses the Time For Kids site for its personal narrative, news story and how-to article organizers, for writing practice with its word find and shadow words components and Puzzlemaker and Handouts Online for printout material. BBC Skillswise offers a huge bank of ESL materials to help teach grammar, spelling, reading, writing, listening and vocabulary in English; Tokyo Shoseki has a similar offering for Japanese learners.

It was an extremely useful and highly informative evening of introductions to leading-edge technology that gave everyone something to take to class.


Reported By
Dave Pite