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.
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
13 November, 2010
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
9 October, 2010
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
23 September, 2010
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
11 September, 2010
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
10 July, 2010
Mark Gibson; Eiki Hattori; Go Yoshizawa; David Latz

Instructors at primary, secondary and tertiary levels of English language education in the Kitakyushu area shared their successes, failures and insights from using dictionaries in their classes.

Frustrated at the lack of appropriate elementary level bilingual dictionaries, Mark Gibson made his own-- and his students know that every new word they learn is in it, very useful in the development of a unique curriculum in his private school.

Eiki Hattori and his colleagues have Jr. HS students create their own dictionaries to prepare for vocabulary tests. New words and phrases are included with phonetic signs, accent markings and Japanese definitions.

Go Yoshizawa showed three different kinds of electronic dictionaries used in his high
school and explained some of their merits, such as the Jump feature to explain the meaning of an unknown word used in the definition of another; and the word quiz as an ice-breaker to start a class. They are also very useful for rephrasing English sentences.

David Latz gives his university classes fifteen weekly vocabulary quizzes, which mimic the T.O.E.I.C. Bridge Test in requiring more than one usage of a word—and in turn prepares them well for that test, whose score is included in their grade.

Reported By Dave Pite
12 June, 2010
Ken Gibson

Seeing a student’s T.O.E.I.C. scores improve dramatically with “non-stop reading” led Gibson to further research, which convinced him of its validity as a way to ensure greater retention of the material. Reading too slowly results in not getting enough information to engage the whole mind simultaneously and productively; speeding up results in more understanding because more information is immediately available to build better images to effectively process input.

A physical challenge, reading speed needs to be addressed before comprehension. Skip the painstaking and disruptive process of looking up all new vocabulary—a lot can be understood through context if the input is fast enough to engage the whole mind. Fifteen to twenty contacts with a word are enough to get it from short-term to long-term memory, which is the best place for it.

Introduced first at a company and then a university, Gibson’s program starts with testing reading speed and comprehension, leading to explanation and discussion of their relationship and introduction of strategies for improving both simultaneously, as well as techniques of imaging, predicting and dealing with unknown vocabulary. As an immediate indicator of marked improvement, cloze testing is very motivational-- as well as useful for course grading.

Reported By Dave Pite
8 May, 2010
Steve Quasha

Discouraged by the old paradox of using written tests to examine verbal competence, Steve Quasha has developed a system of personalized portfolio rubrics designed to tap into students’ intrinsic motivation via creativity and critical thinking which require them to identify strengths and weaknesses to most effectively take charge of their own learning. One example of the many rubrics he showed us was, “List 15 useful expressions, phrases or idioms you learned from this class.” Peer assessment is part of this dynamic, a significant shift in motivation from writing only for the teacher. It also adds continuity to the process, surely satisfying to teachers frustrated with seeing students’ interest rarely extend beyond the grade on a carefully corrected paper.

Quasha distributed examples of student “process” portfolios connecting new language learning with daily activities via imaginative tasks requiring investigation and reflection—changed often to avoid student recycling of answers and also because different classes have separate objectives. Peer feedback is encouraged-- in both English and Japanese-- and helps lead to final assessment portfolios, no small tangible and treasured end-product of an EFL course.

Reported By Dave Pite