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.
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
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
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
Matthew Jenkins

Jenkins agrees with Thornbury that second language acquisition research is useful for validating our classroom practices and as a starting point for developing new techniques-- as well as a bulwark against imposters promoting questionable teaching methodologies. After distinguishing between second and foreign language acquisition he introduced several of the better-known theories in these fields and invited us to discuss them in the context of actual classroom application. We brainstormed in groups to recall and consider a specific kind of lesson we had done or seen, and then tried to match it with a supporting theory from those he had told us about. When some time had been spent on this, each group in turn reported their conclusions followed by a general discussion of further possible practical exploitation, and difficulties that might be encountered.

Reported By
Dave Pite
Robert S. Murphy

TRIDENT (Triangular Denary System for Translation Disparity) is a triangular grid devised by Robert Murphy as a tool for making such dimensions of language as uniqueness vs. universality and figurativeness vs. literalness more tangible for students. Within minutes we had grasped the use of the grid and were able to assign words from a text to each of the nodes.

Recent brain research from Harvard has shown that emotional connection is as effective as repetition in moving learned material into long-term memory, and Murphy argued that manga provide that kind of emotional connection for students. If you accept Lange and Piage’s premise that we are all cultural beings and that language is the quintessential expression of culture, it makes sense to incorporate occasional translation exercises into TEFL lessons. In the Kitakyushu dialect cartoon with which we experimented, the pictures made the context very clear. Using the TRIDENT grid, we could physically measure the distance between the colloquial language of the manga and the flat and flavorless English phrases students meet in their textbooks. Working out a range of translations for various nodes on the grid has led Murphy’s students to ask important questions and feel at home with English.

Reported By
Andrew Quentin
Malcolm Swanson & Paul Collett

Collett and Swanson gave us an inspirational couple of hours regarding CALL in the classroom and out, integrating students’ lives ever more closely with using English in functional and fun ways. Social networking Facebook and micro-blogging Twitter are big, as are all their followers and competitors, and everyone is using them already anyway-- but there are hassles and dangers so why not use their concepts and the services subsequently developed, and design your own system to exploit this opportunity for authentic communicative language practice?
These two experts walked us through the basics of various networking set-up, pointing out further potential exploitation possible with more sophisticated management, and that for a small monthly fee it can all be done for you. Keeping up with current events on the personal and global level is attractive to most people, however it can be de-motivating if students find themselves unable to keep up with the responses—and unwilling to have their mistakes floating around in cyber-space forever, another good reason to set up a closed network for your classroom. And the good news is that Swanson and Collett are both willing to help you do that.

feb-1  feb-2    feb-4
Reported By
Dave Pite
Neil Millington and Colin Thompson

Responding to the current MEXT objective of traditional teacher-centered classes giving way to a more communicative and interactive approach, Thompson and Millington constructed some task-based exercises to develop students’ oral communication strategies while focusing upon specific English challenges such as article usage. Their methodology was demonstrated by six volunteers describing and ordering photographs into a coherent story, related by one member, paying particular attention to article usage. (Narrations have been shown to produce the most plentiful and correct article use; in classroom practice, the next stage of this exercise is for the class to work in groups transcribing the narration, correcting and then performing it.)

We shared observations of the group’s interaction—and the extent to which Willis’s task stages of pre-task, task cycle and language focus had been followed. The presenters noted a major problem of task-based learning is that so many points demand simultaneous attention that the tendency is to just let them go, and deal with them later, which is perhaps concentrating too much on communication and not enough on awareness of language construction. The presentation concluded with an open discussion of the advantages and disadvantages of using tasks in this particular learning context.

Reported By
Dave Pite
Amihan April Mella-Alcazar

Amihan April Mella-Alcazar provided both inspiration and advice to an audience largely consisting of university English majors. The inspiration came from her own example of learning a third language at school in her native Philippines and her fourth through sixth languages while serving internships or pursuing higher degrees in foreign countries. Her advice was for students to find a practical application for their English skills in volunteer work or internships in an area of interest to them. She gave four concrete examples: the JALT-sponsored Teachers Helping Teachers program which operates throughout Asia, the Asian Youth Forum which meets in rotating Asian countries annually, the Association Internationale des Etudiants en Sciences Economiques et Commerciales (AIESEC, an international student-led organization) internships which take place all over the world, and the Philippine Study Tour which is a joint project of AIESEC and the Bukid Foundation (which Alcazar helped establish) on Mindoro Oriental. She walked students through the application process for each program and played video clips showcasing them.

Reported By
Margaret Orleans
Kimiko Murata, Kristen Sullivan

Murata wrote, “There is a shortcut to the TOEIC test” on the whiteboard and then illustrated how she successfully guides students through their preparation with that adage in mind. Motivate them by reminding them of the bragging rights that come with a high score, make them memorize as many words as possible—with correct pronunciation, help them get used to unexpected yet natural responses in a variety of English accents. Don’t waste valuable exam time listening to predictable directions—just read as much as possible, remember the TOEIC is business orientated, to help guess answers when necessary and be sure to finish the test. Murata then completed her whiteboard advice with, “but there is no shortcut to learning English properly,” which set up the final group discussion very well.
Sullivan has used genre analysis in a immigrant literacy program in Australia to familiarize students with the type of documents they encounter in their new society, and has adapted the methodology in Japan for the TOEIC preparation. She uses test questions as useful practice exercises for business English, then encourages analysis for a deeper understanding of the subject—and hence the test itself.
Post-presentation lively discussion honed in on the whiteboard theme, bemoaning the control over TEFL teaching that TOEIC wields, resulting in no correlation between actual communication ability and appropriate class placement, frustrating for many instructors—who can ascertain both within three minutes of casual chatting. We pointed out that such a test was actually pointless if crammed for and underscores an endemic fixation with exam taking—but conceded that it was generally useful for job placement, and speculated upon its future in the current economic climate.

Reported By
Dave Pite
Saeko Urushibara,

So English is not so different from Japanese-- nor other languages either? Urushibara proposes that “Language Awareness” be the basis for English education in Japan, particularly when it is introduced at the primary level. She maintains that while vocabulary is arbitrary and must be explicitly “learned”, grammatical knowledge is universal and therefore comes cost-free in principle. She supported this notion with many examples and some technical terms-- explained to us in very accessible language.

Urushibara stresses that English is not Japan’s second language, but a foreign language—and should be taught in the context of Japanese. After discussing language’s shared properties, she showed ways of expressing them in various languages and then how to recognize and hence utilize our tacit knowledge of them coupled with our first language to support understanding of the target language. She noted that unique aspects of grammar, such as word order and agreement can best be handled in terms of contrast.

After some discussion of the relative roles of teachers and computers in language instruction, Urushibara fielded questions and remarks about our classroom experiences with and reflections upon the interrelationships of languages.

Reported By
Dave Pite