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.
26 September, 2009
David Lisgo

English language education seems about to become mandatory from elementary school in Japan. However, it appears that reading and writing are not to be taught at this level. Long-time EFL materials writer, instructor and school owner David Lisgo is concerned that teachers will be unprepared to teach the new curriculum. Using picture cards from the Finding Out series by David Paul, and many others he has made, Lisgo gave us an evening of songs, games and activities that he has developed to introduce pre-reading and initial reading skills—and a CD full of materials to use.
It was all hands-on and participatory; we lined up to receive picture cards and shout out what they were, or “I know, I know” to solve a riddle from hints. We challenged our blending and segmenting skills to figure out what words were spelled from initial letters of other words (very important groundwork for learning to read and write) and our short-term memories by jumping up to identify the missing card, and we sang songs together. (Parents are happy if you send kids home tired.) His target audience--teachers of kindergarten, elementary and 1st grade junior high school children, got lots of good ideas – and we all went home tired.

Reported By Dave Pite
11 July, 2009
Kristin Sullivan

Sullivan began by introducing the textbook she recently co-wrote, leading into her presentation of the kinds of insights that come out of the book-writing process. She said that the (apparent) common wisdom of “chuck[ing] a native speaker into a classroom and suddenly it all happens,” falls somewhat short of according the teaching of oral English the kind of respect it deserves. It needs to be recognized that spoken language has unique features quite apart from the written form—which might help dispel the thematic superficiality and one-dimensional aspect of sample conversations in many textbooks. Having studied Japanese since elementary school, Sullivan feels well-qualified to assess methodology from “the other side of the classroom”. She points out that sophistication in content is important-- university students are adults after all—but they have been studying EFL for so long that patterns have developed they need to break out of; they need to be pushed up to the next level and in her classes with her textbook she attempts to do just that.

Recognizing however that any textbook is just a tool to be used in the process of encouraging conversation, the latter half of the meeting was turned over to an open and lively discussion of ways and means to facilitate this,

Reported By Dave Pite
13 June, 2009
Toshihiro Yamanishi

Yamanishi’s comment that he does not so much teach English as teach through English is well borne out in his exploitation of English newspapers in education (E.N.I.E.) to stimulate interesting classroom conversation practice. He led us through an introduction and sampling of a wide variety of exercises, interspersed with explanations and observations of the particular language of this medium, such as the fact that answers to Wh question words can usually be found in the lead line and that verbs are always in the present tense, with the be verb omitted in passive constructions.

The flu pandemic is currently topical, with plenty written about it, from which can be gleaned answers to the questions, “When do we have Stage Six?” and “When did we have Stage Six?” as well as an appreciation of how the meaning changes completely with the verb tense. The TV schedule pages invite questions about what’s on, when, and how many weather programs there are in the mornings. Among the input welcomed from the audience was a suggestion that students might try to guess the content of some programs from their titles—increasing awareness of immigrants about what is available to watch in their new country.

Why were there three photos of dogs on one page? And why was one photo bigger than the others? (Maybe because it was President Obama’s dog.) In the before and after picture of the Hiroshima Dome, how was the before photo produced in color? (Computer graphics.) Why translate “Okuribito” as “Departures”? A picture of a little girl whose parents have been deported from Japan leads to expression of differing opinions of the judge's decision.

In groups we memorized sections of Obama’s inaugural address and then performed them—which was fun, as it probably is in class. In fact, the whole evening was a good indication of how Professor Yamanishi has been stimulating English language practice for over a decade.

Reported By Dave Pite
9 May, 2009
Itsumi Ohmura & Margaret Orleans

Ohmura and Orleans obviously share interest and enjoyment in teaching EFL composition writing—as well as a lot of experience. In a relaxed, workshop-style presentation, peppered with anecdotes from various classes past and present, they showed us many examples of their better student writing, demonstrating how important appropriate and catchy topics are, and invited us to brainstorm in groups and share our own ideas.

After establishing the basics of essay-writing with “Time Order”, “Spatial Order“ and “Description”, classes progress through genres including “Cause and Effect” and “Opinion and Reason” and a plethora of topics such as “Life As An Oil Painting” or “Hello Kitty needs/doesn’t need a mouth” or writing a note of excuse for some famously misguided historical figure. Supplemented with audience-elicited ideas for titles on the whiteboard and a handout with examples of illustrations as subject matter these were all good reminders that there are no limits on imagination in writing – in one’s first or second language.

As had become apparent throughout the meeting, the presenters concluded that good writing topics capitalize on students' experience and interests while introducing enough parameters to demand sophisticated development of those topics.

Reported By Dave Pite
11 April, 2009
Robert Murphy

Murphy’s basic introduction gave us just enough insight into behavioral psychology to follow his reasoning and understand his practical advice for class organization. He is concerned with students missing out on the full potential of language acquisition due to a lack of the necessary support, reminding us that learning without application falls short of understanding. He walked us through the four tiers of understanding-- reflexes, actions, representations and abstractions—explaining when and how they each kick in, how they can be augmented for optimal results with “High Support Conditions”, and why ongoing assessment is the only worthwhile form of assessment. (Everyone has good and bad days.) Many commonly accepted psychological truisms were entertainingly debunked—excepting that believing something made it true.

A simple diagram illustrated how three developmental archetypes-- Linguistic Structures, Nonverbal and Cultural Manifestations, need to be balanced for good L2 performance—and how overemphasis on the former is counterproductive. Self in Relationships (SiR) interviews showed that father and teacher roles (which demand arbitrary filial respect) are the ones viewed most negatively by students in Japan. “Consciousness raising maps” - grouping of terms and assigning of emotional valences to them, help students focus on Performance of Understanding—entirely in English.

Reported By Dave Pite
14 March, 2009
Dave Pite

Pite explained that 5-minute videos about Japanese culture are a project that put students in the experts’ chair and give practice in explaining their own culture that comes in handy during later homestay experiences or intercultural interactions. Tenth-grade students in groups of 4-5 choose a topic—not necessarily related to traditional culture—and take on the roles of manager, director, designer, and writer(s) in order to plan a video in which all of them will have speaking parts and which will be judged on the basis of originality, communicativeness, and fluency. Pite shoots and edits the videos at the end of a seven-week term and the best ones become a 45-minute Culture Video Festival shown during a grade-wide assembly.

Showing copious clips from his eleven years of utilizing this project, he pointed out possible pitfalls and explained how he deals with them. The walls of the meeting room were decorated with posters and other student-produced visuals, and we received handouts of the planning and evaluation forms he uses. Despite the technical headaches involved, Pite feels that these culture videos are a useful learning experience, which he hopes to use as a basis for Skype-based discussions between his students and those in a New Zealand school.

Reported By Margaret Orleans
13 February, 2009
Norie Matsushita, Atsuko Chiba & Gareth Steele

In their three-year-old SELHI program, the English department of Seinan Jo Gakuin have developed methodology for teaching and evaluating students’ ability in self-expression via reading (as input of ideas), writing and oral communication. Directed by the school administration, they were initially unsure of what to do to implement these objectives, beyond recognition of the importance of increasing motivation through the integrated teaching of four skills and encouraging creative use of English with other subjects, as stipulated by the Ministry of Education.

This latter goal was not shared by teachers of other subjects at the onset of the project, but changed dramatically as it developed, along with the attitudes and methodology of those directly involved, something appreciated as one of the most important and apparent benefits of the program. Grammar translation methodology gave way to practically exclusive use of English by teachers as well as students.

Games and strategies to extend and fine-tune conversations— such as encouraging immediate responses and following the formula, A(nswer)A(dd)A(ask)-- are used extensively in the program Debate was introduced as a powerful means of facilitating oral expression. This inspiring presentation finished with a video clip of Seinan students winning a debate contest.

Reported By Dave Pite
10 January, 2009
Kristen Sullivan

Kristen Sullivan uses podcasting for the enhancement of oral skill development through the creation of student-authored podcasts as an authentic, creative activity with a positive motivational effect. While podcasting in the classroom is appealing as a technological route to educational benefit, careful consideration must be made of how to apply it; teachers must clearly identify their course goals. Students’ social and interactional needs and common challenges associated with group project work must also be kept in mind when designing and implementing podcast projects.
Sullivan exploits the podcasting process of plan/practice, record/edit, broadcast and listen/feedback for pedagogical processes, repeated several times, to support a consciousness-raising, reflective approach to engaging with spoken English in a supportive classroom environment.
After polling her audience to determine the extent of our experience with podcasting, Sullivan, who has been studying a foreign language (Japanese) herself since junior high school, gave us her rationale and procedure for making a lot more listening materials available on-line than there had been for her, showing how the challenge of making something that people will listen to helps students get satisfaction from doing something authentic using English.
Sullivan’s goals for Oral Communication classes of getting students to talk, keeping them on-task and attending to fluency and pronunciation would seem to be well met by this project. Her presentation was very useful in bringing the technologically-challenged among us up to speed on exploiting equipment that is very much a part of most of our students’ lives.

Reported By Dave Pite
6 November, 2008
Dr. Robert Courchêne

At the University of Ottawa, where Robert Courchêne heads up the Official Languages and Bilingualism Institute, all students must declare either French or English as their major language. The other automatically becomes their second language of study. The institute has devised a 70-minute online, computer-scored placement test of receptive skills that automatically assigns students to one of four levels of language courses as their starting point. The main difficulty is students who deliberately do worse on the test than they are capable of, in an attempt to slide by in an easy course, so adjustments are made in about ten percent of the assignments.
For students who have been educated in an immersion program, there is a competency test to assess productive skills as well. Again it is machine-administered, but the recorded speaking and writing samples are assessed by two raters. The department continues to refine this part of the exam. Although computer-based tests are cheaper and faster to administer, poorer students are not as well discriminated by such tests.
The university is currently beginning a longitudinal study, in which they will administer exit tests as well, to measure achievement. In addition, to discriminate better among students at the borderline between high placement students and low competency students, they want to devise a tailored test, where students can take a ten-minute test and then be routed to either the placement or competency test, so they are trying to find shorter but equally effective writing and speaking tasks. They have tried letters and second paragraphs of the traditional five-paragraph essay, and are now looking at using the same theme for both the reading and writing questions in order to streamline the test while increasing its effectiveness. They are also introducing a very short grammar section with high discrimination.

Reported By Margaret Orleans
11 October, 2008
Chris Carman and Margaret Orleans

We got an early start on much-appreciated Christmas activities this year with two presenters demonstrating entertaining ways to introduce the major symbols and practice key vocabulary.
First of all, Chris Carman described his use of the DVD “Merry Christmas, Mr. Bean” with college students. He divides the video into thirteen scenes two to three minutes long. He uses some scenes to raise student awareness of Christmas religious and secular iconography, but the activity students respond most enthusiastically to is providing dialogue for Mr. Bean’s encounters with his girlfriend.
Next, Margaret Orleans gave us several worksheets which required students to match punny illustrations with names of Christmas songs; challenged them to make new words from the letters in the phrase “Christmas Day”; find and circle 68 of them in the illustration; and “Christmas Word Ladders”—changing a given word one letter at a time through several steps to arrive at the final word provided—all related of course, to Christmas.
As well as offering some immediately usable classroom material for the coming season, this presentation was helpful in stimulating original plans by reminding us of the old familiar scenes and songs we know so well – and many of our students do not.

Reported By Dave Pite