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.
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
12 July, 2008
various members

Daniel Droukis and Paul Collet shared textbook-free courses they had designed around writing resumes, of relevance to university students. Ken Gibson described a one-week intensive fluency training course that used no written materials. Others described experiences of giving up on a textbook that turned out to be a bad fit for a class, while others reported that they prefer topic-based textbooks which leave them free to expand the course in directions that fit both their teaching style and the students’ interests and needs. Students often need the structure provided by a book but don’t seem to mind not finishing it. Everyone was reminded to save digitalized versions of any special materials they prepare for a course.
When the discussion shifted to extensive reading, Hudson Murrell passed out a description of his program. About half those present used some form of extensive reading. Most agreed that it works best as homework, at the pace of one book every week or two. It can be supplemented by in-class instruction in reading strategies (such as how to handle unknown words) and even by the teacher reading aloud to make clear to the students that there is no pausing or backtracking in this type of reading. The first result of sustained reading, according to a study by Ken Gibson is increased speed, but there may be a dip in comprehension.
No time remained to discuss participants’ research interests and possible collaborations, so those will be handled via the chapter’s next e-mail newsletter.

Reported By Margaret Orleans