Event Reports

Event reports from our chapters and SIGs.

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Akita Chapter

Saturday, October 24, 2015
by Bryan Hahn

The presentation was divided into two parts. The first part explained a research project surveying the language learning attitudes towards English at four universities in one Japanese prefecture. The purpose was to investigate whether attitudes might have changed today compared to a decade and a half ago, when it was proposed that English should become the second official language in Japan. Based on percentage positive response ratings, the results showed that students believe English education would increase their chances of finding a good job. However, many of the respondents were dissatisfied with their level of English proficiency despite a desire to learn the language. Paradoxically, students generally disfavor changes to the foreign language curriculum and the vast majority oppose adopting English as a co-language in Japan. This reluctance to change might explain why Japan consistently ranks near the bottom in TOEFL iBT scores. The second part of the presentation was an in-depth round table discussion of the research results.

Reported by Stephen Shucart
Saturday, September 26, 2015
Rachael Ruegg
Taku Sudo
Hinako Takeuchi
Yuko Sato

This presentation introduced Akita International University’s (AIU) Academic Achievement Center (AAC), a place that employs peer tutoring to support students. The presentation included an overview of the AIU curriculum, the theoretical background of peer tutoring, and the implementations of the peer tutoring method conducted at the center. The presenters, who all work in the AAC, discussed the cultural aspects affecting the center, what they considered to be the benefits of peer tutoring, the types of students who request support from the AAC, plus their motivations and expectations. A lively Q & A session ended the presentation.

Reported by Mamoru “Bobby” Takahashi
Saturday, July 25, 2015
by Rachael Ruegg

Words are the basic building blocks of the language and the most important factor influencing language proficiency. Despite learning English for 6 years in junior high school and high school, many Japanese students report feeling that they lack sufficient English vocabulary. This presentation explained why vocabulary is such an important aspect of language. The presenter introduced which vocabulary should be learnt, and in which order. Following this, she explained how vocabulary should be learnt for maximum effectiveness. Finally, she shared some tools that can be used by teachers and learners to help in their vocabulary teaching and learning. Although the PowerPoint portion was only about an hour long, the remainder of the presentation was a lively round table discussion on teaching vocabulary.

Reported by Stephen Shucart

Fukui Chapter

Sunday, October 18, 2015
by Cameron Romney

Cameron Romney gave an informative presentation, and facilitated a practical workshop on why and how educators should consider the design of their materials as much as the content those materials contain. Ill-formated handouts can lead to ineffective comprehension of the content trying to be taught. His ideas were supported by a wealth of theoretical and pragmatic knowledge by leading scholars in both the education and design fields.

After a thoughtful presentation of the theory and discipline behind materials design, Cameron facilitated an engaging workshop that allowed participants to put the theories into practice. The main theme that came from the entire session was that you don't need to be a professional graphic designer or editor to understand layout and other aspects of design, and you don't need fancy super expensive software. Cameron encourages using basic Microsoft Word (a standard tool for word processing and creatiing handouts) to create and edit handouts. After some work in small groups, and with Cameron's insights documents that looked bland and ineffective were edited to look better. But to the larger point, the informed edits allowed for more efficient and effective teaching to take place. Isn't that the ultimae job of teachers, and purpose of using handouts?

This was a great session that allowed for theoretical and pragmatic approaches to be blended and utilized. Participants were engaged and enthused throughout the entire afternoon.

Reported by Wayne Malcolm

Gifu Chapter

Saturday, April 15, 2017
by Philip McCasland

McCasland began by explaining how Japan was the world's third largest economy (having just been overtaken for second position by China). However, it was only ranked 30th in the world in terms of entrepreneurship. This presents a major incongruity, and a challenge for the Japanese nation. A number of government policies have sought to address this challenge by promoting entrepreneurship and concepts such as 'global jinzai' (global human resources). However, is entrepreneurship a skill that can be taught, or a mindset that needs to be nurtured? In addition, how can we, as teachers of English, seek to develop entrepreneurship in our students? These were some issues that were debated in the presentation.
McCasland outlined two frameworks within which this may be accomplished: that of possible selves, and that of international posture. When these frameworks are combined with the content and language integrated methodology (CLIL), the foundation is laid for encouraging the character and skill development of entrepreneurs. In practice, McCasland demonstrated three activities that can be used in classrooms to achieve these ends. The first activity involved examining narratives within two HSBC commercials; the second activity involved a task based on The Dragon's Den; while the third was a real-world buying and selling activity, completed by students while overseas. By aligning our syllabi in such a way to support government policy, a convincing argument can be made for the legitimisation of our courses and curricula.

Reported by Paul Wicking
Saturday, March 18, 2017
Josh Brunotte
Chris Hastings

“Virtual reality” tools, available for free on smartphones, are now accessible to most students in Japan. Josh Brunotte and Chris Hastings made a good case for using these for a variety of purposes in the English language classroom – to add interest to common classroom communication tasks (such as information gap, 20-questions), to give a more immersive introduction to study-abroad destinations, to provide content for group projects and presentations, etc. Then they guided our group through some activities that make use of Google Cardboard, Google Street View, and Google Expeditions, where we experienced the technologies firsthand with our smartphones and the cardboard viewers they provided. The presenters were also careful to give warnings on the limitations (students not willing to use their bandwidth) and cautions (possible nausea, recommended age restrictions) associated with the use of these technologies.

Reported by Alan Thompson
Saturday, February 18, 2017
by Michael Stout

Stout began his workshop by going through the history of the reading circle, from its beginning in Chicago as a social book club, to its developing use in L1 education, and then finally crossing over into L2 pedagogy. The fundamental premise of reading circles is that small groups of students (4-6) read a common text. They discuss it afterwards, and during the discussion, each member has a role. Students then change roles after one cycle. Ideally students have a chance to perform in each role.
It was explained that there is no single orthodox way of arranging reading circles, and many educators have their own ways of defining roles. However, while there may be many kinds of different roles, the one constant is that there must be a leader.
In his academic classes, Stout had his students undertake five roles, the first being Leader. The Leader prepares a summary of the text, writes six discussion questions, and makes an agenda for the group discussion in class. The second role is Contextualiser. This person finds contextual references within the text that helps place the story in a time and place, and also does some research into the social and cultural background to the story. The third role is that of Visualiser, which entails creating two different types of visuals related to the text. These visuals could be a mind map, a timeline, a photo, a drawing, chart or graph. The Connector is the fourth role. This person considers ways in which the text connects with other texts, such as stories, movies, songs, familiar events or personal experiences. The final role is that of Highlighter. The Highlighter is required to find five unknown key vocabulary in the text, and provide a definition and example sentence(s) from the text. Each person has preparation to do before the class, a role to perform during the class discussion, and then a follow-up task after class that entails writing a reflection piece on how he/she performed that role.
One potential challenge to reading circles is finding a suitable number of common texts to which everyone has access. Stout recommended ‘Project Gutenburg’ as an online source of older texts that can be accessed for free, with authors such as Oscar Wilde and Henry James. The groups created a report together on Google Docs, but were not officially assessed on this report.
During the second part of the workshop, participants were put into reading circles. Each group member was allowed to choose a role. Groups then read a short, short story, which they discussed together in the same way that students would do. Experiencing a reading circle firsthand provided an insight into the challenges and rewards that students might have when doing this. As all classes are unique and have different dynamics, it is best if teachers take the basic principles explained by Stout and adapt them to their own teaching context.

Reported by Paul Wicking
Tuesday, November 29, 2016
by Dorothy Zemach

Teaching process writing entails taking students through the five main stages of producing written work: brainstorming, organizing, drafting, editing (and peer review) and finally publishing. Zemach’s main thesis was that writing teachers should be focusing primarily on brainstorming, organizing and peer review. The reason is that students do not immediately see the value in these steps, and think they can just save time by leaving them out.
Brainstorming should be done in class as much as possible, and can be taught as a skill separate from writing. Not all ideas that are brainstormed need to be written up into essays, but if students engage in brainstorming every lesson, they will naturally get better at it and their writing skills will improve. As an added incentive to teachers, making students brainstorm ideas first is a good way to stamp out plagiarism, and students can show that their final product was developed by them from inception.
The second stage of process writing, organization, involves sorting, categorizing or grouping ideas together into a coherent whole. Different cultures follow different norms for expressing written arguments, so it is important to explicitly instruct students in the norms required for writing in English.
After writing a first draft comes the editing and peer review stage. This is primarily for the benefit of the person giving the review, and only secondarily helpful for the person receiving the review. Zemach recommended giving a simple grade to the student reviewer, to encourage him or her to take it seriously. Peer reviewers should not be asked to correct spelling or grammar errors, but rather comment on the content and organization of the writing.
Participants in this workshop were equipped with a variety of activities and ideas for helping students achieve better results in their writing classrooms.

Reported by Paul Wicking
Saturday, September 17, 2016
by Barbara Hoskins Sakamoto

Teaching 21st century skills is something of a current fad in all areas of education currently, and EFL is no exception. However, as Hoskins Sakamoto argued, it’s possible that we sometimes get so focused on these skills that we lose sight of our primary objective: teaching English. In her highly practice-oriented workshop, the four Cs of 21st century skills (i.e. communication, collaboration, creative thinking, critical thinking) were activated through tasks that had English language learning as the primary objective.
Two of the task types concerned manipulatives that had students physically handling words and letters to create language. The first involved paper cubes made from milk cartons, with words and pictures on each face. Students would roll the cubes (or die) and then create sentences and stories. The second used caps from PET bottles, and students would search for letters to make words. Another activity was called “six word stories”, where students are given a photo and must tell the story of that photo in exactly six words. The arbitrary rule of length works to reduce anxiety and so encourage creative participation. These and the other activities demonstrated by Hoskins Sakamoto would make a useful addition to any teacher’s repertoire. The workshop ended with a lot of cutting, pasting and drawing as participants worked together to create activities suited to their own teaching contexts.

Reported by Paul Wicking
Saturday, July 16, 2016
by Craig Volker

Although not immediately obvious from the presentation title, an exploration into pidgin and creole languages can be very beneficial for language teachers in Japan. The study of these languages raises questions about the definition of the bounds of the English (or French or Spanish) language, which has definite repercussions for how we conceptualize and practice English language teaching. Volker has been heavily involved in researching these languages for over two decades, and presented with authority and good humor.
Volker explained two of the dominant theories concerning how pidgin and creole languages develop. They appear very quickly, unlike traditional languages with a long history, often within a single generation. Creoles are independent languages, not dialects. They have an independent lexicon, grammar and phonology. A sample of creole languages was presented: a news report from Jamaica, a Christian sermon from Hawaii and a news update from Papua New Guinea. Participants were invited to decipher each of the video clips, which differed in the amount of variance from standard English.
Issues related to pidgin and creole languages can often surface in Japan. For example, a student may go to Hawaii and come back disheartened because he/she couldn’t understand people talking to each other. Or perhaps a Jamaican (or a Papua New Guinean) applies for a job at an eikaiwa school that is advertised for “native speakers of English”. An interesting discussion ensued about the status of “native” and “non-native” speakers when applying for a job, and how much freedom teachers can have when presenting varieties of English in class. The presentation ended with a crash course in tok pisin, the national language of Papua New Guinea.

Reported by Paul Wicking
Saturday, June 18, 2016
by Brent Simmonds

Brent gave an interesting presentation on Saturday evening (June 18). The presentation outlined the various English Project Courses that are available to students as elective courses at Aichi Gakuin University. These courses include topics on sustainable development goals as outlined by the UN, for example goals to end poverty, protect the planet, and ensure prosperity for all. In the later part of the presentation, a variety of interesting discussions were generated including topics on where Japan stands in relation to other countries in terms of their carbon footprint, gender equality, workers' rights and economic growth, as well as industry, innovation and infrastructure. Ideas on teaching certain language items to students, as well as informing young adults on these issues were also considered.

Reported by Kathleen Cahill
Saturday, May 28, 2016
by Melodie Cook

Cook reported on research she had conducted into expatriate perceptions of entrance exams in Japan. The research was not taking a validity or reliability approach, but a sociocultural one. Cook’s presentation addressed four key questions. Firstly, why do entrance exams exist? Unlike tests conducted purely for pedagogical purposes, entrance exams were viewed as fulfilling primarily socio-economic purposes, such as to generate revenue, to stratify students in society, and to show the face of the university to the public. Secondly, what are the characteristics of good entrance exams? Respondents believed that trialing was very important, but that form is more important than content. Thirdly, who is making these tests and what are they thinking? Cook found that expatriate faculty on exam committees may be influenced by their own educational backgrounds and other testing contexts they have worked in. Therefore more communication between expatriate and local faculty might be helpful to avoid misunderstandings. Fourthly, (how) can you change an entrance examination? A number of recommendations were made, including: find out what the true purpose of the test is, know what your role is, make your recommendations in Japanese, and be positive and tactful with criticism.
In the second part of her presentation, Cook took us through the three publications produced by JALT, giving advice for how to increase the chances of getting published. The number one important tip: read the publication guidelines carefully! Writers will severely sabotage their chances of getting accepted by submitting work that clearly has not followed the guidelines given on the website.

Reported by Paul Wicking
Saturday, April 16, 2016
by Anna Loseva

Loseva began her workshop by reading a Russian folk tale about a fresh-baked bun called Kolobok. Participants were told to just sit back and listen – there was no pressure to remember details or answer comprehension questions. This absence of demand on students to perform or produce is central to Loseva’s approach to reading, which focuses on reading for enjoyment.
It was argued that many students expect English classes to be packed full of activities and noise, but it’s actually very good to just sit and read. It is good practice to give students freedom to write down their own ideas/impressions of the story, without asking comprehension questions or demanding some kind of formal response.
During the second half of the workshop, participants read a variety of stories from different countries and devised activities for each of them. Suggested activities included listening to the teacher reading, reading to each other, writing impressions and sharing, writing questions (messages) to characters, giving advice to characters, and role-playing scenes. It was generally felt that folk tales were often quirky and bizarre, and followed their own internal logic which was not always apparent. This makes them great fodder for inspiring discussion and debate.

Reported by Paul Wicking
Saturday, March 19, 2016
by Cameron Smith

Smith’s presentation focused on the different understandings of creativity as held by those in the West and those in the East. The past decade has seen governments worldwide pushing policies that are geared towards promoting creativity in education, and Japan is no exception. However, many of these policies have failed to operationalize the concept of creativity in any meaningful way. Without a clear understanding of creativity and how to assess it, any attempt to encourage its development is futile.
Smith went through a brief history of creativity in Western culture, and argued that the notion of creativity in the East is something quite different. While in the West the emphasis of creativity is on new and disruptive forms, in the East the emphasis is on goodness and contribution to society. In Confucian Heritage Cultures there is less pressure to be new or different.
There are a few ways in which teachers can encourage creativity in their classrooms, such as facilitating diversity, setting stable goals, supporting the process (without micromanaging) and valuing the effort rather than the result. A lively discussion followed, exploring issues surrounding creativity and how it is helped and hindered by features of the Japanese education system.

Reported by Paul Wicking
Saturday, January 16, 2016
by Spencer Robinson

Spencer Robinson began by observing that growing interest in applying the findings of neuroscience to English language teaching (NeuroELT) is welcome, but fraught with misconceptions and misapplications. He then gave a good introduction to what we know about the brain and the physiology of learning, and highlighted the importance of a supportive environment that encourages and rewards curiosity. There was then a useful discussion, with much participation from the audience, on how to create such environments in classrooms in Japan. In the second half of the talk, the speaker expressed his view that the English language was especially well suited to providing supportive environments for learning, due to its grammatical features and its infusion of cultural content from around the world.

Reported by Alan Thompson

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