A Smorgasbord of Updates

Life has been very busy in the almost two months since the last post. Here are a number of small news items.

smorgasbord

1. Extensive Reading Outreach

I am working with another high school in Sendai, mainly providing advice on which books to buy and how to encourage students to read. The teachers and librarian there are really enthusiastic and open to suggestions, so it’s been a lot of fun so far. Hoping to see their reading program develop.

2. University Classes

Continued to develop classes here at Tohoku University, particularly the new ‘high level’ ones.

3. PELLT Expansion

We’ve made some new pages on PELLT, with more to come soon.

4. Cambridge Academy Development

Some progress, including training part-timers to take the ER classes, getting more books, and working on the fluency program in the output classes.

5. RetireJapan

Lots of new content on the RetireJapan site, and featured speaker at JALT national.

Hope to have some more posts for you soon ūüôā

 

Cambridge Discovery Interactive Readers

Great news

cambridge discovery interactive readers

Last year I took another look at the excellent Cambridge Discovery Interactive Readers (full review coming soon) and was disappointed to see that a lot of the content was set up to be accessible to a single user for a limited time. It seems the publisher assumes they will be bought by individuals and used as a kind of textbook.

Of course, this is very different to how ER program administrators look at books.

For me, I am not interested in the interactive questions or even videos (although it would be nice if they were on a public site accessible by anyone), but I am very interested in having the audio files available so I can make CDs for our students.

I reached out to our local Cambridge University Press rep, who is a very thorough and approachable guy, and told him I was very interested in having access to the audio files. He asked some questions about my teaching situation, I answered them, and he said he’d talk to the main office.

I assumed that would be the end of it. Few publishers understand ER as practiced in Japan (particularly with regards to the importance of word counts, etc.) and I wasn’t expecting much more than ‘sorry, we can’t do anything at this time’.

This morning I was proved completely wrong. I received an email telling me that the audio files for the first couple of levels are online and can be freely used by teachers and students. Apparently the rest of them will be going up soon.

This is great. I’m really happy to see a big publisher listen to local teachers and help them with their teaching situation. Big kudos to Cambridge for making this change -I hope you’ll check out the series and download the audio. Positive reinforcement works wonders!

Making a New JHS and SHS Curriculum

Fluency Practice and Clarity

fluency

This year we are creating a new curriculum for the Cambridge Academy output classes. I’ve written (and thought) a lot about the Academy reading program input classes, but over 90% of our students also take an output class.

Output classes are small group (up to six students) communication classes focusing mainly on speaking and writing. This year I am taking a closer look at these classes because I have noticed that they may be far more important than I realized.

I believe the reading program delivers most of the benefit to our students. Extensive reading and listening for at least an hour a week is going to complement everything else they are doing at school and outside and give them the amount of input they need to start internalizing the language. However, in our input classes students work alone reading and listening to texts. They don’t necessarily notice the progress they are making, nor do they form emotional connections with their classmates or teachers.

That’s where the output classes come in. Students do pairwork and communicate through speaking and writing. If they enjoy the output classes they will be more motivated and have a positive view of our school.

In a way, the output classes are the heart of the program.

Which is why we are trying to improve them this year. Last year the output classes were a bit of an afterthought, and did not produce the results or the atmosphere we wanted. This year we are shaking things up with some major changes.

No homework

Two things prompted this: I read some¬†articles about how homework doesn’t do much for students and they really resonated with me, and we noticed that only about half of our students were actually doing the homework we set.

Now, I think the benefits of formal homework could be debated, but for us the negative aspects of students not doing homework were far more important. First of all, it was very disruptive to have some students do the homework and others not. We had to take class time to help them catch up at which point that students that actually did the homework got annoyed. Asking/nagging students about homework also created a negative atmosphere in the class, and made some students not want to come to class merely because they felt bad about not doing the homework.

This is why from this month we will not be setting formal homework in our Academy classes. Students have self-study they can do (extensive reading and listening, vocabulary study with Word Engine, listening practice with elllo) but nothing compulsory.

The no homework policy is going well so far.

Fluency practice for speaking and writing

This came from reflecting on university classes based on¬†the PDR method, as well as Yuko Suzuki’s take on shadoku. I have come to believe that our students need fluency practice, ie doing relatively easy linguistic tasks in order to acquire automaticity. What this looks like in practice is doing question and answer drills, timed writing, and repeating speaking activities multiple times.

Again, based on a couple of weeks: better atmosphere, happier students, more satisfied teachers. We’ll see how it goes as students get over the novelty and potentially start getting bored over the next few months.

The Longterm Plan

In the longterm I would like to create an original curriculum for junior and senior high school students that doesn’t require commercial textbooks, based on the principles we are exploring in our output classes. Such a curriculum could be useful not only to Cambridge Academy, but potentially to other private language schools and even junior and senior high schools interested in running a communication class once a week.

More details as this project progresses.

Extensive Reading Foundation 2016 Language Learner Literature Awards

It’s the Oscars of the ER world

ERF 2016 LLL Awards finalists

I’m really happy to post finalists of the ER Foundation LLL Awards for this year. Lots of interesting looking books. I already wrote about Vera the Alien Hunter, and I’m looking forward to checking out the Malala biography very much.

I am slightly disappointed by the large number¬†of rewrites of classic books. I don’t understand why publishers churn out version after version of Tom Sawyer, the Happy Prince, etc. I guess it’s cheaper than writing new content, but two-thirds of the finalists in the higher categories are rewrites this year. I will be voting for original stories over rewrites, and also¬†take this into account when buying books.

Extensive Reading Foundation Language Learner Literature Awards 2016 Finalists

Online comments¬† April 1 ‚Äď June 30, 2015 at www.erfoundation.org
Winners to be announced at the following vocabulary conferences:
Sept. 12-14: .  Winners announced online and at the Vocab@Tokyo Conference, 12-14 September, Meiji Gakuin University, Tokyo.   Info: https://sites.google.com/site/vocabattokyo/

You can see all the finalists on this PDF flyer: ERF_2016_Flyer_Final, and the judges comments are here: finalists 2016 with comments.

See anything you like the look of?

 

PREVIEW: Vera the Alien Hunter (Graded Comic Readers)

My students are going to love this

IMG_7061

By the same people that brought us Magic Adventures and School Adventures (waiting for the final installment in May before I write a review), this new graded comic book series arrived yesterday. Vera the Alien Hunter is a girl with a vivid imagination. At one point she starts to meet aliens, although it is not clear if this is real or just her imagination. I have the first three volumes of the series (three stories in each): it seems there will be another three volumes, for a total of six volumes and eighteen stories.

The YL and word counts for each level are similar to the Magic Adventures comics: YL 0.5-0.9, and 300-500 words or so per story.

The Good

  • Really attractive artwork and fun stories.
  • The audio is very high quality
  • Word counts on all the books! Well done e-future.

The Bad

  • The CD is an MP3 CD, which means it doesn’t work with most of our CD players or the students’ ones at home. Pretty disappointed about this, especially as the previous comics had real CDs. Note for publishers: please use normal CDs if at all possible.
  • The books have three stories in each rather than being separate books. This could be a drawback in terms of flexibility (ie more students could use them if they were one book per story).

Overall

This is a great addition to the e-future comics collection. I’m looking forward to the last three volumes and can’t wait to share them with our students (once we re-record the CDs from MP3 to audio).

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