Tohoku University Seminar: Building Effective Foreign Language Instruction

I’ll be giving a 30-minute presentation on “Building Effective Foreign Language Instruction” at an event at Tohoku University in Sendai on Monday. Details are here.

Time: 13:00-17:50
Place: Sakura Hall, Katahira Campus, Tohoku University
Entrance: free

If you can’t make it I hope to post a video of my talk here next week.

Zero tolerance

I’m normally a fairly laid-back guy, and I am probably a ‘nice’ teacher. I see my role as being a coach, someone who can provide training, encouragement, and advice to my students so they can learn the skills of English. At university, I set clear (high) expectations and show my students how to meet them.

In children’s classes though, something wasn’t right.

I’ve been reading a lot recently. Kindle on a phone makes reading anywhere, anytime a breeze. I think I have probably more than doubled the number of books I read since I got it.

Two standouts: Teach like a Champion, which I have talked about before, and more recently Work Hard, Be Nice (about the Knowledge Is Power Program in the US).

Both of them talk about high-energy, high-expectation, zero-tolerance classrooms. I don’t have big problems with discipline in my classes, but they could definitely be better, and perhaps the techniques in these books could help me…

I want my classes to be exciting, the students to be motivated and enthusiastic, and the results to be spectacular. I have some students who end up amazing users of English, and some that don’t, but I think it is possible to increase the numbers of those that do.

Recently I have been experimenting with a two-pronged approach:

1. keep the students busy with achievable, interesting activities
2. firmly jump on any form of undesired student behaviour immediately

Examples of undesirable behaviour: hitting, verbal attacks on teachers or other students, moving around without permission, talking about things not germane to the lesson, playing with pencils or other objects, not singing, not participating in speaking activities, not doing homework, not following instructions, etc.

So far it is going really well. I think students like to know what is expected of them and what they should be doing. Being firm in enforcing the rules allows the students who are into the lessons to enjoy them more, and makes life easier for the teacher. The flipside, of course, as alluded to in number 1 above, is that it is also essential to keep students challenged and busy in class.

I am going to continue with my ‘firm teacher’ experiment and see how the students progress. I’m very excited to see how the classes go over the next few months until March.

Chubu (Nagoya) ETJ Expo -Sunday November 25 at Sugiyama Jogakuen University

I’ll be presenting at the ETJ Expo in Nagoya this weekend, talking about useful online resources to help students study more effectively.

The schedule for the event is here, and the map/directions are here.

Hope to see you there!

Pair vocabulary activity

Class: children’s eikaiwa
Students: four seven-year-olds (experience of learning English 6 months-2 years)

I was teaching a group of first year elementary school age students a couple of days ago, and stumbled upon a wonderful activity that really gave me a boost.

We were practicing insect names again (for the third time), and the students were getting quite good. Each student had gaps, but as a group they could name all of them. I had two sets of small flashcards, so I had put one set in front of each pair of students. I started out calling out the names and having the students touch the pictures, but then realised I could have them work in pairs, one student being the ‘teacher’ and calling out words and the other being the ‘student’ and touching the pictures.

This is in no way a new activity, but the way my students took to it blew me away, and made me realise they are capable of much more than I was giving them credit for.

They not only did the activity perfectly, calling out and touching the appropriate pictures, but also became real teachers: helping their ‘students’ if they didn’t know the word, giving hints, waiting long enough to give their partner a chance to answer but not so long that they would get frustrated before helping…

Those seven-year-olds showed me that they are not just capable of taking on more active roles in their English lessons, but want to.

One of my goals for the rest of the year and for next year is to bring more realia, more content, and more personalisation into my classes. Giving the students a wider variety of roles in class will clearly need to be a part of this.

It’s very exciting to look at my classes and see where they can be improved: this year has been much more enjoyable since I started my self-improvement project. How about you: have you noticed anything about your classes recently?

SRS, RSS, LMS: Online Tools to Boost Learner Efficiency

This is my presentation from the 2012 Tokyo ETJ Expo. Thanks to Oxford University Press for sponsoring my presentation and making it possible for me to attend.


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