JALT 2010 in Nagoya

I will be presenting three times this year at the JALT National Conference in Nagoya, details as follows:

All You Can Read: the Extensive Reading Colloquium
Saturday 20th: 17:15 in room 1203 (sponsored by the  Extensive Reading SIG)

Raising Expectations: Measuring Results
Sunday 21st: 13:00 in room 1102 (sponsored by OUP)

Phonics-based Reading Practice for Children
Sunday 21st:  17:05 in room 1103 (sponsored by englishbooks.jp)

Hope to see a lot of friends there!

Niigata Teacher Seminar

I just got back from Niigata, where I was invited to present to a great group of teachers from local junior and senior high schools.

My topic was teaching reading and writing to junior and senior high school students, and you can see my presentation slides and notes below:

101111 Niigata Intro
101111 Niigata Reading for JSHS
101111 Niigata Writing for JSHS
101111 Niigata Notes

Thanks for a great day and good luck with your teaching!

Halloween Parties

Last week was Halloween party week at Cambridge English. Halloween seems to be an integral part of children’s EFL in Japan, whether we like it or not. It is expected by students, parents, and teachers, whether at public schools or private eikaiwas.

My thinking on Halloween has gone through various stages. I’m going to list them below. You should also know that Halloween has no particular significance to me: I didn’t celebrate it growing up and my main exposure to it has been through Hollywood films.

1. Stage one: infatuation

As a new ALT in a junior high school, I loved the novelty of Halloween: dressing up, talking about interesting cultural concepts, bringing fun material and activities into the classroom. Under the guise of ‘teaching about foreign culture’, I had free reign to dress up as a ghost and do word searches for a week or two. The students, as far as I remember, were mostly bemused.

2. Stage two: numbness

After a couple of years, Halloween became a bit dull for me. Doing the same old activities and explanations just didn’t cut it any more. I looked for more purposeful activities, but found it difficult to justify taking the time away from ‘proper study’.

3 Stage three: business opportunity?

When I got involved with Cambridge English, Halloween became a chance to reach out to potential students and expose them to our school, with the ultimate aim of increasing enrollment. We staged large elaborate Halloween parties, with guest teachers and performers, lots of games, dressing up, and encouraged the students to bring as many guests as they could.

4: Stage four: backlash

Three years later, I realised that after all our efforts, expense, and time, we had a grand total of zero new students from Halloween events. Guests came and had a good time, but none of them came back to have trial lessons or join the school. I also started resenting the amount of time (both class time and teacher preparation time) that was going into Halloween. I felt that our educational goals were not being met. We changed from large Halloween events to doing Halloween parties in each class at this time.

5: Stage five: acceptance

We just finished Halloween week, and did some kind of Halloween thing in each class, ranging from full on Halloween parties with kindy classes to just dressing up and giving out chocolates with adult private students. I have changed my attitude towards Halloween again.

We had a great time this week. The students enjoyed dressing up and having slightly more frivolous lessons than normal. The teachers also enjoyed dressing up, and guests also seemed to have a good time. I guess my take on Halloween now is that it is a bit of a break, a reward for our students for all their hard work throughout the year, and a chance to show off the school for a week or so.

You can see some pictures from our parties here.

What’s your take on Halloween parties for EFL classes in Japan? Worthwhile or a waste of time?

What is more important, the teacher or the system?

I have spent the last six years helping to set up, run, and teach at a small private language school. Most of my energy has been spent on trying to find the right materials, the right activities, and the right curriculum to best help my students.

However, recently there have been a lot of articles and news stories about how the most important factor in whether children learn is not the educational framework but rather the teacher. One example is this article:

“Building a Better Teacher” (NYT Magazine, March 2010)

So, have I been wasting my time in trying to design a good system? I don’t think so.

I hope that having great materials and a clear, logical curriculum will make it easier for teachers to do their jobs. It is not a substitute for a good teacher, but rather a complement to one.

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