Phonics Readers for Children

My final presentation was on teaching children (and beginners) how to read. Starting with phonics and moving on to phonics readers. I also introduced my favourite reader series, Jelly and Bean (now renamed Follifoot Farm).

101121 JALT J&B

Raising Expectations, Measuring Results

It was a great honour to be asked to present on student learning outcomes by OUP. I seized the chance to talk about how important expectations are, how raising expectations (of students, teachers, and institutions) is likely to be the key to improving English education in Japan, and how important effective assessment is. Of course I also talked about student learning outcomes and how useful the CEFR can be when thinking about our courses.

101121 OUP Q presentation

I had a great audience for this and thoroughly enjoyed the presentation.

Tweaking Extensive Reading

Here is my presentation from the Extensive Reading SIG Forum at JALT 2010. It was a five-minute description of a seemingly cosmetic change I made to my ER class that resulted in hugely improved results. I encouraged everyone to play with how they ran their programs, as the next breakthrough could be just around the corner.

101120_tweaking ER_shearon

Got some great advice from Eleanor K. who suggested a topic for me to present at the pan-SIG conference next year.

Thanks Eleanor, I’ll be taking that idea and running with it!

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?

Free language courses from FSI

The US Foreign Services Institute has a whole bunch of language courses on their website. From Amharic to Yoruba (no Japanese unfortunately, but they do have Thai and Mandarin) you can find coursebooks and audio downloads. The courses are a bit dated, but they seem thoroughly put together and you can’t beat the price.

Thanks to inZania for the tip, and for a cool iPhone flashcard app that I am using to practice JLPT vocabulary.
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