Sunday, December 30, 2012

The last message in 2012 for the wizards and philosophers

Wow. Amazing! With a lot of help from EFL wizards in Japan, I could managed to collect 125 responses for my survey. Compared to the usual number (about 20) I can collect, this is amazingly high and got interesting result which supports some of other research results. About 70% of teachers use a bit of L1 for various purposes but mainly for student's benefit such as facilitating friendlier and more comfortable learning space, especially for low leveled students. It shows very practical and pedagogical function of L1 usage in EFL classes.

Based on some of literature regarding L1 usage in L2 classes with the result of survey and 5 transcripts of my classes, my hypothesis is that the minimum and judicious usage of L1 can facilitate effective learning environment for young learners in terms of class management and motivation. This realization was made with amazing support from one of EFL wizards, Steven Herder who generously share his research paper on the same topic with me.

In spite of the lack of actual classroom and sufficient help from my tutor, considering the supportive and jolly study group with experienced and devoting educators that I regularly meet on Skype, daily helping hand from my partner, another EFL wizard & PhD candidate in TESOL and the connection with the miraculously generous and supportive group of wizards in EFL that I luckily have made in the last several years by involving ETJ Tokyo and attending numerous TEFL related events, I am in one of the most fortunate learning environment for professional as well as personal development.

I can't imagine myself getting involved and building connection with the wizards before getting involved with ETJ Tokyo Jolly fellows, Terry Yearly, Colin Skeats and Phil Brown, the first wizards I met in my life. It was 2006 I joined the group in order to be active in grass-root movement to stimulate collaborative learning among English teachers in Japan as I started taking a corresponding course at Nihon University, majoring in English literature after long absence from academic field that I felt resentful with based on the numerous horrible experiences I had in high school days. For a rebellious, wacky and ignorant teenager with full of skepticism towards the world of grown-ups, top-down and dictatorial style of school system she saw was nothing but torture and demotivating than anything else in the world. At that time, I completely lost my curiosity towards academic areas and rather hastily concluded that it was not my filed to be. I still somewhat doubt there is any room for me to be in the hard-core academic area where no rooms for practicality but only hypothesis and theoretical assertions. I strongly believe in the philosophers at nursery schools who respect the Goldren rule, "Do unto others" and practice the rule sincerely. But by joining the march with the jolly fellows as I got out of my comfort zone and explored the world of academia and TEFL at the same time, I discovered it is not only nursery schools but everywhere I can find those sincere and devoting philosophers. It was such an inspiring experience to get to know philosophers and wizards outside of my comfortable kingdom I have build around myself.  It was also the time when my own daughter took the first step in the educational ladder and started showing me beautiful vulnerability and amazing courage on daily bases as she steps out of her comfortable nest and face the bigger and more complex reality on her own. Her presence in my life get me reconsider my way of dealing with my life.

Through this serious and continuous reconsiderations of my beliefs  and opportunities to get to know those wizards and philosophers, I have come to a realization that instead of arming myself with full of skepticism and cynicism in order to defense the softest part of my heart, I would rather dive into my vulnerability with optimistic hopes and wishes, steadfast belief in the Golden rule and child-like curiosity and sincerity. From the day the realization was made, I actively seek the answers for my puzzles via participating workshops and presentations related to TEFL as I wrestled more academic facts via heaps of readings that the corresponding course offered. Through the workshops and presentations, I luckily made more connections with wizards and philosophers in TEFL and intensive study through the course, I've earned BA in English literature. Upon the path to the graduation from the course, inspired by devoting and hard-working teachers / mates in TEFL in Japan, my curiosity grew big and strong enough to explore more in depth in TEYL.

I am sure that any teachers who knew me as a teenager would not believe who I become in 2012 - Not only a mum / a teacher for young learners, I made the debut as a presenter and a material writer in EFL field. Thanks to all my Aston, ETJ, JALT and facebook friends for your inspirations and encouragements. Special thanks to Alastair Lamond, Aurora Dobashi, Barbara Sakamoto, Brian Cullen, Catherine Littlehale Oki,  David Paul, David Harrington, Eric Kane, Irine Sugizaki, Mari Nakamura, Sanae Kawamoto (in alphabetical order), who encouraged and supported me greatly to dare presenting at ETJ Expo. And of course, a big thanks and hug to my partner, Andy Boon for doing everything he can possibly do to make my life more comfortable yet exciting.

My appreciation also goes to the first inspiration and the motivator, my daughter who still keeps igniting the mum and teacher in myself by mumbling things like, "I like learning but I don't like studying." as she was tackling with her homework reluctantly at the face of heaps of seemingly meaningless facts and figures.
"What and how can I do to facilitate the most comfortable home/classroom for my children so that they can keep on going out and seek the answers for their puzzles fearlessly?" was the first thought I got at the moment. Wouldn't that be nice to wake up in the morning, thinking, "What can I learn today?" like Phil Brown stated on FB? After all, it is only fair if I at least try to provide such a space for children I fortunately meet in my life because I am offered the most fortunate learning environment from those wizards and philosophers whom I humbly and proudly call friends of mine.

Again this year, 2012, I have made more connections with more wizards and philosophers in EFL and the academic field via expanding and participating actively in EFL and academic filed. Thank you for inspiring me constantly and all of your presence in my life. I am here sitting in the kitchen, feeling thrilled as I think, "What can I learn today, tomorrow and  next year?"

Happy Learning for everyone in the coming new year !!

Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Something to think of during the break.

The young musicians, aged from 13 to 15 have dared to play a challenging tune on a big stage for a competition which 160  ensembles of junior high schools in Tokyo entered. It was held at one of the largest concert  hall in west Tokyo. In front of them, there were heaps of audience and some intimidating looking judges. Their pressure might have been enormous due to the expectation from peers from the school and the club. In spite of the daunting situation, they stood high in the center of the stage and played their music in harmony. Their outstanding efforts and devotion brought them the Gold prize and admirations from their peers, instructors and parents. Nobody forced them to do. It was merely their free will to enter the ensemble and the competition.

Had witnessed what kids can do when they put their heart into it, what Kohn asserts in this video make sense more. Part of his assertion can be a bit too extreme and too generalizing for I also know that some kids can find their places even in a traditional education system, memorizing facts and figures and flourish in their own way. And perhaps the real world is not that ideal place to live on with heaps of controversial issues and contradictions as we all know. Perhaps the patience and steadfast will can be emerged from rather bitter experiences in school days. One of the auto biological books of a legendary teacher from one of the elite school, Nada, says hard work and lots of devotion from an educator make differences at school. His way was rather unconventional in terms of contents to teach.  Yet in terms of amount of work and devotion required from students and teacher-centered style, his way is conventional. I am sure there are many other cases that traditional education work well and some of them might have found their places at school and become teachers. With passion and devotion, children might be able to absorb something from the class. But I think traditional teacher-centered way doesn't work to everyone, either.  So, it is only fair if schools come up with unique and alternative ways, depending on the learning style, social and cultural circumstance, mindset and other variables each student might have or may deal with. Because it is not impossible if all the educators and stakeholders put their heart into the reformation. Progressive education Kohn asserts might not make the ideal and perfect education but at least the ownership of learning would be given to the learners and there are more chances that they might feel more engaged and enjoyable in learning. What educators and stakeholders can do is to facilitate the comfortable and welcoming spaces for learners to flourish and also provide supports when needed. Then learners might be able to apply their own style to learn how to solve puzzles that they wonder in the real world. Finding some convincing answers for your puzzles can be time-consuming and requires hard work as well but at least you are actively involved in the quest and perhaps that is what excites us.

In much smaller scale, what I can do is to provide such a place for young learners of English. Just imagining the faces in flow get me excited!

Sunday, December 23, 2012

A Christmas Story

There are heaps of traditional Christmas stories to share during Christmas holiday. You also find little dramas and stories everywhere and I found one to share today in the morning on the Christmas eve.  

As my forgetful daughter, Momo left for school for practicing and preparing the concert she is participating today,  I sat in the kitchen table with freshly made coffee, thinking what and how to cook the Christmas dinner  we are having tonight at home. Then the phone rang. My heart doesn't dance as I pick the phone in the morning because those calls at the time of the day are usually emergency calls. As I looked at my cell phone, my heart actually sank because it was from my daughter and I knew it would definitely an emergency one. 
Oh no...I thought to myself. 
"Bring the costume to school. I forgot them all."
Of is the concert day, isn't it? Why didn't I make sure that she had everything? 
"Mum! Are you listening? Bring the band uniform! ok?"
After taking a long sigh and deep inhale, I finally manage to say, "Ok.", thinking how I was gonna complete this mission without my car. 

As soon as I put my phone down, the well informed critics in my head started shouting at me, 
"You are spoon feeding Momo. She can't be responsible if you help her all the time. "
" You are overprotecting mum." 
"Do you know who would be called? Helicopter mum!"
" You are sending her a wrong message by doing what she asks to do. " 
" You are spoiling your daughter!"
"You will regret what you are about to do!"
Another big sigh, coming out of my heart.

I needed to sit down on the chair in the kitchen and started to reflect what Momo was going through. On the Christmas eve, she left home for school in the early morning, practicing for the concert she would give with other high schoolers of the city where her school is located. I imagined her little dried hands with heaps of small cuts from carrying the heavy musical instruments for her club mates. I imagined her little swallowed lips from practicing trombone for the concerts during this holiday. I imagined her smile on the stage when she successfully performed her part. I imagined her numerous sighs and mumbles when things get too challenging to deal with. I imagined her jolly whistles as she wipes her tears. Then I had to put myself together and find out how I could deliver the uniform on time using the public transportation. 

Then my phone rang again. It was from my mum, telling me to get the uniform ready to deliver. Apparently, she was also notified by Momo about the emergency. Most of you might go, 
"What a spoilt child she is!" 
"That is awful to ask such a thing to her grandma in the early Christmas eve morning." 
And I agree with you. She is a spoilt brat. But she is also considerate and sweet girl who often acts considering others happiness and tries to do her best. She didn't mean to forget things but her mind is not capable of retaining all the information she gets. She feels stressed out and annoyed by her forgetful mind as well. I know how awful she feels whenever she forgets to bring something because I've been there. I was exactly like her at her age but I had a less crazy schedule. I had plenty of time to check and support in case of "emergency". My mum laughed at my forgetfulness and never got angry with it. And even with her grand daughter, she shows the forgiveness and humor. Again this morning, she called us to give helping hand again. But while my little critics shouting to my ears, I almost refused her help, saying Momo needs to learn how to be responsible. Then Mum said, 
"She's got plenty of time to learn that.  But you don't do that today. It is Christmas eve and let her enjoy the spirit." 

Lately my mum aged so quickly and forget things. She also struggles with her forgetfulness and understand how irritating it can be.  It has been upsetting for me to see her in a mess for she was a super mum. Selfishly and childishly I expect her to stay the way she has been without considering her age. But I admit I haven't been considerate or supportive enough with her. In spite of my childishness, she gave us a help without any conditions. She just gives without any expectations. She shows us how to be compassionate and what the Christmas spirit is all about. 

Perhaps Momo won't realize how amazingly wonderful her grandma is till she has the same experience as I did today. I felt so small and awful but at the same time so lucky to have a great role model as a mum. I was a spoilt brat like Momo when I was her age and sometimes I still am if not worse. But I remember  how helpful the laughter of my mum when I did something stupid and realized how those laughters and humor made who I am today.  I am full of errors and faults but my mum loves who I am. Why can't I do the same to my daughter? 

It is so unfair if I don't accept who she is because I was forgiven and accepted as who I was. It is my turn to do so. My mum said to me when I had Momo, 
"Enjoy your motherhood! It would be full of discoveries. Enjoy it while you can!"

 What a gift I got on Christmas eve! It is the messy and crazy motherhood for a teenager that I can experience and learn from only once in the life time. As my mum says, I would let myself enjoy the thrilling ride with occasional emergency calls and lots of laughters. After all, those crazy and silly moments would make unforgettable memories.

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Stories to tell.

I am working on some stories to tell at the moment. I am not sure where those stories would end up in. It could be just a teaching material for Sunny-field English or could go into a bit bigger world. Things are still uncertain but always good to come up with some stories to tell, especially before winter holiday.

One of the stories is about Tomo, a girl who is a typical teenager who has become apathetic to life itself. She has fallen into the worst mindset that she can possible be: Apathy. She doesn't care about anything. That is when life itself loses its color. Anger or stress might be a bit better than apathy for it is an emotion. Apathy is the final stage of spiritual death. It is not the absent of desire such as enlightenment or mindfulness to the present moment. It is the absent of emotion. Whatever the reason, all the emotions are frozen or terminated. It might be one of those defense mechanism working to prevent any pains to feel. It could happen to anyone with exceptionally tender heart. When the heart can't take the pain from life, it would stop taking it, would it? It can be a lonely fight till you realize that you are not alone. I've been there and done that. I struggled, stressed and wished that I had no emotions at all. At some point, I became quite apathetic to some aspects of life but my emotional nature didn't allow me to kill all the emotions but some exceptionally tender-hearted children might terminate the function in order to survive. Tomo is one of them. She has lost faith in her and life ltself. Everything looks futile and meaningless. In the world of massive productions and wastes, what kind of meaningful life can she possible have? She would say things like, "We all die anyway." She doesn't know there are some wonderful things she can enjoy on this comparatively short journey called life if only she opens her eyes and heart wide and take all in. Some pains involve yet the pleasures are worth enduring the pains. Perhaps she would learn this via finding passion in music, namely playing trombone. The bond she would build with club mates via practicing for a contest she happened to get involved in spite of apathy. Life can work in an unexpected way and opens up a new path for you from time to time with a bit of luck  in a form of an extra helping hands. For Tomo, it is the brass band club she unintentionally got involved ironically because of her apathetic attitude towards life itself. She just singed an application form of the club while she was aimlessly wander about the school corridor on the first day of the new school year. The enthusiastic members of the club caught her and got her in as a new member. She didn't have any ideas what she was up for but didn't bother to question it. She did what she was told to avoid further troubles. But actually this event got her in a whole new world.

The second story is about a teenage who immigrated with her family from Mexico to Seattle, Washington, where her parents were offered jobs as a cook and a waitress at a Mexican restaurant. Her parents took the offer thinking it would give their daughter better life. Catalina lost all her best friends and her home country at the most challenging stage of life. Knowing her parents good intention and love towards her, she tried to cope with the changes wholeheartedly in spite of all the challenges she faced. The first challenge was the language. Although she learned English a little at a primary school in Mexico, her English wasn't good enough to talk with her friends and she couldn't follow any works at school at the beginning. The language barrier looked too high to overcome. But again music the universal language would help her to make friends with her classmates. In her case, it is the guitar she has learned how to play from her dad paid off. On top of that, her lovely and tender nature nurtured by love from her parents and music get her overcome all the obstacles she faced. Her music opens her mind and people's hearts eventually. An idea hit her on one Sunday when she saw a busker, playing the guitar on the street in downtown Seattle when she wandered around alone because she had no friends and parents were busy working. Because of the performance and the people's reaction, she decided to give a try to perform with her guitar on the street. She had nowhere to go and no one to talk with anyway. It seemed like busking could make a fun activity.

Umm...lots of consideration and revision would be needed but two teenage girls might inspire me to tell their stories more. Ta-ta to you till the further inspiration allows me to pen some more lines.

Sunday, December 9, 2012

Who is the best role model for my language learning?

I've spend a day at Joint JALT Tokyo conference and had a chance to think who my role model was when I started learning English. The theme of the conference was, "There is no best method." but the discussion during the first plenary speaker, Dr. Andy Curtis, ended up in "Who can be the best role model for the language learners?" while he got us walk through the history of English language education and its methodology. It was quite interesting shift from talking about the best Methodology to the best roll model. To me, it was engaging topic for I constantly wonder if I am good enough as a language instructor. I keep on asking myself, "How can you be the best roll model for your students when your English can not be "Perfect"?" I Would try to make it as good enough as possible as a communication tool, however, I can never see myself to build the same sense of ease and confidence when I produce sentences in English as I do in my 1st language. My heart resonate with the phrases such as Daring greatly and the gift of imperfection because of the fact that I can't see myself achieving the native-like proficiency in English. And if the best roll model means someone who show the perfect model, I am a failure.

However, when I look back to my learning experiences, I remember some persons who were adorably imperfect and beautifully messy in a very wholehearted way. They motivated me to be able to communicate with them in order to get to know them more. Even for the different areas such as parenting, my roll models are not perfect human-beings yet they dealt with me as real and sincere as possible and accept me as who I am.  So, for me "the best" means not "the perfect". The best means more like sincere or real.

So, just in time before Christmas I found one more wish to add to my wishing list. That is to be courageous enough to show up in the classroom as sincere and real as possible in spite of all the anxieties and fears I might feel.

I am thankful for the opportunity to attend such a thought-provoking conference.

Monday, December 3, 2012

Momo's Learning Journey: Where does she go?

As I have mentioned more than a few times, my daughter has been getting terrible scores on English tests at school due to spelling errors and other careless errors in writing. She must have thought that she could be a super cool A+ student in her English classes, considering the time she spent with me, reading and playing in English until the age of 12 when she started studying for the entrance exam. In spite of the fact, she ended up taking extra-class-for- dummies at school. The outcome? She started saying "I HATE English."

Those classes are designed for slow learners and they supposed to help students to improve their learning skills and she should be glad to have such opportunities. But considering the humiliation the slow learners might feel to be in the class when the whole school kids know the reason why they take the classes, I felt uncertain about the effect of the effort of teachers. In spite of my concern, those extra-class-for-dummies have become her favorite.  What teachers do is to give them some tasks/ handouts to work on individually while they look after other things in the teacher's room. At the beginning, the kids did as they were told to do but eventually came up with better strategies on their own while teachers are away from the classroom. They started helping each other. Momo says learning together work better in fun and quicker way. I am not sure if it was really the teacher's intention but it happened and she said teachers were happy as long as all the tasks were correctly done within a certain time.

From this semester, she is no longer the "regular" of the class for her spelling skills got better and ironically she misses the class. Her enthusiasm in the "special" class asserts that the effect of peer learning for the age group. With more scaffolding from teachers, their learning might be accelerated, I wonder. But the peer learning experience has very positive effect on her motivation and also on her English proficiency test score. She took one of them at her school last month. This one is regular national proficiency test that the school requires students to take. In spite of her much lower than average score on her school English tests, she got 10th highest score in her school. It was a sudden leap from 40 something to 80 marks.

Daily exposure to authentic interaction between my partner and myself at breakfast table in English must be one of the reasons for the phenomenal change. For my own sake, I would like to think that the memories associated with a sense of pleasure via reading picture books and playing learning activities with her classmates at Sunnyfield English (my own school) started paying off as well. I have no idea how to prove it but she often says, "I know this phrase from Dr. Seuss.","Ah, Mr. Putter says this." and uses some expressions from those picture books she read or songs she enjoyed. It seems like after a few months of English lessons at school, those memories have returned to her mind.

Perhaps I am just speculating for my own benefit but she does started remembering bits of phrases, vocabularies, stories and songs from past and uses the experiences and knowledge for her learning. If she would be able to use her memories to hypothesize the meanings of unknown words and phrases in her learning, my score as a mum might get higher, at least on my self-evaluation sheet. Process is more important than the outcome for sure. But the positive outcome do motivate us to keep on learning to learn.