This is a short post to quickly provide the PDF version of the presentation that I and my JTL and wife Yoshie Holland and I presented at this year’s Sapporo ALT Skills Conference. The topic was “Cooperating and Communicating Effectively” at the Junior High Level. Check out the slideshow below, or click here to load the 7.6 mb .pdf file.
This is a lesson I designed and did several years ago and have done a few times since. I introduce Calvin and Hobbes, explain who the main characters are, and then give the students a handout with a few comics on the front. We read the comics together and I try to make sure they understand the meaning. Of course, the explanation sort of removes the humor from them, but that’s OK, because the fun part comes next.
On the back of each sheet, there is a different comic printed, one for each pair of students in class. The comic has had the wording removed from the speech bubbles, so their goal is to assess the comic, try to figure out what is happening or what the author intended, and then either write something they think fits in the bubbles, or take it in a different direction. Sometimes students ask if they can add drawings to the comic, or extra bubbles not originally there. I say sure, why not.
Here are some selections of comics that last year’s 3rd graders at Saroma Junior High did (9th graders). They’re gone and graduated now, but I’ve kept the comics they wrote, and per a request from a friend, I’ve scanned the best ones: (Images link to larger versions, and are browsable using the arrows)
Why do we teach Japanese 1st and 2nd graders about fruit, colors, animals, and numbers? Are these truly the first words that they need to learn in their progression of English education? Should the simplest structures always be presented first? Should we expect students to remember words, or should they be encouraged to use them?
When I was a first-year ALT in Murakami City, I assisted in a model English class conducted at Senami Elementary School, with a teacher named Mrs. Hiki. She was a 1st grade teacher and spoke great English, mostly from her own personal study. She often taught English as part of her class’ general study time and the effects showed. Her students were very attentive and treated English like a special realm within the school day. For the model class, Mrs. Hiki’s goals were: colors, shapes, AND an activity employing the language of colors and shapes. The students practiced these and then participated in a shopping game, where they got to ask for and receive different shapes of a certain color, then glue them onto a larger piece of paper to show their accomplishment.
This class was attended not only by teachers from that school, but a representative from the regional school board, the Kaetsu Board of Education. In the summary discussion of the class afterward, I was rather shocked that his main criticism of the class was that the lesson included too much language, that first and second grade English classes should be sufficient with just teaching the vocabulary words, without any ‘difficult’ communicative language.
I still encounter this attitude sometimes, that students shouldn’t be challenged with “using” language but should just be given the opportunity to “touch” it. I wonder if this stems from a wish to insulate younger students from the frustrating aspects of language learning, or perhaps from the personal language learning experiences of adult Japanese teachers?
Last June in Murakami, I had the privilege to do some really fun English lessons in the swimming pool at Senami Elementary. My supervising teacher at that school, Mrs. Hiki, was really, really, into English and integrating it into her classroom. A few months ago, up here in Saroma, I gave a presentation about my experiences as an ALT in Niigata Prefecture to the teachers at Hamasaroma Elementary. They were impressed with many of the special lessons that we had done in class, so I suggested trying to recreate the swimming activity, since it didn’t require as much preparation or special in-class study time as some of the other lessons I presented about.
Last year, Mrs. Hiki and I hurriedly made a bunch of fish shapes on copy paper and laminated them. Half were totally waterlogged and destroyed after two periods of munchkin-munching. This time, I tried to come up with a better way of making toy fish that would be much more durable and less wasteful. So, using 25 boards of A4-sized EVA polyethylene foam, I drew and cut about 100 salmon, whales, octopi, squid, crabs, dolphins, starfish, sharks, turtles and scallops. Then, using an oil-based marker, I drew faces and outlines on all of the shapes. After they had dried for a few days, I coated them in waterproofing spray and let them sit for another day.
This article appeared on Page 26 of the Hokkaido Newspaper today, July 18th.
On the 16th, three students visiting from Saroma’s sister city, Palmer, Alaska, USA, deepened cultural understanding with the children at Wakasa Elementary.
The link between the town and the City of Palmer began in 1980. Every year, junior and senior high school students undertake reciprocal visits. Those visiting currently are Rebecca Farley (13), Dena Christiansen (14), and Erin Vincent (14). From the 14th to the 27th, while experiencing homestays, they will be attending Saroma Junior High School and sightseeing around Hokkaido.
On their visit to Wakasa Elementary, they accompanied the town AET (Assistant English Teacher) Sean Holland (25). They shared popular American dances such as the “Chicken Dance” with the students, and experienced cultural exchange through mutual self-introductions in English.
Culture is such a weird thing. It defines nearly everything we do. The time we wake up in the morning. The side of the road we drive on. The size of cups at McDonalds. Whether of not we have to capitalize mCdonalds. The types of cellphones we own. The size of our car tires. The width of our roads. The varieties of beer at the store. The taxes we pay. The way we cook meat. The designs of our kitchens. The prevalence of dryers. Where we take our shoes off. How we bathe. What we eat with. Partially, our language.
We all live our lives, yet we never really think about it.
Unless we leave it, and experience another.
What the hell is culture determined by?
Geography (latitude, longitude, continentality, elevation, precipitation, population, population density, access to the outside world, access to resources, electrification, wildlife), media access, art, politics, climate, history, (including dumb, random, sad, stupid, and unfortunate history), and of course (with the extent of which debatable) language.
Yet, culture itself can determine half of those things. What boggles me about culture is that no one can really define it well. Karl van Wolferen, in The Enigma of Japanese Power, quotes it as “the totality of man’s products.”
But what is that? It’s essentially a copout explanation of the confusing crap I’ve already written above.
I’ve been putting off writing for a while, not feeling any inspiration, feeling tired, feeling over or underwhelmed with daily life. I still have to talk about Remington’s visit, my Okinawa trip, my general life here in Saroma. I’ll get there.
Yesterday at Wakasa Elementary, I taught 3rd and 4th graders how to say “What’s this?” I brought a box full of random things from my house to show the students, and asked “What’s this?” for each. I planned to make each object progressively more difficult and weird, so my mystery box contained an old pool ball from 3719 Mason, a stuffed walrus, a sock, a green monkey glove, a Russian militia hat, and my 8-inch tall figurine of Captain Jean-Luc Picard. When I pulled the Captain out of the box, one of the five students instantly yelled “YES WE CAN!” Barack Obama is practically a celebrity here, with this phrase being the hayari kotoba or buzzword of the day. I have students nearly every day saying it at every opportunity. I even helped two junior high students write a skit in which they meet President Obama. It goes something like this:
It’s been snowing here as life is taking hold of me once again. An update is daunting yet necessary if this blog is to continue and I figure it should. I was talking to John, the ALT in Kamiyubetsu about blogging this week (his blog is linked to at the right in the blogroll) and I was musing that I simply didn’t have any more piercing observations about Japan at this point. I’ve been here for a year and almost a half and there are still things I love and things I hate, but they’re kind of just part of the days that go by. I’ve been less than excited to write about the same old things, making observations that I’m not particularly qualified to make.
However, this morning is one of those lit by the extraordinary power of new snow, the kind that breathes fresh energy into old attitudes and makes an ordinary living room seem like home. I’ve also got a lot to talk about. Last night Dad asked me what was new in my life, and I had to think for a while before answering:
Partly to further purpose of cultural education and internationalization, and partly as an outlet for my electoral frustrations, I had the 3rd graders at Saroma Junior High vote for the US President yesterday. The 14-15 year old rural northern Japan demographic could turn this election. First, I handed them an information sheet, which introduced the two candidates as well as new words. Party, Age, Family, Hobbies, Slogan. I left out policy matters. Even if the English wasn’t too difficult, I doubted they would much care. Then they did a fill-in-the-blank paragraph using the new words they had learned. After, we spent 15 minutes watching some campaign commercials from both sides (stupid ones from both sides too), a few minutes of the third debate, a few minutes of the SNL parody of the third debate, and an “Obama Quest” Daily Show clip.
Then they voted. Across both third grade classes, Obama won in a landslide: 49 votes to 11 for John McCain. That’s a 64-point win! I think we can all feel relieved from this new poll that Obama is in good position for victory.
In addition to their vote, I asked for a short explanation of their decision. Essentially an exit poll. McCain wins on experience, and Obama wins on youth and coolness, with McCain’s age a big deciding factor for this demographic. Here are some of the more interesting ones: