Thursday, November 4, 2010

Writing my CV

Writing a Resume, CV, or cover letter, whatever you may call it, is the thing I hate most. Hands down, no contest. It's pithy, irritating, tedious, pretentious, callous, overrated, and probably no matter what you do, misleading. Think about it. You're resume typically has one page to summarize why you should be hired, why you want to work, what you can accomplish. All of your relevant experience (or lack of), all of your time, commitment, work, progress (or lack of) put all on one page.

Resumes are the what, when, where, and why but not necessarily the who. Every time I sit down to write a resume, I always think, "This is not me." I'm more, can offer more, than what these tiny little terse statements say. I'm more than problem, action, results. I'm all in favor of trashing the whole system. It's more likely that workers are hired through networks or in house where resumes are nothing more than ceremony anyways. But yet, we must go on and play the game. The following is what I learned when revising my resume this time around:

1) Language, in particular nouns, are very important. I understand what I do, but its hard putting a label on what you do: curriculum development, authentic materials, communicative learning, needs-based assessment, computer integrated classrooms, ESL writing, teacher training. The list goes on and on. The trick is finding the right words that will get you the right job, sometimes regardless of whether you actually believe in the meaning behind the words, which leads me to my next point.

2) Matching the job description, I used to think, was a tedious task. Why couldn't I make one resume and cover letter about myself and send it out to all of those interested in hiring me based on my qualifications. Unfortunately, it doesn't work that way. Employers think of their need first and who can best fill it second. This time round, I paid a lot of attention to the job description and integrated the wording and phrases into my own resume and cover letter. It surprised me how much easier it was to tailor my experiences and skills to their pre-defined needs. Of course it helped that I am applying to the same position that I previously worked at, but I think part of the trick to speed up the process and get to the relevant information is to go from the job description and any other information you can gain on company or organization.

3) Likewise, writing a cover letter based on the job description is much easier than a generic cover letter. I picked out words such as "project," "assessment," and "culture" and weaved them into my cover letter to highlight my relevant experience. Previously, I had the problem of not being confident about my experience, but once I got in the job, I realized how important any previous experience is and how to work and build off of what you've already done. Being aware of your own development as a professional will give you more insights on what to mention in your cover letter. Also, I wasn't shy about talking about things that I wanted to bring to the table. I think learner training is really important, so I mentioned that I could help improve their learner training program. I couldn't have pulled off that move as a newcomer to the field, but now that I have some experience, I can identify weak points and exploit them. I wish someone would have told me that years ago.

4) Writing a CV is much more difficult than a resume because a CV lists everything you've done and must be more detailed in periphery activities such as publications, affiliations, volunteer work, etc. But after writing a CV, you can skim down the content to create a resume. Thus it’s much easier to customize from more complete information than incomplete.

5) No matter how hard I try, I can never get all of the errors out of my own resume. It really does require another set of ideas. Before I was shy about not being able to edit my own resume, but as Vygotsky says, we learn by interacting with others.

This resume/CV is still in the workshop and may never leave, but as I gain more experience, thank god, it gets easier to write about my experiences, skills, and accomplishments. Having professionals, such as the guys and gals in the career service department, helped me gain more confidence in my own writing. I think that the resume/CVshould be glorious and an all out attempt by you to show your very best. Anything less might not get you the job that you really want.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Journal on my classroom observations

It’s amazing what we learn and the turn right around and forget. At first I thought that looking back at my classroom observations from my first semester would be like beating a dead horse. I’ve learned so much since those observations. The memories are of a somewhat overwhelmed student making the task at hand more difficult than it had to be. I fumbled threw the first few observations. In the next two, I tried to observe everything in the classroom and therefore failed to capture anything substantially. I often made fairly bold claims in the inferencing sections. In fact, looking back I’m not really sure if I understood what the inferencing section was for. However, I did manage to capture some interesting thoughts, and unknowingly, the observations seemed to have a profound effect on my teaching. This journal will survey the six most important observations that I made and relate them back to my own understanding of language teaching, language learning, and language itself.

Background

In the fall of 2009, I took Classroom Observations with Professor Peter Shaw. This class was held every Friday from 10 a.m. to 12 p.m. at Casa Fuente room, which has since been dubbed, “Peter’s Room.” This class, I realize now, had a profound effect on my teaching not only because I really enjoyed Peter’s inductive, hands off, storytelling style to teaching, but because the observations that I made gave me an opportunity to see firsthand both good and bad classrooms, both of which were equally instructive experiences. One of the first lessons in Peter’s Class, a Total Physical Response, class in which teacher taught me and my classmates who were true beginning Spanish learners. In pairs, we took turns observing the actions and instructions of the teacher. Then we learned how to capture what we saw “objectively” for our observations. Based on the observations, we learned how to draw inferences, information about the students that couldn’t be learned told through objective descriptions, and finally, we were allowed to write a “reflection” or “inference” section.

Narration

In the following weeks after the Peter’s “Mock” Spanish class, we went out to the school and community to observe classes. My first classroom observation was a class at the Intensive ESL class on campus. The title of the class was “International Politics.” I then observed an English for Academic Purposes class, then I went outside the school to observe two adult school English as a Secondary Language class. I also had the chance to observe an Arabic class at the Defense Language Institute and finally, I returned to write my final observation of Peter’s Spanish class. Through the course of the class, we also had other opportunities to observe “classes.” One was a display of the Audio Lingual Method on Saturday Night Live. There was also a Greek BBC lesson and a Japanese clip on how to eat ramen. Peter also demonstrated multi-level and multi-station lessons, he told us how observation relates to principles and practices, theory, linguistics, and research, and he had us go to an elementary school where we taught third graders how lessons in foreign languages. Looking back, I can say that this might have been one of the richest classes at the institute so far.

Reflections

As I stated above, my first two observations were of ESL and EAP classes here at the institute. The observation notes from these events are plentiful and sporadic, but they do have some interesting comments. Reflecting back, I can see that I learned a lot about effective teaching by watching and then tying the information back to my reading. For example, in my first observation, I identify that the “content” of the class is based on authentic materials, interaction, and meaningful instruction. It appears to me now that I was struggling to describe the pedagogical components of Content Based Instruction (CBI). In the next observation, I note that the class Douglas Brown’s (2007) Principals and Practices book and labeling the learning experience as “cooperative” and “autonomous” and “authentic.” I also note that the lesson took advantage of several Macrostrategies discussed in B. Kumaravadivelu (2003) in his book Beyond Methods. Both of these experiences provided ideas that I would later use in my own teaching over the summer and in my Curriculum Design class. In fact, the second class was taught by the same instructor who we later collaborated with to design the “TEDx Curriculum.”

Eventhough the next three observation experiences were not as good as the previous two, I still learned quite a bit. The third observation was at the DLI. This was an observation of an Arabic class, and instead of concentrating on something that I could observe, I spend a lot of effort trying to write down student and teacher interaction. My partner said this was helpful for him because he knew Arabic, and I remember that other students said that the foreign language observations helped them concentrate more on student and teacher interaction, but for me, I spend too much time trying to capture what I couldn’t understand. This observation taught me the lesson of focusing on other classroom elements. One idea is that I could have observed physical behavior. Often times the students were slouching or looked tired. Targeting physical behavior would have helped me focus my observations. In the next observation at the Monterey adult school, I made the same mistake. Plus I gave a favorable conclusion to a lesson, which Peter was “Less than happy about.” Through this observation, I learned from him the importance of meaningful communication and interaction in the classroom. It wasn’t until the fifth observation, the adult ESL school in Pacific Grove, that I learned to concentrate my observational focus. In this observation, I focused on how students used the textbook. From my notes, it seems that I was less than fond of the faux authentic materials and the grueling vocabulary review lead by the instructor. Last, I decided to go back and look at Peter’s “Mock” Spanish lesson in which he taught us zero Spanish speakers an incredible amount of vocabulary without us having to speak a word. First he used simple nouns such as stand up (lavantanse) and sit down (siĆ©ntate) and then using motions, pictures, and scaffolding, he taught us “es un tigre, es una elefante” meaning “this is a tiger; this is an elephant.”

Saturday, September 25, 2010

Week 4: Team Exploration Presentations

I can't believe its the last week of the Osaka Science program. It seems like they just got here. However, after seeing all of the effort, learning, homework, and general elbow grease that has gone into the class by the students and teachers, I feel that we can all be happy with the way things turned out.

At the beginning of my class, my students were very shy and exhibited low amounts of WTC even though their motivation levels might have been high. By carefully controlling the sequence of the tasks, group activities, and monitoring the students WTC level, my personal observation is that students' anxiety decreased and their WTC increased as well as their perceived competence, which was a result from some successful encounters with native speakers and classroom work.

This week, we want to know if the survey work from the previous week left our students more poised to communicate, or if it had made them more anxious or scarred. We became concerned with actually decreasing students' WTC after the survey class last Thursday. Also that night I received the following email from one of my students lamenting is inability to conduct the full survey.

Subject: I have to apologize to you...

Message:
"Sorry, I tried to ask questions to someone but then suddenly I felt badly nervous and I couldn't ask anyone...
So I will ask someone in this weekend, or at least next Monday, and I can't post reflection to class blog until I can ask someone.
But I promise that I make presentation by due.
Would it be OK?
Please forgive this incompetent man!"

In order to see what our students thought about their survey experience, we asked them to reflect about it in their week 3 reflection blog. Most students reported being nervous, but overall, students reported success and happiness in being able to conduct their survey.

One student writes:

1) I felt a little nervous when I approached people, because they looked like busy. It was more difficult to talk to people on the street than I had expected. But they were very kind, and answered our questions politely. And I should have more knowledge. When I was asked “What is California Condor?”, I couldn't explain well. I felt the necessity for the preparation before the survey.

2) I asked 4 people. Through the survey, I thought that most of the people don't know much about California Condors. Some people don't like birds, but all of the people strongly agreed or agreed with the protection of the wild animals.

As you can see there may be a discrepancy between the teachers' perception that the students' WTC increased and what the students really feel. In our qualitative analysis of the student journals, we will have to closely examine what the students wrote and compare it to their behaviors in and out of the class.

We would also like to know how the students' opinions on their own success and how the tasks that we created helped raise their WTC. So instead of the final team exploration reflection assignment, we placed a final assessment of their reflections of their experience as a whole. This information will be used to triangulate our data on raising our WTC.

Background

As noted above, Thursday's class was devoted to creating and completing a public survey related to the students' final team exploration presentation. Students were asked to survey at least 4 people with 6 to 10 questions. Some students needed extra time to revise their survey during class and then spent the second half of the class outside class surveying native and non-native speakers near the Fisherman's Wharf area. Students who had trouble creating a cohesive and coherant survey used the class to finish the survey and were asked to complete the survey as homework. Over the weekend, the students also worked on completing their team exploration presentation, which they created in PowerPoint. Students visited places like the aquarium, museums, local shops, and other places around town.

In this class, students will complete some scaffolding tasks that will allow them to share their ideas about their presentations and then have some time to work on the presentation. We will also, finally, get to the scientific experiment activity that I had planned to do in the second week. Both the students and I are looking forward to it.

Narration

Warm-up Writing and Speaking (10 minutes)

I began the class by telling the students that they will have some extra time today to prepare their presentations. Also, I told them they will have a choice later on as to whether they would like to work on their presentations in class or try the Myth Busters' experiment. I then passed out a worksheet that asked the students to write down three facts that they will include in their presentation on Thursday. After the students wrote down their facts, I asked them to share their information with a random partner for a two minute timed conversation.

Pre-task Writing and Speaking (10 minutes)

Next, I asked the students to look at the other side of the handout and together with their team exploration partner, fill in information on six slides that they have made or plan to make. When the students finished this activity, I asked them to share the information with another random partner. I then explained that its important to take this opportunity to learn from the people they talked to and see what ideas they could incorporate into their presentation.

Main-task Writing (20 minutes)

Using the information form their worksheet, I asked students to begin working on their presentations. I encouraged them to use the ideas they learned form their classmates and to check the grading rubric handed out in a previous class.

Post-task Speaking (10 minutes)

After the time allocated for the main task was over, I asked students to pick a random partner and to explain how they build their presentation, what the roles of the speakers will be, and to review an certain strengths and weaknesses.

Myth-Busters Experiment (1 hour)

After a short break, we began the students chose to try the Myth Busters experiment. I asked the students to take out the worksheets that I gave to them in week four. Then I divided the class into two teams by counting off from one to two. We then divided the teams into two groups. The first group in each team would be the builders and would need to read the instructions and build the air powered balloon rocket. The other team would think of a research question, hypothesis, and identify the independent variables and the dependent variables. Finally, I assigned captains to the team and told them that the first team to complete the experiment and turn in their handout would win. It might be important to note that the students were engaged in this task 20 minutes after the class had officially ended.

Reflection

First, I'd like to say that the Myth Buster's experiment was a big success. The students were highly motivated to complete the project. They worked well as a team, and they used English most of the time. The only time they began speaking Japanese was when the task became more difficult and frustrating for them. However, they engaged me in questions and listened to my suggestion in English, and at this time, I think all thoughts of anxiety were out the door. The relevance and fun of the task seemed to highly motivate my student and allowed them to communicate on the meaning of their communication rather than on whether they could communicate.

Second, time was very limited during this class. Students had a lot of homework to complete in our class and in other classes, so there was a lot of anxiety, but not enough anxiety placed on themselves. I think this is a big difference for Japanese students who tend to place the focus of their anxiety on whether they can communicate on themselves and do not allow themselves to shift their focus to actual communication.

I was impressed with my students' willingness to help each other and to stay in English even between tasks. The close community that had developed in and out of class allowed the students to trust and work with each other closely.

In all, I think a lot of the worries that we had about our students becoming more discouraged by the survey were found to be incorrect, but only because we were attentive to their needs and their WTC and anxiety levels were in the forefront of our mind. The student who had written the despairing email to me from above, was able to finish his survey and complete his presentation. Similarly, were successful in completing their presentations and fulfilling the requirements of the project. Plus, they used the presentation experience in this class to help prepare for their symposium presentations on Friday in which they gave a larger more technical presentation on a topic of their choice. These presentations will be given again in Osaka, and we're thankful that they could practice them here in front of native and non-native English speakers.

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Osaka Week 3: Public Survey

We're back from our second round of class and field trips. Last Thursday our class visited the Pacific Grove Museum of Natural History. We met the students at the Monterey transit center, but because of confusion with the bus schedule, we ended up taking a bus that arrived much later at the museum. Also, it turns out that the staff at the museum forgot we were coming and that parts of the museum were under renovation. However, the staff at the school was gracious and flexible enough take our classes on separate tours through the museum. Before the tour I reminded the students that our goal is to ask two questions to the tour guide.

Our tour started with a large piece of Jade that had been extracted from Lobos Point, a survey of the local indigenous wildlife, the different butterflies --including the Monarch Butterfly-- and the large collection of birds, including a stuffed California Condor.

During the tour I carefully monitored the students interaction with the tour guide and each other and operationalized WTC as the following: Student response to NS initiated questions, student initiated comment, student initiated questions, students assisting classmates, and other.

I observed only three students asking questions directly to the tour guide, however, students reported that they asked questions after the tour. They explained that during the tour they could not process the listening information while trying to think of questions. Also, the majority of students took notes, and seemed generally interested in the exhibits.

Because of the timing of the tour and the schedule of the bus, I left home with some students at the end of class. Wing and members of my class and her class decided to stay longer and ask questions or look around. I think its unfortunately that I didn't get to see the less formal time where students were looking around and exploring by themselves. Observing their behavior would have given me more insight toward their intrinsic motivation, WTC, and autonomous learning skills.

This week we are continuing with our Action Research Cycle by increasing the speaking activities, sequencing speaking activities earlier in the lesson, and experimenting with random seating. Wing will mirror these treatments except she will allow student to choose their own seating.

Background

In the previous week, as mentioned above, we focused students attentions on increasing their WTC through structured tasks and speaking activities. We also prepare the students for their field trip to the PG Museum of Natural History through extensive jigsaw reading, question and answer practice, and schemata building. On Thursday we visited the museum and afterwords concluded that in order to increase students WTC and speaking production there needs to be more speaking opportunities and that interaction activities should come sooner in the activity sequence.

There are some important developments not related to the class instruction too. We are continuing to video record the Tuesday classes, and the class will be observed by a fellow student and by my practicum teacher, Professor Heekyeong Lee.

Narration

Warm-up (10 minutes)

I began the class by hinting to the different between two types of questions. What is the difference between "Do" questions and "Wh-" questions. Then in their present groups, I handed out a worksheet with different questions based on general science and from their trip to the museum. I asked the students to ask each other different questions to elicit their opinions and knowledge, and also to pay attention to the different types of questions on the list. Finally, we reviewed the answer to some of these questions in a whole group and asked the students the difference in the answers they will get form "Do" vs. "Wh-" questions.

Pre-task Speaking and Listening (15 minutes)

In the next activity, I handed out a model survey and explained that the students will answer the questions from the survey. Then, I assigned students to random pairs by using a lottery numbers. In partners, the students asked and answered the questions to the survey. When the students were done asking questions to each other, we reviewed their answers as a group.

Before the break, I put up blank paper on the walls around the classroom with different heading: location, science, and personal. I explained that after the break, the students will write example questions.

Main Task Writing Questions (30 minutes)

When the students were ready to begin again, I explained that students will write questions to create their own survey. I asked the students to write example questions on the paper that I placed on the walls around the classroom. Because students were having a hard time writing questions, I asked if they would rather continue with this task or begin writing with their partner. Some students said they would rather write with a partner, so I discontinued the group brainstorming activity. I monitored the class for questions and allowed some extra time for the groups to finish this task. Also, it should be noted that there was no random assignment in this activity because students needed to work with their team exploration partner for their final project, which this survey will be used towards.

Post Task Speaking (15 minutes)

Last, I asked the students to pilot their survey with each other by finding a partner and asking them the questions form their survey and then revise the survey from any problems they found. We finished this task in whole group where students asked each other questions using the ball game from the previous class.

Wrap-up

Before leaving, I assigned the students an informal homework asking them to update me on what actions they took on their team exploration project and to confirm the location and topic of their project.

Reflections

I think I took much more risks in this class in trying to improve students' WTC and lowering their anxiety. First, I modified the format of the lesson plan by raising student's awareness of different types of questions before conducing the warm up task. I think this helped to raise student awareness of the form and meaning of the language they were expected to use. At the end of the warm up, I assessed students understanding by asking them what the different type of answers they received for the different type of questions.

Second, I decided in the class that students should brainstorm their questions as a class rather than just their team. That way they could see the different types of questions that are possible. However, I underestimated the difficulty of composing questions quickly regarding their different subjects and the anxiety that might be raised in writing questions in front of their peers. Instead of continuing with the activity, I decided to ask the students what they thought was useful. They decided they would rather work with their partners, so I change the course of the activity based on their feedback.

Last, at the end of the class, I wanted to pull the students together for a group pilot of their survey. It seemed that a lot of the groups were still struggling to write their questions. I concluded that the class work was still valuable and that we might be able to be more productive using the ball game, which they already knew how to play.

Furthermore, I received some great feedback from my practicum instructor. She noted that the transitions between tasks needed to become more explicit and smoother, and that I needed be conscious of being polite in directing the class activities.

During Thursday's class the students continued to work on their survey and then go out to the community to ask native speakers their questions. Based on the reaction of the students to their experience writing and asking survey questions, Wing and I were concerned if this week's assignment had proved too difficult. In other words, we wondered if the anxiety in some students rose too far in trying to perform the survey. We also noted that students didn't understand the purpose of the survey and were confused about the team exploration assignment, even though we introduced the assignment at the beginning of the second week.

Therefore our research question for week four are:

1) How can we make sure the students are fully prepared for their oral presentation on their topic and have the necessary WTC to be successful?

2) Do students feel that their perceived confidence and motivation, overall, increased?

3) Given a similar situation, would the students choose to communicate outside the classroom?

Our plan of action is:

1) Give more time to prepare for their presentation.

2) Before giving their final presentations, students will read and reflect on their blog posts.

3) We will ask them to reflect on their experience as a whole, and write about their attitudes toward speaking with native speakers and going out into the community.

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Osaka Week 2: PG Museum of Natural History

If you're studying English for specific purposes--in this case science--and you're visiting and studying in an ESL setting, what kind of activities would you want to do? Would you want to review grammar? Not likely. How about converse over different topics? It might depend on the topic. Would you want to learn how to notional and functional skills? That's certainly useful, but also limiting. One of the additional concerns for me this week was planning tasks that were relevant to the students and were structured for their success to increase their WTC.

What I think my students want as ESP students studying science is a chance to study their chosen fields in English. After all, they are intrinsically interested in science because they are all studying science in school (at least we hope). Having lived only a few days in a foreign country, they should be bursting at the seems to explore and investigate different topics of interest and waiting to apply their observational skills to the test.

This is the hope and aspirations of our Community Language Skills class. We want to give our students the language skills to go out into the real world and explore it using their English. Therefore, this week we will be preparing out students for their next field trip and shaping the lessons and activities so that they naturally appeal to the students. We will also be deliberately promoting group and whole class work to increase students' Willingness to Communicate.

Background

Last Thursday the students prepared for and accomplished a scavenger hunt around the Monterey Fisherman's Wharf area. The scavanger hunt asked the students to talk with people on the street, store owners, gather information, take pictures, identify wildlife, and locate certain landmarks. After completing the scavenger hunt, the students reported that they were very nervous about speaking with native speakers of English and non-native speakers of English, but that they felt excited about the task and appreciative to those who spoke to them.

One student writes, "Before Scavenger Hunt, I thought it's difficult to talk with local people.It's because local people looks enjoying their time. However, when I began to talk to them, they kindly answered my questions. And I felt what a beautiful Monterey is! It has beautiful sea,buildings and many kind people! My hometown, Kanazawa, is also beautiful city, but it's different from Monterey. I think it's because thier historic backgrounds are different.
Anyway, I love both!"

Another student writes, "I enjoyed the field work. I got a little nervous when I talked with people in English but all people I spoke to were very kind. I like the weather in Monterey because it is sunny and warm in the daytime. But extreme temperature changes in a day worry me every day. In Yokohama, my hometown, temperature changes is not as extreme as in Monterey."

The experiences from our students reveals that although they felt nervous in communicating in English to strangers, they felt that people were approachable and kind enough to answer their questions. Also, the students were observant of their surroundings, which is important as they will have to complete their own Team Exploration project in the future in which they will explore a location and make a presentation on that location.

Furthermore, for this lesson, we've adapted a jigsaw reading based on the exhibits the students will visit at the Pacific Grove Museum of Natural History. I have also added my own activity in which students will use a science kit to build an air powered rocket. This activity, I hope, will allow students to explore the basic features of the scientific method in English.

Narration

Warm-up (10 minutes)

At the beginning of class, I took role call and then began a warm-up game in which I wrote down three scientific categories on the board. I then divided the class into three groups and told the class that each team must think of any words associated with their scientific category. For example, words associated with the field of Astronomy could be "universe." The students had four minutes to think of all the words. After the four minutes, I asked that a team member from each group write their words on the board. For each team, I assigned another team to review the words on the board. If the peer review team could find any mistakes, they could erase one of the words on the other team. Mistakes could include spelling. At the end of the warm-up, I counted the words for each group and announced the winner.

Main Task Pre-reading and Reading (45 minutes)

I then asked the students to form new groups according to the number of exhibits in the jigsaw reading handout. I explained that each group should read their handouts and then together answer each each of the pre-reading questions. Then the students conduced a more extensive reading and answered the questions following the main reading.

Then I told the students that they will become experts in their groups and will explain their exhibits to the other groups. I gave them some extra time for them to plan in groups what they will report to the other groups.

Post Task Speaking/Listening (15 minutes)

For the post task, I asked each student to count to eight around the room. The students rearranged their groups according to the numbers said. Then they began discussion on each group's exhibits. Because of the small number of students some groups had two students from one exhibit.

Post Task 2 Whole Class Speaking (10 minutes)

Next, I asked the students to clear the middle of the room and place their chairs in a circle. I showed the students a bouncy ball that I had brought to class and explained that I would ask the students a question about the Natural History Museum and then pass the ball to a student. The student with the ball would answer the question and then ask a question and pass the ball to another student and so on.

New Task Science Experiment (10 minutes)

Finally, in the group formation, I passed out another handout that illustrated the scientific method to the students. I asked several students display questions without using the ball. Each question targeted a vocabulary word highlighted in the scientific method. At the end of the class period, I told the students that we might have time to conduct an experiement from a Myth Buster's experiment kit that I bought for the class.

We then wrapped up by going over some business for the field trip to the museum, collecting email, reviewing the homework assignments for the class, and introducing the Team Exploration final presentation assignment handout.

Reflection

After reviewing this lesson and the tasks and student groups formed in the class, we both concluded that the students WTC improved. The tasks were much more structured and scaffolded so that the students' could transition form one task to another. There was also more time spent in each task that allowed the students to progress and help each other. I noticed that students spoke in English even outside of the tasks while switching seats, small talking with their friends, and asking me questions. Plus, at then end of the class, students were motivated to participate in whole group discussions through the ball game. Whole group discussions were the group size that students reported that made them the most anxious. Training them to form the whole group discussion and participating will be an important step in their success to increase their WTC.

However, because the pre-reading and reading task took up a great deal of class times, we both concluded that there was not enough interaction opportunities for our students. The speaking activities came too late in the class. While I used a warm-up, the activity didn't necessitate speaking. I think that future speaking task must come quicker at the beginning of the class and there must be more speaking task than other types of tasks to allow students the necessary practice time to increase the WTC.

Our new Action Research questions for the next cycle is, "After discussing our students’ behaviors in class and out of class, we asked ourselves how we could elicit more spoken production and interaction earlier in the lesson."

Our planned is to:

1) Increasing speaking activities

2) Sequence speaking activities sooner

3) Experiment with random versus chosen seating

By increasing the speaking tasks in the lesson we hope to allow students more time for structured interaction. Learning from our lessons in the first week, we must be careful in crafting a lesson plan that carefully structures and scaffolds the tasks so students do not feel we are asking too much of them and thereby increasing their anxiety. We also planned to observe the behavior of the students at the museum this Thursday by counting the number of student elicited questions and comments or other communicative acts to determine their WTC in a public setting with native speakers. We are looking forward to the next set of challenges.

Monday, August 30, 2010

Osaka Week 1: Scavanger Hunt

Today is the first class of the Osaka Science Community Language Skills class. Because I have already written about the drop back of this class and the focus of these blogs in the previous blog post (see Aug. 30), I won't go too much into the who and what. However, it is important to mention the how as it applies to the main focus of this weeks lesson and our Action Research goals of this class. As I mentioned before, in addition to the instructional requirements of this class, I and the other instructor (Wing Cheung) will be conducting an Action Research on the SLA theory of Willingness to Communicate as it applies to our teaching situation.

From our teaching experiences, classroom research, and antidotes, we chose WTC as an appropriate research approach for an Action Research project for our Applied Linguistics Class because Japanese English Language students are notoriously shy and interactively evasive in class. We believe this is because of several factors. First, Japanese classrooms are typically teacher-centered and transmission or knowledge oriented. This pedagogical orientation also applies to English classes in Japan although there seems to be changing slightly. Second, there are culturally acceptable times for students to speak in certain social situations; thereby limiting the role of spoken interaction opportunities in class and in society. This observation is based on my previous teaching experience and I need to follow up on research to back-up this claim, but I assert here that this is a common assertion from foreign English language teachers who have worked in Japan. Third, Japanese students are also considered to be shy and prefer individual work compared to pair, group, or whole class work. All of these factors conspire against the use of the necessary element of interaction and communication in and out of the classroom when Japanese students are concerned.

This, and the following, journals will focus on the challenge of WTC in as it pertains to my teaching situation and the Action Research and intervention that we will undergo.

Background

The students arrived Sunday and after a brief stay were whisked to Monterey where they met their host families and stayed their first full night in the U.S. The next day, the students were given an orientation complete with immigration paperwork, course expectations, learner training, safety and awareness video, needs assessment, and lunch.

Tuesday, Aug. 31, is the first full day of class and the first day of our Action Research cycle. As mentioned before our cycle stars with noticing a problem, asking questions, planning an intervention, monitoring the class, and reflecting on the outcome, which will lead to the next cycle. In order to plan our first cycle, we met with Professor Kathi Bailey in which we discussed giving the students a questionnaire to discover their attitudes and beliefs about speaking English and their position toward WTC in English. We also gave them a handout in which they filled out their best and worst experiences as a language learner.

In addition to the WTC work, we planned for students to prepare for their upcoming scavenger hunt/field trip, we collected issues of the Monterey Weekly, tourist maps of Monterey, and created a video asking people on the street directions to different locations.

These materials can be found on our class website under the "Lesson Plans" and "Show and Tell" pages.

Narration

I began the class by introducing myself including my history as a teacher and as a language learner and explaining some information about the course and the syllabus. I told the students about a particularly difficult experience that I had learning Japanese, and some of the learning strategies that I used to learn Japanese.

We then segued into our first activity. I handed out the "Best and Worst Learning Experiences" worksheet, which had been given to us by Professor Kathi Bailey. I asked the students to take five minutes to write about their experiences. When they were finished, I asked the students to discuss with each other for three minutes their best and worst experiences. We did this speaking activity twice. After the students were finished, I asked each pair to introduce their partner and to tell us about their partner's worst and best language experiences.

After the preliminary speaking activity, I asked the students to find a new partner. I handed out a worksheet that Wing and I created, which asked the students to scan a map for different locations around town. Then using a newspaper, I asked students to identify and write down different events reported in the Montery Weekly newspaper. This activity lasted approximately 30 minutes.

In the post activity, I asked students to identity the location of several places on the map using verbal instructions that I gave. Finally, I played a the "Asking for Instructions" video that I made and asked the students to write down key words that they heard.

We then wrapped up the class by explaining to the students the objectives and procedures for Thursday's scavenger hunt.

Reflections

What's not apparent from the narration of the lesson is the high anxiety and lack of interaction that spanned the entirety of the class. Looking back on the video recording of this class, it is apparent that WTC is definitely a problem for this class even though individually most of the students are capable of holding short conversation, and a few students are capable of holding longer, discourse length conversations. Even during the planned speaking activities, students seemed reticent to talk to their classmates.

After reviewing the lesson, I concluded that there were three problems with my instruction and the lesson:

1) The majority of the lesson was teacher-centered with me standing in front of the class transmitting instructions and information. I was actually horse by the end of the class and the students looked exhausted from boredom.

2) The activities for this lesson were not properly scaffolded to allow students to work from easier tasks to more difficult tasks, and the instructions for the lessons were not properly worked out or transitioned, leaving an impression that the activities were unrelated to each other and that the lesson lacked clear objectives.

3) The students were not working as hard as the teacher, and they did not experience any team building work that would help them work together and lower their anxiety.

As a result of this lesson, we concluded that the students definitely showed low signs of WTC in group and whole class settings. The low amount of WTC may have been contributed to the lesson structure, group dynamics, or individual anxiety and perceived speaking competence.

Our Action Research Question for the following week is, "How do we set up and manage activities to encourage WTC among students in four different activity-settings: whole-class discussions, small group work, partner work, and individual work?"

Our plan of action for the next week is to:

1) Organize tasks into pair/groups

2) Call on specific students

3) Arrange learning spaces to group stations instead of facing the teacher

4) Include post-task with whole group discussion

My New Osaka Class

Hi, it's a fresh start with a new class and I'm really motivated to make this class a very productive one. This class is titled "Community Language Skills" and the students are from the University of Osaka. Almost all of the students are Japanese--there is one Korean student. However, I will teach only the B section which consists of 14 students.

Student background

The students are ages 19 to 20 and are in their freshmen or sophomore year in the Osaka school of Science, and all of them have pretty much the same primary and secondary school English education. Some students have traveled outside of Japan to places like England and other Asian countries, and their proficiency level ranges from an high beginner to a high intermediate. The majority of the students can write and read well in English but speaking is a concern, as is typical for most Japanese students. I'll talk more about this subject when I describe the research component of this class.

About the Course

The focus of this class is science, which means it's an English for Specific Purposes class. The class is titled, "Community Language Skills." The goal of this class is to improve students’ speaking fluency and provide opportunities for students to practice their language outside of class.

The following are course goals for the Community Language Skills class: Improve your speaking, listening, reading and writing skills in English
  • Build speaking confidence through interactions with English speakers
  • Understand and explore features of the local community
  • Practice teamwork and cooperation by working and communicating with team members
Action Research

On-going Research: This class and its sister class, which is taught at the same time but in a separate classroom, are being studied through an action research assignment in connection to the instructors’ Applied Linguistic Research class at the Monterey Institute of International Studies. We have identified Willingness to Communicate (WTC) as the construct for the study and have asked the following research questions:

1) What are the students’ self-perceptions of their WTC?

2) What are the teachers’ perceptions of the students’ WTC?

3) How do we plan activities to encourage WTC among students in four different activity-settings: whole-class discussions, small group work, partner work, and individual work?

4) How do we manage activities to encourage WTC among students in four different activity-settings: whole-class discussions, small group work, partner work, and individual work?

5) What is the students’ apparent WTC in non-classroom settings?

6) Does student work appear to affect their WTC in non-classroom settings? If so, how?

7) Do students’ self-perceptions of their WTC correspond to the teachers’ perception of their communicative behavior inside of class?

8) Do students’ self-perceptions of their WTC correspond to the teachers’ perception of their communicative behavior outside of class?

In accordance with these research questions, we have created a research procedure established within the action research framework which cycles each week a set of procedures for identifying, improving, implementing, and reflecting on student performance, classroom environment, and teaching procedures that will improve upon the WTC. Therefore, WTC will also be the focus of the four teaching journal blogs I will write for my experiences in teaching this class and for the requirements of my class assignments.

To inform our research we are collecting data through needs analysis, a questionnaire, video recordings, student reflection blogs, teaching journals, and observations during field trips. The students have agreed to participate in this study and have each signed a consent form.
Please visit our class website to for a copy of the syllabus, student sample writing, and other interesting stuff:

https://sites.google.com/site/dropscienceosaka/home

Thursday, August 5, 2010

The Everything Doldrums

Well, we finally made it. We are approaching the end of the class, and all we have left to accomplish is the final presentations. The students must also conduct a "exit" interview that place students into classes for the next term or will give them an idea of their level of proficiency in terms of the ACTFL speaking guidelines. As a student, I know that the final days of a class are critical in terms of the level of satisfaction and the quality of information that students retain.

In this class, I hope to create a fun and interesting class by having students do a fun listening and speaking exercise using clips from a movie, and then have them review and discuss presentations through the lens of delivering a speech. We will also look at a TED presentation that has a lot of content that must be squeezed into a small time frame so students can see how information can be organized and condensed. At this point, the big question for me is whether further review of the traits of a good presentation/speech and a critique of a professional presentation help my students revisit and revise their presentations before the present and will it help them give better peer-review feedback?

Background

In the previous class, we focused on using comparative and superlative words in our speaking and in general, when to use "-er" versus "more." Using Cowan (2002) as a guide to developing the focus on form lesson, I structured the lesson so that students could find comparative words in a authentic news article. Students wrote the sentences on the board and then we evaluated the sentences and discussed the different conditions for using "-er" vs. "more." From the discussion, we could found that the length of the syllables in the comparative word influences the whether "-er" or "more" is used. We also discovered that some words ending in "y" could take both: i.e., more friendly vs. friendlier. For the main, productive task students compared cell phone to each other and created a short "advertisement" in which they compared one cell phone over another. I also insisted that students write their advertisement speech down before the presented in order for them to give a focused and accurate speech. I also had to direct on team to do this several times, and although they presented an accurate advertisement, I felt that the students did not understand the purpose for writing down the speech before delivering it. Also, the mood at the end of this class was terrible and the students seemed bored, irritated, and ready be done with my class. The bored and somber attitude from the last class spilled into today's class, creating a terrible atmosphere for both learners and teacher.

Narration

At the beginning of class, I decided to rearrange the lesson plan so that the students' news summaries were presented at the beginning rather than at the end. Nuria's news summary was on English instruction in countries at the Elementary level. The students were engaged in the discussion, which lasted for several minutes, but involved only a few students. I then played a TED video that related to the topic of the English and demonstrated a concise and persuasive presentation. The class then discussed the content and structure of the TED video for another five to seven minutes.

Because of time limitations, I decided to skip the warm-up listening and speaking game and to begin the reading jigsaw task in which students read different sections on an academic article discussing how to deliver a speech.
http://www.unc.edu/depts/wcweb/handouts/speeches.html


Each group read a section of the handout and then reported on the key parts of the article to the class. The students also compared and contrasted this handout with the "Zen" presentation article given a few classes earlier. We also discussed the difference between a presentation and a speech and concluded that speeches are more formal and may have a specific persuasive purpose, and sometimes lack the visual elements that come with presentations.

After the reading, I handed out a worksheet for the next task. I asked the students to watch the next TED video and use the worksheet to identify the position taken by the presenter, the supporting evidence she gave, and the organizing structure of the presentation.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dE1DuBesGYM&feature=player_embedded


The students watched the video but some did not take careful notes or were looking at their computers. After watching the video, I asked the students to compare their notes with a partner and prepare to discuss the presentation as a group. When we discussed the structure of the TED presentation, some students focused on the content of the TED presentation rather than on the organization of the video. For example, one student said that she didn't agree with the premise of the presentation but could not identify the position being taken by the presenter.

At the end the class, I asked the student why they thought their motivation for performing tasks, completing assignments, and participating in class had fallen so low. We had run out of class time but one student said we should stay and discuss the class even though I told the students they should go to their next class. One student said he didn't like the structure or content of the class and did not understand why they had to do writing and noticing assignments for an Oral Communication class. Another student said that they needed more time having open discussion.

We then wrapped up the class.

Reflection

I'm so frustrated that my class ended on such a terrible note. I'm angry that one of my students basically said that he hated the way I ran my class and the content. I'm disappointed that other students didn't have an opportunity to say what they wanted to say about the class and that other students were preventing them from giving their opinions. Mostly, though, I'm disappointed in myself and have serious doubts in the way I organized my class, the content of the class, the way I conducted activities, and basically my existence on the planet. This class was a huge shock and am in the doldrums. Whatever I tried to attempt to teach today was overshadowed by a general dissatisfaction with the class.

Regardless of the mood in the class and my limitations as a teacher, I wanted to ask myself which of the lesson goals were accomplished:

1) SWBT listen to a movie sound track and describe what they hear and try to guess what the title of the movie.

We skipped this lesson goals because I decided to keep the normal format of the lesson by allowing the students to give their news summaries first.

2) SWBT identify, analyze, and apply the principles of rhetoric that might help create a clear, concise, and informative speech.

Students were able to summarize and discuss the traits of an effective speech. In the end though, it will depend upon them to retain this information and incorporate it into their final presentation goals.

3) SWBT talk discuss with their classmates how they will attract the audience’s attention and organize their presentation to get to focus their energy.

Students discussed the different aspects of the video but focused on the content rather then the structure and organization of the presentation even with the guidance of the listening worksheet. I'm wondering if I selected the the correct pre-task to introduce this main task.

4) SWBT summarize information from an article and present five new vocabulary words.
The student was able to deliver an informative summary of the article but paid only minimal attention to introducing the vocabulary words. In the end, I think this task needs to be changed so that there is inherent need to introduce the vocabulary and a purpose for presenting the article for both the presenter and the listeners.

In the end, I can see that only 2, 3, and 4 of the class goals were attempted and it is not clear whether the students could demonstrate their knowledge or skills with of these goals in class. If I were to revise this lesson, I'd make sure that the lessons goals matched the tasks and that each task had a in class assessment opportunity to demonstrate student knowledge and skills. An effective revision would also include a more focused sequence of tasks.

Although it was difficult to face the mood of the students, their criticisms, and the failed structure of the lesson tasks and goals, this lesson provided me with some important pedagogical insight. By focusing on the problems, I hope to overcome weaknesses in my lessons. Here is what I identified for improving the general instructional practices.
  • Focus students peer-review efforts on incorporating feedback into drafts in order to incorporate changes and improve the final product.
  • Allow the students to voice their opinions and knowledge and become the knowledge bearers.
  • Find a way to judicially give students equal opportunity to speak in class and develop their own ideas.
  • Give more time for students to focus on one topic instead of giving different tasks with multiple topics in one class.
  • Incorporate research and theory into the development of specific areas of teaching in order to support or revise teaching practices.
  • Follow through with circular needs analysis and allows students a say in the content and direction of the class.
  • Reflect on how to improve on a lesson and not obsess with what went wrong.
  • Let the students do the work.

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Running out of steam

Today was a difficult class. Difficult for me because the students completed my class evaluation, and difficult for the students because they have a lot of assignments to complete and its at the end of the semester when we don't have a lot of steam. I noticed this problem today in class when one of my students was literally falling asleep. I don't think I handled it so well. The first time, I ask the student if she was OK; the second time I told her that it was to leave if she wanted to sleep. I immediately felt terrible about what I said.

I'm wondering how I can keep my class moving forward, keep the students engaged, and also not let them take advantage of me. Also today in class, I noticed that one of my top students wasn't talking, another wouldn't look at the information I was giving, and another student was working on a project for the class and not paying attention to what was going on. At this point, I have a lot of self doubts about my ability to manage the class, the student's efforts, and the time available to us.

We also continued on peer editing, and because the class time was filled with student presentations, two evaluation, and a short introduction to a technology tool, I didn't have time to properly give my students peer review instructions and practice. In the theme of classroom management, I'm wondering how I can effectively lead peer evaluations, especially when there is limited time.

Background
In the previous class, we finally finished the last timed conversation, which was in the form of a debate on the role of women in the work force. I framed the debate using the "ping pong" format in which students presented their argument and the opposing speaking partner summarized the previous partner's points and the countered with their own position and points. It was necessary to practice this format before the actual presentation. We also recorded the presentation and the students will do a self-evaluation and a peer evaluation of their speaking partners and hand these evaluations in on Thursday, Aug. 5.

Having completed the last timed conversation, we then had a little time to turn our attention to the final presentation. I asked the students to take large paper and brainstorm their ideas for their presentation. Some students created formal outlines while other students simply wrote down their ideas as they came to them. My plan was to follow-up with this activity in a speaking/peer evaluation task for the main activity for today's class.

Narration
I began the class by telling the students the agenda for the days work. Then I asked/told a student that she would be in charge of the course and program evaluations, explained their purpose, set a 20 minute timer, and then left the classroom.

When we returned to class, we began the student news summaries for the day, and I recorded some mistakes from their speech, which I will provide feedback through an email. There was some student lead discussion after the first presentation regarding the cause of immigration and how it is viewed in America. The second presentation was on the rights of Afghanistan women and the student compared how women are in her home country and Afghanistan.

After the student presentations, I opened my Prezi website and used a self-made tutorial to introduce the different features of Prezi. There were some questions regarding the different features of Prezi. Some students had their heads on the table, were working on their computers, and were not looking at the presentation. Other students asked questions about how to import videos and adjust the starting point of the video.

With 20 minutes in the class, I directed the students to share the brainstorm/outlines they generated in the previous class with a partner. Some students discussed their project without looking at their paper, and some discussed the topic only briefly and then waited. I walked around the room and asked students about their projects and answered questions. At the end of class, I quickly summarized some points that I noticed about the students' outlines and their brainstorming and potential areas of concern.

We then wrapped up the class.

Reflection
I feel that I have more disaster classes than I have successful classes. I think that from the reactions and behaviors of my students today, that lack of interest or motivation has finally reared its ugly head. The problem, then, is what is the cause of the lack of motivation for my students? Why do they appear so disconnected from the lesson?

This problem began when I gave a short tutorial on how to use Prezi, which is an online program similar to PowerPoint. Prezi could be an important tool for students and in the last class, I had a student ask me how to use it. So I thought it would be a good idea to take some time to introduce the technology to the class. However, the students seemed really board (e.g., student falling asleep or checking Facebook in class). One immediate glaring reason for the lack of interest, it seems, is that students have already decided on the platform for their presentations. Thus, the presentation had little relevance to either their final project or to their real lives and so it failed to be relevant or informative.

Second, I see that despite my attempts to train peer reviewing by discussing the need for peer review, the benefits of noticing and giving information, and the large amount of peer review practicing that we do, my students are not getting any better at it. In class my students exchanged very little relevant ideas on their projects without prompting. For example, two students were not discussing their projects when I approached them. I asked the first student if he understood his partner's presentation, and he said, "yes." Then I asked him if he thought it was well organized, and he said, "no." But the two students didn't seem to care that it wasn't well organized until I stared asking more questions. Another pair had discussed the wording in a presentation, but it wasn't until I began asking questions that the student's self-diagnosed a potential problem in her own presentation: her bias for Korean food over U.S. food on a presentation discussing the effects of U.S. food on Koreans who move to the U.S.

I'm see now at the end of class that I needed to do a better job in giving examples of peer reviewing and taking a class time to devote to peer review. Also, I regret not conducting the ALR research on peer-review for this class because reading about the literature, studies, and theories behind noticing and peer-review would have helped. In all, I think my efforts to integrate peer review to help my students target specific grammatical problems has been inadequate.