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.


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.


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.


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:

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?


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.


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.

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.

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.


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.

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.

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.

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.