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...

"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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.