Monday, February 21, 2011

First Week with Kanda

This past week marks the beginning of another intensive English program. Twenty one students from the University of Kanda are visiting Monterey Institute of International Studies for four weeks. My class, and research, will be very similar to that of the Osaka Science program. I will be studying ways in to raise students' WTC and increase their motivation while at the same time going out and contacting members of the community. I'll be collecting data through a pre and post questionnaire and reflecting in this blog each week about problems that arise during the previous week. Students will also be writing their reflections on a class blog and I'll use that data to qualitatively analyze the validity of the finding for this research project. In the mean time, I hope the students will have learn to build their communication skills, their confidence, and proficiency while they are here. The following are the research questions for my study:

1. What are students' self-perceptions of their WTC?

2. What are the teachers' perceptions of the students' WTC?

3. How can we raise our student's WTC in authentic speaking situations?

4. Does explicit conversation instruction influence students WTC in non-classroom settings? If so, how?

5. Are students’ self-perceptions as a member of an L2 community related to their WTC?


As mentioned before 21 students from the University of Kanda are visiting our program from Feb. 14 until March 11. Most of the students are female (only two male students), and their English proficiency ranges from advance to lower intermediate. The students major in a variety of subjects, including English at their university. The purpose of the program is to immerse the students into a content based course with different themes throughout the week. The classes, include presentation skills, data collection, American culture, and community interaction. I'm teaching the community interaction class on Monday, Wednesday, and Friday. The sister class is being taught by James Atcheson. James is not participating in the action research, although he is helping by having his students contribute to the questionnaire and weekly reflection assignments on the class blog. In addition, Tony Kazanjian also ran a learner training workshop during the program orientation and two computer development workshops to help students learn how to go online and use Google Sites and to learn how to use Excel for their data collection and presentation classes. At the end of the program the students will create a presentation on a topic of their choice. In addition, I've asked the students in my class to collect photos and music to create a memory slideshow that they can feature during their graduation class. The mood of the class is very energetic and the students seem willing to interact with us and to learn about American culture while some students are more motivated to use English in and out of the class than others. Some teachers have also reported that students were unwilling to talk during whole class discussions, which matches me and Wing's data from the Osaka action research project. It will be interesting to see how this group matches up with the previous group.

My first class was on Monday, but the teachers started planning for the first class on Sunday. Because of the way the classes are set up, lesson plans from earlier classes, such as presentation skills, can effect my class as students will need to practice those skills in public. Also, students are expected to learn how to engage native and non-native speakers so my first class focused on building awareness in engaging interlocutors and selecting a pragmatically appropriate approach to engaging their interlocutor.

I began the class by showing a video about surfing and having the students to a warm up speaking task and introduced the class syllabus and the assignments for the class. Then I gave the students the pre-questionnaire for my study. We then shared pictures that they took form the previous class. Because the students were in another community interaction class on the previous day with different groups and different instructors, some of the students didn't have access to their partner's camera because those students were now in the sister class. I asked the students a number of questions, but as expected, they seemed reluctant to answer questions in a whole group. Their reaction was important to see how much willingness to communicate there was even among the proficient students (later I learned in the teacher meeting that students who were expected to lead were not and students were unexpected to lead were leading, according to Sukiya sensei).

I then ran another activity where students talked to partners using "roles" given to them on cards. The idea of the role play was to test how students would navigate different pragmatic situations so they could anticipate different reactions in conversations in public. However, it was very difficult to model and explain the purpose of the role play and my impressions were that the students didn't understand. My last activity of the day was for them to go out and perform a "Mission Impossible" where they asked people questions and gathered information. We finished the lesson with a "whole group" discussion in which students seemed to be more relaxed and willing to supply answers, but not in whole sentences. Usually their answers were in one word sentences.

What a week. I was really frustrated because I felt like my lesson plans were being soaked up by other classes who needed by do finish lessons or recap important activities that they should have finished in their class. Also, I felt like I was a mile behind in my lessons because most of the teachers had already had one or two lessons by the time I saw the students and that their Friday community site visit (where the whole group goes out and visits a location) was already planned without my knowing. That made me really angry, and I kind of confronted James about it and I definately complained to Kaite (the coordinator about it).

As for the students, they seem very capable to communicate in English. I thought only a few seemed overwhelmed by being away from their homes or that they felt uncertain about communicating. In fact, my impression was that each student could communicate at at least a very basic level and that they were more than willing to strike up conversations with people in the public. In class though, they do have reluctance to answer questions as a whole group and I think I'll try to stick to my usual write/think, pair, share when doing class activities or tasks. Also, I really felt like my lesson planning has been lacking because I've been split between teaching Sattar and my portfolio and Kanda. Though the students' WTC hasn't been so much an issue, I think that my lesson planning has been sub par compared to the other people.

So far this week, I think students appreciated the pragmatic approach to the community interaction class but the lack of scaffolding in the task set up and during the task itself has left them wondering what the point is. I want to set or prime them more with some stimulating listening, reading, or even writing exercise and then send them out to a specific location on Wednesday to do something cool. It's a little late in the planning, but I wonder if I can set up a visit to the art museum. This coming week's theme is education, so I'm wondering what approach I can use? Perhaps capturing something about American education? Students studying, people reading, signs, affordances? And then have them come back and report what they learned? Sounds fun.

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