REaChing for the stars
Empowering Multilingual Learners
This past weekend, I went to Kobe to present at and attend the 39th annual JALT conference. This was a great international conference hosted by the Japan Association of Language Teaching, and, as always, was a valuable learning and networking experience. For my presentation, I held a workshop on "tapping in to students' interests with comics," where I discussed the Advanced English II course I teach at KTC and shared activities from the course, in hopes that other teachers would find some useful and fun things to bring back with them to their own classrooms. I was lucky to have time slot right after the plenary speaker, Penny Ur, and more people attended my workshop than I expected. I had a knowledgable and enthusiastic crowd of participants and I hope everyone enjoyed it. Through the comic activity jigsaw participants completed in the workshop, lots of great ideas and resources were shared for using comics in various teaching contexts, and we didn't have time to fully discuss all the possibilities. This blog post will hopefully allow us to continue our discussion. Please feel free to post questions and ideas here for others to respond to. The PowerPoint and hand-out from the workshop are posted below.
It is mid-October, and there is a chill in the air. With that chill, comes shorter days, colored leaves, and Halloween! Around the world, Halloween is one of the most marketed holidays. In the U.S., children dress up in costumes and head out to the streets on October 31st to "trick - or - treat" and get scared in haunted houses or haunted walks through the woods. They carve pumpkins and put candles inside to decorate their front steps. Halloween parties and parades are plentiful, for all ages, it is a time of good fun and disguises. In Japan too, and other places around the world, signs of Halloween abound, with paper banners adorning store windows and Halloween candy and costumes for sale. But, do you know the history of Halloween?
According to the History channel, Halloween comes from the Celtic festival of Samhain. For Samhain, people would make big bonfires and wear costumes to scare away ghosts. Later, in the 18th century, Pope Gregory III from Syria chose November 1st as All Saints Day, a day to celebrate saints and martyrs. Some of the rituals from Samhain were used in All Saints Day celebrations. October 31st became "All Hollow's Eve" and then Halloween. Over time, it slowly changed to become what it is today.
While in Japan Halloween is a highly marketed holiday, meaning Halloween "stuff" is sold and displayed everywhere, it is not fully celebrated. However, my birthday falls on October 29th, and so, Halloween has always held a special place in my heart. I miss the hot apple cider, the cool fall walks among the colored leaves, the plentiful pumpkins for carving, and the spooky feeling in the air on Halloween night in Vermont. My students helped me feel that spooky feeling a little bit at the Haunted House at school festival, and now it's time to return the favor. Usually for Halloween at KTC we have parties with our classes or do something special, which the students love. I made a box of Halloween costumes and students raid it and get a good laugh out of trying on various masks, wigs, and outfits. They especially love the free candy. We also tell scary stories. This year, when I was looking for a good Halloween comic to share with my Comics' class, I found a list of "7 Short and Spooky Webcomic Stories to Keep you Awake all Weekend." As I scrolled through a couple of the stories, I felt that Halloween chill. I can envision rolling through the panels on the big screen in the classroom, reading aloud the text to students, with the lights down low, and allowing the "jump factor" to take affect. I can't wait!
Here are some other Halloween stories I've found that are great.
For younger students:
Please leave comments if you have other good suggestions. Also, I created a fun Halloween music playlist on YouTube. Use it if you'd like!
When October arrives, there is a buzz around school, the festival buzz. Every year, Kanazawa Technical College, and other schools around Japan, put on school festivals. These festivals are a fantastic opportunity for students to take the lead and work together in organizing fund raising events, activities, and food stalls. Each club or class puts together a different idea for making money and entertaining visitors to the festival. Also, there are performances by the school bands and yosakoi dancers, as well as community dance troupes and impressive taiko drummers.
Our school festival takes place over the first Saturday and Sunday in October. Every year, the English teachers set up an English lounge, where we post students' work and pictures from the study abroad trips on bulletin boards. We have games, music/videos, and this year I put together a paper craft and some Halloween books for the younger children that inevitably visit the room. Throughout the weekend, we find our students wandering in and out of the room to get some Halloween candy, look at pictures, and chat or play Scrabble or cards. It's fun to just hang out with our students, and chat about anything and everything.
Students families also visit the school, so, we can meet parents and siblings. Graduated students or students who have changed schools also come back to say hello and enjoy the various activities.
This year, I had a great time getting scared in the global engineering department second year class' haunted house, and relaxing in the third year's Halloween cafe, where I was served tea and cake in a classroom that was arranged and decorated like a cafe. Outside at the food stalls, I tried okonomiyaki, yakitori, hot dogs, udon, and baby castera. Over two days of course! The udon was my favorite. I watched all the various bands on the central stage, and was impressed by my students' talent, and their courage to get up in front of all their peers and perform. I thoroughly enjoyed the taiko drummers, who impress every year. My friends Bolaji (an KTC engineering teacher,) and Dustin's band played, and the students could enjoy some live English music. In the ikebana (flower arranging) room, I enjoyed a whipped macha tea with a sweet. The ladies on the ikebana club always display their arrangements in two classrooms, one is set up with benches for visitors to sit down, and behind some blue panels, the ikebana club prepares tea and sweets to serve. It's lovely.
Even though I didn't find any great bargains at the school bazaar, or win anything in the raffle, I had a great festival weekend and valuable interactions with students. I look forward to next year!
I'm currently reading Teaching with the Brain in Mind by Eric Jensen, a great book for teachers looking to brush up on brain biology and understand how the discoveries of brain research can be applied to how we help students learn in our classrooms. The book starts off covering some brain "facts," or aspects of how the brain functions and learns that seem to be well supported by valid research studies. These facts tell us not only what is happening in the brain when we learn, that new neuronal connections are being made and strengthened, but also what physical conditions are most beneficial to learning. With good nutrition, an active life style, and enough sleep we generally have the recipe for a receptive brain, one that is able to pay attention to important information and process it in a meaningful way, to learn. However, those with one ingredient significantly lacking, may struggle to get the other ingredients as well. For example, if you don't sleep enough at night and are very tired, you might crave unhealthy, greasy, salty food, which will hurt your mood and your concentration. So, they are all important. The one that most concerns me is sleep.
Why? Because consistently my students tell me they are sleepy, and because when they are having difficulty paying attention in class, they often tell me they were up late the night before. Unfortunately, I have no control over how much students sleep. Yet, I feel it important to spread the word about how important sleep is, and remind my students how damaging a lack of sleep can be. I can share some resources for my students and other teachers to read to help them understand how the brain works and what role sleep plays in brain functioning.
During sleep, your brain processes new information it learned during the day and helps store that information for later, to remember. Getting a "good night's sleep" is essential for memory. In the case of teenagers, scientists have found that while they may be less sleepy at the right time, like bed time, they actually need more sleep for optimal brain functioning and to solidify learning, around 9 and 1/4 hours a night. Teens who don't get enough sleep lack energy (to get exercise or pay attention in class,) and often get poor grades. The answer seems simple: sleep. But, sleep doesn't always come easily. Here are some tips for getting a good night's sleep from PBS's Frontline "Inside the Teenage Brain":
Please read more about how the brain works and why sleep matters. Teachers, share some of t
ESL Reading Lessons: "Sleep Well"
"How the Brain Learns Best" By Bruce Perry
National Geographic Kids "Your Amazing Brain"
National Sleep Foundation: "Sleep for Teenagers"
PBS Frontline "Inside the Teenage Brain"
Science News for Kids "The Teenage Brain"
Science Kids Video "Learn about the Human Brain"
In my experience at KTC, global education is often limited. Students don't get the chance to discuss international issues, world geography, or to study world history. Many of my second year students actually think the Eiffel tower is in England. I am an English teacher, but more than that I feel I'm a representative of a global village with the goal of instilling curiosity about the world outside Japan in my students. For, if they do not desire to communicate with those from other countries, are not intrigued by the diversity of culture, language and landscapes, how can we expect them to be successful language learners? It is with that in mind that I try to infuse my teaching with meaningful lessons about the world.
Here are some examples:
Last year when my husband and I went to Cambodia for New Years, Scott really wanted to visit the Cambodian landmine museum. This museum was built to house the works of the non-profit organization founded by Aki Ra, a national hero in Cambodia. His story is fascinating, and the work he does admirable. After being conscripted as a child soldier by Khmer Rouge, he became an expert in dealing with landmines. However, after several years of war, when the U.N. came to clean up, he jumped at an opportunity to learn about defusing these bombs and undoing some of the destruction he had helped cause. Thousands of innocent people were being killed or maimed by UXO, un-exploded ordinance, even after the war had ended, because these landmines were showered on the Cambodian land during the Khmer Rouge's reign and also during the Vietnam war. They are hidden in rural grasses and forests, and unsuspecting villagers often come across them. Akira's work has helped defuse over 50,000 of these landmines. He also works to educate Cambodians about what to do when they come across UXO, and tries to spread the word about their dangers to tourists who visit the Angkor temples. In addition to his outreach work dealing with UXO, he also has a home and school for orphaned children who have been affected by exploded landmines. I follow the museum on Facebook, and recently came across photos of Aki Ra's trip to Japan. He visited schools in Osaka, and some lucky kids got to interview him. I couldn't find any other news about it, but thought it was worth sharing with our students. I posted this on our English news bulletin board.
For the second year in a row, in my fifth year comic class, we are reading excerpts from the graphic novel Persepolis (Marjane Satrapi). Prior to reading, I do a brainstorming session with students to see what they know about The Middle East and Iran. Usually that is very little. Generally they know about where it is on the globe and what the dominate religion of Iran is. Next, we do an information search, looking through simple Wikipedia's Iran pages and adapted readings I've created about Iran's history. Students search for key information about the country, such as government, currency, religion, language, etc., and then they work together to create a timeline of events in Iran's history. This is no easy task. With lots of new vocabulary and difficult to pronounce names, students are surprisingly engaged in figuring it all out. I get the sense they are thirsty to learn these facts. This year, a colleague and I joined forces. While my students worked to create their visual timeline of Iran's history, and understand the key events as well as learn the pronunciations of challenging words, the conversation class students read about the young, brave, Pakistani girl Malala Yousafzai, who stood up for girls' rights to education and was attacked by the Taliban as a result. They prepared to do a teaching exchange. When we joined classes, the conversation students taught the comic class about Pakistan and Malala, and the comic class taught them about Iran and its many wars.
This set the tone for our reading, but it also gave the students a better sense of what is happening in the Arab world. The news of struggles between secular and Islamic governments is a common theme in the newspapers, and now our students have some extra tools with which to interpret this information.
My colleague and I then did a dramatic read aloud of key sections in Persepolis: The Story of a Childhood, encouraging students to make predictions and search for meaning in the pictures even when language seemed unattainable, and they did. They picked up some great points about the struggle of Marjane growing up in a war-torn, Islamic society. They made connections between Malala and Marjane, like how they were both rebels, standing up for what they believed in.
Students have made predictions about what will happen next in Marjane's life, after her parents send her to Austria at the age of 14 alone because they fear she is not safe in Iran. We will watch the movie in our final class before summer vacation next week.
As summer vacation approaches, my second year students will be saying good-bye to their student teacher, Isaac, and many of them will be embarking on an American adventure with our school's one month immersion program at Saint Michael's College in Vermont. It is difficult for students to concentrate on new studies with so many things happening! With this in mind, and to say good-bye to Isaac, we are going to have a game day on the last day of class. I decided to create a "Summer Madness" game that is based on the popular and active game "Cranium," for us to play as a class. I've played this with my loud and rowdy family at holidays and we always end up rolling around with laughter. The cards I created are meant to review vocabulary and language we've practiced in class. Students move around a basic board game of colored squares with each square representing a card category: "data head," "word worm," "creative cat," or "star performer" cards The data head cards ask students multiple choice or true-false questions, the word worms have spelling challenges, the creative cats drawing or sculpting tasks, and star performers are a bit like charades. Feel free to download and use these templates for your own "summer madness." There are twenty cards in each category, and they're meant to be printed on card stock, double sided with the matching category card front.
Today in our advanced English II class, students finished up their first comic report. In this class, students can choose from many Japanese manga, translated into English, to read in their free time. Every couple of weeks, they write about what they've been reading in their comic journals and have a written dialogue with the teacher about their comics. Occasionally, students also do a comic journal report for the class, where they share what they've been reading and learning. This time, students chose to write questions and answers for an interview with one of the comic characters they have been reading about. They wrote interviews with Naruto, from the popular ninja manga Naruto, and also Gintoki from the sci-fi/fantasy drama Gintama. We decided to take it a step further from simply writing the interviews and perform the interviews on an imaginary TV show. Students decided on the name "Comicland" for our TV show. I acted as the interviewer while students played their comic character. They did a great job!
Students in the fourth year presentation class just finished their collaborative PowerPoint film presentation sharing the data from the famous statistics' project that aims to make large scale statistical data more accessible by imagining if the world population were just 100 people. Here's the presentation they made. You can listen to the audio below.
It has been far too long since I've updated this teaching blog. It has been a busy spring. The school year in Japan ends in February/March and begins in April, and is always busy with Graduation events, then new year opening events and orientation. And, thankfully, we also get spring vacation in there. My husband and I took our vacation in Thailand this year. We had beautiful, hot weather everyday, and were able to totally relax on the gorgeous island of Ko Pha Nang, eat delicious Thai food, and watch the sunset every night.
In April, I met my new students for the 2013 school year. I am again teaching second year skills classes, fourth year Advanced English (CLE2) and presentation class, as well as the fifth year Comic Class.
As a new introductory activity in Advanced English class, my co-teacher Lee Knowlton and I asked students to create a self-map. I had read about this activity in The Language Teacher (a JALT publication,) in an article by Ellen P. Motohashi, "Moving Beyond Self-Introductions to Sharing Self Exploration and Expression." I felt this would be particularly pertinent in this class, where all students have just returned from a year-long study abroad program in New Zealand. They have a difficult transition to make, back into Japanese school life, after a year of life changing and eye opening experiences. They have little time to process what they have done and seen before they are thrust back into the busyness of Japanese high school life. However, their time in New Zealand plays an important part in their growing senses of self.
In this activity, students reflect on three parts of self: their enduring self, their situated self, and their emerging self. The enduring self is the part of themselves that pretty much stays the same, aspects of their personality or values; the situated self is the self which may act or feel differently with different people and in different places; and the emerging self is the part of them that grows and changes, and the person whom they want to become." After long, hard, reflection on these parts of self with guiding questions, students were challenged to create a self-map, a visual, metaphorical map to represent themselves. They all did a fantastic job! Here are the results:
I recommend this or an adapted version of it to all teachers. It's a great way to get a deeper glimpse into our students, and to help them become reflective learners.
This is the question posed to fourth year technical college students this week in a role play activity where students will decide whether or not to permit self-driving technology onto the streets of Japan. This activity was introduced as a means to help students get comfortable voicing opinions, arguing points, and acting out a professional meeting with a cross-cultural component. Students first read some adapted news about Google's self-driving car and legislation regarding automated vehicle technology in the United States, and watched the video below. Next, they were given role cards outlining their new roles as members of an important Japanese committee, consisting of people from the Japanese and United States business, technology, government, and civilian sectors. Each candidate is either for or against allowing self-driving technology on the roads of Japan, and must argue their perspective. Each member is also tasked with challenging or responding to another team member. After each member states their case, we will vote. Look back to see what our mock committee thinks about an automated vehicle future!
Also, check out this TedTalk (in less than 6 minutes) where Google's engineer Sebastian Thrun discusses his mission in making the car. Japanese subtitles are available.
We voted today. The majority of students voted for the acceptance of self-driving technology in Japan, in and out of their roles. Please add comments below for why you are for or against self-driving technology.
I'm Sarah Forbes. I'm the