Practical Teaching Ideas

Pilot Course Entry #2: The Syllabus

A syllabus is a more specific plan than a curriculum, one that lays out what each class session might entail. Because it is published, though, for students, administration, and for the Ministry, being too specific can lead one to hamstring oneself. Indicating only the topic of each week’s lesson allows me to change content depending on the quality of students. Since this is a required third-year class with tracked English majors, the level, for Japan, will be relatively high, with an average TOEIC score about 550, perhaps even 600.

By adapting Moodle for smart phones (goal 1), I will be able to keep all of the class materials organized in one place. The idea, though, is for students to use English Central software outside the class for content input, and use class time for small group interaction. Autonomy (goal 2) is developed by putting students in charge of the activities they develop. Evaluation in class will be based on peer review. Next post will be about managing peer review. The characters along with the number “45” each week indicate the homework.

Society Today 1 Group 2 (Spring 2015) ST1G2M2

There are five main topics to stimulate use of English in all four skills; Education, Technology, Gender, Ecology, and Current Events. We read short passages and watch short videos online, do vocabulary and pronunciation activities for homework. These activities are linked to in-class comprehension and discussion activities that build on the topics. Students will prepare and create activities to lead a small group session for 15 minutes at least once during the semester.

Theme: Develop skills to communicate intelligently about society.

  • Week 1: Introduction. Level check. Grouping. Topic choices [準備45分] Get your laptop ready with wi-fi at school.
  • Week 2: Sample Activities. [準備45分] Write profile for Moodle.
  • Week 3: Education 1 [準備45分] Online comprehension, vocabulary and pronunciation.
  • Week 4: Education 2 [準備45分] Online comprehension, vocabulary and pronunciation.
  • Week 5: Current Events [準備45分] Online comprehension, vocabulary and pronunciation.
  • Week 6: Technology 1 [準備45分] Online comprehension, vocabulary and pronunciation.
  • Week 7: Technology 2 [準備45分] Online comprehension, vocabulary and pronunciation.
  • Week 8: Current Events [準備45分] Online comprehension, vocabulary and pronunciation.
  • Week 9: Gakuryou [準備45分] none.
  • Week 10: Ecology [準備45分] Online comprehension, vocabulary and pronunciation.
  • Week 11: Current Events [準備45分] Online comprehension, vocabulary and pronunciation.
  • Week 12: Gender 1  [準備45分] Online comprehension, vocabulary and pronunciation.
  • Week 13: Gender 2 [準備45分] Online comprehension, vocabulary and pronunciation.
  • Week 14: Current Events [準備45分] Choose 1 of 6 Activities.
  • Week 15: Evaluation, Feedback, Remedial Work

Materials: (available online, license through bookseller)

Grades: Classroom Participation: 60%. Online 40%.

常勤教員 月水木土 英語コミュニケーション学科教授室(大学3号館2階)

Practical Teaching Ideas

Pilot Course Entry #1: Setting the stage

shield-229112_640The story arc of a course, especially when it involves technology, can be unpredictable. We hope it isn’t. We want events to follow plans; a smooth predictable arc, but there are always blips. Variables introduced with each new student, or different technologies and devices, lead to building a plan that can accommodate a little chaos. So when some friends asked about how the story arc of my courses go, it took me a while to respond.

After another hour of discussion, we were still debating over how teachers, classrooms, students and technology can all be accounted for in the planning process. After all, each new variable introduces new and different opportunities, challenges, and the possibility of a crash and burn. It was at this point of the debate when I was finally put on the spot. It came out as, “Why don’t you do a pilot of your new course, and show us how you integrate technology into your classroom.” It may as well have been, “Put up or shut up.”

So, there we were. The challenge was set, and my colleagues proceeded to choose the course for me. The initial decision was to work with a class of incoming Freshmen, as it was agreed that it was the closest to a ‘clean slate’ than the upperclassmen. Additionally, as this is a required course students are assigned to classes by ability, so the variable of student ability is greatly reduced. Then they changed their mind. The challenge will be the third year class.
Continue reading “Pilot Course Entry #1: Setting the stage”

Tech for Teach

O Cameo, Cameo! wherefore art thou Cameo?

cameoJust towards the end of the 2013 spring semester, and just before the summer holiday began earlier this year, many of my students approached asking what they could do to practice speaking English over the vacation (my first thought was to recommend they troll Roppongi looking for an English-speaking boyfriend or girlfriend, but I wisely held that advice to myself). As many frequently admit, our students are keen to improve their speaking skills but the chances to practice outside the classroom are often very difficult to come by. Well, lo and behold; just as classes were winding down for the 2013 winter holiday, my students were asking again how they could practice speaking over the winter break. Lucky for them there’s Cameo.

I must confess, my idea came spur-of-the-moment and my assignment for them was to download the app (free, iOS only), shoot a short video (in English), upload it to the Cameo cloud, share the finished product with me and I would then upload their videos to our class blog page. I had made two short movies over the previous weekend at the Shinjuku Illumination event using my own daughters in the starring roles, so to preface the task, I showed them my movies in class. An instant hit. 

I’m a big fan of make-your-own-video apps and Cameo is not the first one I’ve come across that offers this capability on a handheld device, however it is one of the hippest. Recently earning “Best of 2013” on the App Store, Cameo seamlessly and effortlessly allows the user to record multiple, six second videos, rearrange them in any order, splice them together, run your movie through 23 (currently available) themes/filters, add a soundtrack (or not) and then share via Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr or email.

Since I teach students in the College of Tourism and Hospitality, my only requirement (other than speaking English) was that they make a video related to tourism in Japan. If they were going to visit Hakone this holiday, for example, then make a movie about one of the attractions in the Hakone region.

I like this particular app because each individual clip is limited to six seconds (a total maximum video length of 2 minutes is preferred for ease of upload) and for our cohorts of digital natives, this quick pace is perfect for their rapidly shifting attention. In addition, the themes are very hip, artsy, and retro. What’s more, the bank of soundtracks offered within the app feature new, up-and-coming indie musicians and bands. As a language teacher, I like the self-made video activity because I know from experience that my students rehearse and practice the monologue (or dialogue) many times and this not only improves the final quality of the language output but also increases the quantity of L2 (Second Language) production.

Shakespeare was right; all the world is a stage and Cameo gives our digitally mobile students a tool to strut their hour upon the stage and to tell their tale of sound, image and creativity.