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)

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.

Opinion, Practical Teaching Ideas, Tech for Teach, Your thoughts?

How about avoiding the app store?

I thought it would be good to step back from reviewing all the fantastic DMLL apps out there to highlight the applications our mobile devices come with straight out of the box. You know, apps like digital cameras, voice recorders, note pads and timers. Applications or hardware we could only dream about using with one device a decade ago are now sitting in every student’s pocket. I understand it’s easy to get caught up in the search for the newest or coolest, but let’s get excited about tools we have right at our fingertips.

Teachers really need to take a longer look at how they can incorporate these built-in apps into their classroom. To begin with, students are usually very proficient at using them, which means a teacher doesn’t have to dedicate class time to training, and should a technical issue arise, there is a classroom full of teachers to help out. Secondly, many great apps aren’t available on both iOS and Android platforms, which prevents the whole class from participating. And, even when an app is available on both platforms, it often doesn’t work exactly the same. For a lot of these built-in apps, an Internet connection isn’t required, and given the app has been designed to run with the whole device in mind, teachers don’t have to worry about reception or processing issues. And lastly, I feel a lot of these built-in apps develop study skills which students can apply to classes outside of the language classroom.

If none of my arguments above have prompted you to consider the built-in apps once more, I hope this list of my four favorite built-in apps and their possibilities for the language classroom will.

2013-11-23 14.51.28Voice Recorder: Allows the teacher to: record lesson instructions; create authentic listening texts; record speaking activities;  and ask students to narrate their class blog posts. I’m also finding that if I ask a group of students to record themselves during a speaking task, students are less likely to fall back into using their native language, Japanese. Students can record themselves to evaluate pronunciation or prepare for a speaking task. Not only can students evaluate sound, the sound waves displayed on their screen can provide useful feedback on intonation. One of my favourite activities to play with the voice recorder is a “hot potato” game where a group of three to five students stand in a circle and pass a phone around the group and each member has to contribute one word to continue on a story. When teams are finished I play the recordings over the speaker system and we judge the best story.

Video camera: Over the last few years it has been interesting to watch how video cameras and cameras have been taken over by the smartphone. A feature I love is that users can rotate the camera to record a great video of themselves. This technique can be used to identify problems with pronunciation or create individual content for a class blog or project. A tablet or smartphone’s screen and speaker volume is also large enough for a video to be watched by a small group. A lot of the activities I suggested in the voice recorder section above can also be experimented with using a video camera, just make sure the mobile device is close to the speaker’s mouth to ensure sound quality.

2013-11-23 12.32.34Timer stop/watch. One technique for increasing student motivation is  to include a component that stimulates the heart rate. Racing the clock or displaying a timer beating down are wonderful ways to get your students moving and foster a game-like environment. For classroom management, stopwatches or timers enable a teacher to ensure tasks don’t run over time. I also see value in encouraging students to use this application to evaluate their time spent on tasks or leverage their own motivation while studying individually.

Camera: I know that the saying goes  “a picture tells a thousand words” and when one is teaching a language it’s fair enough to question whether images rob the opportunity for more language to be produced. However, the power of an image to stimulate or support a conversation cannot be ignored. What is more, the camera is usually the app students are most skilled at using.Tamagawa pic

Even without downloading Instagram one can now crop, take panoramic shots and use filters with their built-in camera app on newer devices. I also like the ease at which students are able to flick through their camera rolls to show multiple images during small group presentations similar to this picture above.

Some examples of how photos can be used include: asking students to report on their weekends while flicking through their photos; asking students to introduce the most artistic or interesting photo on the camera roll; ask students to take photos for blog content; and, sending students on a picture hunt to take photos of something which is round, diagonal or red, etc.

Students and teachers alike can also record whatever is presented on the blackboard or projector screen with just one tap.

I know there are more built-in apps worthy of a mention, but in the spirit of slowing down, let’s keep things simple. How have you been able to incorporate these 4 apps into your language classroom?