Sunday, 16 June 2019

Bloopers For The Week Ending 14/06/19

Hello! Starting with this post, every week I'll share the things that didn't go well in my class for that week, partly for reflection purposes and mostly for other teachers to learn from my experiences.
This week went well generally except for card games! My students love card games. I love them too but I had issues with modelling the game and giving proper instructions.

For year 2, I taught the grammar point "What do you think of.../ I think (that) ..." and I decided to use a card game activity. The idea was to have cards with different pictures and words like natto, tennis, TV, books and so on and have students ask and answer questions using the target language. So, the game is played by four to five players, the cards are shuffled and everyone gets 5 cards each. The first player picks a card, for example, tennis and asks " What do you think of tennis?" and students with tennis card drop their card and say "I think (that) it is..." any player without the said card picks one from the extra cards in the middle. And next player asks and so on and so forth until one player exhausts all their cards and wins. Sounds easy right? But this game flopped right from the demonstration stage for so many reasons. 

Firstly, I struggled to find the simplest English words to show how this game works, even though I demonstrated with a few students still it didn't go smoothly. I had to go from table to table re-explaining the game to individual groups and that was really exhausting to do and of course, that amounted to lots of teacher talk. In order to avoid this next time, it's best to script my words before class. I mean write out exactly what I need to say. Though I learned this trick during my CELTA course, I still didn't put it into practice, but lesson learned! 

Also, in retrospect, I think I should have done the game differently. Though the aim of the game was for everyone to practice the target language not everyone got equal chances to say the sentence. So, if you didn't have the card asked for by the player then you just picked a card from the extra pile of cards without saying anything and this happened a lot of times. Next time, I would have the first player ask the students in their group the question; for example, "What do you think of tennis?" followed by the other students' answers "I think it is..." even if they didn't have the card then they go on to drop the card or pick an extra card. That way everyone will get more opportunities to use the language.

Hopefully, I'll do better next week. Please leave ideas and suggestions on how to make this game more effective.

Thanks for stopping by, see you next post!

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Thursday, 13 June 2019

The Importance of Being Extra

Teaching style depends on personality type. Some teachers are quiet and cool, they speak slowly, get their point across and manage to keep the students interested. My goodness, I’ll never know how they do it, they are the real MVPs. You see me, I am extra. No, scratch that- I’m extra- extra LOL. If you pass by my class you’ll hear a lot of productive noise and above all, lots of laughter. My class has to be fun; otherwise, I’d bore myself to death, not to talk of my students. In my opinion, to successfully get young people engaged in learning, you’d have to be crazy, humorous, cool and innovative all at once. Let me tell you about my typical lesson.

In real life, to those who do not know me well, I seem introverted and shy but I kid you not, the moment I walk into the class the let's-run-this-show spirit comes upon me and I immediately transform into this energy goddess no matter how bad I was feeling before class time! I walk into the class mouth first, chat the students up, and sometimes I dance to invisible music in my head as I set up my computer. Note that the class hasn’t started yet, the students still have about five minutes prep time so, they’re looking at me and already laughing, wondering what this crazy teacher has in store for them today, I make sure I never disappoint. I try to bring in something new that they’ve never seen before. 
One thing that has worked for me this week has been the use of Bitmojis to spice up my lesson. Bitmoji is an app owned by the same company that runs the Snapchat app, and it allows you to create a Bitmoji character that looks like you, just like the "so extra" picture in this post. Imagine the excitement and surprise when “I” showed up on the screen LOL. You can use Bitmojis to spice your lessons in any imaginable way and I'm thinking of making stickers from them too. Sometimes I use hilarious GIF images that move around on the screen when I’m running my slide show. I can’t stand “normal” lessons, you guys.

Today I wore extra big, star-shaped glasses that made the kids laugh out loud, they didn’t see it coming. Amidst good mornings and laughter, the students who bumped into me at the entrance tried to make comments about my glasses in English. While teaching the grammar point “What do you think of ….?” / I think (that)…”, during the introduction stage, after several examples using pictures, I turned my back to the class for a minute then I put my glasses on, turned around, struck a pose and asked: “What do you think of my glasses?” ”Ha-ha, I think they’re crazy”, “I think that Lola is cute” “I think it’s funny”. See? Target language used, lesson aim achieved, we all laughed, end.of.story.  Look, a little silliness never hurt anyone.
Sometimes my silliness is spontaneous, in response to the tempo in the class; most times it begins at the planning stage. I have a good time planning my lessons, especially when creating resources and visuals. I imagine how it’ll play out and make necessary adjustments. By the time I’m done, I’m so pumped up and excited and this translates into my lessons. I know I’m blowing my own trumpet but hey, it’s mine!

Oh, I enjoy my students, genuinely laugh at their jokes, and I am very generous with praises, and sometimes I get so emotional when they have done very well as a group and I put my hand to my heart and tell I love them. Of course, there’ll always be those naughty ones who try to hijack your lesson, I dramatically roll my eyes and bless them with a look that says “really!” and they adjust immediately. Balance is very important.

I realise that not everyone can be energetic and extra like me and I’m not asking you to become who you’re not but no matter your personality type, enthusiasm is one ingredient that you can never do without. Don’t be dull and never sulk no matter what you’re going through at that time; nobody likes a teacher who shows up in class sucking lemons. Do all you can in the best way that agrees with your personality to let your students know that you’re interested in them and that you’re happy to be their teacher.

Phew, this week is almost over! Tomorrow I'll tell you about my bloopers, all the many things that didn't go so well this week and how I handled them. 
Please leave a note and let me know which part of this post resonates with you the most.

Thanks for stopping by, see you next post!

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Saturday, 8 June 2019

A Great Teacher Makes Puzzles

My finished product

Azul Terronez’s TED Talk, “What makes a good teacher great?” inspired this blog post title. In the talk, he recounts how every time he would ask his students this question and he shared a few of the interesting responses he’d collected over time. One that I really like that has stuck with me, which I now use is “A great teacher sings” but hey, this post is not about that talk so go and look for it and have a listen- right after you’re done reading this post of course LOL!

Anyways, “A great teacher makes puzzles” wasn't part of the responses Azul spoke about but I’ve added it because I successfully created jigsaw puzzles for an activity this week. Yayyyy.
So, this week the JTE asked me to plan for a lesson which wasn’t part of the topics I’ve been scheduled to teach and which was also kind of boring to teach. I took up the challenge, happy that she trusted that I could make something out of it and I put my thinking hat on and set to work. You see, I’m never one to shy away from lesson planning, though I work in a setting that has already-made lesson plans available for teachers still, most times I find myself tweaking and making my own stuff not because those plans are not good but because they weren’t designed specifically for MY OWN students.
So back to the lesson which was about the present perfect continuous tense with focus on Japan’s World Heritage sites! Wait a minute, I couldn’t understand why such a complex topic was included in JHS 3rd graders textbook when they clearly didn’t have enough English yet to grasp this but anyways. After much deliberation, I decided to make a jigsaw puzzle activity to keep my students interested especially because one of the classes was scheduled for right after lunchtime when the food is travelling around their body and making them sleepy.
The process
After making my lesson plan game tight, I began to wonder how to successfully make this puzzle business a reality. I searched all over the internet looking for apps or websites where I could create downloadable and printable puzzles but I didn’t find any. I knew I could’ve just printed the pictures and just cut them into jigsaw style pieces but I wanted actual, traditional jigsaw patterns. I finally got an idea and downloaded a 16 puzzle-piece pattern, printed it on one side of the paper and the picture on the other side, laminated and cut along the jigsaw pattern and that was it! It was very tasking to cut the pieces out as I had to do a lot but seeing my students actively participating and enjoying the activity made it worth the while. The activity woke them up and they worked in groups, competing to be the first to complete the puzzle. I realise that my method may be a “no-brainer” for very sharp-witted teachers but for someone like me who overthinks and over plans, it was a big deal, a kind of “Eureka” moment LOL! So, I’m putting this on here to make the job easier for overthinking teachers like me who might want to do a jigsaw puzzle activity. I hope you find this tip helpful.
I should also add that completing the puzzles wasn’t the main goal, it was just a fun activity I used to achieve my main aim. After completing the puzzles, they had to write four sentences about their picture, one of which was written in the present perfect continuous tense. Of course, I gave them questions to guide them and a model of what they were expected to do. 

To reiterate a very salient point, don’t do an activity if you have no way of using it to achieve the goal of the lesson. Can you justify why your students are drawing in an English lesson when they're supposed to be learning about “Imperatives”? And after they’re done drawing then what? 
Yes, a great teacher makes puzzles slash any other fun activity and uses it as a means to an end. I hope this post makes sense. Leave me a note to let me know if it does and please do share other ways of creating jigsaw puzzles if you know any. 

Ok, you may now go on YouTube and listen to the TED Talk I mentioned earlier! I would've posted a link on here but for copyright issues. 

 Thanks for stopping by, see you next post!

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Monday, 3 June 2019

Why You Should be Teaching Special Needs Students

My special needs students are the sweetest souls to teach. Unlike most JHS Japanese learners of English, they’re not shy to learn or speak English, they cheer me on loudly with their eagerness to please and participate.

When I was first assigned to teach them I was very apprehensive because I had little or no experience teaching SEN students but the teachers did well to introduce me to the students first during lunch time right before the English lesson. Oooh, that has been my best lunchtime engagement to date. One student was at the door to receive me, another pulled out a chair for me in a very gentlemanly way that put me totally at ease. At first glance, it was difficult to tell just how special they are, except for the very obvious ones of course, but interacting and spending time with them has shown me just how lucky I am to have these ones as my students. They have my heart and I'm letting them keep it. 

So far I’ve had three lessons with them. The first one was when I had my self-introduction lesson where only three students actively listened to me talk about Nigeria. However, the enthusiasm of those three totally made up for their classmates who were not in the mood that day. During the second lesson, I learned not to introduce a “competitive game” as one of the students had a bad meltdown when she lost.

The third lesson today got me feeling all kinds of happy. I reviewed colours and we played the “Find something (insert colour)” game where they all had to go round to find something in the class, that colour. Their eyes found the colours in all the places I could never have imagined!
Find something brown...
Some of the kids ran to grab and hug me tightly. It was such a sweet emotional moment for me.
Find something red...
Rinku held his breath till he turned red ๐Ÿ˜ฎ ๐Ÿ˜‚ ๐Ÿ˜‚
Find something white...
Rinku pointed at his teeth.
Find something yellow...
Rinku touched his teeth again ๐Ÿ˜‚
And my darling Takeru was the smartest of them all. While every other kid ran around frantically looking for an object in the right colour, he simply found a pack of coloured pencils and put them in front of him, bringing out the right colours one after the other like a boss.

We ended the class with the “Heads, shoulders, knees and toes” song and I made a beautiful discovery that Yuta loves songs, he never speaks and it was exciting to see him try the action as he did his best to move to the song.

For beautiful experiences like this, I would choose to be a teacher over and over again. 

Thanks for stopping by, see you next post!

Image Credit: special-needs.png  accessed via google images
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Thursday, 30 May 2019

What Dimples and Teaching Have In Common

One of my students has dimples. Deep ones that sink into his cheeks when he smiles. I didn’t even know that he knew how to smile until today. He gave me a sweet smile that lit up his cute face. Made me really happy ๐Ÿ˜ƒ

Dimpled-cheek Reo sits at the end of the first row, sulking and never willing to participate in any activity no matter how hard I or the JTE tried.
But today, at lunchtime I sat with his lunch group and we got talking. I hadn’t yet learned the names of the students in this group so I asked. I heard Reo clearly but the name of the boy next to him got lost in the lunchtime music blaring through the speaker. The poor kid repeated his name but I still didn’t get it, because Japanese names... so Reo helped out by saying “Captain Tsubaya” in a louder voice. I got the joke, widened my eyes in surprise, said “oh wow a Captain” and saluted the Captain. That made Reo smile. The rest of the lunch time conversation went really well with Reo participating actively.

Thinking about this episode, I’m still not clear about why Reo is so uncooperative in English class, I’m usually as silly, cracking “dry jokes” that make the students go “aaah Nigerian joke “ ๐Ÿ˜‚ I have a hunch that he doesn’t like being at the back, sitting at the end of the row. For lunchtime, their tables were arranged vertically so that if I looked from my right he was first, still at the edge of the row but definitely not the last. But I’m not making conclusions yet, next week I’ll see if this “new relationship” transcends into the English lesson otherwise, I’ll have to dig deeper.

I’ve seen those dimples today and I intend to keep seeing them! If you have any tips on how to make this magic happen again and again please share. Also, this post will be filed under the “Heart-warming stories from the classroom” label and I’d like to start collecting sweet memories from classrooms all over the world under this tag. If you’d like to contribute please send an email to Your story will be published and you’ll be duly credited.

Thanks for stopping by, I hope that your day is made cheerful by sweet, dimpled smiles. See you next post!

Picture credit: found on google photos, traced to @mr.alani on Instagram. 
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Tuesday, 21 May 2019

A Girl Has No Name, But Your Students Do!

This has got to be the corniest blog post title of all times but hey, I’ll go with it. If you don’t watch Game of Thrones then you probably don’t know that this title is GoT-themed and inspired by my favourite character Arya Stark, whom I consider the most rounded and consistent character from the beginning till the end of the epic TV series.  Oh no, I digress.

What’s in a name, you say?

Some teachers go through the school year never learning their students’ names or worse, calling them by a different name. This wouldn’t matter if they were Arya Stark the girl who has no name. What’s a major teaching faux pas is just pointing randomly at a student and saying “you”. The unwilling student goes “who, me?” and turns around to look at, or point at someone else. Imagine the minutes you lose going “No, you, I mean you behind him.” Participation would be more effective if only you’ll simply say their name. Needless to say that calling your students by their names shows that they’re important, that they matter and are not just a face in the crowd.
Learning the names of your students may be tasking if you’ve got so many. And, if you’re like me having just one lesson period every two weeks’ contact with each class, then you’ll have a problem memorising the names and most especially putting faces to the names. So, here are some things that I’ve been doing to try to learn the names of about 700 students that I meet only once every week at different times, in the two schools that I’m assigned to.

First thing I did was to request for the seating chart and rewrite the students’ names from Japanese characters to romaji, then I went about using this seating chart like a boss LOL.  So, I would put the chart out of sight, look at a student and their name on the chart, go close to them and say something like "How about you, (student’s name)".  The smiles and surprise on their faces when I called their names were nice and heart-warming. One cheeky boy who tried to cover his name badge with his hand, thinking I was reading off the name badges, almost jumped out of his skin when I addressed him by his name. If you’re familiar with how Japanese people react dramatically when something surprises them I’m sure you can picture this very cute scenario.  Also, when a student participates, I say “well done (student’s name)” to boost their confidence. One time I went to a class and wasn’t aware that the seats had been reshuffled and the JTE forgot to tell me. The first few minutes were hilarious as I looked at one student and called them by another’s name. They gave me this puzzled look, glancing at the real owner of the name while the other students erupted in laughter. Uh oh, boss moves busted.

Of course, using the seating chart doesn’t mean that I always manage to match the students’ faces with their names afterwards. Ah, bless the cheeky ones; I learn their names faster for very obvious reasons. So now, I take advantage of my lunchtime engagements (I have lunch with a different class each day) to learn a few names, making a mental note of the faces at the same time. Each class is broken into lunch groups and I can only sit and talk with one lunch group of about 8 students at a time so, let’s say in a week I manage to memorize about 72 names and faces out of 400. I’m slowly making progress and soon when I meet a student in the hallway and they enthusiastically say “Hello Lola” I’ll be able to say hello and call their name too. If you have any ideas about how I can learn names faster please drop a note in the comment section.

Names are important. Learning the names of your students is a very big deal. I cannot reiterate this enough.

Dear teacher, how many names and faces of your learners can you remember off the top of your head right now?

Thanks for stopping by.  See you next post!

Photo Credit: Photo found on Google photos.
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Saturday, 27 April 2019

Restored To Teacher Settings

Hello! It’s been a minute but now I’m back! I have been away from this space for too long, so please forgive me. It’s amazing to see how the number of views increased even when I was on my self-awarded sabbatical. Wow, thank you so much for hanging in there, I’ll make an effort to be more engaging. 
So, let me try to fit in the past six months or so into this blog post. Since the last time that I posted, I’ve received my TKT results- Band 4, 3 and 3 respectively, I took the CELTA course and got a Pass B, completed my teacher training program and graduated from Hokkaido University of Education, Asahikawa and I am now a Language Instructor with Interac Japan, assigned to two Japanese Junior High Schools to teach English. Phew! 

My one year of teacher training sponsored by the Japanese Ministry of Education was great. I learned a lot from observing English language lessons but I did not get any chance to teach English. I am so elated and grateful for another chance to further understudy the Japanese Educational system, this time as an EFL teacher. This is a career-dream come true for me as I have always aspired to experience teaching abroad, learn all the good stuff as a means to achieving my main career goal- contributing to the professional development of teachers in Nigeria and invariably, to building the educational sector. I will be sharing my experiences and try to carry us along on this journey and I suggest you turn on your post notifications so you don’t miss out on the yummy stuff. 

That said, let’s get down to it. So, this week I reverted to default settings as I returned to the other side of the classroom. I was surprised to feel the heebie-jeebies, I mean, I’m a CELTA certified, experienced English teacher!  At least that’s what my LinkedIn profile says LOL! It was so bad that I barely slept a wink as I worried about whether or not my school will receive me well, I wondered if my students had ever met a black person before and if they’ll respond to me well and blah blah blah. Note that I was fully prepared for my first lesson, with more than enough materials but I guess anxiety happens to the best of us. 

Anyways, my school received me warmly! The welcome notes left on the table and the shoes and coat lockers calmed me down a bit. Still, I couldn’t wait to meet the people I was employed to serve. Fast forward to my first class, first grade class of about 40 students. As the JTE (Japanese teacher of English) readied the class and introduced me, I got a moment to breathe and smile as I scanned the classroom. Spurred on by the curiosity in the shy eyes that looked away as our eyes met and the daring ones who stared back as if to say “bring it on”, I bellowed “hello” in my most impressive teacher voice and history was made! My first class was fun, and every other class after that- well all but one. Getting one of the third-grade groups to respond was like pulling teeth!  They seemed more resistant but no worries we’ve still got one whole year to go!   

Let me quickly say that teaching English in an EFL setting could be very frustrating as you desire to reach and connect with your students who do not speak English at all and are resistant to learning a language which they have no chance to speak outside the classroom and consider an extra burden. You are their gateway to this whole new world shrouded in a foreign language and the only chance they probably get to practise is with you so do your best with it and help them to love learning English!

To cut the long story short, all my experience and training didn’t fail me as I used gestures, a lot of pictures, ICQs, acted silly, and danced at some point to reach my students. Of course, I pulled out my trump card: showing great interest in the students’ interest which worked out well as always. The atmosphere lit up as I asked the students about their favourite anime/music/games. Lots of hands went up when I asked them to recommend me good ones to pass time during the golden week (10-day holiday from April 27th till May 6th) and I passed a book around for them to write their recommendations in. One student took it a step further and brought me three of her favourite comic books the next day. 

Ten lessons later, 5 lunchtime engagements in between, I am fully back to English teacher mode and going to rock the golden week like a boss as I prepare to meet my other students at my second school after the holidays. 
I need to end this post now because I’ve got a busy holiday schedule ahead you see. I’ll be reading comics, watching anime and listening to music recommended by my kids. 

Please leave a note in the comment section, let me know you got to this point. 

Let's travel this road together!  

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Thursday, 18 October 2018

“Who Decides What an Ideal Lesson is or is not?”- A conversation With Julian Bailey

Hello, it’s been a while! Thank you for hanging in here! Just a quick update of what I have been up to. I am currently working on my research paper and in addition to that, I spent the last couple of weeks preparing for the TKT- Teaching Knowledge Test (English teachers look this up) and I took the test for all 3 modules in one day! Phew! It was exhausting but totally worth it. Preparing for the test helped me put a lot of things about teaching English in perspective. TKT is quite detailed and focuses on salient aspects of the ESL classroom using English teaching standards and framework stipulated by Cambridge Assessment English, a Department of Cambridge University. On the whole, TKT helped me to really be conscious about my classroom practices.

Speaking about standards and framework, I had an interesting conversation with Julian over the weekend. Let me digress a bit with a quick introduction before I get on to the crux of our discussion.

Meet Julian Bailey

Julian is from the UK but permanently resides in Kutchan Hokkaido Japan.  He holds a 1st Class Hons. degree from Cambridge University in Education and is licensed to teach UK Primary School (Qualified Teacher Status), to teach English as a Foreign Language (Celta and Delta qualifications including the extension for Young Learners). He is a Speaking Examiner for Cambridge Young Learner Exams, Key English Test and Preliminary English Test. He also spent 2 years in Hokkaido public schools as a JET AET.
Julian and his wife Yoshiko founded and run SMiLE Niseko, a language school which provides professionally delivered English language courses based upon International best practice and methodology. This enables young people to supplement their mainstream Japanese education with 'gold standard' International certification and broaden their life opportunities. For parents, local people, retirees, or anyone with an interest and desire to communicate in English, SMiLE offers structured '4 Skills' based courses with opportunities to demonstrate and enjoy progress at your own language level and enables people to take valuable Cambridge English exams without having to leave Hokkaido. JP181 supports other schools and Universities in Sapporo with teacher development and with Cambridge English Exam Preparation.
He is passionate about people and communication. He enjoys Hokkaido in all four seasons, its birds, trees and great food. 
Note: This is a longer blog post than usual but I hope you’ll stay with me till the end.
So, during a 2-hour drive from Sapporo to Kutchan, Julian and I talked about my work and my area of research focus. Most times when I talk about what I’m doing, I get a lot of “Wow that’s amazing, that’s cool and so on” so I wasn’t prepared for what Julian said next:
“Your analysis and all is good but I don’t think it’s fair. Who decides what an ideal lesson is? How do you judge fairly by using YOUR model to apportion so and so percentage of the lesson as being communicative and so and so not communicative?”

Of course, I went into a tirade about the importance of standards and classroom observation models.  Or is there no need to observe and analyze lessons? Should we just let teachers teach as they deem fit and do their own reflection on what went right and what did not? We didn’t quite finish this talk because as natural conversions go, we digressed and began talking about something else. Anyways, being a reflective learner, I went home and thought about our discussions and sent him follow-up questions for further clarification. Find below his answers to my questions and if you have any questions concerning this, please leave them in the comment section, Julian will be reading! 

What’s your general opinion about classroom observation and analysis models?
Observing learning and teaching in classrooms is extremely important.
Observing what learning is actually taking place, as opposed to what we think might be happening or what was planned, enables teachers to reflect on what is working and what isn’t. Focusing on what isn’t working, we can consider how we might improve the effectiveness of our teaching and the learning experience. So, observing other teachers and even ourselves is profoundly important and often very revealing.
What is less clear to me at this point (though I'm keen to hear and understand the rationale), is the value of an analytical model. Can you evaluate classroom teaching and develop better teachers through a comparison with ‘model’ teaching? Surely the relevance and value of any single model of teaching to another teaching context would be highly subjective?
Teaching is a human, personal and practical activity, requiring self-awareness, sensitivity and principled decision making by professional practitioners who should continually seek to improve their own practice.
In the wide array of teaching contexts, with learners who have different priorities and needs, observation should support positive reflection of our own teaching and our own context. In that sense, we need to consider, learn about, and examine every approach, idea, and methodology that “might” improve or contribute to better learning.
If it were easy to find a single model to meet the ends of all learners in varied contexts, perhaps we could compare teaching performance against the model and then try to close the gap between the two. However, effective teaching takes many forms and is delivered in many ways. Certainly, we recognize good teaching when we see it but trying to identify exactly what makes it effective is much more elusive.
For example, broad ideas and umbrella terms like communicative methods or approaches may seek to encourage student-centered learning, ensuring learners have opportunities to practice and use language to communicate with one another as well as with the teacher. As a broad teaching principle of good practice, that idea seems highly credible. 
An analytical model might, therefore, seek to measure the proportions of STT and TTT (Student and Teacher Talking Time) and make specific recommendations as a result. i.e. talk less and provide more opportunities for students to speak. Also fine, if the teacher understands what really underlies this idea.
While a teacher may enthusiastically comply with the advice, it may not necessarily result in more or better learning unless the teacher understands “why” this is important and therefore how to implement this advice in an effective way. It may just result in a distortion of the underlying principles into, for example, TTT = bad practice / STT = good practice.
I believe teacher understanding is best achieved by setting clear expectations of ongoing or continuing professional development, not through blind obedience to one ‘possibly relevant’ model.
In Japan, a culture where the master, a guru or an expert is often followed unquestioningly, there is a danger that teachers respond to such advice or direction, without really understanding ‘why’ they need to consider, change or adapt what they are doing.
Teachers developing understanding and coming to conclusions themselves by observing peers, reading and critical reflection is what will most improve teachers and teaching standards. The internal development of an individual teacher is more important than following instructions or advice based on an arbitrary model of what good lessons look like. Classes where a teacher enthusiastically follows advice to ‘do pairwork’ for no reason other than to conform to a model may result in less effective teaching than another teacher’s principled and carefully considered decision to take a more teacher-centered approach.   
The point is not that a communicative method or any other approach is right or wrong, it’s that teachers need to understand the principles and the theory that underwrite their decisions in the classroom. They also need to take responsibility for these decisions and the learning outcomes.

Do you think having standards and models for judging a lesson has a positive or negative effect on teachers and students?
I’d probably avoid the term “judging” which implies a subjective, expert judgment about the teaching or learner performance but certainly, the idea of standards-based assessment has great value. It depends, however, who is the assessing and to what extent their standards can be deemed credible and worthy of the teacher or learner’s attention. Critically reviewed, classroom relevant, professionally developed standards are of great interest to me.
Standards are why I introduced Cambridge Exams for learners in my school despite it being difficult, expensive and time-consuming to do that in Japan. I know as assessment tools they are rigorously designed and scrutinized by teachers and learners globally, they reflect real-world teaching and learning challenges. I also trust standards like Celta or TKT when employing teachers. Are these easy standards for people to meet or to prepare for? No. Are they the most valuable markers of teacher or learner progression? I believe so.
I have experienced standards-based assessment of my own teaching through Cambridge Celta (in 1993!), Celta YL ext. and Delta. These standards were clear, carefully-considered and have been used by teaching professionals in many contexts over several decades. The criteria for marking my performance felt very challenging to meet but it was also fair and relevant to my daily classroom.
Those standards had a hugely positive effect on my teaching and based on their CEFR scale progression, on student learning. I still ask myself questions like, “at the end of my lesson, were students able to do X or Y as I set out or described in my main aim today?” If I claim the answer is yes, what actual evidence do I have of that? That deeply internalized questioning has been trained into me as a teaching professional through standards like Celta and Delta. This has made me a much more reflective teacher.  
So, standards are important for teachers and learners but not just any standards. Who developed the standards and who gets to review and critically assess their value? Who ensures they are reliable, valid, have a positive impact on learning and that they can be practically applied in classrooms across the world. Developing meaningful standards is a major collaborative responsibility requiring global resources, time and ongoing scrutiny.

In your opinion what’s the best/ideal way to decide what is good about a lesson? In other words, as a teacher trainer how do you “Judge” your trainees’ lessons? If so how do you do this?
In informal day to day support and ongoing development for teachers, I observe teaching, learners and learning outcomes, I make detailed notes and refer to that data just as a computer model might. I try to use those observations to support and engage with teachers positively and to develop their awareness of what was more successful and less successful. I don't tend to grade or judge a lesson or decide whether it was a pass or fail (as formal training like Celta would) but I do try to stimulate the teacher’s interest in how we might apply a range of techniques, methods or approaches to help teachers improve the quality of their classroom practice.
I try to identify priorities for the individual professional development rather than focus on “good lessons are like this”. For example, today I talked to one teacher about improving her highlighting technique and another teacher about visually modeling linking of contracted words. Small, fine tuning adjustments in the process of developing as a teacher to ultimately enable better learning.
If these things don’t help though, as they may not, we’ll identify that in an action research led classroom, not continue out of some sort of deference to me as a trainer or an arbitrary model of good teaching. Teaching is a never-ending process of self-reflection. If parents, governments, even academics are disappointed by the idea we can’t make teaching more “product” like they need to find a less complex, less people-centered profession and consider industry. There is no product manual or instruction booklet to ensure effective teaching and learning.
Hope that makes sense and very happy to be challenged ; )
I’m off to listen to more experienced, more advanced teachers than me express ideas that I hope will challenge me this Sunday (Oxford Day, Tokyo) I will also go to IATEFL next April in the hope of updating my own knowledge, practice and to reflect on what we do with thousands of global EFL teachers. I can’t do this all the time like anyone else but all teachers (and especially those who profess some expertise) need to ensure they challenge themselves, invest in their own practice and expose themselves to everything that “might work”.

Endnote: Julian and his team are doing an awesome job and making radical changes and contributions to English language teaching and learning in Elementary schools in Kutchan. I was privileged to see some of the classes. If I am permitted I might share on another blog post. 

Thank you for getting to this point. If you are still here, type "I DID IT!" in the comment section and I will send you a very useful teaching resource.


Photo Credit
Image 1: Google images
Image 2: Julian Bailey

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Wednesday, 13 June 2018

Click to Find out How to Plan Your CPD the Japanese Way

Kudos to trainers/educators working tirelessly to improve Education in Nigeria by equipping teachers with modern teaching techniques, and hats off to teachers who put a lot of effort into attending workshops, both paid and free, in order to improve their teaching game. I’m all for reading wide and gathering knowledge but don’t be a “knowledge junkie”-gathering and gathering but never implementing.
Let’s face it, most training platforms are not very practical and most teachers don’t really know how to use the knowledge gleaned from numerous workshops when they get back to their classrooms so they fall back to old and familiar ways of doing things. This issue has bothered me for a long time as I explored different ways to make PD sessions more beneficial to teachers. In one of my blog posts, I proffered the British Council CPD path as a way out but some teachers have sent me emails complaining about how broad and general this plan is, not tailored to meet immediate and specific needs of teachers.

Recently, my supervisor introduced me to a system of professional development, used by Japanese teachers, which is aimed at improving teaching in a collaborative way. This method is forming part of my research and I am willing to work with teachers who want to be part of the pioneers to spearhead a more practical method of CPD which will go a long way to promote collaboration amongst teachers and improve teaching and learning in Nigeria. Improvement is faster if you’re actively involved and sharing ideas in a cycle that involves collaborative planning + implementation, reflection, feedback. 
So, if you would like to take your professional development in your own hands, teaming up with other teachers to discuss the issues you are having at the moment and improve teaching please click on the pre-study survey link at the end of this post.  However, the scope of my research only takes English Teachers in Nigeria into account. Following the success of this first phase, more teachers will be factored in, please bear with me.

If you are an English Teacher in Nigeria and are interested in joining this CPD program which will involve collaborating with other English teachers in your area, physically and online, kindly click on this link to fill the registration form and I will get back to you. Also, if you are also interested in leading a team of 10 teachers in your area, send an email, captioned CPD for English Teachers, to stating your Name, location, and a short write-up of about 150 words stating your experience as a teacher leader. 

Keep learning, keep growing.


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Monday, 19 February 2018

Genius In Nigeria, Stupid In Japan- My Japanese Intensive Course Experience

"Everybody is a genius. But if you judge a fish by its ability to climb a tree, it will live its whole life believing it is stupid."This is a quote attributed to Albert Einstein and is very popular in Education circles and what it simply means is that "ร‹verybody is a genius depending on the context in which they find themselves."
The truth of the above statement truly hit me when I arrived in Japan in September 2017 to commence my teacher training program sponsored by the Government of Japan, I was a complete idiot in the Japanese language; could neither speak, read or write. I was so eager to begin the Language course so I could enjoy living in the Japanese society. And then the course began and for at least the first month I couldn't understand what was happening. I, who was so "educated" in the English language became an utter fool when it came to the Japanese language and so a huge wave of panic hit me. If you checked my browser history during that month you would see a lot of google search on "Is it possible to be dyslexic in one language and not in another?" To make matters worse, I had learners from China and Korea in my class and except for just minor pronunciation issues that they had, they made the Japanese language look too easy and further heightened my feelings of stupidity! 

To cut a long story short, last week I completed the course in flying colours and became certified in Japanese language. Right now I can read, write and speak the Japanese language at the basic level. There are still many more levels to attain but at least for now I am no longer illiterate. So how did I cross the hurdle? I immersed myself fully into the language, reading ahead of lessons, watching Japanese animes and practicing whatever Japanese I learnt in class with native Japanese speakers. The most important factor that helped speed up my progress was the ใ›ใ‚“ใ›ใ„ใŸใก(pronounced senseitachi-meaning teachers). No matter how much I studied on my own, the concept only became clearer when I got to class and the teachers explained it using several interesting teaching methods. Every time we struggled, Yamashita Sensei would encourage us by saying "Don't worry, you still have 16weeks to go!" The place of a good teacher is indispensable in Education and more than ever before, I am proud to be a teacher.

Now in a few weeks, I will be commencing my teacher training program and I will be surprised to find out that I am a complete fool when it comes to teaching. I am sure I will learn a lot of new things but that I will be completely illiterate will be out of the question. This brings me to my main point. Genius is relative but it should be global. Language studies aside, if a child is a genius in science, maths, or Arts in Nigeria he should be a genius in America, Japan or Europe in the same field otherwise there is something wrong with the Educational system. So while we are waving the Albert Einstein quote around and working hard to help our children find their strengths and build their own niche we should ensure that we school them well using global teaching methods to ensure that they fit in any part of the world. They cannot be gurus in ICT in Nigeria and be stupid in Japan. 

But then, how can you give what you do not have? Start by exploring how teachers in other parts of the world are teaching your subject and incorporate these methods into your lessons as much as possible; you owe humanity that little. Remember, a lot of parents have no clue what quality education is like but they trust us-teachers to give the best to their kids.

Cheers to global teachers raising global geniuses!


Image: Google Image tweaked by Teacher Lola.
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