Saturday, October 30, 2010

Alexander the Great Presentations

I wonder how many of my students have started to go out for coffee with a friend, even if they both speak the same first language, and promise themselves that they will only speak English for 30 minutes. I remember learning that languages are learned when you have two people who are willing to negotiate meaning with one another. That is, if one person doesn’t understand, the other person doesn’t mind trying to explain what they want to say in a different way one more time. Finding someone like that, however, can be difficult. I see it all the time, but I guess people have busy lives, and if a native English speaker is speaking to a non-Native English speaker, they don’t always have the patience to negotiate meaning. That’s why I tried recommending to my students that if they can’t find an English speaker to practice with, that’s no problem, they can just practice with each other.

On another note, my students have just finished doing their presentations on the Penguin Reader Alexander the Great. The presentations were brilliant! I was actually surprised because, to be honest, sometimes I dread presentations. They can go on and on and no one understands what is being said, and the students spend the whole time speaking into a piece of paper or with their backs to the audience talking to the power point screen. Painful! However, this time, it didn’t happen. Usually, presentation time is a time of open topics with students choosing their own group members. This time, however, I randomly chose the groups for the students, and I assigned the topics. The Penguin Reader we have been reading in class has 10 chapters, so I divided the class up into ten groups, with each group presenting a different chapter in order. Although students could search the internet for pictures and maps, they weren’t allowed to use any other information except that in their books. By narrowing down the information they could use, the students really focused on the chapter they had to present, and boy did they know their stuff! I have an entire class of experts on Alexander the Great! I think by lowering the amount of work they had to do in order to find content for their presentations, they were able to focus more on the English and delivering a good presentation. On top of all that, because the groups were randomly assigned, there were speakers of different first languages in all the groups. The working language had to be English, so it was good practice as well while they were preparing. Anyway, I was very impressed! I can’t wait for the next presentations!

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Nihongo Half Hour!

I think a lot of my students know already, but my hobby is learning Japanese! I lived in Japan for two years, and I think one of my biggest regrets is not learning how to speak Japanese fluently. I remember, when I first went to Japan, I thought it would be easy to learn the language because I had been to other places before, and I had quickly learned the local language. For example, when I was 17, I went to Quebec for six weeks, and by the end of six weeks, I couldn't stop speaking French!

Why, then, can't I speak Japanese? I think the main reason why I didn't learn how to speak Japanese while I was in Japan is because most of my friends spoke English. I had a lot of American friends, and naturally we spoke English together. Also, I only spoke English with my Japanese friends as well! As a result, after two years, I hardly spoke any Japanese. In contrast, whenever I go to Quebec, I speak French all the time. In fact, I even speak French with a lot of my English speaking friends. When I lived in Quebec the first time, I went to college for a six week French program, and we were forbidden from speaking English. As you can imagine, I soon learned how to at least communicate.

Anyway, now that I am finished my PhD, I really want to work on my Japanese again. I go to Japanese school every Friday night for two hours, and I have a Japanese tutor who comes to my house for two hours a week. On top of all of that, my friends and I have have just started a new activity. Once a week, we meet in a cafe and we only speak Japanese for half an hour. We call it Nihongo Half Hour. I came up with the idea because I'm always telling my students they need to practice speaking their English more. However, they always complain that they don't have any native English speaking friends to practice with. No problem! Practice with each other!! Anyway, I decided to talk my own language learning advice to heart, and now we are doing Nihongo Half Hour. It's hard! Our conversations are really basic - mostly we just talk about our hobbies and food, but for 30 minutes, it's nothing but Japanese. After the 30 minutes are over, I think some of us are relieved! However, we do it, and I think we are getting more fluent in Japanese. I totally recommend my students do the same thing in English. I hope they can find a coffee shop that they like, and time themselves for 30 minutes so that they only speak English for half an hour. If I can do it in Japanese my English speaking friends, they can do it in English with their non-native English speaking friends!

Good Luck!!

Sunday, October 17, 2010

Midterm Exams!

Here is a funny cartoon I found at this website:

Mid-terms are over, and I’m sure my students are sitting anxiously at home waiting for the results. I’m in the middle of marking them all right now, but I thought I’d procrastinate a bit and write in my blog.

Mid-term week is a busy week in the EAP program. It started off with the writing and grammar midterm. This year, I gave the students almost three hours to complete their writing and grammar midterm. It started off with 60 multiple choice grammar questions and the different grammar points that we studied in class, and then we had the writing section. I really wanted to see if the students were comfortable with the writing process, so I included the brainstorming, outlining, and rough draft in the exam before the students started writing a good copy. I hope that they understand that when they are writing paragraph, there are a number of steps they have to take before they get around to writing the final copy.

After the writing and grammar midterm, there was the reading midterm, which was also about three hours long. The hardest part on this midterm seemed to be the vocabulary. Actually, it was very interesting because usually I expect a few students to do really well, and a few students to do really badly, with the majority of the students doing average or okay. However, this midterm it seemed like their were definitely two groups of students. Students who did amazingly well (almost 100% on the vocabulary) or amazingly badly (almost 0% on the vocabulary)! I bet I know which students were the ones who studied their vocabulary really hard!

I also did oral exams with the students for these midterms. I really enjoy the opportunity to speak with the students one-on-one in these types of situations. I do always get the change to talk to each student in class, so it is a nice opportunity for me. Also, it was again obvious who studied! The students who studied had lots to say, but the students who didn’t open their books looked a bit shocked with I asked them some of the questions!

To end it all off, there was the listening midterm. This midterm wasn’t as long as the others, and I think some of the students really enjoyed it. Again, you could tell who studied!

Now, it’s time to finish marking the midterms, and start thinking about the final exams in December!

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Turkey with my Parents`

I had such a great long weekend! I went to Olds on Monday for Thanksgiving Day, and I ate Turkey with my parents. My mum tried to roast the smallest turkey she could find in the grocery store, but it was still huge. The turkey was cooked just the way I like it. Nice and crispy on the outside, but still juicy on the inside. Along with the turkey, my mum also made quite a few side dishes. Naturally, there was stuffing, but we also had brussels sprouts, mashed potatoes, mashed turnip, carrots, broccoli, and a delicious turkey gravy to cover everything. I’m getting hungry just thinking about it again! After that we ate some pumpkin pie, which was really good.

It was nice seeing my parents on the weekend, and it was especially great seeing their two dogs as well. I think I must have fed them about half of the turkey off of my plate! Anyway, I can’t wait to eat turkey again. I think I’ll cook another one just for fun in November for no special reason!

Sunday, October 03, 2010

I went shopping with my PhD supervisor!

The other day, I went to a one day conference on reading with my PhD supervisor, and afterwards we went to Value Village in North East Calgary. I wonder if any of my students have ever been there. Value Village is a giant thrift shop that sells second hand clothes and other sorts of things. My PhD supervisor loves looking for treasures in this shop. She often finds name brand clothes and other high quality things for bargain prices. The only problem is that the place is so huge, it takes hours to find the treasures in the middle of all the other stuff. While my supervisor was shopping in the ladies' clothing section, I had a look around the books, and I ended up buying seven used books for only $4 each. I also bought a glass mug for $2. They were a bargain! If you are ever bored, Value Village can be a fun place to poke around in on the weekend if you are looking for fun second hand stuff. Also, if you want to get rid of your old things, you can donate your no longer wanted stuff to Value Village and they will give money to charity when they sell your old stuff. Here is their link: