Thursday, April 29, 2010

Pearls and Wisdom on an Endlessly Looping String

As is the usual, so much has happened in the two short days since I've directly talked about my life here that it seems like a week at least! Okay, maybe not that long, but still, it's been busy and fun!

First, on the teaching front, I spent Wednesday at Kosema Elementary, by far my easiest school (as of now) as they have a crazy organized curriculum, require nothing from me by way of lesson planning, and have two other English teachers in training assisting with each class, as well as the HRT and me. In short, this school is a dream! (alas, they only need me every other week...but still, it's made of fun!). They outsource their curriculum and lesson plans to at least two other local schools as well, and are basically a living model of an ideal of English education for Japanese Public Elementary Schools. Or they should be at least. I really can't wax positively enough in this regard.

As an additional bonus, on Wednesday, there was a special observer/adviser, Kawaki-sensei (川木 – she explained the Kanji of her name to me as River Tree, so that should be right!)She was a retired teacher and Principal who now does this part time consulting gig. She observed our classes and gave huge tons of great advice. And her English was GREAT, so I actually understood her advice! I clearly have a lot to work on in regards to discipline and organization (though in my defense, the lesson that we gave was not one I planned. A lot of her advice had to do with improving the lesson plan, something I deeply appreciated because many of the faults she saw in the lesson plan that she critiqued were faults and problems in my own lesson planning as well). A lot of her advice we also received in varying forms in training, but in this sense, she was directly critiquing my performance as I had just performed it, so I was able to more easily process her advice and thoughts and directly apply them to my future work here (I hope!).

She also gave a good sample idea of lesson flow that I'm going to share here (largely for my own benefit. It's better to have a record of these things). Again, much of this was covered in some form in our training, but we've had so much information given to us through training (three so far—very happy about this and the training Altia provides: this is in no way a critique). But sometimes I'm not able to sort out from our training what is the most important or applicable in each situation (information overload: I need google in my brain), so this was great for offering a more focused perspective.

(an aside on brain chips: it was very exciting to hear at one of the recent Cafe Science lectures on neuroscience that as a possible future treatment for Alzheimer's patients, we are making some progress with imprinting memories onto chips installed on the brain surface and then having them be accessible to the brain. From there, it's a short jump to chipped encyclopedias, chipped languages, the internal internet connection, and etc. Actually, I have no idea if it's a short step or not (and all of those things I just listed are quite different in regards to brain usage), but I want to think it is a short step because time is marching onwards into that darkness. I'm already 31, and just last year I finally got my electronic book that connects to the internet that I've wanted since I was nine or eleven (time...what is time?) and found out through someone else's imagination in print that such things could exist (yay Kindle!). Hopefully by the time I'm 80, I'll be able to download into the internet. (And what is the mind anyway? A collection of data? I'm sure it's more than that, some quantum mechanical effects strung like pearls on an infinitely looping string (ie: quantum mechanics, the words that those of us who don't really understand quantum mechanics wave when we really want to say, “oh, it's some magical thing I don't really understand,” ...wait—is that just me (?) (and what's up with the weirdo parenthetical (par(enthet)ical) thought loop anyway ((?)) okay) this) is) getting) ridiculous) end of aside.))))

Sample Lesson Flow:
Topic: Greetings: (IE: more than just “I'm fine thank you and how are you?” See the last entry for my thoughts on this)
  • Start with flashcards, repetition with LARGE GESTURES.
  • Move towards having students guess the emotion from the gesture associated with it.
  • Teach conversational structure: Listening/repetition.
  • Split class in half. One half asks question (eg: How are you today?) Other half responds in full sentence, after looking at teacher giving gesture to figure out answer. For the class that is asking the question, pronunciation and the like can be checked. The other half of the class has to think about associating meaning to word. After all vocabulary has been covered, switch teams.
  • Game/Activity: Pass the ball: person receiving answers question, person passing asks it. (don't let little kids throw the ball! I made this mistake)
  • Game possibility: fruits basket (like we played in class)
  • Pair work: Kids have to get through all of the question/answers quickly and sit down. Fastest group pairs win.
  • Last: teacher asks about real feelings to students individually.

Of course, aspects of this lesson model (as Kawaki-sensei readily stated) will not work when you're the only teacher in the classroom (or if it's just you and one other teacher), but it was great to see the tiny steps and transitions broken down, to get a better feel for how learning takes place on the micro-level. Also, it's a testament to how seriously Kosema takes their English education that they brought in an adviser who was so detailed and critical of the lessons, which in my perspective are some of the most successful ones I've been a part of at any of my schools. Kawaki-sensei also consults with other schools, a huge privilege and advantage considering how helpful she was to me.

Moving on from work, last night Mie and I went to see Alice and Wonderland in 3D, dubbed into Japanese. It was super fun, and because I know the Alice in Wonderland story quite well, I was easily able to follow along with the film even without understanding every bit of the dialogue. Mie really enjoyed the movie too. Afterwards, we went to Gasto, a family restaurant that resembled Denny's but had much better food. It was cheap and we hung out talking and hanging out until after 1 AM. Mie is such an awesome friend! (we're going clubbing tomorrow).

For some reason, I didn't go to bed last night until close to 4am, so I ended up actually sleeping in this morning until after 10am. Good thing I woke up, because I had to meet Ryuichi for lunch at 12 noon! It was great to catch up (and get to know him better). Ryuichi is visiting Japan for the next two weeks, seeing family, getting paperwork sorted out and hanging out with folks. I can't imagine how hard it must be to be visiting home for such a short time after having been away for over a year. (he also used this trip to meet his in-laws, who he hadn't met before he married his wife—I couldn't believe it!) It was clear Ryuichi has a zillion people and places to see, and I was very glad we got to hang out for so long. Ryuichi is made of awesome! We also had a great lunch at Sazakiya (I know I've got this name wrong), an Italian style restaurant that is dirt cheap and delicious. I actually had escargot for under $5.00 US. As I have so much food in my house, I really only eat out with other people, so it was great to have this opportunity as well.

After lunch, Ryuichi had to move onto his next event (though we are going to touch base again before he leaves), so since it was stunning weather, I stopped by my house, picked up some snacks, dressed a bit more warmly and set out for a day of random biking. I picked a new direction from my house and just biked. (occasionally snapping pictures—I really have to get the last week uploaded...if facebook keeps being obnoxious, I'm going to have to go back to Photobucket I think.) I quickly got lost, but eventually I saw an Oiden bus heading for Toyotashi Station (I'm so glad I'm placed right next to the train makes my life so much easier!) so I just followed the busline for a while until I saw the Toyota Stadium in the distance.

Knowing I was close enough to home, I decided to divert towards a park and walked and biked around a bit more, until the sun looked like it was beginning to get low. In the process, I found a fantastic shrine and Umetsubo! Everytime I take the train towards Josui, I see the Umetsubo station and area and think “wow, that looks cool, sometime I should go there!” and today, totally at random, I did! I was also very proud of myself for finding my way out of Umetsubo (again, as I was biking at random I saw a bus stop, realized it was on the route heading for Toyota-shi, and followed it until I saw the Makurazakaya which let me know I had arrived at Toyota station).

My evening was less exciting. I cooked potatoes, onions, garlic and carrots in olive oil on a slow saute (with cinnamon, light sugar and nutmeg...couldn't decide what I wanted to do with this dish) as well as my usual stir fried veggies with miso this time. The potatoes turned out at first just okay but not stunning, but they became great when I added butter and salt! And the stir fried veggies were as always good, but it was a weird food combination. I also caught up on House MD online and chatted with friends with chat programs. Wildly exciting stuff, I know.

So now we're caught up. Tomorrow, more fun stuff on the docket, possibly even a trip to Nagoya Castle! We'll see!