June 30, 2007

Blogging with students (2)

This post follows my previous entry on Blogging with students.

Today I had another session with the one class I teach this year where we are using the Internet as an integral part of the class. Yesterday, I wrote a model blog entry in order to
  • encourage them to write in English
  • show them what I expect in a blog entry

Because part of this course is reading news articles in English, vocabulary-building is obviously key. Having attended a workshop given by the creators of Lexxica last year, I signed up for an account, created a group for my students and today had them take the Lexxica vocab assessment test, V-check. It is really quite impressive. I also invited them to play with the games and flashcards and to write a brief response on their blogs.

Apart from the course title, I have been given no directives, guidance or objectives for this course, which will not surprise those who read an earlier blog entry on instructional objectives and university EFL classes (in Japan). So I have to make my own.

Although it's a little late (almost at the end of the first semester!), better late than never, eh? I'm making my own list, but I thought I would ask the students what they expected from the course. This isn't as dumb as it sounds (really!). (If you agree this isn't dumb, skip to the next blog entry).

Over 10 years ago, when I first started writing course descriptions (because there weren't any), it was because I was interviewing English native-speakers for part-time positions and they kept embarrassing me by rudely asking "where's the course description?" Imagine! I approached my Japanese colleagues about this, first to check that there weren't any, second, to obtain guidance and third to see if the department could show consistency and fairness by creating course descriptions for all the department courses, not just those taught by English native-speakers (the furriners).

Guess what I found out, boys and girls? Oh, Japanese teachers don't need course descriptions; they already know what to teach. How? From the course title.

So if it's called "Eigo Hyougen" (English Expression), for instance, everyone knows that it's a writing-in-English class to be taught mainly in Japanese and asking students to translate discrete, context-less items from Japanese into English. Got it? How come you didn't know that? The joys of living in a high-context culture.

So you see, as participants since birth in this high-context culture, my students are likely to have a much better idea of what this class is than I do.

Asking them is also a smart move because, even if they don't know, in this culture it seems that often the standard is what people expect; therefore, if I first find out what my students expect from this class, and follow that, I probably won't go far wrong.

(An example: if a course has a title written in Roman script, and is taught by someone with a non-Japanese name, then it's probably "Eikaiwa" (English conversation), regardless of what the course description says. I recently heard of the case where a university year-book was being produced and photos and short profiles were being prepared for all the teaching staff, of which there were quite a few non-Japanese, some of whom taught Engineering, some of whom taught English. Regardless, all the furriners had the caption "English instructor" pasted under their photo. They're furrners, right? What the hell else they going to teach?!? What planet are you from?!?!)

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