Lesson study

I once took part in a ‘lesson study’ class when I used to work in Japan. They’re all the rage these days and the latest in a long line of ‘they’re doing it better abroad‘ approaches to education.

Lesson study basically involves a bunch of teachers from other schools coming over to your school and watching you teach. After the class (which is a performance like most observations) the kids are sent home and then you and the other teachers talk about your lesson and then discuss more generally ‘teaching’. 
Sounds pretty neat, huh? 
So onto my second Japan related story. One of my favourite comedy programs over there once asked old people (who obviously have lots of life experience) which proverbs were the most useless. One guy said: 
三人が寄れば文殊の知恵
Two heads are better than one (lit: three people together have the wisdom of Monju
The presenter asked him why he thought this was a useless saying and the old guy said ‘because if the people are idiots it doesn’t matter how many there are’ 
And so back to lesson study. I distinctly remember receiving some interesting advice from some of the English teachers who were gathered there. I also distinctly remember them telling me that if the kids don’t learn good Japanese their English will never be any good (myth) and that educating young kids in English would make their native Japanese ‘go weird‘ (myth). As the teachers were all older and much more experienced than me I had to sit there in silence as they continued on with this kind of ‘professional development’.
I’m sure study learning could have some great benefits but the plural of anecdote isn’t data

Yobisute 呼び捨て request

This post is a request.

Yobisute 呼び捨て:  In Japanese, the act of addressing someone without an honorific title (such as san, sensei, sama, etc) where one would normally be required. For example, a student referring to a teacher as  “Suzuki” instead of “Suzuki-sensei”

I’m trying to write something on Yobisute in Japanese with regard to foreigners living and working in Japan particularly teachers. If you live in Japan and have had an experience of yobisute, I’d really love to hear about it. It might be that you have been addressed in a way you didn’t appreciate (like the example here) or alternative that you have specifically asked to be addressed differently (like the example here) and don’t like such titles.

Either way any info would be great and if you could include details such as how long you’ve lived in Japan, your level of Japanese, etc, that would be great. If you have problems posting then please let me know on twitter @ebefl.

Genki!

I wrote this at the start of the year and after many chats on twitter (including this one with Mike) I don’t think I would stand by everything written here. particularly the idea of “proving” a method, which is perhaps something we can’t do very easily, if at all. I do think though, that particular sword cuts both ways and so making claims about how effective a method is must be viewed as equally dubious.

I really hoped to get this article published somewhere but it wasn’t to be. I still think its important to examine a method which is so widely used. Even if you disagree with what I’ve written, I think the debate itself is important. So here is my (slightly edited) take on GenkiEnglish.

This article will introduce and examine Genki English (hereafter GE), a materials supplier, and teaching methodology which is currently being used to teach English to large numbers of children in public schools throughout Asia, including Japan, China and India.  Thailand’s government, together with the British Council, has introduced GE into “every primary school in the country” (Graham a). There are now several million students around the world learning from this method.  

Genki English is both a materials supplier and  method of teaching. The site itself claims to be “a collection of games, songs and ideas for use by teachers of languages to children”(Graham b). It contains teaching materials but it also contains sample lessons, a curriculum and more importantly a specific approach to teaching.  This approach might be termed the “Genki Method” and owner and creator Richard Graham can be seen presenting his ideas on teaching on a variety of YouTube videos.

The GE Method

 None of the materials or techniques used by GE are particularly new or original.  Graham notes “Although I’ve given [GE] a funky name, there’s nothing too new or ground breaking theory wise, it’s just a collection of useful, helpful ideas and resources that work very, very well” (Graham c).   Speaking and listening, seem to be the major focus with much of the actual teaching method involving “old fashioned drilling”(Graham d) in the form of songs and games. 

The lesson plans are relatively fixed, every lesson following the same pattern and the same timing.  The pattern involves students repeating the target language in song form: 

Warm up/Review (3-5 minutes)

2. Introduction of new English (15-20 minutes), including teaching of the song. Use this 3 step approach to keep kids interest and energy levels high.

a) introduce new vocab

b) teach song a cappella with the “Mini Lesson”

c) sing together with the music,

3. Practice of new material (15-20 minutes) (Graham e)

There is also a step two, which involves projects, such as students talking about pets or food and contacting foreign students (Graham e) but this is only available to students who have completed the first step of the curriculum.

Material

The GE material is targeted at Japanese elementary school children and as such there is very little material for writing and reading practice, (MEXT prohibited the teaching of reading and writing) though there is a phonics book available. There are also songs and games included as well as cultural events like lessons about Christmas and Halloween all of which follows MEXT guidelines. (MEXT online) The ordering of items is described as purposefully “non-linear”.  Some lessons are purely about learning related vocabulary, such as “fruit market” and “colours” while others are  largely grammatical such as the three lessons dealing with “where is the…” structure.  The language targets are fairly basic and do not tend to develop much beyond the present tense. However, the stated aim of the curriculum is to allow the students to say “anything they want”(e),  an ambitious claim and as past tense, future aspect and even plural nouns (among other items) are excluded, a seemingly unlikely one. 

It is also quite limited for a 6 year language course.  If the material can be mixed and matched as the website claims then it seems that students are not expected to move much beyond acquiring a very basic grasp of the language. The example six year plan by Joel Bacha, featured on the site seems to bear this out.  Graham notes that while others may see this as a weakness, he sees it as “a Challenge!  You can go anywhere you and your kids interests lie and teach things exactly to their level”(Graham g.)  This also seems in line with MEXT who suggests “Easy English conversation” as one of the aims of Elementary English (MEXT online)

As a young learner material supplier, comparison with Oxford’s six level “let’s go” series is interesting, as these feature much of the entire GE syllabus in the first book.  They also include plural nouns very early on (arguably useful for languages which lack these) and go on to more complex structures in the later books.  Let’s goincludes reading and writing, has numerous authors, with a great deal of experience teaching children, such as Ritsuko Nakata, president of the IIEEC.  It also has a reader series which complements the textbooks, flashcards and picture dictionaries. Therefore it is apparent that Japan is not lacking resources or experience regarding the teaching of children.

 Does GE Work?

Although it is perhaps unfair to criticise what is essentially a publicity website it is unavoidable as there is no other published material relating to GE.  There are quite a number of questionable claims made on the site, for example:

Simply by deciding to do the song gives you a huge advantage as it sets a goal, something the kids can work towards. A goal properly set is one half reached. It means whereas usually you could teach 3 or 4 answers to a question in one lesson, you can now do 7 or 8 (Graham d).

First is the rather odd claim that setting a goal is half way to reaching it.  Second is the claim that people usually teach three or four answers to questions in a lesson.  It is difficult to be entirely sure what this means or if Graham actually has some data pertaining to “number of answers usually taught in English lessons”.  Regardless, according to Graham  a teacher can now do nearly twice as much!

A further problem with this approach is although Graham admits GE is not original, he seems to be suggesting here that introducing songs into a children’s English class is innovative.  With the huge number of children’s English textbooks, games, flash cards and CDs available it seems quite improbable that this really could be the key to GE’s success, or even something that English teachers are not already aware of.  Moreover, the GE materials themselves are largely produced by Graham and are arguably less ‘polished’ than most published materials. The songs are also written and performed by Graham whereas the “let’s go” series, for example includes material performed and written by Jazz Chants series author Carolyn Graham.  It is of course possible that the rough-and-ready nature of the materials are attractive to young children. I have personally used some of the CDs, with very young children, and they enjoyed them at lot.

The most serious problem though is with claims relating to the effectiveness of the method.  Graham claims the materials work “very, very well” (c) but it is not at all clear what “work” means in this sentence.  Do they, for example, work in creating an enjoyable learning environment? Or do they work in helping inexperienced teachers navigate the perils of Elementary school classes or do they actually lead to students learning English?  It is impossible to know as there is no published material relating to their effectiveness. 

Graham does address this issue on his web page noting “Of course we all know Genki English works great because we see it every time on the kids’ faces” (2009).  He continues by noting that this level of evidence is not sufficient for some, such as BOEs and head teachers (what misers!).  He then claims research has been carried out by the University of Newcastle, into the effectiveness of the approach and that the results appeared positive. Though the research is not available yet and so I can’t comment on it here. More recently the GE web page carries the logo Researched by Harvard University Graduate School of Education though what this is supposed to signify, I’m not entirely sure.   

Graham also suggests that “although the ideas on these pages are all fun and exciting they do correlate very well with current practise and language theory” (c) but fails to indicate what language theory and practices these are. There are also no sources of research or theory quoted on the site, an admission he explains by stating “there are three basic reasons why I don’t quote direct sources on the site” (c).  These are (1) that there is, according to Graham, little credible research in the field of applied linguistics but that what does exist supports GE (2), that the techniques were “tested on students”, with unsuccessful ideas being abandoned  and (3) that:

A lot of the methodology behind Genki English is taken from my own experience and research of many years into various different fields, from science teaching to advertising. Much of this consisted of reading articles and books that I cannot now trace or in discussions with a great many people, most of which were never recorded (Graham c).

There may well be little solid research in language teaching. Regardless, that is not a good reason for notdoing research.  It would have been useful to have links to the material referred to which supports GE, however the third point perhaps explains why these are missing. The second claim makes rather liberal use of the word test.  It also underlines a fundamental problem with  the GE approach, namely the idea that, since  it seems to work (whatever “work” means here) it works.  The reasonresearch exists is precisely because humans are notoriously good at reachingconclusions beneficial to themselves. 

As to the third, if current research is not credible it seems unlikely reading it would have helped to inform a theory.Though it seems that perhaps what was read was more eclectic and unfortunately unavailable. Graham also claims that “English stands up to any educational scrutiny”(Graham f) though again it is tempting to wonder, with the supposed paucity of research, what exactly this is supposed to mean. It is also questionable as to whether a claim like this, made by the creator of a method and with no empirical peer reviewed studies to back it up, can be taken seriously.

In a different section Graham claims that speaking and listening are focused on because “There’s no point starting reading or writing till the kids can actually talk in English” and that “I’m sure you’ve all seen what happens when things are done the opposite way round”(Graham e).  This is a point made with some conviction and it would be interesting to know how this conclusions was reached and what the dire consequences of starting the wrong way round are.  Could a teacher not start all of the skills at the same time?  In the same section Graham suggests that speaking is the “biggest challenge” for almost “every country in the world” which again, seems like a rather definitive claim to make in the absence of any supporting evidence. Speaking from personal experience, certainly among Arab students the reverse is quite often true.

The Reason GE Exists

GE can perhaps be seen as a product of poor language policy at the governmental level. Routinely ALTs with no teaching experience have been and continue to be instructed to teach English in Japanese Elementary schools with little guidance as to what to teach and how to teach it.  On the GE website Graham notes, in the “what are we supposed to be teaching in Japanese elementary schools” section, that “Nobody has really decided” (Graham g) and adds that the website was originally set up precisely because he had encountered this problem. It should be noted that Graham was not a language specialist tasked with creating a syllabus for the whole of Japan but rather a young ALT with no language teaching experience. It is somewhat depressing to realise that this was over 10 years ago and the situation in Japan has not improved since then. 

The lack of a clear syllabus in GE as noted above is reflected in the complete lack of a syllabus in the MEXT guidelines. Therefore any criticism of GE should be seen in the light of this fact.  However, despite the usefulness of GE for ALTs who find themselves in the situation described above, the appropriateness of the introduction of this approach into different contexts, such as state run schools in Thailand in conjunction with the British Council has to be wondered about.   

The Thai Connection

To his credit, Graham donated materials to the Thai MOE, through the British Council. The British council in Thailand chose to approach him on the basis that there was a “strong positive response from learners and teachers”, not because they had any evidence that these methods worked or were suitable to the particular context  (Budsaprapat, T personal communication 13 August 2009 and 27 August 2009).The British Council has gone on to license the use of GE in 15 of its teaching centres worldwide, giving an untested and limited method considerable legitimacy.

Conclusion

There is arguably a gap between what committed EFL professionals would like the EFL world to be like and what it actually is like. It seems counterintuitive that a method, like GE, created by one young teacher trying to survive elementary school English classes, supported by little evidence of efficacy, and employing largely homemade materials should become the choice teaching method of millions of teachers around the world even being adopted by governments and institutions such as the British Council.  This is perhaps a reflection on the EFL world as a whole. Is a method that suggests children’s English lessons be energetic and enjoyable really a revolutionary concept for English teachers?

I personally believe that GE is, at its core well intention and enjoyable for teachers and students.  However, I would like to think that methods exist and are used because of their merits and not merely because children seem to enjoy doing them. Language education should absolutely be enjoyable for students but that is not enough.  Students pay to learn and so should be taught with the best methods and materials available.I congratulate the entrepreneurial spirit of GE but am somewhat alarmed by its growth and acceptance. GE may make children and teachers feel good but is that enough?

references

Graham. R, (n.d.a). British Council press release: Genki English now part of Thailands official teaching materials . In Genki English. Retrieved May 7 2012, from http://genkienglish.net/teaching/british-council-press-release-genki-english-now-part-of-thailands-official-teaching-materials.

Graham. R, (n.d.b). What is “Genki English.com”?  In Genki English. Retrieved May 7 2012, from http://genkienglish.net/about.htm

Graham. R, (n.d.c). The History of the Genki English methodology. part 1 . In Genki English. Retrieved May 7 2012, from http://genkienglish.net/theory.htm

Graham. R, (n.d.d). How to teach Genki English Songs -> Games -> Projects. In Genki English. Retrieved May 7 2012, from http://genkienglish.net/songsgamesprojects.htm

Graham. R, (n.d.e). GenkiEnglish.com Curriculum /Lesson Plans. In Genki English. Retrieved May 7 2012, from http://genkienglish.net/curriculum.htm

Graham. R, (n.d.f). PHDs. In Genki English. Retrieved May 7 2012, from http://genkienglish.net/teaching/phds

Graham. R, (n.d.g). what are we supposed to be teaching in Japanese elementary schools In Genki English. Retrieved May 7 2012, from http://genkienglish.net/whatteach.htm

Graham. R, (2009) Academic Research: Genki English really, really works.  In Genki English. Retrieved May 7 2012, from http://genkienglish.net/teaching/academic-research-genki-english-really-really-works

MEXT(n.d.) 小学校における英語教育についてin文部科学省 Retrieved May 7 2012, from
http://www.mext.go.jp/b_menu/shingi/chukyo/chukyo3/004/siryo/05080401/004_2.htm

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

MA TESOL /app ling or DELTA? Which to do?

DISCLAIMER: This is not a piece based on evidence but just personal experience.  If you feel there are any factual inaccuracies then please let me know and I’ll change them.
 
I recently got an email asking which of these is a better option for an EFL teacher.  Although the person asking probably didn’t expect such a long winded reply, it inspired me to put my thoughts down in this blog.  I’ve wanted to write about the DELTA for a while now but this is not that blog…hopefully it will push me to start writing that blog though…so I’m going to lay out some of the pros and cons of both here and let you make up your own mind depending on your needs and situation. 
Time
This is fairly straight forward.  The DELTAis a 2 month course (with 1 month to write the essay for module 3) and most UK based MAs take a year.  things get more complicated if you want to do part time, or distance learning.  A lot of people choose the DELTA because taking a whole year off work is quite tough for many EFL teachers -in terms of pay, EFL is hardly banking.    
Cost
Most DELTAs are being advertised for around the £2,000-£3,000 mark for a full time course including exam fees. Of course, if you do a full time course it is quite likely that you’ll have to travel somewhere or live in another country so you can add the cost of flights, accommodation etc to that.  I did my DELTA by distance with BELL and I think it was around the £3,500 mark.  If you’re lucky, your employer may be willing to pay for some/all of the fees.
In 2006 Masters programs cost about the same.   They have subsequently increased in price and I’ve heard they will shoot up in the near future to match BA courses, -though this could be a rumour.  I luckily did my masters in 2006 for about £3,600.  The same course now costs over £4,600.  On top of this you have the loss of earnings for one year, the accommodation and living costs.  This makes the number of people able to even think about doing an MA much smaller, I imagine.  The part time option for the same course comes in at about £7,000 over two and a half years.  There are, though, scholarshipsavailable it seems. 
There is a good chance that if you choose a fairly big university and have decent qualifications, there may be chances to work in the English Language centre on campus.  There are at least 4 people where I currently work who were in that position. 
Order of acquisition
There are a number of MA TESOL courses which offer exceptions for DELTA holders.  That is, if you have a DELTA you can receive credit for a portion of the MA without having to do it. The list ranges from nothing (Unis not on the list) all the way up to 60 credits.  Rather ironically, Cambridge, producers of the DELTA, offers nothing.  It thus makes sense to do the DELTA first IF you are planning on going to one of these universities.  I did the DELTA second and it worked out for me because, by that time I had a full time job in the UK and the institution paid some of the fees.  I did try to start the DELTA abroad but for module 2 you will need a trainer and it’s pretty tough trying to find one in Asia. 
Although it’s sensible to do the DELTA first, it might be easier (as it was in my case) to take a year off work when you are younger.  If you get a DELTA and then get a well paid job you might be more reluctant to leave it to start an MA with no promise of there being a job at the end of it.  However, the longer you wait to do the MA the more you’ll probably get out of it.  That is, you’ll probably have a better idea of teaching and more experience to give you a better idea of what it is you want to focus on. 
It’s also perhaps worth adding that as module 1 and 3 are exams, you can enter by yourself without actually doing a DELTA course.  So, you don’t have to take the course to apply for the exams and if you feel confident you might find this is a good way to save money.  I will add that the exam has some very odd expectations in terms of answers, so make sure you aware of these if you plan on doing this. 
What you will learn
The DELTA course is 3 modules.  The first is an exam in which you will have to define terms like “notional functional” and “unbounded morphemes”  and be able to say who started the “silent method” and what it involves.  Why this is important for a teacher to be able to do is anyone’s guess.  The test, which is actually two 90 minutes exams,  does have a few useful sections.  The section in which you have to analyse and correct a student’s work seems pretty authentic to me.  Also the section in which you must analyse a test and find its faults is quite useful…though you inevitably start to think about the flaws of the DELTA exam itself.
The second module is the practical part and this is the real meat of the DELTA.  you are assessed over two months and have to produce a huge amount of paper.  There are five lessons (including the experimental) four of which are observed and one of which is observed by a n external candidate.  If you fail that then you fail the whole thing.  you do have a chance to retake this though as I did.  One complaint about this module is that it doesn’t explicitly tell you what good teaching is, rather it just seems to allow anything so long as you can justify why you did it.  Another problem is the huge amounts of writing you have to do.  5x 2,500 essays plus a detailed lesson plan each time 500 word post class reflection and a 800 word linking piece between the essay and and the lesson plan.  There is also a personal development essay of about 5000 words, which you cannot fail and which is full of the kind of meaningless pseudo-babble that I personally despise.  “I feel I have developed as a teacher and met my objectives” –ugh!  (edit: I might be being a little harsh here)
The third module is quite interesting.  It is a long essay which is divided into sections and staged quite cleverly so that if you mess up the start you’re pretty much done for.  You have to firstly do a needs analysis with a class.  Using the needs analysis you devise an exam for the students to test their abilities and then finally you create a syllabus/15 lesson course around your findings.  It’s quite a neat intellectual challenge though I did have some issues with it as well.  The literature on needs analysis is a bit fluffy and lacking any real scientific basis.  It just seems likes opinions dressed up with academic language.  It also seems a bit questionable to me to take time out of lessons to test students for a course that, in many cases, they will not actually ever do.  I wonder how ethical this is?
The DELTA has also recently introduced a 3rd module for managers and those wanting to be a DOS which seems like an interesting move.
Though the DELTA curriculum is standardised,  MA courses are much less so.  It is also worth remembering that two holders of an MA TESOL could have studied completely different things.  For example:
[course A] Methodology/ Second language acquisition/ Intercultural studies/ sociolinguistics /phonology/
[course B] Syllabus design/ testing/ psycholinguistics/ corpus studies/ grammar
Therefore it’s probably worth thinking about what you want to study and trying to find a Uni which offers something along those lines.
Difficulty
in short, people can and often do fail or give up the DELTA.  It is very time consuming and I wasn’t always convinced I was doing anything other than busy work.  It would take some spectacular skill to manage to fail a master’s degree.  Universities are not very good at failing people and short of not submitting work or plagiarising it’s a good bet that you will pass.   
 
Opportunities
It’s a bit of a risk doing either one or the other because there are some jobs which prefer the DELTA and others, the MA.   There isn’t really one choice that will satisfy everyone and as the job market gets more competitive, the number of places asking for, and getting candidates with both is increasing.  The place I work used to require a DELTA or equivalent qualification.  Now they state DELTA essential despite it being essentially an academic department. 
Generally speaking the DELTA will get you further.  The DELTA is the British council’s baby and hence they will look favourably on people with it.  The DELTA is also more respected as a ‘practical qualification’.  Jobs in EFL in Europe will more often require the DELTA than an Master’s.  If your goal is university work in Asia, (particularly Japan where the British council doesn’t have a great presence) the DELTA is quite often unheard of.  A search of Gaijin pot (Japan) brought up about 3 jobs which asked for a DELTA (an then they were just listed as ‘desirable’) and 1 on the TEALIT (Taiwan) site.  A search for Master’s degree’s brought up slightly more but this time they were listed as essential. 
It is worth noting that a master’s degree is not the guarantee of lucrative university work in Asia that it once was.  Almost always the departments will want people with a MA TESOL or applied linguistics and almost always they will require some published papers.  Taiwan is also quite fussy about what kind of master’s degree you got and they will want it to be officially stamped by your university notary and then by their ’embassy’ in whichever country you are from.  they will also not accept MAs that were done part-time or those which are over 3 years old.  This legislation is apparently an attempt to avoid fake degree certificates. 
 Pro/cons
The DELTA gives you a chance to examine your teaching.  Unfortunately as there is so little actual solid theory in EFL teaching you can’t be convinced that what you’re being sold is actually worth anything.  OK, so now I know what a notional functional syllabus is, but I’m not sure if I should be teaching one or not.  The module three essay at least gives you the ability to try to set up a course doing a needs analysis and designing a course around the results.  It might not be great but it’s perhaps the best we’ve got a this moment.  For those with an MA though, the theory side of the DELTA might seem a bit superficial.  Getting a DELTA though has some kind of magic aura associated with it.  For English teacher’s it’s like being a war veteran or a karate black-belt.  You just exude confidence and authority (whether or not you have any is another question…)
I personally preferred the MA, so I’m probably quite biased but the MA allows you to investigate whatever it is you want to investigate. The DELTA essays do allow this as well, to some extent.  In short the DELTA seems to say “this is how is it” whereas the MA says “why is it like this?” I felt I got a lot more out of the MA and though I can’t say I became a better teacher by doing it (after all there is no practical element on most courses) it (cheesy cliche) enhanced my world view. 
 Notes
Any questions or correction please comment.  I would love to make this article more general as at the moment I can only go on my own experience. 
some interesting criticisms of the DELTA and a blog from a DELTA tutor, Marisa Constantinides
Here are a few threads discussing the topic in more detail.