Teacher Workshop

II was planning on using today’s blog entry to talk about a teacher workshop that I attended today, but it was such a disappointment that I can’t bear to think about it any more. I tweeted about it in frustration during the event, and I was not kind:

I can’t really go into specific details since not many people attended and I’ll be found out pretty quickly, so I’ll be very general with my criticism:

  • Workshops by and for university English professors tend to be so far removed from reality. They spend hours pontificating on some of the most basic tenets of teaching like it’s some new thing that nobody’s ever heard of, and love the sound of their own voices so much that  they just can’t ever seem to get to the point. One of the presentations was 90 minutes of a breakthrough new way of teaching where you have students work in groups so that they can practice L2 with each other, which… I don’t know of an eloquent way of putting this, but yeah no freakin duh.
  • If under the “Problems” section of your presentation you complain about “lazy” students not participating in your classes and don’t offer any solution for this other than “fail the student,” then you are not someone who should be in a position to teach, let alone lecture other teachers on how to teach.
  • For all their academia and faux-intellectual approach and withering condescension to people who aren’t “real” teachers (ALTs and eikaiwa instructors), lecturers sure don’t know what the hell they’re talking about. One speaker kept confusing phonemes with phonics, and another didn’t know what CLIL stood for even though he devoted an entire section of his presentation to it. Presenters also kept referring to L1 as “Japanese” but the universities they work for don’t cater exclusively to Japanese students.

I’m planning on going to another one of these workshops in a couple of weeks because for all my whining, I do think it’s important to learn what other teachers have to share. It’s also a nice little ego boost knowing that even without a masters degree or university teaching position, I can hold my own. I just hope the next workshop is a little better than this one was, sheesh.

Moriva and Thoughts On Wicked Wonders

I’m in my favorite coffee shop near Kannai, Yokohama. It’s called Moriva Coffee. I’m pretty sure it’s a chain café since all the menus are laminated, the coffee is relatively cheap and just tastes okay, and the cakes all look like convenience store fare. It’s near my work and is across from a nice little park though, and it’s never crowded.

I finished Wicked Wonders on the train today. My immediate reaction to these stories is that Ellen Klages is a very accessible writer; simple, no-nonsense prose, appealing precisely because of how comfortable it is. This was my first time reading Klages, and she has this incredible way of letting us peek into the corners of windows at these charming, wholly realized worlds, but whisking us away before we can be disappointed. I am interested in reading more of her work, and I especially wonder at how she handles full-length novels.

I didn’t connect with all the stories (Friday Night at St. Cecelia’s and Goodnight Moons), felt sort of iffy about others (Household Management, the ending to Woodsmoke), but fell deeply and passionately in love with most of them (Education of a Witch and Echoes of Aurora, omggg). I will probably at some point write my thoughts on the stories in more detail, though a quick summary of what I thought can be found on my Goodreads review-in-progress.

I do want to write about one of the stories, the ending to Woodsmoke, while I still have this first-read fresh on my mind. It obviously is one long spoiler, so I’ll put it behind the cut. Also CW for transphobia and gender dysphoria.

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Aside

Slump

Okay, I know, another Aside. I am a monster.

I’m going to have to figure out how I’ll keep up these daily blogs during the week since I am just weary after working all day in Shinjuku.

I read more of Wicked Wonders on the train home at least. I’m not finished yet, but I have written up thoughts up on each of the short stories as I read them. I’m going to try to finish this sometime soon (tonight? tomorrow?) and write up a fer-real review during my break tomorrow.

God, I just realized, tomorrow I have to work all day in Shinjuku and then teach evening classes in Yokohama. What is my life. What am I even doing.

Aside

Book Club

I’ve been making a lot of noise lately about wanting to start a book club in my area, and today was the day I finally got off my butt and started doing something about it. I have posted to a few sites and am now in the process of selecting some books that I want to recommend to the group.

I am very much aware of how unlikely this will be successful due to the language barrier, location, and the general busy schedules that adults have. I am still hopeful though that this will work out. It’ll be fine! I think!

Today was another black hole sort of day because I’m still recovering from how tired I was yesterday. I have work for the next two days as well so I’m going to be exhausted when the weekend rolls around. Thinking about this book club has got me excited about stuff, but it is also using up all of my energy just thinking about it.

Anyway, this is another plea for forgiveness for these short Aside entries. I suspected that this first week back to work would kick my ass and unfortunately that looks what’s happening, argh.

Aside

Exhausted

Just got back from my first day back at work after nearly a month away, and man I am tired.

I can’t think very well right now, let alone write. I first typed “right” just now, that’s how tired I am. I am the kind of exhausted that you read about in Greek epics.

These came yesterday though:

So, THAT’S cool.

Aside

Gurgle

Today was a pretty bad day. A contract for a class I was set to start teaching from next Monday got delayed into sometime in mid- to late-February, and even that’s still up in the air because they’re not sure if there will be enough students to fill the classes. I have been trying to get more info on this client and a definitive answer on their status since early December, and for it all to fall apart after so much waiting and anxiety was pretty much the worst.

Sorry everyone. Today I was supposed to use my last free day before Tokyo classes started up again to write something upbeat and light, but wasted my whole day in a black hole of depression. That’s already bad enough, but tomorrow morning I’ll be on the rush hour train going to Shinjuku.

I just want to curl up and sleep forever.

Thoughts on Rin-ne Vol. 1

I kind of feel like I was cheating with this volume since I’ve seen all the first and second seasons of the anime. I already knew everything that was going to happen, and anyway the first volume of a manga series like this is just the usual introductions to the characters and universe. In all honesty I could have skipped this since it was all covered in the anime anyway, and there isn’t really much to say about it since there aren’t too many differences between the two.

One thing that makes me cackle though is how rude Rinne is to Sakura, at least in these first few episodes. He never quite gets to Ranma levels of assholery, but he calls her おまえ and isn’t impressed when she clings to him. I won’t say I’m disappointed that he eventually (spoiler) falls for her, since smitten Rinne is also pretty cute, but these early episodes when he is just baffled by her is kind of great.

This was also true when I was watching the anime, but I LOOOOOOVE Sakura. I love that she’s not the annoying shrew that Akane and Kagome were in Ranma ½ and Inuyasha, respectively. I love how she is this strong, self-determined, curious character without having to fight with everyone to prove it. She just is, and it’s great. I love her.

Similarly to how I felt about the anime, I’m not in love with the whole “Rinne is poor, that’s the joke!” that a lot of the series is premised on. It’s one thing for poverty to be a central issue for why he is a shinigami, and to explain the situation when it’s found out that he lives in an abandoned school building and lives off the offerings left to the school’s weather box, but it’s sometimes uncomfortable for “jokes” like Sakura being cut off partway through saying “Rokudo is poor.”

And finally, Rokumon is too cute for words.

Look at this cute patoot.

That is all.

Bloggin’

My personal wager to myself to see how long I could keep up daily blog posts has gone better than any previous attempt… which might not be saying much since my current streak is only just over two weeks long. Of course, I started this round when I was in the middle of a nearly one-month break from work, so the real test will begin once I start commuting to Shinjuku again from Tuesday.

I’ve flip-flopped on whether I should give myself weekends off, since it’s hard to find time to myself with my husband at home. I feel like since we don’t have that much time together during the week, it’d be selfish of me to be tapping away at this blog instead of giving him my full attention. But I’ve been making do so far with the spare moments. Not to mention, scheduling posts to go up in the future, like I’m doing for this one! I guess we’ll see if I can keep this output going even after work begins in earnest.

I’m pleased with how I have relatively few Asides, even though I caught a cold this past week and have been under the weather. Again, I may need to rely on them more as my workload gears up for spring, but I feel like I’ve got a good momentum going of posting a good 300-500 words minimum per day. Future goals will be to bump that up to 1,000/day and work on series and features, but I’m satisfied for now with how things are going.

I would, ideally, like to start writing more reviews. I’ve only got one “full” review up (Slow Bullets), and started cheating with Reviews Done Quick and Thoughts On. I am also pretty unsatisfied with the Slow Bullets review, if only because I had such lukewarm feelings about the subject and am so unfamiliar with the genre. It’s hard for me to write about things I love, but paradoxically I don’t really do enough to step out of my comfort zone so the only things I consume are things I’m predestined to love.

I also still spend far too much of my time oversharing on Twitter. It’s handy in many ways because I can belch out my first draft thoughts there and then compile them in WordPress later, but also I just need to get out of my head, and Twitter is sort of the worst for that. The end of my (too) long winter vacation should hopefully give me the kick in the pants I need to take part in the real world a bit more…

Anyway, thanks for following along for the past two weeks, let’s see how much longer this can last!

Thoughts on March Comes In Like a Lion S2

Folks, my roaring headache seems to be here to stay, and on top of that I have to get ready for work tonight, so unfortunately today’s gonna have to be a quickie too.

I’m only a few episodes into S2 of March Comes In Like a Lion, and just like my feelings from the first season, I think this is just okay. I still love the animation, premise, location, and all of the side characters.

I still have far too many problems with the protagonist, Rei Kiriyama. Huge tracts of the show are spent inside of his head, listening to him drone on about either his feelings or a scene that played out just before. The former is fine, if done sparingly and eloquently, which it isn’t. The latter is the sort of thing that makes me want to tear all of the hair out of my head, because believe it or not this show is really good at landing those big tearjerker scenes, but then screwing up the landing by having Rei belch on about it.

Off the top of my head, there were two scenes that really stood out to me as being stunning, but were then ruined by Rei talking way too much. This might be getting a bit spoilery, so I’ll hide them behind the cut.

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Sick Day Pt. 2

I’ve still got a headache that could split the world in half. Today was my last full day of vacation before I go back to work tomorrow evening, and I suppose my body couldn’t pass up on making me spend my precious free time moaning and curled up in bed.

I did manage to finally get through the most recent issue of The Language Teacher. Within it was this doozy under the heading Young Learners. It starts off with the evergreen discussion of how to keep language-learning materials fresh, engaging, and practical for young learners. There’s the usual perfunctory mentioning of how Japan will be implementing new English-language curriculum for the 2020 Olympics, and how we as educators need to be thinking of ways to make English classes meaningful and engaging.

After laying down that groundwork, the author abruptly tells you the answer is… gems. Like, jewelry.

Yeah.

Gems as the primary focus of a content-task-based EYL textbook may appear to be wildly inappropriate. After all, aren’t gems mainly of interest to adults, as either consumers or producers and retailers? Will children really be interested in learning about emeralds, rubies, sapphires, and so on? Can Task-Based Language Teaching (TBLT), as defined by Mike Long (2015), be realized when such delimited content is employed? Will this facilitate the acquisition of 21st-century skills? The answer is yes, for the following reasons:

  • Gems and their respective stories are glittery and should be of interest to most young learners.

Okay, there are more points after that, but none of the rest are any good either. If you’re like me you’re already thinking oh no. There are no other recommendations for topics, it’s just “How can we get parents to buy gems for their kids and think that’ll get them to learn English?” The author says that there are “any number” of potential ESL activities centered around these gems, and outlines on especially weird and frankly boring example:

The teacher employs “elaborated input—plenty of complete and partial repetition, segmentation…and intensive listening practice” (Long, 2015, p. 261) without resorting to explicit teaching of grammatical structures. During the presentation stage of the lesson it is, of course, preferable that the teacher focus on the receptive skills. The information imparted may be conveyed as follows, rendered here in the linguistic equivalent of time-lapse photography: “A ruby…a ruby over a sapphire…there’s a round sapphire…there’s a round sapphire under an oval ruby….” When the students have had sufficient exposure to the input, they are paired and divided by a partition. One student receives a small card that is nearly identical to the chart displayed by the teacher, the only difference being that the arrangement of the gems in strips A and B has been altered. The other student receives a packet of fake gemstones. The student with the “gems” must arrange them according to the input from the student with the card.

Despite this frankly embarrassing contrived reskin of a bog standard activity (wasn’t the point to get away from stagnant and overused ESL materials?), the author salivates over this chance to turn gems into some kind of international megahit, somehow?

Many publishers may be reluctant to invest in a book or series of books with such an unorthodox theme, but the company that decides to seize the day is likely to be greatly rewarded. First, learners and their parents will eventually tire of books that are monothematic, just as Japanese tourists now seek out more exotic destinations than Hawaii and California for their vacations. Second, though the primary market would be elementary, middle, and language schools in Japan, a secondary, and perhaps sizable, market could readily be exploited overseas, if distribution channels can be arranged. The textbook, at least, would contain very little Japanese, which could easily be replaced with, for instance, Chinese, Korean, Thai, French, Spanish, etc. Third, if the initial book proves successful, a series could easily be created, with upper-level books focusing on tasks involving the selling of different gems and their stories.

The article conclusion is just outright fantasizing the marketing of gems to kids (“Yes, you read that correctly, kinetic jewelry!”) in some kind of bizarro, frankly desperate bid of 80s toy manufacturer advertising:

Gems and gemology may become even more attractive to children as the stones, mounted and worn as jewelry, move from the static to the dynamic. Yes, you read that correctly, kinetic jewelry! MIT’s Media Lab’s Project Kino is doing just that. Hsin-Liu Kao et al. (2017) introduce their readers to the aesthetic and practical world of “shape-changing jewelry.” What begins the day as a brooch securing a scarf to a dress might end the day as a necklace!

All that glitters can be told in learner-appropriate language, attractively packaged in a cognitively-appropriate box, and perhaps, someday soon, gift-wrapped with a Project Kino doodad that changes color and position based on the recipient’s emotional state at the time.

I was reading this journal in the bathtub (you know, as you do) but had to hastily towel off and come tweet about this monstrosity straight away. Exploiting kids and parents under the guise of education is nothing new, but man oh man, I haven’t seen a stinker this bad in a while.

I can say with confidence that reading this did not improve my condition very much at all. English teachers are weird, man.