Monday, 20 March 2023

Whose Birthday is it Today?

As an English teacher in Japan, starting lessons with a series of small talk questions is an essential part of the daily routine. Traditionally, teachers kick off their classes by asking:

- What day is it today?

- What’s the date?

- How is the weather?

- What time is it now?

In my personal teaching journey, I decided to spice things up a little by adding a question of my own: "Whose birthday is it today?" Whenever there's a birthday, I lead the students in singing the "Happy Birthday!" song. After trying this once, I discovered that the students enjoyed it immensely, and so I've continued incorporating it into my lessons ever since.

But why does this simple question matter? Well, it's a fantastic way to show my students that I genuinely care about them beyond the English language curriculum. There have even been instances when students who didn't have a lesson with me that day would excitedly approach me in the hallway just to share that it was their birthday.

Of course, as with any group of teenagers, some students attempt to pull a fast one, claiming it's someone's birthday when it's not. The impromptu "birthday celebrant" often looks surprised and exclaims, "No, no!" This always results in a good laugh. To stay one step ahead, I made it my mission to memorize the birthdays of every student I teach (typically three (3) year groups, each with four arms and about 30-40 students per class; you do the math 😏). So, when they try to catch me off guard, I confidently reveal the correct birthday like a boss. The look of awe on their faces is truly priceless.

This school year, I decided to take things up a notch by memorizing the students' zodiac signs as well. Instead of simply confirming or denying a student's birthday, I'd say something like, "No, it's not Maru's birthday - he's a Libra, right?" Most of the time, the Japanese English teacher (JTE) would translate the zodiac sign into Japanese, and the student(s) would nod in amazement.

By incorporating this personal touch into my lessons, I've managed to strengthen the emotional connections with my students. These seemingly small gestures can make a significant impact on the learning environment, fostering trust and camaraderie between teacher and student. In the long run, these connections can lead to better engagement, motivation, and overall interest in the language (or whatever subject) you are trying to teach them. 

So, ALTs and English teachers in Japan, why not give it a try? The next time you ask do the 4 questions thing, don't be afraid to ask, "Whose birthday is it today?"

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Wednesday, 28 December 2022

What's Your Best Book of 2022?

 


I read mostly professional books this year and just when I thought I was done with books for the year, Time.com published a list of 100 Must-read Books of 2022 with the tag-line “Gripping novels, transporting poetry, and timely nonfiction that asked us to look deeper.” I couldn’t resist the temptation to take a look.

 Let me quickly say that if you thought that the rise in the use of social media would cause a dearth of writing and publication of brilliant and riveting materials, and even reading,  then you thought wrong. It is exciting to see that people are still writing and enriching the world with their creativity and talent. If you’re an aspiring writer, there’s never a better time than now to write. So, write away!

Back to the Must-read book list. I searched for some of the eye-catching titles on Apple books app which thankfully has a sample feature that allows you to read the first couple of pages, sometimes a whole chapter, and I found all the ones I checked out really interesting. Some of my favourites, tucked away in the “Want to read” section, are  Yiyun Li’s “The book of Goose”; “Butts: A Backstory” by Heather Radke; Silva Moreno-Garcia’s “The Daughter of Doctor Moreau”;  Viola Davis’s “Finding Me” just to mention a few. 

Interesting that the one that got me the most and gave me a mind-boner, which I bought and just finished reading, is Ed Young’s “An Immense World”. Never heard of the writer until now, but the first few pages, which begin with an Epigraph quoting William Blake, were captivating and brilliantly narrated, I just had to go all in. Although it’s a book about “How animal senses reveal the hidden realms around us”, it doesn’t try to be sciency or geeky. Instead, the author used the beautiful magic of story-telling, metaphors and dry humour to lead readers on an imaginative and mind-blowing voyage into “Umwelt … a unique sensory bubble” that is peculiar to different species. The book is a wakeup call to look to step out of our own Umwelt, into the world of animals  who are “not underlings;” but “other nations, caught with ourselves in the net of life and time, fellow prisoners of the splendour and travail of the earth” (quoting American naturalist, Henry Benston on p. 10).

If you thought that the world revolved around humans and that we were solely responsible for sustaining (never mind destroying) the planet with our mix of brilliant and absurd inventions and what-nots, you just need to read this book and be humbled.  There’s so much to learn from these creatures that we share the planet with and “when we pay attention to other animals, our own world expands and deepens.” There’s a lot to learn about the 5 senses- more than meets the eye. The pages force you to look outwards, to step out of “the sensory spaces that lie outside our Umwelt and within those of other animals.”(p. 303). If, like me, you never gave much thought or attention to causes or campaigns to save endangered animals/species, you’d probably be giving a second thought after reading.  Please comment if you know of such worthy campaigns and causes. On the whole, I'll rate this book a 9/10. Too many footnotes… were distracting. I kept going back and forth between notes and pages. 

To reiterate my point about writers and writing, listen: “Writing is perhaps the greatest of human inventions, binding together people, citizens of distant epochs, who never knew one another. Books break the shackles of time--proof that humans can work magic."  Carl Sagan. 

Writers will save the world.

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Sunday, 18 December 2022

The Future of Schools and Schooling

I think we’re going to get to a point where a general curriculum/ syllabus would no longer serve the needs of individual learners no matter how great we are at planning differentiated lessons. I foresee a future where we would have trained AIs to generate individual curriculums and subjects tailored to the needs of each child just by interacting with them and watching them from birth till school-age and graduation. It could be happening right now as I type this because the future is now… 

The current curriculum, in every context, no longer serves to be honest. We are merely repackaging new wine in old wine skins. A disaster is imminent. 

We need a rich, futuristic one-to-one curriculum if we are gonna save the future of the school system. Teacher education and training needs to evolve in a crazy unconventional way. We need to think outside the box (not a cliche) otherwise, this generation would see and have no need for schools as we know it… don’t know if that would be a good thing or a bad thing and to tell the truth, I’d personally love to see that happen πŸ™ˆ It’s happening already: the other day I caught my son using the dictation feature to type a text message to his grandma on WhatsApp and that worried me since I’ve been trying to work with him to improve his spellings. Now that he’s discovered a quicker way to do it so what’s the need to spend so much time learning to spell? 🀦🏾‍♀️ This the generation we’re trying to educate using old methods!!? We’ve got another think coming. 

It’s for reasons like this that I’m so desperate to get into Tech- educational technology to be specific, for educational research purposes. For the future of the school system. So help me God. 

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Wednesday, 14 December 2022

How Did You Learn to Read?


So, as a refresher, I’m currently taking an online TESOL course powered by Arizona State University and I’m now on the Teaching Second Language Reading, Writing and Grammar module and it’s awesome! One of the readings in the module asked us to reflect on our experience of learning how to read in our native language so I’m going to do that on this post.

Growing up simultaneously bilingual as a native speaker of English, with Yoruba being my mother-tongue, I know I learned to read and write Yoruba in the third year of junior secondary school (though I still cannot read fluently without pausing now and then to sound out the accents in my my head…) and I have my Yoruba teacher to thank for that even though I hated and still do not agree with his wicked,cane-wielding methods to make us learn by all means 😭.

However, I honestly do not remember exactly how I learned to read in English but I can never forget my introduction to the wondrous world of books when I was about 5 years old. That year, my mother returned from a trip to Lagos bearing gifts of Enid Blyton books sent to me by my aunt and I remember sitting on the couch and reading them out loud, figuring out the words as I went along. I also remember Mother telling me to read silently and with my eyes only and how I went on to read even more complex and boring books after that. I hope to tell my grandkids the stories of how by the time I was nine years old, I’d read books like The Complete Works of Shakespeare, Peter Drucker’s management book, The Bible, Walter Rodney’s How Europe Underdeveloped AfricaThe Works of Wole SoyinkaEvery womanWho’s Who in Banking, among others. All from cover to cover.

I digress πŸ™ˆ  πŸ˜ 

When I worked as a Nursery school teacher, I taught my pupils how to read following the Jolly phonics curriculum and I would often search my memory for recollections of me learning to read that way. Zilch. Consequently, I do not know if I learned to read via the phonics method or the whole language approach which believes that “language serves personal, social, and academic aspects of children’s lives, and that children become literate as they grapple with the meaning and uses of print in their environments” (Ediger, A. (2001), Teaching children literacy skills in a second language). Or perhaps a combination of both methods …? 


Learning to read in Japanese,  as an adult, is another interesting journey that I’ll talk about in a different blog post. But it was from scratch, via learning the sounds of the hiragana characters and then some kanji characters. Now, I can say I’m fairly literate (JLPT N4 Level πŸ˜‰). 


Using my 9 year old child as a case study, I know as a native English speaker, he started to read in English at around age 4/5, having been taught phonics when he was in nursery school (Early Years). And now he reads very big words, beyond the three-four syllables that he learned to read with phonics. Even more amazing is how he came to Japan as a five year old and began learning how to read Japanese when he started elementary school and now he prefers to read books in Japanese. 


Learning to read is kind of magical isn’t it? Big ups to the amazing Early years teachers who help to set a solid reading foundation and a bigger thumbs up πŸ‘πŸΎ to teachers who help second language learners learn how to read in a foreign language!! You all are the real MVPs! 


What language(s) do you speak and how did you learn to read? Let me know in the comments below.


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Thursday, 7 April 2022

ε…₯学式(γ«γ‚…γ†γŒγγ—γ)― Entrance Ceremony

 


The journey of a thousand miles begins with an Entrance Ceremony. Today, as is the tradition all over Japan, we welcomed 139 first year students to middle school. Here’s an account of how it went down (from the POV of a student I guess).

You wake up excited and nervous all at once, get ready quickly and head for the only junior high school in town. In elementary school you could wear whatever you chose and your choice of cool indoor shoes was entirely yours but here you are with your new classmates, in your first school uniform ever! You are let into the school, welcomed by teachers in the reception where you take off your outdoor shoes and don a pair of white and green Asics indoor sneakers - the same as everyone else’s. Even your school bags are the same. Then you are told to go to your classroom on the fourth floor to get ready for the ceremony. 

At the appointed time, you form two lines of boys and girls and march in pairs behind your teacher into the gym where the entrance ceremony will take place. After everyone has marched in and sat down, boys to the right and girls to the left, a roll call is made and when you hear your name you answer “Hai,” get on your feet to register your presence, and become officially inducted into the school system. 

You quickly notice the element of “uniformity” and immediately sense and feel the need to do and be one with the group. You wonder if there’ll ever be a time that you’d be allowed to do and be you, especially if you don’t enjoy going with the crowd much. But not to worry, you’ll figure it out as you ease into the school life rhythm. For today, relax and enjoy the pomp and pageantry put together for your first day. The teachers are all dressed up for this occasion, but the fancy suits, dress shoes, pearl earrings and necklaces will all be gone by tomorrow, replaced with more comfortable clothes and running shoes to get to you at the speed of light. 

You’re going to meet the rest of the student community tomorrow, your ε…ˆθΌ©γŸγ‘ in the second and third grades. Listen, watch and learn and you’ll be fine. Welcome to junior high school life. 

ε…₯ε­¦εΌγŠγ‚γ§γ¨γ†γ”γ–γ„γΎγ™!

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Tuesday, 15 March 2022

It’s Graduation Day!

We had our graduation ceremony today and so many befitting adjectives come to mind: solemn, precision and uniformity, orderly and beautiful, traditional, and, I wouldn’t be wrong if I added spiritual to the list. It was memorable and touching, so much so that I got the inspiration to write after such a long time LOL! I had a hard time holding back the tears from the very minute that the procession of graduating students marched in, led by their form tutors. The dam burst eventually when the 3C form tutor got on the podium and tearily made a roll call of her students for the last time πŸ™ˆ. 

There was nothing impromptu about the beautiful ceremony that I witnessed today. It was all well planned and smoothly executed. Graduating students, the third-year teachers and planning committee prepared extensively, rehearsing the procession vigorously and rigorously, leaving no room for mistakes. Proper Samurai style. I love it! In fact, the schedule and program schedule were printed days before so everyone knew what to expect. It started at 9 a.m. on the dot, and ended at 10. This is worthy of mention and notable for me, coming from a culture of “African Time” where we give room to people who may be running late while spending some extra time putting unnecessary last-minute adjustments on a whimπŸ₯΄. 

During the ceremony, I observed several aspects and cultural symbols and mannerisms which I believe are distinctly Japanese. I mean, Japan never ceases to amaze me especially with the way that they have held on to tradition and their refusal to bow to western/outside influences in certain key areas. Of course, there are many western elements that they embraced to keep up with the rest of the global society, but they have succeeded in giving those things some kind of Japanese flavour.

Ambience is everything. There were flowers- real and decorative- all around the school. The paper ones were made out of cardboards and crafted like Sakura which is the National flower of Japan. Most of the colourful decorations were hand-made by junior students (first and second grade), supervised and assisted by teachers. The stage of the gym where the ceremony took place was the most fascinating for me. Colourful and beautiful, it had so many decorations, the flag of Japan and the school flag as the backdrop, and I noticed that everyone who had something to do on stage bowed in obeisance to the flags before they climbed up. And oh, ζ ‘ι•·ε…ˆη”Ÿ (principal) looked so regal in his Kimono, I had to ask for a picture πŸ˜„. 
The solemnity of the ceremony bounced up and down the back of many bows. The moving and eloquent speeches by the principal, the outgoing and incumbent students’ representative were all met with polite, straight-backed formal bows. Not the cheering and clapping of hands that I am used to. We only clapped thrice- as the graduating students marched in and filed out, and after the reception when they were leaving school with their parents. 

Two years working as a 4 Skills Support teacher to support the English learning journey of the graduating students and I am so going to miss them. Wishing them good luck and best wishes for the future. 卒ζ₯­γŠγ‚γ§γ¨γ†γ”ざいます。

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Wednesday, 15 December 2021

What’s Love Got To Do With It? πŸ€‘

 

 

If you’re a foreign language teacher of teenage students and you’re having trouble getting them to speak and use the language, then you need to bring love into the equation! I mean, like  literally. Center your activities around relationships and love and watch your students go off. You probably already knew this. 

 

The way that the second graders hollered today when the JTE introduced the topic: Which is more important, money or love? Why?” to practice comparative forms. I knew the lesson was about to take a delightful turn and I was not disappointedStudents took a minute to think about their answers and then had a mingle session- boys chatting to boys and girls to girls, as it usually is in Japanese classrooms. Only the brave would dare to have a chat with the opposite sex during mingling activities. 

 

I had the time of my life as I went round monitoring and listening to their hilarious responses. Usually, I would be interrupting students using the mingling activity time to chat away in Japanese and encouraging them to use English but not today; they were totally on task and each student understood what the other said perfectly. The girls, ha! They squealed and pelted the air with delightsome giggles. The motivation in the boys’ group was at an all time high- nods of agreement and boisterous laughter. 

 

And then came the whole class feedback session to ask some students to share their answers. More girls than boys thought money was more important than love while a lot more boys thought love was more important. One girls reason for choosing money was because she knows what money can buy but what can love buy? Talk about a girl who knows what she wants! One of the boys chose money because “girls often go to the money.” What is the world turning into, you say? LOL! Mama’s boy spoke up and chose love because “love is strong and my mother’s love is strong.” That got us incurable romantics awwing and clapping. Then, this cheeky boy said, “Money is more important because I don’t make love.” I wondered if that meant what I thought it did and the gasps and knowing looks and giggles on the faces of the others told me exactly what I needed to know. Just before the chime went off, the last boy to answer said, “Money is more important than love because money is power!” He said it with so much conviction, leaving us all in fits of laughter right into the closing greeting. Needless to say, the lesson was fun and the aims were achieved. 

 

So, “Which is more important, money or love? Why?” Leave your answer in the comment section. 

 

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Wednesday, 20 October 2021

From Active Teaching to Active Observation


 When I transited from being an Assistant Language Teacher (ALT) to a 4Skills Support teacher in 2020, I moved from active teaching to actively supporting the Japanese teachers of English (JTE), as well as observing the happenings  in the English language classroom and Japanese educational system generally. Though I miss having to plan lessons and not being in front of class as often as I used to, my role has afforded me the chance to notice a lot more things than I would have if I had my head buried in lesson planning and stuff. And believe me when I say, I have seen thingssss… LOL. Good stuff really and, more than ever, I am super impressed with the Japanese education. So, if you are curious about Japan’s world-famous educational system, you’re in luck because going forwards, I’ll be sharing the juicy stuff, from my POV of course. 

 

Also, my domain name changed, did you notice? I had issues with the former one and now it’s teacher-lola.com and no longer teacherlola.com. Just a tiny dash yeah, but it’s like starting from scratch to drive traffic to my blog and I’ll still need to do some tweaking to make it look good and more functional. 


Well, let me shamelessly say that the point of this boring post is to invite you to bookmark my blog if you haven’t already, and be on the lookout so that you catch new posts hot off the press. Also, comments and engagements with posts will go a long way. 


Phew, feels so good to be back typing and putting my thoughts back up on this space. And if you read up to this point, I thank you. Your support is highly appreciated.

 

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Wednesday, 24 March 2021

Schooling in a Pandemic: How it went down in Japan this school year.


 Phew! The school year is over and what a year it has been! It began roughly but ended quite smoothly with 100% of the content covered, at least in the education system where I work. Here’s how we were able to achieve this year's goals despite the threat of COVID-19.

The school year started in April 2020 right in the middle of the pandemic, with school shut down, amidst lots of fears and uncertainty; but the Board of Education, teachers and all stakeholders involved recalibrated quickly, and work partially continued with students attending classes in batches a couple of hours a week, receiving homework and self-study packs. Those first few weeks were tough, as teachers had to teach the same lesson several times a day, clean and disinfect all the tables and chairs and equipment used after each lesson. There were also Saturday classes twice a month for about six months. 

Masks, of course. Wearing masks was quite easy to achieve because even before the pandemic in Japan, when someone had even a mild cold, they wore masks to prevent spreading their infection. Students were compliant, though in the summer it was quite hard and they took off their masks once in a while. In those moments, I was finally able to see what some of my students looked like. However, some never took off their masks in class so I still do not know what they really look like because I started working here this school year.

Also, temperatures were closely monitored - students were given sheets to record their temperature every day, including weekends. In addition, there were alcohol disinfectant sprays on every floor and in every classroom and we all had to bring personal hand towels to use after hand washing. 


Usually, the Japanese school year is packed with lots of activities like entrance ceremony, sports day, school trips, school festival, chorus festival and graduation ceremony. Well, in my little town where I work (there’s only one Junior high school- just to let you know how small the town is),  ALL of these events took place and students were still able to enjoy school life as usual, even though some pandemic adjustments were made. Normally, during the chorus contests, each class would sing and a winner would be chosen. This year they did sing with face shields on, but it wasn’t a contest because the face shields made it unfair to judge. 

I thought the graduation ceremony held for the third grade students was the most beautiful thing I’d ever seen! I might have cried a little. But I was told that they didn’t even do half of what they would usually do because of COVID. For example, the graduating students didn’t sing and parents weren’t allowed into the hall but they stayed in their children’s classroom and watched the ceremony streamed live. 


Of course there were a few cases of COVID-19 infections but they were handled deftly and swiftly to stop the spread of infection. One time, the whole first grade class of one of the elementary schools in the town was shut down for three days because a student tested positive. All the students had to go in for testing immediately and self-isolate with their family members until they received the test results. Lessons continued the following week though some students who sat very close to the infected student had to self-isolate for two weeks even if they tested negative. On a different occasion, a kid in one of the after-school clubs tested positive and the club was shut down for a few days while everyone went in for testing.  My child was a student in the affected class and a member of the after-school club; he tested negative on both occasions and was allowed back to school as normal. 


As we go on to rest and enjoy the few days of spring holiday, I celebrate the educators all over the world who are taking risks to continue to educate children in the midst of the pandemic, you are the real heroes! My heart goes out to people who lost loved ones to COVID-19 this school year, may the souls of the departed find peace. 


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Thursday, 30 July 2020

MaskAdaisical


School’s out for summer! Phew. It was a tough one but I’m so glad we made it to the end of the term, the crazy challenges notwithstanding. 

COVID-19 changed the dynamics of teaching and learning as we know it. For example, there weren't opportunities for team building/ group tasks and students had to sit a few meters apart to maintain social distancing. Never mind that students broke the social distancing rule from time to time. Of course, we also had to wear masks 24/7 to prevent the spread of the virus. I found that teaching EFL with a mask over your mouth is nothing short of annoying and frustrating. Needless to say that modeling proper pronunciation was difficult to achieve. 

Owing to the fact that I started working at this school at the time when the pandemic was beginning to gain momentum, I have no idea what my students look like without masks. Towards the end of the term, students were beginning to get antsy and “maskadaisical” and occasionally they would slip down their masks for a breath of fresh air and it was always a pleasant surprise! They looked nothing like I’d imagined. It was almost as if their masks came with “open for a surprise” labels.
One of the biggest moments for me this term was when I had the opportunity to attend a mini-sporting event between two arms of the first grade and all participants had their masks off. I didn’t know who was who and it was exciting to identify them by distinct features like their height, hairstyle and attitude. They had a good laugh every time I gasped and called out “——- is that you!” I was so overwhelmed with happiness that I wept, literally! 
This experience helped me appreciate the seemingly little things that we take for granted- braces, freckles, dimples and crooked dentition! I really hope that a vaccine is discovered soon. We can never go back to “normal”- surely not, but I hope that the lessons of hygiene, compassion and consideration for others and their personal space, among others, remain with us after this is all over.

As schools are just being re-opened in some parts of the world, I wish all the teachers who are just about to start work a successful school term as well. As far as this pandemic is concerned, we can never be too careful thus hand washing and sanitizing are very important, and also keep the masks on by all means. 

Thanks for stopping by, see you next post. 

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