Context, Context, Context

A teacher’s question to Paul Nation at the online TESOL Vocabulary seminar (1/30/07): How do you convince learners that extensive reading done during valuable class time is worth it? My students have said they think it is a waste of time although I have tried to convince them otherwise when we have done it 2 times per week for 20 min each time.

His answer: A tough question. I think you are on the right track by persisting. The hope is success leads to enjoyment and valuing the activity.

My answer: CONTEXT is the most important consideration (too few people put what they say or think into context) . In Japanese high schools, there is a huge difference between ‘learning’ English and ‘studying’ English. For GENERAL COURSE students, I think ER and story-telling are key components of Nation’s four strand approach (I’m starting an ER program from April). If students are in the ENGLISH COURSE or SCIENCE COURSE and attempting to enter a good university, they may need to know upwards of 4000 – 5000 words, so ER will be a tough sell because there isn’t enough ‘bang for the buck’. From the students realistic and sincere perspective, all that matters is studying content/techniques that will lead to passing the obscenely wicked university entrance tests. Focusing on reading speed/comprehension in ER can help somewhat for ‘chobun’ (long readings) on the entrance exams. I think a better use of time would be getting them away from the standard Japanese TARGET series of vocabulary books. From what I understand at this point, they are based on an obscure and endless compilation of words that have appeared over the years on previous univ. entrance exams. They overwhelm students with too many low-frequency words. The General Service List (GSL) would be a much better use of their study time. I don’t know if there is anything in Japan for using the GSL???

My question to everyone: I have 3 research ideas from Nation’s talk:
1. The 10 minute writing data research (amount and quality of output gain)
2. Comparing the TARGET series that almost all Ss use to the GSL. (efficiency of study time)
3. Researching the difference between using single words on word cards vs. using chunks on word cards (e.g. “threaten” vs. “Tanaka sensei threatens me everyday)

I will teach 5 new WRITING classes from April (Ko II and Ko III). They provide a wonderful new opportunity and challenge at this point in my teaching life. I’m excited to figure out how to teach them well. On the other hand, it also creates a huge dilemma. How do I balance my needs to teach a real English Writing course with the students’ impending “university entrance tests from hell?”

Anyone interested in jumping into some collaborative research?

3 thoughts on “Context, Context, Context

  1. I wish I had the opportunity to try some ER in my classes, but I don’t have that much control or authority in the school. I also picked up on his suggestion of the 10 minute writing research suggestion! I bet everyone else did too! In the next 5 years there are going to be teachers submitting articles left and right on the issue! But it sounds interesting and relatively easy to track and record! I’m wondering if I could try it with my adult class in conjunction with their blogging/zine project. They always groan when I tell them we are going to write another zine because I think they really dread the writing process. So, if I could get them to do more free-writing, maybe that would help the process! Do you think it could be turned into a dissertation??

  2. would you mind if i copied your blog idea? i’m thinking it might help me get focused and process my thoughts a bit better if I started an MA blog too. I think mine will be different…i want it to be self-reflective of my teaching–go over lessons, highlight what worked and didn’t and where it fits in the research, especially TBL.


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