A spoonful of medicine helps the sugar go down

A constant struggle for language teachers is having your craft taken seriously by the society around you.  It works against you that a lot of what you have devoted your career to is:

  • apparently just talking,
  • in a language incomprehensible to any outside observer, and
  • typically done by immigrants (including you).

A related but more specific struggle is working with people who have a very specific idea of what your job should look like, an idea born from myths and miseducation that much of your training was specifically aimed at overcoming.  It sometimes feels like trying to teach cubism to people who have been raised to think that great art should always feature a musclebound baby Jesus.

Jesus played by a younger Gene Hackman

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Memory, customized

I figure I’d better put my class activities up on this blog before I forget all of them.  This will probably be the last such entry to feature pictures since almost all our class materials are in garbage bags at this point.  Today’s activity is another take on an old favorite.

Memory, the game of trying to find matching cards which are lying face down, is a classroom staple in Japan (and amusingly called 神経衰弱 しんけいすいじゃく shinkeisuijaku “neurasthenia”), and along with karuta is one you can expect all your learners from preschool up to be able to play without needing to learn the rules, which with younger learners sometimes is an activity in and of itself.

Our version of this game, like our version of Apples 2 Apples, is flexible enough to be used with almost any type of card you have on hand – months, occupations, TOEIC vocabulary, past tense verbs, or whatever you and your students make.  The game is for small groups of 3-6, aged 7 and up.  I suppose you could use it with bigger groups too if you don’t mind copying and cutting a lot of cards for them.

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Haafu, pt. 2 – bicultural or just biracial?

My last post on the topic of “haafu” had all the hallmarks of bad blogging – too many points in too little space, made simultaneously with no trust in the reader to understand them and too many assumptions that the reader already understands the premises I’m arguing from.  I will try to put my thoughts in a bit more order here.

I almost always feel offended when I see people talking about biraciality in Japan – and not because a group that I am part of is being slighted.  In fact I’m more likely to be offended when biracial status is elevated somehow or assumed to confer some magic sauce of internationalism that eludes “normals”, and most offended of all when this is done by people with the benefit of a liberal education who should know better.  The way that this is most often accomplished is by conflating biculturalism with biracialism when it comes to haafu in Japan, and in doing so implying that race and culture flow from one another.

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Success and failure, pt. 2 – Blended learning, mixed results

Starting around 2010 I started putting content online for our students, each class with one page in its own hidden directory under our school’s domain.

I intended the kids’ classes’ sites as just a way to share the music and art the kids had made, and as a high-tech replacement for the special free classes for parents that we used to have on Saturday mornings.

The adults’ sites had links for videos and articles that we were using for homework that week as well as printable worksheets for weeks when I didn’t assign anything.  The centerpiece of an adult classes’ site though was a class dictionary which was updated weekly, and could be checked by all the students in the class in addition to being used in games and flash card-style javascript applications in the browser window.  Every week after my adult classes I’d update the xml dictionary file for their class and upload it with a few new words, chosen by the students from that week’s materials and discussions, along with definitions and example sentences.  Eventually most of those xml files came to contain hundreds such entries stretching back for years.

You can see an example of the kind of site that our adult classes had here.

So you can guess from the title of this post that not all went according to plan.  I’m still glad I made the sites, as probably are most of my students, but the overall lesson from this excursion into online territory is that you shouldn’t spend too much time designing additional content or services that are outside the norms of your particular teaching milieu.


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Infinite virtue

The 20th century was unfortunately rich in utopian projects, which justified massive human misery roughly thus:

  • A society of infinite human virtue is possible
  • Creating that society requires finite human suffering
  • Infinite virtue minus finite suffering still equals infinite virtue

For the simple reason that infinity – x = infinity as long as x is finite.  A utopia is worth any cost paid along the way.

One of the necessary steps toward a perfect human society.

I believe the fact that calculations of this type led to tens of millions of 20th century deaths was pointed out in the unexpectedly wittily-written book Atrocities.  That book, like many other books, also gave me a little perspective on intercultural issues and things I’ve noticed while living in Japan.

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