I'm really shocked to discover that this term I have completely failed to keep my blog-readers informed of our readings this half of the term. So, hopefully better late than never, here is a recap of this term's readings.
First grade began with a news article about Halloween, "Japan Tricks and Treats Itself to Halloween" which discussed the origins and growing popularity of Halloween in Japan. The students then had small group discussions about various aspects of Halloween and Halloween culture. The students did reasonably well on the activity in terms of speaking, but some found it difficult to listen and respond to what the other students were saying. The fact that this activity was much more challenging than a regular presentation indicates two things to me: one, that the students' presentation skills and confidence in those skills have certainly grown; and two, I made the right decision in expanding our speaking activities to include more skills.
First grade then continued with a non-fiction article, actually written by me, on The Great Molasses Flood of 1919. This article was actually taken from a variety of sources, and recounts an actual disaster in Boston. The students responded to the topic very well, and did an excellent job in their presentations. Several students chose to give examples of other disasters. A couple of students chose a more difficult topic: describing how to be prepared for a disaster. Their presentations were quite illuminating.
Next, the first grade students read "The Road Not Taken" by Robert Frost. Here the students were asked to do small group presentations. This went a little better than the discussions, however, the students had a little difficulty asking questions and giving comments.
Finally, the students read "The Gift of the Magi" by O. Henry. Considering how difficult the vocabulary was for this reading, I was very proud of how well they did. We had our first class debate, in this case an open debate (in order to keep the format simple, relaxed and non-adversarial), but the students had a little difficulty in presenting their ideas. Again, the fact that it wasn't easy convinces me that trying different speaking activities is a good thing. Knowing how to present differing points of view in a mature, logical, and not-so-confrontational or defensive manner is a good thing, in my opinion.
The second graders began the second half of the term with a blog article: "A True Creepy Story for Halloween" about the discovery of a graveyard in Tokyo. Their speaking activity was a presentation, not unlike what they did for Halloween last year.
For their second reading, the students studied and discussed the lyrics to the song "Every Breath You Take" by The Police. Here, we did a class debate to discuss whether the song is, as some people claim, a romantic song, or whether it is actually, as others claim, a song about stalking. The response was overwhelmingly against the song. The debate was quite fun and energetic, but many of the quieter students needed a lot of urging to speak.
Our third reading for the half-term was "The Night the Bed Fell" by James Thurber. The students seemed to have enjoyed this one, though I think most didn't really get why it might be considered funny. Students were required to give small group presentations, and this class actually did very well at asking questions, giving comments and providing opinions. I was very happy with their speaking activity.
Our final reading, which we are doing this week, is the speech "I Will Fight No More Forever" by Chief Joseph. Unfortunately, so far, it is not going so well. Although the speech is very short and simple, the assignment was not so simple. Students were asked not merely to read the speech but to do background research on Chief Joseph, the Nez Perce and the relationship between the U.S. and the Native Americans. While almost all of the students read the speech, very few grasped the full meaning because NO ONE had done the required research.
Now, some of my students have said that, for whatever reason, they do not have access to the internet. I replied with the joke: "In my day, we had something like the internet, and it was called BOOKS!" And I challenged them to visit a library. That said, I see no excuse whatsoever for students at a junior high school such as Seishin, in a program such as NELP, not having access to the internet.
Access to information is a vital part of the education of these students. If we want our students to be prepared to be the leaders of tomorrow, we MUST see that they are well-educated today, and if we want our students to be well-educated, we must see to it that they are well-informed, and that means that they must have clear and easy access to information, whether it means the internet, libraries, or just people to interview or talk to.
More and more, from now on, my course will require students to do research. It is not enough for students to have opinions. It is not enough for students to be able to express opinions. Students must have facts, evidence, cases, research, and examples on which to base their opinions or their opinions are likely to be little more than ephemeral, insubstantial whimsy.
In that view, I ask parents to please make sure that students, all students (not merely my own), have access to libraries and the internet. Furthermore, I strongly encourage parents to assist the educators of their children (and I especially encourage the parents of my students to assist me) in making it clear that it is not enough to merely do the minimum amount of work required. Rather it is necessary and important in reaching one's full potential to challenge oneself by going beyond the required minimum to achieve all that one is capable of. In the case of my reading class, that means doing background research on our readings.
The third grade began with the news article "Train Victim's Cell Kept Calling Loved Ones After He Died". The students understood the article quite well, but it was interesting to see in our group discussion that there were angles to this story that the students hadn't considered, and that although the article appears to represent a paranormal situation, there is actually the possibility of a non-paranormal, although disquieting, explanation for the events in the article: namely the possibility that rescue workers may have concealed evidence and given false information to a family in order to cover up their failure to discover a train survivor in time to save him.
Next, the third grade students attempted to read "The Lottery", a classic story by Shirley Jackson. The story was much too difficult for the students, although several admitted that they didn't even try to read it. However, the fact that the student with the highest level of English failed to grasp the main idea of the story tells me that the story was perhaps too subtle and too ambitious for these students. I'm actually quite thankful, as I had felt reservations anyway about putting such a macabre story in my curriculum. Next year, I'm considering a short story about a secret community in a busy city. It's quite a charming, friendly and safe story.
After the fiasco that was "The Lottery", we quickly moved on to study the lyrics of the song "You're Beautiful" by James Blunt. This was received much more favorably, in part because we watched videos not only for this song, but also for the parodies of this song: "You're Pitiful" by Weird Al Yankovic, "My Cubicle" by an as-yet-unknown artist, and "It's Bloody Cold" by British comedy group The Dead Ringers. However, the speaking activity was a bit difficult. Students gave presentations about parodies and why there are parodies, but we didn't see many examples, and the students could certainly have put a little more time into their preparation.
Our final reading this term is a non-fiction article, again written by me from a number of sources, on The Christmas Truce of 1914. The students appear to feel very favorably towards the topic, a true story of soldiers who stopped fighting to celebrate Christmas in peace. However, they had difficulty with the vocabulary. Now, it's true that they have access to the main vocabulary list, which I give them. It's also true that they can always get a dictionary. However, some concepts such as a trench or 'no-man's-land' are still difficult to understand even if one can find them in a dictionary.
To remedy this, I think it would be a good idea to spend a little time on Fridays going over the new reading for the following week. I'll try it next term and let you know how it goes.
Third grade is also having tremendous difficulty speaking English is class. There is entirely too much Japanese spoken in the third grade class, and it is, considering the aims of the class, completely unacceptable to have so much chatting. I've threatened their grades, and scolded them harshly, but they are nearing the end of junior high and so seem to care a little less about their performance.
Note to parents; it is vitally important that students use every available moment in NELP class to practice their English. This is a safe and productive environment in which to do so, and it is far better to practice in here (in the NELP classroom) than out there (in the world outside the NELP room door). Please encourage your students.