November 30, 2008


I went snowboarding yesterday morning with a couple of my teachers. It was pretty great. I hadn't been to ski or snowboard since my year in France when I went on a ski/snowboard trip with friends there. Being in Shikoku which has similar weather to Georgia, it was obviously not real snow. We drove to the very tippy top of a mountain in Tokushima where the ski park had made a slope about 30 meters wide and 800 or so meters long. Not big at all, but they just opened recently for the season. They're adding more snow every day. It's not far and the teachers had club activities in the afternoon, so we only went for the morning. I felt bad because

Anyway, I'm sore as hell today but I'm glad I went. There is talk of a whole weekend long ski trip with some JETs and possibly a trip with some of the young teachers at my school. I was able to practice enough so that I can feel confident the next time I go. I was falling the first 4 or 5 times I went down. Then I asked Mr. Ishikawa, one of the school's gym teachers (who happens to be 50), to tell me how to turn correctly and from then on I was able to manage myself pretty well and my falls were more or less limited to when I hit a bump or hit some softer snow and not because I couldn't turn. Ms. Takahashi is the young English teacher I work with. She came but she got carsick on the way and didn't enjoy herself. She was pretty bad off. We stopped at least 5 times in the last 45 minutes of the trip. She still went snowboarding at least 7 or 8 times though. And then still had to go back and coach her gymnastics club. Pretty tough cookie.

Anyway, today I'm planning on going to one of my elementary's school fair. One grade is performing "The Very Hungry Caterpillar." Should be cute.

Udon Shop

I forgot to mention. I went out with Megumi and Chie, the people my age in my Eikaiwa, for udon on Wednesday. Chie asked her friend to open up his shop for us that night. He usually only is open for lunch. It was good fun. It was just the three of us and him. His shop was in a part of the movie called "Udon" which was a big deal in Kagawa since it was centered around their food specialty. He also is a rakugo performer. Rakugo is the traditional form of Japanese stand-up comedy, except it's always performed sitting in the traditional Japanese seiza position, so maybe sit-down comedy. I think I mentioned rakugo before when I went to see a performance and when I went to see an explanation of it. One man sits on a raised zabuton (floor cushion for sitting) wearing kimono or yukata. He usually has a traditional fan as well. I think there might be another tool to use as well. I forget. But the comedy is in the form of a longer discourse with minor punchlines or comic situations supported by gestures and the use of the fan always culminating in a final punchline.

Anyway, he didn't do a performance or anything on Wednesday, but he is just a really funny guy which is probably why he is good at rakugo. He kept telling funny little stories or taking things we said and making stories out of them. We were there for probably 2 or 3 hours. He will be performing at Megumi's family's Buddhist temple/home on the 21st. I think I'll try to go.

Then we went to the new mall in the area and had some of Baskin Robbins 31 Flavors. MMMM. There's also a Mr. Donut. I'm glad that the mall isn't closer than the 20 minute bike ride otherwise I might start having a weight problem. At least I can count on the journey itself to counteract some of the effects of whatever sweets I buy there.

November 27, 2008

Happy Thanksgiving!!

Well it's Turkey day back home. Sorry I haven't posted in a while. I thought I would take a minute and say a quick hello to everyone. I miss you all so much. I can feel it especially around this season of holidays. I had my own Thanksgiving with friends last Saturday. We had a turkey, green beans, mashed potatoes, candied yams, cranberry sauce, gravy, stuffing, and of course pumpkin pie. It was great. I made my grandpap's recipe for hariata again this year as well as a fruit salad. All the other things were claimed and I was really slammed last week leading up to the dinner day so cooking something was really out of the question. I had eikaiwa on Thursday like usual and the girls came over afterward. Friday I had a major workshop/demonstration lesson day at an elementary school. Over 100 teachers came, and I taught one lesson with one teacher and did a participation workshop with 2 other teachers. After that I jumped on a train to Takamatsu to celebrate a friends birthday only to make the hour trip back so I could have time to even make something as simple as fruit salad in the morning before taking the hour+ trip to my other friend's for Thanksgiving dinner.

This week has been a bit better but still isogashii! (busy!) I just keep having way more things I want to do than I have time to do. Today, I had about 50 different things I wanted to do. I've had to prioritize and cut out some things. It just stinks that so many of them have to be done at the same time and I couldn't use all the free time I had at school since it's testing time. (I can't really cook food at school.)

That brings me to what I'm doing now. It's eikaiwa night. So we are going to have a mini-Thanksgiving celebration and we'll talk about the holiday and our traditions. We'll also eat some foods. I encouraged the people to make traditional dishes, but many will probably bring their own style dishes. But I think that's appropriate since each family in America has it's own traditions apart from the basics of Turkey, mashed potatoes, sweet potatoes (in some form), cranberry sauce, green beans (in some form), and pumpkin pie. Those seem to be the absolute basics that most everyone has. My family always had spumoni for dessert in addition to the pies. We all LOVED my mom's spumoni even though it's fairly easy to make: fruit cocktail, crushed pineapple, cherry pie filling, cool whip and freeze. We never did figure out that we could make it anytime of the year. But isn't that the joy and purpose of traditions? Something to mark a season and the passage of time. Something to look forward to and be able to share with the people you care about. I guess that's why this season, so full of traditions, is more difficult to live through when living half a world away from many of the people I care about.

Know that I love and miss you all!

(Wish me luck--I'm making mashed potatoes which aren't too hard, but the dressing I'm trying to make from scratch is a new one for me. We usually use the stuff from the box back home. I hope it tastes right.)

November 18, 2008


Well, the Japanese Language Proficiency Test or 日本語能力試験 is just around the corner. December 7th is the big day. I decided to challenge myself by going for level 2 (there are 4 levels with 1 the highest). I did a trial test for the 3rd level back in August and passed (with a 76%) so it seemed silly at the time to take a test I knew I could pass. But now, it seems silly to be going for a test that will be almost impossible to pass. We will see.

This past weekend, I tried a practice level 2 test minus the listening section. I got a 51%. This gives me hope. The passing cut-off is 60%. So, I have just a bit less than 3 weeks to close that 9% gap. It just may be possible. I've just finished this book of grammatical phrases that account for a good chunk of the grammar section (which I did very poorly on and which is worth 2 points per question). Even though I had already finished most of the book at the time of the practice test, I hadn't reviewed any of it. So, now having finished, if I can focus on reviewing those grammar phrases and getting them in my head, I perhaps have a chance at passing.

And yes, I know that passing this test won't prove I'm fluent or anything. But goals can can be good to have. Also, up to this point, I haven't let my method of study be corrupted by studying for the test (as I just argued against doing such a thing in my last post). But having had this test in my mind has gotten me to do a lot more reading and living in Japanese than I was doing previously. And almost as a favor to it and because I don't want a poor showing, I don't think I mind doing some studying strictly for the test over the remaining weeks(in the form of memorizing those damn grammatical phrases, going over past test questions, doing practice listening tests).

November 15, 2008

Teaching to the Test

I think it's very important to realize that for any subject, teaching with the goal of passing a test is 100% wrong. Tests should be measures of progress. Tests these days are, on the whole, poorly constructed, and their standardization generally weakens their effectiveness. And because of these problems it is possible to strictly prepare students for the test (as opposed to teaching students solely for mastery of a subject). But should we do it? Should we teach to the test? I say NO.

But because of high accountability on teachers and the high pressures of students to get high test scores and the subsequent high pressure from parents on teachers to prepare students for the tests, all focus is lost!

In Japan, English is especially easy to ignore while preparing for the tests. It amazes me that teachers can continue to teach (to the test) while evidence that their students can say and understand very little natural English (even natural English limited to grammar and vocabulary that have been "taught") appears daily in front of them.

In America, the same testing trend is sadly occurring. As a French teacher, I was able to avoid the stress involved with teaching to a test. So far, most states are focused only on math and English as far as federal school accountability tests are concerned. Many states are adopting their own tests for high school graduation in all subjects. Some more advanced states, New York for example, have already created tests for foreign languages. (Sidenote: I've seen the New York tests. They are very good proficiency based tests. But even good tests can be misused, i.e. used as a goal rather than a measure of progress/ability.)

The best tests for language are skill/performance based tests which are not easily standardized and require time and real-time adaptability. But these types of tests require a trained language expert to holistically evaluate a student's abilities. This seems subjective and isn't mass producible making them undesirable.

So what do we do? How can we have tests while not teaching to them? Is it possible? Is this having our cake and eating it too? Is standardization helpful or problematic? And as a lowly ALT am I ever going to have an impact on this problem in Japan?

November 4, 2008


I got my results back for the test. I already had the math and verbal scores and I did well there. But I was worried about the analytical writing section. And rightly so. I got a 4.5 out of 6 on their holistic grading scale. That was at the 58th percentile. So really not good at all. I should have done some actual prep work for it.

For completely separate reasons, I've been considering not entering graduate school next fall. That would give me time to retake the test to raise the writing score. But I'm not all that worried about it. Just disappointed that I didn't prepare well enough for it. Well at all really. I didn't do any practice essays. I didn't even fully grasp what the writing section was until a couple days before when I finally read a description and started looking at the topic pool. I was hoping I would edge by with a 5 which doesn't look quite so bad I don't think. But oh well. Better luck next time.

By the way, I'm trying to do better about keeping in touch with family and friends back home. So if you haven't heard from me in a while, please leave a comment, send an email, find me on skype (usually on in the evenings Eastern Standard), or call me on my cell phone (which might be a bit expensive for you, unless you use skype where it's only about 2 cents a minute) - you can email me for the number.