My Best Teaching Is One-on-One


Of course, I team teach and do special lessons, etc.


But my best work in the classroom is after the lesson is over --
going one-on-one,
helping individual students with their assignments.


It's kind of like with computer programs, walking the client through hands-on.
The job isn't really done until the customer is using the program.


Saturday, September 12, 2015

Inanimacy -- One of the Weird Things about Teaching English Grammar in Japan

One of my lead teachers is using a book called Grammar 80 or something like that.

It presents 80 examples of applied English grammar that some Japanese teachers of English seem to think need special attention.

I don't think the book itself is bad. It has issues. Any attempt to write such a book on budget and get it on the market is going to have issues. Some of the issues in the orginal printing have been addressed, or even fixed. Some remain.

I do not think the school that employs me is bad for using the book as a textbook. Well, not especially bad. It's typical of the things private schools do here, and the practice is, unfortunately, spreading to public schools. (Such as my daughter's school. Ick. The things I have to fix when she comes home. Talk about pushing that stone up that hill.

Teaching to the tests is not my present topic.

(You know, I'm sure Kate Bush was channeling Sisyphus when she did that song. Oh. Some people will think that video is not safe for work, I guess. I'm an aging dancer. To me it's more about responsibility in relationships in general than about sex in particular, but I do admit explaining that to some teen-agers is difficult.)

No, teaching to the tests is not my present topic. I think I've blogged about tests before, but I only find an incomplete post in the summer English blog from two years ago. Looking in the wrong places, maybe.

Tests are supposed to be an adventure. But that is not what I'm talking about.

The unit from Grammar 80 that inspired this rant was on the topic of inanimacy in English: 無生物主語、 or inanimate subjects.

Weather prevented the airplane from taking off. 
This seems to be a surprise to Japanese academics because "preventing" is something people do, not something the weather should do.

According to their incomplete dictionaries.

Another example:
How fast computers develop! New computers enable us to do a lot more work than last year's models.
Now I've fixed those examples, and I'll return to their original form shortly.

But what is this?

English is a language in which animacy, if it was ever a grammatical principle in the old language, has almost entirely disappeared. Some point to gender diferentiation as a vestige of animacy, but that is a theory.

Just a theory.

Animacy is a principle in Japanese grammar, yes.

But the problem is that dictionaries fail to provide sufficient definition, fail to point to both the animate and inanimate corrolary vocabulary and idiom in Japanese. Or that students don't look far enough.

We are wasting two hours of high school students' valuable time talking about examples of theoretical issues that are better the topic of post-graduate theses.

Ten words of explanation, two example sentences, move on to more important things.

And then there is this example about "my father preventing me from marrying an actor". Well, I guess, if they are going to use this as an excuse to demonstrate uses of "prevent", it's a good example, even though it seems to reach beyond the unit title.

(Not sure if it does to the Japanese academic. There may be some obscure grammar in operation on the Japanese side that drags certain animate subjects into the tangle of inanimacy grammar. Something to look into at some point.)

This one, I'm going to quote verbatim:
Law prevents lots of bad things from happening.
There was one student last week that came up to us after class and asked about the logical issues of that sentence. The lead teacher is not temperamentally equipped to deal with such questions, and, really, five minutes between classes is not enough time. But he seemed to be sufficiently satisfied when I admitted that the sentence has logical issues in either language.

(The teacher said, "Please don't confuse the students."


She's a good teacher, mind you. Very good.

The system is the problem, not the textbook, not the teacher, not the school.

I'm walking on thin ice, I know.)

Now, the original of the sentence about computers was something like this:

New computers enable us to do a lot more work than the computers sold last year.
(Ignoring the fact that it is an outdated bit of sales blurb, ....)

These poor kids are being taught the use of passive before they are being taught the use of active from junior high school.

They are being taught style instead of grammar, and, inevitably, they are being taught inappropriate style,

... because they are trying to teach English as if it were chained to ages of forced formalisms, just as Japanese is supposed to be (but is not).

Many good teachers. Lots of great students doing their best. Many good schools.

The problem, as it always is, is the system.

But there is good news. Modern Japanese is losing the formalisms. This also creates generation gap issues and other such problems, but, hey, we are problem solving creatures.

As long as the system doesn't get reactionary and try to keep individuals from trying to solve their own problems, we can work around these kinds of things.

Keeps life interesting.

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