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1. A Swift Return?

This is a sporadic newsletter and I hope spontaneous. It seems I have quite a lot to say at the moment but little time to say it. Short and sweet, or short and sour? You tell me.

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2. Acceptable Competition?

Deeds of violence in our society are performed largely by those trying to establish their self-esteem, to defend their self-image, and to demonstrate that they, too, are significant.

Recently I've been involved in a half discussion-three quarter debate on the merits of competition in the classroom. This took place on the English Teachers in Japan (ETJ) list which is well worth joining if you are interested in topics relating to teaching English in Japan (it lives up to its' name!). Though getting onto the list is a little cumbersome.

I'm not going to rehash the brownies here - some of them were burnt offerings, but instead I'm going to illustrate some points by relating an experience I had this week. When it comes down or even up to it, theories and research are mere platitudes compared with what happens personally. Personal observations and experiences flow into transformations, sometimes. Having said this, one post to the list mentioned the article The Morality of Competition which got me thinking.

This week I saw a child propel himself to the edge of a temper tantrum while playing a co-operative game. Proponents of competition have a tendency to blame the individual and excuse the structure. When a child (or adult for that matter) reacts badly to either winning or losing the problem is seen to be in the person.

This certainly seemed to be the case on Monday. We were playing Monster Bingo for the first time (I'll put this on line next time...). This involves throwing a sucker ball at the whiteboard. The boy became upset after failing to get the ball to stick to the board. Angry and tearful he declared that he was going to stop learning English.

What had gone wrong? I thought carefully about what I'd seen.

  1. Before the class began, the boy was behaving differently from usual. He said he wanted a rest. So possibly other influences were at work beyond the action in the game itself.
  2. No problem arose while the children were writing the words to create the bingo sheets. The problem arose with the game playing part of the game.
  3. Two other boys were impatient and this increased the pressure.
  4. I didn't explain the rules clearly. I didn't say that the ball had to stick to the whiteboard to count. While this seemed obvious to myself and the other children this fuelled the boy's upset.
  5. He felt the rules were unfair and designed against him. He'd hit the target and felt that should have been enough.

Fortunately by the next class the boy's spirits were restored. He had a big jump up in his score for an alphabet check sheet and that pleased him. Talk of quitting English seemed forgotten, but I think it would be a mistake for me to ignore the event as a squall in a bathtub.

This wasn't the first time the boy had become upset. While it is possible to argue that the boy is oversensitive the question remains about the best way to help him. I'm sure making the games and activities more competitive and telling him to 'get used to it' isn't the answer. His response to the alphabet check sheet is a case in point. If children were competing to get the best score he would find that his was no where near the best. He would probably find his result had much less meaning. But by getting children to focus on self improvement rather than comparisons with others they can take pride in their genuine accomplishments.

The boy may have a problem with 'learning to play the game' but it is his competitiveness that is creating the problem. It's as if his very being is being exposed for inspection and comparison and he finds it wanting.

Seriousness is a big problem here. I think a lot of silly non-competitive activities are required to help the boy realise he doesn't need to compare himself with others. As part of this process I think it's important to bend and break rules and even do without them altogether. I also think it's important that the boy gets used to dealing with ambiguous situations, but at the same time at the moment I need to be clear about rules which can be interpreted competitively. For example, I could have demonstrated the rule about sticking the ball to the whiteboard before we started.

Another area to work in is building up the class spirit. Greater sensitivity and compassion by the other boys would certainly have helped. They are certainly capable of it.

3. Reports

Human freedom involves our capacity to pause, to choose the one response toward which we wish to throw our weight.

Last Saturday I attended a parade in Tokyo. At least it was called a parade, though in truth it was a demonstration. About 1000 people gathered to protest what I'm not quite sure. I was there because I wished to show my opposition to the 'war against terror' which is a shameful, murderous oxymoron. Others were there to protest the withering of Clause 9 - the article in the Japanese Constitution that forbids Japan to fight abroad. That was a good reason too. When facing killers almost any reason is good enough.

The paucity of the numbers was made up by the diversity of the participants. There were Buddhists, Christians, anarchists and housewives (does this mean that housewives can't be Buddhists or anarchists or Christians - oh prejudice!). There were banners and drums, cameras and not-so-secret secret police.

Before the parade there were various speeches and a solitary shamisen performer from Okinawa. Speakers were from Japan, the Philippines, Korea, the Middle East (I think) and the United States.

It was interesting to notice the difference in styles. Most speakers were very matter of fact, especially the speaker from Korea who was very humble. The speaker from the United States, on the other hand was loud and dramatic and out of place. "No more Vietnams" he thundered, listing the numbers of American dead and wounded. Not a word, not a pause, not a tear for the millions of Vietnamese dead. Chilling in is insularity.

And for those of you who are uncomfortable reading this -well, we'll all be a lot more uncomfortable if the real war starts.

What's New

Since last time I've added three articles and one story. I miscounted the number of songs chants and poems - there are six rather than seven as I wrote before. Three new links have also been created. Here is the list:

Articles

(Originally Published in Teachers Learning With Children the quarterly newsletter of the Jalt Teaching Children Special Interest Group):

Beyond Repetition escape the Parrot syndrome!

Beyond Words non-verbal communication games in children's classes

Large Children's Classes and STAD competitive teams within co-operative learning - surely not?

Stories:

The Kettle a parable, an allegory or something else?

Links:

Foundations of Cooperative Learning - a useful overview of the different styles of co-operative learning.

The Morality of Competition a case for 'appropriate competition' and 'healthy rivalry'

Mutual Aid: A Factor of Evolution a review of the book by Petr Kropotkin who suggested that Darwin's Theory of Evolution has been misinterpreted.

I'm sorry - the Japanese Pages are still unavailable. After the tour, I promise.

5. Wise Hat On Tour

Here are the details as I know them:

April 28th (Afternoon) Tokushima Catholic Church
Out of the Hat Presentation for Tokushima Jalt

April 30th (Morning) Kitajima Sunlife Community Centre
Meet Chris Hunt! A Guest English Class for Adults.

May 1st (Morning) Kakihara Elementary School
Guest and Demonstration Classes

May 12th (11:00-13:00) Crystal Palace, International Centre, Hiroshima
Out of the Hat Presentation for Hiroshima ETJ

May 19th Fukui
The Cancer of Competition Presentation for Fukui Jalt

May 26th (10:00-12:00) Iwate International Plaza, Morioka
The Cancer of Competition Presentation for Iwate Jalt

Out of the Hat Challenge, choice and chance and three words that begin with 'ch'. Children is a fourth. The secret to successful children's classes is the blending of challenge, choice and chance. As Louis Pasteur wrote "Chance favours the prepared mind." Come and prepare yours!

The Cancer of Competition: games in the EFL Classroom Most teachers now regard the use of games as beneficial to language learning. But little attention has been given to the effect of the structure of the games used. By comparing the structure of competitive games with co-operative games the presenter will demonstrate how the structure of games affect learning. The inherent problems of competitive structures will be outlined and solutions given. By directly experiencing different kinds of game structures participants will come away both with practical new activities to use in the classroom and an understanding of how games fit into the classroom context.

Administrivia

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..if you do not express your own original ideas, if you do not listen to your own being, you will have betrayed yourself. Also, you will have betrayed your community in failing to make your contribution.

(Quotes this issue by Rollo May)

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