Effortless English Archives

Automatic English For The People

Wednesday, August 31, 2005

More Great Stuff- Word Substitution II

by AJ

Yet another gem from the interview on Tom Peters.com ("student" substituted for "customer", "teacher" for "employee"):

We decided to calibrate based on a set of questions, both for students and for teachers. One of them, for example, was, "I often exceed students' expectations."

Then we'll ask a student to give a value to the statement, "I often have my expectations exceeded." The interesting thing—and this is a consistent result that we've seen in all the studies—is that about 95 or 96 percent of the teachers claim they exceed student expectations. Yet, on average, only about 30 percent of the students agree with the same statement.

Obviously there are some serious gaps between what the teachers believe they deliver, versus what the students actually experience. And when you don't link those two, you will never know the truth about how well you're executing.

Ouch! Guilty as charged. Ive always suspected this.

Why? Because as a student (from Middle school on up through grad school) I have generally been very dissatisfied with my teachers and schools. The vast majority have been boring, irrelevant,... and sometimes, downright painful. Some have been humiliating. Others just seemed pointless. Yet those teachers, Im sure, thought they were doing a great job.

Im not so clueless as to imagine Im immune from this phenomenon. I know damn well that students are far less impressed with my "innovative" ideas than I am.

Which is why I continue to wrack my brain for better feedback mechanisms. Standard "teacher evaluations" are no good. They are usually vague. Plus, the teacher usually gets them after the class is long over. Many students avoid being overly critical even if they were not happy (this is especially true in Asia).

So how do we find out just how bad we are... and how we can overhaul the student's experience? Im not quite sure. One solution Ive discovered this semester... surrender more power, build rapport, then initiate discussions (ie. "The Ideal English Class" discussion).

I used to think anonymous forms and blog comments were the way to go... but I dont think so now. Too vague. Too impersonal. What we need are honest conversations. This might be with the teacher... or it might mean bringing in an outsider... preferably one with good communication skills with no official ties to the school.

But the best way is to build a trusting relationship with the students so that they'll feel comfortable airing their feelings. Again, not an easy task. But an essential one.

Word Substitution

by AJ

This from an interview on Tom Peters.com... Ive subsituted the words "school" for "company" and "teachers" for "employees" and "tests" for "pie chart":

*What we found is that teachers might want to do the right thing, but they are restricted by procedures and programs that are absolutely ridiculous.

*Sincerity is the true asset of your school, not what you measure in your tests. Can you measure courage? Can you measure leadership? Can you measure risk taking? No, you cannot. Or innovation? And yet, these are the true essence of the school. You can't order your teachers (or students) to have those characteristics; you need to nurture it. You need to create a culture that will bring that out of them, because they want to.

Early in my career, I was working in a non-profit organization, and most of my employees were working for very little money, or no money at all. Yet, they still found a connection to the mission, to what we do, to the difference that we make in the world. That brought the best out of them. Too many schools are killing that; they don't know how to nurture their true assets. Because again, they treat it as a soft, touchy-feely type of a thing, as opposed to understanding that the true differentiation comes from that humanity.

Yeah baby! To this I would only add... if you want to do courageous, innovative, risk-taking things... dont wait for the "boss" to change the policy. Just do it. Never (for godssake) ask for permission. Thats the BIG lesson I learned as Clinical Coordinator at Stephens House. In the beginning, I tried to ask my boss for permission prior to instituting changes. I tried to keep her "informed"... to "pass ideas by her". After she shot down the third or fourth one, I decided, "screw this, Im just going to do what needs to be done". And it worked.. right up until the time I was fired!

Some will take that as a cautionary tale... "see, if you break the rules you'll get fired". So what. At least I facilitated something great at that job. At least I made a big impact in some people's lives. At least I transformed the program.

Would shuffling along, "covering my ass", collecting the paycheck, and squashing my clients have been a better outcome? I dont think so.

Never ask for permission. Just do it.

International Projects

by AJ

Ive been very pleased with the "Project" and "Blog" assignments Im using with my BAS students. They are both progressing very well.

Next semester, I plan to try a cooperative project with a teacher at Ubon University. Its a great idea. Project Teams would be comprised of members from both our classes. Team members will communicate via blogs, email, chats, and phone calls (Skype, cell phones, whatever).

Its an intriguing idea... but I think the intrigue and power could be increased exponentially with one small addition: go international!

Instead of teams made up of students from different THAI universities... how about teams comprised of students of universities from different countries? Thus, each project team might include a collection of Thai and Japanese students. Or Thai, Japanese, Korean, and Brazilian students.

There are many benefits to this approach. The big one is that English becomes NECESSARY and DESIRABLE. For Thai students to communicate with Japanese students.. most (the vast majority) will need to use English. As the variety of nationalities increases.. so too does the necessity of English.

The next big benefit.... relevancy. Isnt this why students are cajoled to study English... because its the "international language". Because it opens international opportunities (trade, jobs, scientific, artistic, social, romantic, etc.).

Its one thing to say "English will help you connect with the rest of the world"... its much more powerful to put it in action... "This semester you WILL connect with people in other parts of the world. You will work on a project together... and your grade will depend on your ability to communicate and work with people from another country".

Another (possible) payoff: This has the potential to be self-sustaining. Some students might develop friendships that will continue after the semester ends. And how will they continue to communicate with each other? By using English, of course. Now they've developed a PERSONAL reason to continue learning (or to at least maintain what they already know).


by AJ

Ive now got a rough prototype for the game rules (grade system) Ill use next semester. I think a menu or ala carte system might be a good start. It contains some comfortable and familiar elements (ie points) but also opens up the learning and decision making process.

Here's how it will work. To get an "A".. students must collect 900 or more points. For a "B" it will be 800-899, etc.

During the semester, students are free to choose from a menu of activities.... with each activity/assignment worth a certain number of potential points. Students will also be free to design their own activities/assignments and then negotiate with me regarding how many points it should be "worth"... sky's the limit on this... "trip to America with parents- 100 points!"

While students will be encouraged to develop their own choices, Ill offer a "standard menu" as follows:

Perfect Attendance & Participation: 200 points
1-2 Absences: 100 points
Team Project: 0-200 points (depending on grade)
2000 Word Vocab Notebook: 200 points
1000 Word Vocab Notebook: 100 points
Song Lyrics with New Vocab: 1 pt each
Article with New Vocab: 1 pt each
Midterm Exam: 0-100 pts
Essay Exam: 0-100 pts
Final Exam: 0-100 pts
Blog & Comments: 0-150 pts
Book/Film Presentation: 0-15 pts each (about 0-210 total for semester)
Teacher recommended books (Read, short paper, vocab): 0-100 pts each
Personal Interview with me: 0-100 pts
Interview with foreigners (recorded): 1/2 pt per minute (ie. 30 min=15 pts)

So, students can piece together any combination of activities they like.... to go for as many points as they like. And they can add more activities if one goes badly. For example, if they bomb the midterm they could start keeping a vocab notebook or doing extra articles every week. Or, if they hate exams, they could avoid them completely.

Im curious to give this a try.

One thing I love about teaching is that its a great venue for experimentation. I think of each of my classes as a lab. I launch new ideas, prototypes, etc... and then see how they do. Some bomb (ie. most of my Russian Studies class), some do moderately well (most of my Freshman classes) and some explode and are fantastic (BAS class). The great thing is that after 16 weeks I get to start over. I review the experiments.... take the stuff that did great, jettison the stuff that bombed, then add new experiments to the mix. And so the process continues.....

Choosing A New Director

by AJ

The Thammasat Language Institute is now in the process of choosing a new Director. If they choose a man, I am going to scream !!

80-90% of our students are women. The vast majority of our teachers (especially the Thai teachers) are women. The vast majority of our staff are women.

Yet the current director is a man. If they choose another man, they are goddamned crazy and just plain stupid. Come on guys, its the 21st Century.

In this respect Im 1000% in agreement with uber-management guru Tom Peters. I admire his insistence that women MUST be moved into leadership positions because their natural TENDENCIES are far more in tune with our needs than are the 1950s hierarchical leadership styles of most men.

With no effort, off the top of my head, I can think of three suberb women candidates. Come on Thammasat, do the right thing!

Great Job on Comments: BAS

Thip is the undisputed champion of doing comments on the blogs... she has commented on almost every other student's blog. Wow! Fantastic. Great job!

Several other students are also doing a great job on the comments.... great work!

Keep on doing it!!!!!!

Guests, Volunteers, Mentors

by AJ

I had a "duh" moment today. As I contemplated my students requests for "real social interactions" I kept thinking "but how can I do this".

Then it hit me.. "duh". Id already done this.. again, in my past jobs as a social worker. When working in that field, I always preferred small agencies. I love their flexibility and openness to innovation. But there is one major challenge at such organizations: funding. Most operate on a shoe-string budget.

As I tackled my jobs, I was always faced with a huge gap between what I/we wanted to do and what we could afford to do. But I quickly stumbled on a solution: volunteers.

At The Alcove Youth Shelter, they were called "student interns". Most big agencies took two at the most.. seeing them as a burden, or as cheap office workers. We took four, five or more at a time and turned them loose. We trained them to run support groups. We put them in charge of writing grants. We partnered them with our residential clients. We had them design new programs. They loved it, because they got great opportunities during their internship (while most of their classmates at other agencies were making copies and answering phones). We loved it because we got energetic, enthusiastic, creative, gung-ho staff members... for free!

Even better.. the internship program served as the agencies recruitment program. In fact, I started at The Alcove as an MSW intern. They turned me loose and I went crazy. When I graduated, they hired me. This happened many times. The agency rarely had to worry about interviewing untested strangers. They chose from the best and brightest of the interns.

At Stephen's House (transitional shelter for HIV+, homeless folks) the residents and I created a HUGE volunteer program. Volunteers led social activities, gave seminars, mentored clients, cooked meals, raised money, etc, etc, etc... all for free! They loved contributing, the clients loved them, and the agency accomplished incredible things without the slightest increase in budget.

So my answer to the "real social interaction problem" is quite simple: volunteers. Ill create a volunteer program. Not sure of the details yet.. but here are some random thoughts:

*Recruit volunteers (native speakers, other foreigners) for the "book/film club meetings". They'll join in with the students by also presenting a book or film... then discussing it.

The "other foreigners" category has huge potential, I think... for it would provide them (Japanese, Korean, etc.) with opportunities to practice English (in a university setting) for free. They win. We win.

*Create an open class policy.. recruit/invite volunteers to drop in on any class they like... encourage them to participate in discussions with the students, join project teams, etc.

*Organize outside social activities for students and volunteers: bowling trips, movie nights, camping trips, dinner cruises on the river, etc....

All I need to do is find a means of tapping Bangkok's large expat and tourist population... find native speakers who want to meet and socialize with Thai students. Find non-native English speakers (and non-Thai) folks who'd like a free opportunity to practice English......

Ill post updates on the progress Im making with this project.

Tuesday, August 30, 2005

"Extra" Credit

by AJ

Psychology 101-- positive reinforcement is more effective than punishment. Its something every psychologist and social worker knows... its something that good dog trainers know. And yet, in education, there persists a control, test, & punish mentality.

Here's how it works: "Attendance and participation are worth 100 points. For every class you miss, I will subtract 3 points. You will be responsible for all the vocabulary and grammar in Chapters 1-5. This information will be on the exam... if you dont memorize it, you will get a bad grade. If you fail to turn in a required assignment, you will get an F. If you do badly on an assignment, you will get an F." Etc, etc., etc.

Sound familiar? Its the bullshit approach Ive used (more or less) for all of my classes this semester. But I wont be using it next semester.

The evaluation system in most traditional schools is BROKEN. Teachers and schools are obsessed with exams and "end results". They think giving an identical exam to all students.. and then basing their grades on the scores.. is "fair and effective". Fair? What happens with the exams? The ones who start the class with better English ability do better on the exams... the ones who start the class with a low level of acquisition do worse on the exam. Just what are we measuring? Its certainly not their effort, performance, or amount of learning in the class.

This whole letter-grade system is ass-backwards and out of control. Schools, teachers, and students view the grade as the goal and the process as secondary.. when it should, obviously, be the reverse situation.

If we are going to use grades (unfortunately a requirement at my current job) we should at least USE them for some purpose other than demotivating all but the highest level students.

How? Use them to encourage the language acquistion process... use them to encourage and promote good learning strategies.

Thus, for me, no more exams... (as some classes are required to take exams by the administration, Ill provide alternate activies to the exams then choose the higher of the two grades for the "midterm" and "final" scores).

And no more punishment systems. Im going to structure my grading system on an incentive/reward basis. Ive already started this. With my freshmen classes, I offer one point of "extra credit" for every article they copy, read, define the unknown vocab, and turn in to me.

The result-- my students are reading articles like crazy... EXACTLY the sort of learning strategy I want to encourage. Some are now bringing me two, three, or four articles after each class!

This works and it works very well. Traditionalist will cry "but you make it too easy for them to get an "A". To which I say, "So what". They are engaging in exactly the sort of language acquisition strategy I want to encourage. To my mind, any student who regularly reads English language newspaper articles outside of class SHOULD get an "A"... regardless of their exam score.

I havent worked out the details yet, but I plan to re-design most or all of my "game rules" (grading scheme) around these sorts of incentives.

Coercion Is Dead

by AJ

Coercion is dead. Over. The days of the drone are numbered.

Well, not exactly. There are still plenty of drone jobs (lots). Im not a businessman or scientist but I read about these topics to keep up to date... and everything I read suggests that the factory-soldier work mentality is collapsing.. while organic, autonomous, decentralized, project/team oriented organizations are on the rise. This may not be true in every field... but is at least (and especially) true among the emerging industries that will employ the bulk of our college-educated students: technology, creative services, design,.. and other fast-changing, value-adding sectors of the economy.

Drone thinking and drone behaviour will land our students in lower paying, less satisfying, extremely boring drone jobs. The future belongs to innovative, proactive, project-oriented decision makers. The obedient and passive will be stuck in factories, low-level bureaucratic posts, and fast food restaurants.

Thus the imperative to radically redesign our classes. Is it easier (for the teacher) to just tell students what to do.. and punish them if they dont? Its certainly simpler. But more effective? No way.

Many teachers balk at this statement. Its nothing Im not used to. I encountered the same doubt as a social worker. As Clinical Coordinator for Stephens House (in SC)... I was constantly told (by my boss, by doctors, by nurses, by other social workers, by damn near every self-appointed expert in the field) that I must "be strict with the clients"... "you must be the parent because they have the mentality of children".... "lay down the law"... "make them take responsibility" (an oxymoron if ever I heard one)... "they wouldnt be where they are if they could make good decisions".

Who were "they". They were homeless, HIV positive, substance addicted individuals.... most of them minorities (gay, African-American,...). In other words, they were prime candidates for the title "bottom of the socio-economic ladder".

The people above them on the ladder were convinced that these people must be coerced and controlled "for their own good".

I disagreed and for the first time of my "career", I decided to throw caution to the wind and completely defy my boss. I surrendered control to the clients (residents of a transitional shelter). I gave them control of the house (upkeep, decoration, etc.). I gave them control of creating and enforcing "house rules". I put them in charge of transportation (getting clients to doctors appointments). I put them in charge of social activities. Im put them damn near in charge of everything.

And contrary to all the naysayers... they kicked ass. The more power they got, the more "responsible" they became. When they took over upkeep of the house... it improved dramatically (repairs made promptly, new paint on the walls, yard sales to fund decorations and social activities, everything cleaned regularly, etc.).

The most dramatic improvement was in the area of drug use. When I took my position, the house was in crisis. Clients were regularly using drugs in the house. They were inviting drug using friends into the house.. and having them spend the night in their rooms. Drug use on premises was the number one reason for ejection from the program.. and it happened alot.

The "experts" told me to get tough: Institute random drug testing, spy on them, encourage them to snitch, randomly search their rooms, etc.

Instead, I talked to two of the residents who were die-hard members of AA and NA. They attended meetings all the time. I asked them to talk to the other residents and find a way to solve the drug problem.

Here's what they did:
*They decided to host an NA (Narcotics Anonymous) weekly meeting in the house.
*They arranged for sponsors for all clients with substance abuse problems.
*They relentlessly encouraged, supported, badgered, and ass-whooped each other to prevent relapses.. or nip them in the bud.
*They instituted a volunteer mentor program.. volunteers from the community were paired with clients.
*They requested semi-regular private meetings with me.
*THEY requested drug testing "to help us maintain our recovery".
*THEY strictly enforced the "no overnight guests" rule.

Drug use plummeted. Ejections for drug use plummeted. The reputation of the house improved dramatically.

And I didnt do a damn thing.

For this I was eventually fired by my "treat them as children" boss. It was the proudest moment of my social work career.

Emotion-- Priority Number One

by AJ

Ive gotten a tremendous amount of information from my class discussions this week, re: "The Ideal English Class".

Perhaps the most surprising thing to me was what they considered the number one goal of the class. It wasnt "grammar improvement",... nor "more vocabulary". It wasnt even "better fluency".

The number one goal.... what they most wanted out of the class.. was CONFIDENCE.

In other words, the most important goal for the students was an EMOTIONAL goal. They want a certain emotional experience... an emotional/attitude transformation regarding English.

Very, very, very interesting. This has big-time implications. And interestingly, these implications once again mirror the work of Krashen and other researchers. Krashen puts it this way, "The path of pleasure is the ONLY path". Skill building, grammar-analysis, drills, and most traditional methods are the path of delayed gratification (only after years of study will you be allowed to enjoy the language).... its a dead end path for over 90% of the students.

Pleasure... confidence... euphoria... These must not only be factored into class designs... they must be the most important factors. If your lesson doesnt include a plan for euphoria and confidence-building.. its a piss-poor lesson plan.

This is yet another reason that aesthetics matter and they matter alot! The paint scheme in the classroom is just as important as the syllabus. Likewise the choice of furniture, artwork, lighting, and decor.

We're still stuck in a factory mentality. We think emotions are "soft" or unimportant. But they are absolutely the most important aspect of a language class. I dont care how brilliant your method is... if it creates unpleasant emotions you will drive the majority of your students away from the language. They may get an "A" on the exam, but they'll also learn to loathe the language and view learning it as drudgery. With such feelings, how likely are they to continue with self-study (the only way they will truly become proficient)?

Isnt this already the case? Most students who take English classes get good grades. They do reasonably well on the exams. But once they finish the required classes, how many continue to learn on their own? How many go on to advanced elective classes? 10% ? 5% ? Thats a dreadful "success" rate.

For some reason, this truth seems difficult for many teachers to grasp. They cringe at the thought that emotion is the most important thing. Perhaps its because they dont feel much pleasure with the topic.. or teaching... themselves? Im not sure.

Maybe this comes easier to me... seems less radical... because of my social work background. In social work, emotional-attitudinal experience is recognized as hugely important. If a client is depressed, hopeless, bored, or dependent... it doesnt matter what "skills" you give them or what you do for them. You can secure a job for them, stabilize their medical problems, get them off drugs, etc.... but if their emotional health is not good... none of it will last.

The same holds for students. Start paying attention to the emotional experiences of your students. Pay ALOT of attention. Plan for it. Put it in your lesson plans.

Artificial vs. Authentic

by AJ

A lot of the issues raised by my students.. and Bee's.. revolve around the issue of authenticity. Students are fed up with boring, artificial, coerced methods. And who can blame them.

Its not only textbooks that are artificial. Role plays are too. So are vocabulary notebooks. So too is sitting in a butt-ugly building, in cramped desks arranged in rows, and doing "exercises".

There's no getting around it... we've got to blow the walls off of schools. Im realizing something... once you commit to excellence (as opposed to "good").. you've got to go all the way. Its an all or nothing, damn the torpedoes, leap of faith, subvert the bureaucracy, revolutionary insurgency (yipee!!).

An example: Today I had my "English for Economists" class design their "ideal class". Here's what they suggested for the central classroom activity: Parties!

At first I thought, "they are crazy". But then it clicked. Of course. What they want is authentic communication. Chatting at a party is authentic... its REAL communication. We do this all the time in our native languages... spend hours chatting while eating, drinking, lounging. But as soon as you enter a language class the "no fun" sign goes on. "No food", "No drink", "Repeat after me", "Do this role play", "Open your books to page 8". B-b-b-boring!

So when I say "blow the walls off of schools" Im serious. Bring in native speakers as guests/friends. Create real social opportunities for students.. in English. Trash the hideous desks. Bring food. Drink. Kick your feet up.

Its another reason Im intrigued by the book/film club idea. Read cool stuff you choose yourself, watch interesting movies you choose yourself,..... then relax with friends and talk about it. Of course this worked great! Its real. Its authentic. Its something we do all the time in our native languages.

So what is the teacher's role in all of this?

One: Win students over to the joy and power of reading and listening.... do this through enthusiasm, passion, knowledge.. not coercion.

Two: Design fun and interesting "games". Im starting to think of myself as a game designer..... I create intriguing project parameters and then convince the students to play them. See the BAS project as an example. Also the book presentations. Also the blogs [all three quite popular with my students and also quite affective].

Three: Coach and Consultant. All my classes have stated that a key role for the teacher should be one to one contact with students. They suggested that the teacher could schedule meetings after class and during class... to discuss learning strategies and progress, to encourage and inspire, to answer questions, to guide, to teach autonomous learning approaches...

Vocab Notebooks

by AJ

Jean's, Hiroshi's, and other's comments boil down to authenticity. They dont like keeping a vocabulary notebook, for example... because its an artificial and unpleasant exercise.

Plus, as Hiroshi pointed out in class on Monday, "its useless. We will never study and memorize these notebooks". And he's right. I hit the wall with my Spanish notebook last week. Suddenly I just got sick of doing it. It slowed my reading and made it feel like "work".

So Im not going to use a vocab notebook anymore. Instead, when I want to look up a word.. I just write its meaning directly in the book Im reading.. then continue on. Its much more pleasant.

Besides, the research on Free Reading shows that glossaries, lexiles, and dictionaries do not help much anyway. The key is to choose UNDERSTANDABLE books and videos. If you understand 90% of the language... you dont need to look up a bunch of words in a dictionary. Instead, you'll learn new vocab through context. Or, if you do look up words, you only need to look up a few... thus the flow of reading/listening is not interrupted too much.

In a previous comment, Jean said that students would not read a book or watch a movie every two weeks if they only understood it a little bit. Right!,.. but the second half of that sentence is very important. Because if they DO understand most of it... I think they WILL easily do this. In fact, my BAS students are doing much more than this... on their own. The key is... the reading/listening must be understandable. Thats one reason its best to let the students choose most of their books and movies on their own.

For my part, Im reading Spanish quite easily and easily finish 2 or more mini-novels in a week... because I understand them! On the other hand, I struggle to read and understand even the simplest Thai book... and so find it much more unpleasant to do the same with Thai.

This tells me a few things:

1. Read more (Listen more)... and Dictionary Less (or not at all). Perhaps class time can be spent reading vocab-intensive material... but outside of class the dictionary should be used sparingly.

2. Content is King: Ideas, stories, books, films, and communication should be the primary focus. Language mechanics are a very distant second.

3. Provide time in class for free reading: Krashen recommends this and so do I. Set aside time during each class for students to read quietly... anything they choose. They can consult with the teacher one to one during this time if they have questions.

4. Coercion sucks: Forcing students to keep a vocab notebook is probably a bad idea. On the other hand, many students do like keeping one. So why not make this an extra credit assignment. Those who want extra points can do it... those who dont like keeping a notebook dont have to.

5. One size does not fit all. Weve got to find ways to let students tailor the learning experience to their individual goals and learning styles.

6. Massive amount of material is crucial: Students need access to a huge amount and a huge variety of material (ie. libraries). Ive noticed with my own learning.. what I crave is steady access to lots and lots of reading and listening material at my level. I like to reread books.. but only 2-3 times at most. After that Im bored and what another story.

Ideal Class Revisited

by AJ

Recent comments from Bee's students in Brazil.. plus great discussions in my classes this week (especially BAS)... plus my own experiences with Spanish/Thai... have led to a number of new ideas concerning my approach to teaching:

First, a comment from Jean:
Because all of the students will not read a book and will not see a movie every two weeks in a language that they only understand a bit...

In the beginning, I think that they will love your methods, but in the middle of the year, they will get more and more tired... Because this method is very similar of doing a blog, and this is what we were and are doing this year. In the beginning we were very keen on doing a blog but at the end of the year we just...were fed up having to post every week about what we have learn in English. Is not because we are lazy. but because we just can't support doing a same thing all year...

When we go on computer is to talk with our friends by msn, or is to play, listening to music. And this is the same thing for your students : when they turn on the TV, they want to see a film that they understand, they want to see something, with not a dictionary at their side to look for some definitions, some words that they have not understood....

Next, some quotes from a summary of the research regarding the power of free reading (FVR) or "silent sustained reading" (SSR), from Dr. Stephen Krashen:

*Students prefer SSR to regular instruction (Dupuy, McQuillan)
*Fewer discipline problems when SSR is done
*SSR works for L1 and L2
*SSR works for all ages studied so far
*SSR works with graded readers (Mason)
*Supplementation with correction/grammar doesn't help (Mason)
*Supplementation with writing doesn't help (Mason)
*Supplementation that makes reading more comprehensible, interesting can help (Shin, Manning) [Discussion, book clubs, etc.]
*More reading > better writing
*More reading > better TOEFL performance (Constantino, SY Lee, KS Cho; Gradman & Hanania)
*Direct encouragement > more reading (Shin; under certain conditions)
*No evidence supporting the use of lexiles (Krashen) [ie. dictionaries]
*Each day, not a lot once a week (distributed, not massed)
* comics ok
* magazines ok
* graded readers ok for FL, ESL
* "easy" books ok
* "hard" books ok

I see many interesting parallels between Jean's comments and the research implications cited by Krashen. Also, Jean's comments are similar to those made by several of my BAS students. And these, in turn, mirror some recent experiences Ive had while learning Spanish and Thai (especially Spanish).

See the previous posts above for the conclusions Ive reached.

Monday, August 29, 2005

The Ideal Class

by AJ

Today my BAS students designed "the perfect English class". The criteria I gave for perfect were: a) Maximizes English acquisition and b) Is a fun, interesting, absorbing, euphoric, addictive experience.

I was impressed by the design they created and happy to see that many of their ideas mirrored my own...

* The students stated that CONFIDENCE should be the number one objective of the English class... not grammar, not vocab, not any particular parts of the language. Rather, building student's confidence with English should be the top goal. This surprised me at first but I understand.

The students are concerned with REAL communication in REAL situations. They want to have the confidence to USE English... not just master an exam or some other tedious aspect of the language. As these are upper-intermediate to advanced students... they already have functional vocabulary and grammar. They are eager to put it in action!

I then asked them, "How, exactly, can the teacher build confidence". They suggested a) Require students to make a presentation (about a book or article or topic) EVERY class, b) Meet one on one with the students to chat with them in English, encourage them, and bolster their confidence, c) create outside social activities to give students opportunities to use English in real social settings (with native speakers or people of other nationalities). They specifically mentioned a class camping trip.

I love this social idea as it resonates with many of my own. Ive often thought that language programs should think of themselves more as "social centers" than "schools". How about speed dating between native speakers and students? How about field trips. How about a film club or book club open to the public... with emphasis on drawing in native speakers that will mingle with students. How about parties? Dances?

The ultimate expression of this would be to house the program in a coffee shop, used book store, cafe, or bar (or some combo of them). Thats my plan should I ever stay put long enough to create my own "school". But for now, I need to think of a way to graft this vibe onto my classes at Thammasat. Any suggestions?

*Decision Making should be done by consensus (students and the teacher). The students did not want rigid rules... but rather suggested a few basic principles such as "mutual respect", "consensus building", and "self-reliance".

*Assignments: The students like the blog assignment and the project assignment that they are doing this semester and felt they should be used in the "ideal" class. They added weekly presentations to this list.

The class could not reach a consensus on vocabulary notebooks. Many students felt they were a good idea and suggested their use. Some, however, were strongly opposed to them and considered them useless.

We ran out of time, but they seemed to be heading towards some sort of alternative to the vocab notebook: perhaps rigorous question and answer sessions after presentations (to be sure the student read the Chapters, watched the movie, etc.), writing a short paper about reading/movies, etc. Another idea was to give students a choice... let them decide whether to do a vocab notebook, papers, or some sort of exam.

Still another idea was to require weekly vocab goals instead of one giant goal for the semester. The class seemed to be split 70/30 on the notebooks (70% for and 30% against).

*In Class Activities: The students suggested dividing in-class time among the following activities-- a) Watching movies with English subtitles turned on,.... then discussing the movie or particular scenes, b) Listen to English songs and then discuss the vocab and slang... and maybe do puzzles or listening gap activities, c) Read thought-provoking articles then discuss them and problem solve (articles chosen by the teacher).

*To encourage vocab and grammar growth the students recommended a MASSIVE amount of reading and listening (/watching). To encourage these activities the students recommended weekly presentations, weekly vocab goals, etc. (see above).

* Finally, I asked the students, "What is the teachers role and job in your ideal class?" They listed:

1. Encourage self-reliance
2. Relax the students and energize them. Help them to enjoy learning English.
3. Get students to think... challenge them. Excite them.
4. Meet with students one on one to encourage, support, and challenge them.

So there it is... the perfect English class according to Thai (and one Japanese) students at Thammasat University.

Happy to say that I note an uncanny similarity to the "book/film club" class Ive been contemplating.

Interesting. I will put these ideas into action with all of next semester's classes... starting in November (and damn the exams!!)

BAS Homework

Homework for next week:

1. Bring sources for your project to class... copies of articles, tapes, books, etc. Be sure to read or listen to them. You will present them to the class &/or your group and discuss them.

2. Post one page to your blog and 2 comments to other student's blogs. Ill be counting the comments this week :) You should have at least 6 total.

3. Post your progress on your blog... how many chapters have you read in Harry Potter or Zahir. How many words in your vocab notebook.. how many movies/TV shows watched... etc.

4. Read the Stephen's House article and be sure you understand it (the vocab and the overall meaning). We'll discuss it in class next Monday.

5. Keep reading. Keep watching and listening. Keep gathering sources for your project.

Sunday, August 28, 2005


Many students in the BAS class have posted their goals for this semester and they look great. Many are also updating their progress... letting us know what they have accomplished each week.

The following students have done a particularly great job: Ploy (Popcorn), Blue, Thip, Tong, Pang, Koy, Yim, May, Wow, Arm, Nice, and Ohm.

Nice, in particular, is doing fantastic. She's already finished reading Harry Potter I and is now going to reread it again. This is a fantastic idea. I often reread my Spanish mini-novels.... each time I read them I find that I understand a little more.

Great job Nice! And great job to the others I listed. Im happy to see you are making progress. Keep reading. Keep watching TV and movies. Keep gathering sources and ideas for your projects!

Friday, August 26, 2005

Perfect Blog Post

Tip's post this week is perfect... its exactly what I want all of my BAS students to do each week. She listed her goals. Then she listed the progress she had made this week:

About My GOALS in this week.....
*1* 100 words per week...
I almost finish it.
*2* Read 2 chapters in Harry Potter...I've read finished just one chapters but I think Tomorrow I will finish another one.
*3* Read comics book 2 chapters...
Yeah, I did it today so I got some joke to add in my sitcoms.
*4* Watch sitcoms 2 series...Now I didn't have much time but I watched 1 series already.
*5* Read 10 topics in newspaper...I read it about 5 topics, Tomorrow I have to read 5 left.

After and before this, she wrote about her ideas, feelings, etc. Perfect! Please follow her example.... put your weekly and midterm goals on your blog. Then, each week, tell us how you are doing on each goal.

The School of Now

by AJ

Got a link to this article, titled "School of the Future World Summit" from Dekita.org:

Forget the future what do students want from schools today? Taking up this question were four hyper-articulate teenagers representing www.TakingITGlobal.org, an online community that claims 75,000 student members. Although the teens hailed from different countries India, New Zealand, Uzbekistan, and the United States they shared remarkably similar visions for their ideal learning environment: one-on-one time with their teachers; the ability to manage their own learning; hands-on activities in and out of the classroom; and teachers serving as facilitators, not omniscient lecturers. Its important for us to see teachers are learning with their students, said Cherrie Kong, 19, from New Zealand. Its no longer them and us. Sound familiar?

As usual, the students are far ahead of the teachers and administrators. And forget the idea of this being the "school of tomorrow". Its the school of now. Its the hi-tech entrepreneurial workplace of now. Its the freelancing world of now.

The big points:

*Students want to manage their own learning environment. In other words, no more "teacher as big boss". But this also means, no more "student as passive slave". It means students that are more independent and powerful.... but who also take more initiative and do more on their own. It means teachers who are more flexible and more passionate... whose job is not to deliver facts but to Inflame, Inspire, Push, Pull, Persuade, Coach, and Win Over their students.

*My favorite line is, "its important to see teachers are learning with their students". What a great statement. All I can add is "Amen".

This is why I relentlessly insist that language teachers must be actively involved in learning another language. They dont have to be experts. They dont have to master a new language or even become fluent. But they must themselves display a passion for learning.

Leading from the rear just doesnt work the way it used to. People are smarter. "Do as I say, not as I do" is quickly recognized for the hypocrisy it is. The most effective way to lead is from the front. Blaze forward gloriously and dare them to come with you. Thats what inspires.

Thats what separates leaders for the ages such as Gandhi and MLK from cowardly blowhards like (draft dodging) W. Bush.

And so I think that teachers must put their ass on the line. Theyve got to show.. through their own actions.. that learning is euphoric, pleasurable, and engaging.

Dont just say it. Show it.

Thursday, August 25, 2005

Book/Film Club Class

by AJ

* I would structure the entire semester on the idea of a book and film club. Every week students would read books, present them, watch movies, and present them.

*Id use a combination of required readings/films and student chosen books. For required books/films, Id use ones likely to be of interest to the students (ie. Harry Potter, The Hobbit, Sex and The City).

*Prior to assigning a required book... I would read it and present it to the class. Id give a rough summary and my review of the book (why I chose it). Id do the same with movies.

*I would alternate between books and movies and audiobooks.

*Students would keep a vocabulary notebook for everything... this is good for helping them see tangible language benefits from reading and listening.

*Id create "game rules" (ie. grading) to encourage autonomous learning, massive comprehensible input, authentic materials, and authentic communication.

*Students would create blogs in order to post their learning goals, post about their weekly and monthly progress, publish their book and movie reviews.. and communicate with me and each other.

*Students would read one (self chosen) book every two weeks... and view one (self chosen) movie every two weeks. . Theyd post the book/film info on their blog and the progress they were making (in terms of new vocab in notebook and number of chapters read).

*Assuming the class met two times a week: One day a week they would make presentations. Theyd meet in small groups to present their book/movie, summarize it, review it, and lead a discussion about its general themes/ideas. Thus, one week they would present a book and the next week they would present a movie...

The other day of the week would be devoted to teacher chosen activities such as: showing required movies, playing excerpts from required audiobooks, reading articles and discussing them, doing TPR Storytelling, etc...

*On presentation days, Id encourage students to bring snacks and drinks (coffee, tea, cokes, etc.). I would also lower the lights a bit and would play classical background music during the discussions... to facilitate the "book club" vibe.

*Presentations would be graded by peer review and would focus only on subject knowledge and sufficient voice volume. Grammar, pronunciation, vocab use, and other speaking skills would NOT be graded.

*Id encourage article reading by offering +1 extra credit for every 1/4 page (or more) article turned in... students would highlight new vocab and concisely define it.

*Id require 1000 collected words in their vocab notebooks (for the semester) as 1/2 of their Final Exam grade. If they collected 2000 words Id let them skip the Final Exam altogether.

The Final Exam would be a C-Test drawn from passages in the required readings.

*This format could be wide (open to any books/films) or could be narrowed to particular genres or topics: ie. Fantasy & Sci Fi, Romance, Historical, Business and Management, America, Britain, Australia..., Social Work Issues,.....).

In fact, I quite like the idea of an "English Romance Class"... I think it would be very popular at Thammasat :)

Book Club

by AJ

This week most of my classes had a "book club". Theyd all chosen books to read a few weeks ago... and this week they presented them to the class.

I put them in 3-4 small groups and sat in the center of all the groups.. so I could listen in on them all. Each person then presented their book, talked about the story, and then gave their "review" of the book. Following that, other members of the group asked questions.

Ill be honest, I was shocked by how well this went. Previous attempts at "group work" have been disappointing at best. But the book club was fantastic.. in every single class!

So today Ive been contemplating why. Why was this so effective? Why were the discussions so lively and engaging? Why were the presentations so thorough?

In a nutshell: we tapped what Krashen calls "The Power of Reading". The students were interested because THEY chose the books. They chose stories that interested them and THEY determined the difficulty of the reading material. Some chose very simple and very short graded readers. Some reread short stories they had read in High School. Some chose very challenging and very long books (the new Harry Potter book, Fellowship of The Ring, Lolita).

Another important point: The presentation was relaxed and informal... much like a book club of native speakers. No one had to stand in front of the class. They put their chairs in circles and chatted with their friends about what they'd read.

Another factor: Grading. They were not graded on language ability. And they were not graded by me. Rather, group members assigned a numeric grade to each presenter.

I instructed them to consider only three factors: 1. They could hear the person, 2. The person spoke in English (bad, good, whatever.. doesnt matter), and 3. The person seemed knowledgeable about the book (ie. they read it). I advised them to give a full score to anyone who met these simple criteria.

And it worked fantastically well. When summarizing their books.. the students exceeded my expectations by telling very detailed stories. Their reviews were thoughtful and interesting. And the follow up discussions were likewise very interesting and thoughtful.

This experiences gives great weight to Krashen's suggestion regarding intermediate and above classes-- ie. that they should be literature based.

I agree.. I think a book/film club format would be an excellent structure for classes of this level. For a more detailed outline of how Id do it, see the post above.

Wednesday, August 24, 2005

What's Worked, What Hasn't

by AJ

As I get closer to the end of my first semester at Thammasat, I have begun to assess my teaching to mine the good stuff and identify the catastrophes. Here's a brief summary.

What Has Not Worked For Me
*Conveying Low Expectations

I started most of my classes on a pleasant, but ineffective footing by giving the impression that I had low expectations. I wanted to reduce anxiety (a good thing)... but I did so by sending the message that the class would be "easy". While Im all for effortlessness, Im not so fond of slackness and shirking self-responsibility.

This was a mistake. Its possible to have high expectations AND reduce anxiety... something I finally learned how to do with my BAS class (which started two months after my other classes and thus theyve benefitted from my previous errors).

OK, I already knew this. But several of my classes (EL172, English for Airlines) have required textbooks and the exams are drawn from that material... exams I do not create. As much as Id like to burn these books (and I REALLY want to)... I know my students want to pass the exams.

I try to limit the damage by covering only the key stuff that will be on the tests... and by adding other material. But Im still handicapped.

*Boring Topic Articles
In the name of "remaining on topic", I often brought in articles related to the class. For example, for the airline class I would bring in articles about Boeing's new jet. But these bombed! Why? Because they were damn boring. My students dont care about the economics of the airline industry.

They DO care about flight attendant opportunities, travel, movies, music, and the like. Ive discovered that its better to stretch the definition of "class topic"... after all, acquiring English is their primary goal-- not mastering the details of the airline industry.

*Sharing Classes
I guess Im not a team player. Ive had to "share" classes with other teachers... they teach the class one day a week and I teach it on the other day. Problem is, I loathe textbooks and they follow them religiously.

This is the "too many cooks in the kitchen" dilemma. Frankly, these teachers are good folks and probably great teachers.. but I dont want to share. I dont want to compromise nor do I want to settle for some half-assed middle ground between our approaches.

Unfortunately, these have been... without a doubt... the worst classes for me. No doubt the students are confused by the strangely different approaches.. and have no idea how they will be evaluated.

Stuff That Works

*Free Reading, "Book Club Discussions", and Easy papers
This works. I let the students choose any English book they like.... they read it, then write a VERY short and VERY easy paper about it. They then discuss their book (share it) with the class. In the future, I may eliminate the paper... stick with the sharing and discussing... maybe add snacks & drinks and go for a relaxed book club vibe.

*Interesting Required Readings
Stuff like Harry Potter, The Hobbit,... or take student's nominations. There's nothing wrong with requiring some books... but they should be interesting TO THE STUDENTS (the teacher's opinion is unimportant in this case).

Harry Potter, as we all know, is an international phenomenon. Using the first two books as required reading has been a huge hit.

*Extra Credit
Its basic social work... basic psychology 101-- positive reinforcement works better than punishment. I give my students tons of opportunities to earn extra credit. For every article they bring to me (copied, read, and with new vocab highlighted and defined) they get an extra point. Also, my BAS class can earn up to 50 extra credit points by collecting 500 extra vocab words from authentic sources... if they do this they can skip the final exam. In the future, Ill increase that number to 1000 (for 100 extra points).

The extra articles have been very popular... and give opportunities to students who dont do well on the (idiotic) required exams.

Super cool and very successful. These are fantastic. They enable me to stay in contact with students throughout the week... keep encouraging them. They get no-pressure writing practice. They communicate and bond with each other. They post their learning goals in a public format and thus increase the strength of the commitment. And they read each other's blogs and therefore share ideas, vocab, feelings, etc.

Rather than pushing goals on them, I found it better to have each student write their learning goals. I insist that these be definite, measurable, and concise. While "get more fluent" is a great goal...I want them to write something more easily verified such as "collect 100 new vocab words per week", or "read 10 newspaper articles per week".

Students write these goals. I then have a short conference with them and review them. If they are vague, I ask for measurable details. Once we both agree, I have them photocopy the (weekly and midterm) goals. I get one copy and they keep one. They then post these goals on their website. This worked great!

*Provocative Articles
While boring "topic" articles have not worked... provocative articles have. These have included articles about learning a language effortlessly, articles on new trends in education/management, articles about dating, etc. The key, Ive found, is to find articles with strong ideas that challenge conventional wisdom.

We then discuss these articles in groups. With group discussions, Ive found a consensus-problem solving approach works best. I provide a question or problem... the groups then have to arrive at answers by consensus... ie. everyone in the group must agree.

*Newspaper As "Textbook"
Instead of using a (goddamned) commercial textbook, I use the Bangok Post as the "required text" for my BAS class. This is working well... especially because I have them first skim the paper's headlines... looking for articles that interest THEM. I dont choose the articles, they do.

We then read the articles as a class, and discuss them in groups (see above).

*High Expectations
While Im basically a friendly guy, Ive learned its best to expect greatness rather than send a signal that I have low expectations. Because I dont. I do expect greatness.

So now Im making that much more clear. Im still friendly. Im still relaxed. But Im making it clear that I expect extraordinary things.

And when I think of past coaches/teachers that I liked... those are the ones who stand out... the ones who cared, who were compassionate and friendly and respectful.. but who nevertheless pushed me to be great.

Tuesday, August 23, 2005

Young People's Secret

by AJ

Older people are often amazed at young people's quick mastery of new technology. Many express exasperation with computers and electronic gadgets.. for example, I think my grandmother has still not mastered the VCR!

These are the folks who attend classes with titles such as "How to Use the Internet".. or "How to Use a Computer". They often believe that young people have magic powers for learning new technology.

But I think there's no great mystery as to why kids so easily master computers while many older people struggle.

The secret: Kids dont "study" computers. They dont take classes on "How to Use The Internet". And they never "work" at learning a piece of technology. Their secret is simple-- they play.

Give a kid a computer and they will instantly start clicking away.... "What's this?"... "What does this do?".... "Hmmm, this looks cool, how does it work". Thats how their thought processes work.

And its what most computer-literate people do... of any age. Apple Computer knows this. My laptop did not come with a "manual". No directions for the software! Why? Because Apple knows that their customers will learn by clicking, playing, and experimenting..... and thats how they'll figure out what all the menus and buttons do.

This is what "Effortless Learning" looks like. Yes, a great deal of time is involved. Yes, a great deal of attention is required. Yes, a great deal of energy is expended. But its not "work" or even "study". Its play. Its exploration. Its entertainment. Its experimentation.

These are inherently pleasurable activities.... at least for those who have not had their natural curiousity and creativity completely drained by school and jobs.

I believe language acquisition is exactly the same. Children dont "study" languages. They explore them, play with them, experiment with them,.. and are entertained by them.

But most adult teachers cant stomach the idea of playing and exploring and entertaining. They like "study". They like "analysis". They love "effort" (No pain, no gain is a shitty educational philosophy). They think: Why read Harry Potter when you can force students to do drills in a textbook? Why learn vocabulary from comics, music, books, and TV when you can force students to memorize glossaries at the end of every textbook chapter?

But this line of thought is madness-- and it works just as well as do those "Learn to Surf the Internet" courses... which is to say, not at all.

Teachers have got to get out of the 1950s and join the 21st century. The age of obedient drones is long long gone.

Forget being the Lord and Master of the class. Forget being the omniscient Expert. Forget, in the words of Tom Peters, "Command and Control".

Our mission now is to destroy those mindsets and convince our students that exploration, curiousity, enthusiasm, glorious risks, recklessness, play, and pleasurable experimentation are the way to go.

The truth is, most of my job seems to involve "unteaching" rather than "teaching". I put most of my energy into dismantling the rigid, grammar-analysis, rote memory, obey-the-teacher, "learning English is painful" beliefs that past teachers have injected into my students.

Its definitely not an easy job.

BAS Grading

by AJ

A few students seem curious about how I will grade the project and the blogs. So here is some more information:

Blogs: Ill deduct 5 points or so if a student doesnt submit their one page a week... and 2 points or so if they dont do 2 comments. I will NOT focus on grammar or spelling, so don't worry about that. I WILL focus on content... on what you write about.

First, I want to know what you did this week to read or listen to English. I also want to know how many words you've got in your vocab notebook... and I want to know what you read or listened to for your project.

After that, I encourage you to share ideas on your own project and on other group's projects. You could also write about Harry Potter or other things you have seen or read. You could write about your daily life or friends or hobbies.

Project:OK, Ill be honest. The grading for the project will be very tough. The judges will expect something great! They will expect a huge amount of sources (articles, TV shows, interviews, etc....)! They will expect a dazzling presentation and an amazing "product". Good luck. Don't wait until the last minute for this.

Until midterm, I recommend focusing on sources. Read as much as you can find on your topic.... copy and save the articles, record the interviews, tape the TV shows. Save vocab from these sources in your notebook. Read, read, read. Listen, listen, listen.

After midterm, keep collecting sources... but start shifting towards creating your product. Once the product is nearing completion, work on the presentation.

The good news is that you get to read, listen to, and work on something thats interesting. The bad news is... its not going to be easy :)

Vocab Notebook: I will be looking closely at the sources of your vocab... where did it come from. Of course, Im sure alot will come from the Harry Potter/Zahir books. I also expect alot from project sources.

Words/phrases from textbooks dont count! This includes not only English textbooks... but also history textbooks... textbooks of ANY kind. Those things are boring and artificial... focus on more interesting sources :)

The good news, of course, is that by doing some extra work you can skip the final exam!!!!

English Manga

Ive already put this info in a comment but thought Id draw more attention to it:

Here is a list of English language Manga (Japanese style comic books)... taken from Amazon.com

Manga would be excellent for Thai students (and, indeed, most Asian students). They come in a variety of "levels" and also different stories which appeal to boys or girls.

Teachers could create audiobooks of the manga by recording themselves reading them... then distribute a Master copy for students to copy on their own. They could listen as homework and also in class.

Anyway, this is only one list.... do a search for "manga" on Amazon and play around. There are a huge number of titles.

Monday, August 22, 2005

My Spanish & Thai Goals

Since Ive had my BAS students submit and publish their English learning goals, I thought it would only be fair to do the same myself... with Thai and Spanish.

Here are my goals for each:

Midterm (1st week in October)

* Save 800 new words in my vocabulary notebook
* Finish 2 audiobooks
* Watch "The Motorcycle Diaries" in Spanish

*Learn all of the Thai vowels and consonants.
*Save 100 new words in my vocabulary notebook.
*Finish the first three "Daycha" books (know all the vocab.... both reading and listening).

Each Week/Day

*Save 140 words per week.
*Listen to Spanish audiobooks at least two hours a week.
*Read at least three Spanish mini-novels per week.

*Save 20 new Thai words per week.
*Listen to "Daycha" audiobook at least two hours per week.
*Read all three "Daycha" books at least once a week.

BAS Registered Projects

From Crow To Crown

This team will create (write, produce, direct, act in, and film) a 30 minute sitcom in English. They will research the project by: watching UBC TV series in English, reading comic books, reading magazines, reading on the internet, and watching "UBC Insight"

This week they will focus on reading comics and magazines.

Team members: Thip, Ploy, Pang, Blue, Yim, Job

Discovery Rattanakosin Island

This team will produce a tourism guide (video/print) to Rattanakosin island (for English speaking foreigners). They will get background information from: hotel and tourist brochures, travel magazines, travel books, the internet, and personal interviews with foreigners.

This week they will focus on the internet.

Team members: Nice, Hiroshi, Tong, Koy, May

Ice Cream Business

This team will create a full business plan for an ice cream business. They will get information from the internet, books, TV shows, surveys, and interviews.

This week they will search the internet and look for books.

Team members: Wow, Jenny, Pum, Arm

Chick Magazine

This team will create an English language magazine for women. They will get ideas and information from: women's magazines, the internet, surveys, interviews, and by attending parties and talking to foreigners (for the society section).

This week they will go to Khao San Rd or Siam and interview foreigners (and tape the interviews).

Team members: Tangmo, Pat, Ploy, Nut

BAS Class Homework for next Monday

For those of you who missed class, here is your homework for next week:

A. Ive increased the amount you must write each week. You must now write a total of 1 page each week (gambatte, ne)!

B. You need to post your English Learning Goals on your blog... your goals for the midterm and for each week. For example, "I will save 500 words in my vocab notebook by midterm, I will watch 10 movies in English (with Eng subtitles.. no Thai subtitles) by midterm, I will read 100 newspaper articles for my project by midterm."

Then you'll figure out the weekly goals from that. For example, "I will add 100 words a week to my vocab notebook, I will watch 2 movies a week, etc....". Your goals must be measurable... something I can check... so both you and I know if you met your goals or not.

C. Post your progress (on the above goals) this week. On Saturday or Sunday, post how many words you added to your notebook this week (or how many total you have), and also write what progress you made on your project, what you read, what you listened to, etc....

D. Post what your Project title is, who is on your team, and what you did this week to read/listen about your topic.

Vocab Notebook

* If you don't have a notebook already, get one! Bring it to class on Monday, I will check everyone's notebook to see how many words you have. You should have an absolute minimum of 30 (hopefully much more).

Harry Potter/Zahir

* If you have not already done so... start reading Harry Potter I. Finish reading Chapters 1 and 2 (at least) by Monday. Please bring your Harry Potter/Zahir book to class on Monday.

OK... good luck. Email me if you have any questions.

PS: For your learning goals and your project, its important to have a mix of reading sources and audio (spoken) sources. Reading will build your vocabulary, listening will help your pronunciation and oral comprehension. Both will help your grammar, speaking, and writing. Read alot! Listen alot!

Friday, August 19, 2005

University TESOL Class: Harry Potter

by AJ

If I get the chance next sememster, I will transform one of my classes into a Harry Potter class. Here's the plan:

1. Students are required to read the first two Harry Potter books in English. They'll keep a new vocabulary notebook to record new words they learn from the books.

2. In each class I will tell a story using TPRS techniques. Ill create the story from key vocabulary I pull from each Chapter of the Harry Potter books.

3. Audiobook: In each class, after doing a TPRS story, we'll listen to the corresponding Harry Potter chapter on audiobook. Students may read along with the audio, or just listen (their choice).

4. Free Reading: At the end of each class students will have 20-30 minutes to read quietly. They may, of course, read Harry Potter.... or anything else.

5. Blog: Students will create a blog and post to it every week. They will update us on their reading progress and vocab notebook... then write about any topic they wish.

6. Movie: At the midterm (after finishing book 1), we will watch the first Harry Potter movie (with English subtitles turned on). At the end of the semester, we'll watch the second movie. Ideally, Id find the scripts for the movies and have them read them prior to watching the movies.

7. Discussion: In most classes we would discuss the Chapter we'd just read and listened to.... focusing on interesting themes, ideas, symbolism, etc.


by AJ

Another thing that impresses me about Wisdom 21 is their obvious commitment to diversity. They were founded by an African American and their staff contains a diverse mix of races and nationalities. What a pleasant change from the whitebread world of TESOL.

Ive worked in Korea, Japan, and Thailand-- at every school Ive worked at (including my current job at Thammasat)-- the native speaking teachers have been 100% white. Not 95%.... 100%. In Korea, the school staff openly said they would not hire African-Americans (or Canadians)... because "Koreans are scared of black people". I heard this same nonsense in Japan.

Yet here is Wisdom 21... founded by an African-American... with a staff packed full of non-white teachers-- and they are doing very very well in Japan. I have no clue what their teaching methods are, but I applaud their commitment to diversity and I applaud them for challenging the dirty racist secret of the TESOL industry.

Thursday, August 18, 2005

Thailand's English "Crisis"

by AJ

There is a lot in the Thai news these days about English language education. Apparently Thai students average TOEFL scores were lowest in SE Asia. So, in typical politician fashion, the Prime Minister has decided to revamp English education immediately (which means it will be exactly the same ten years from now).

Of course the politicians are idiots, but the news has generated some excellent letters to the editor in The Nation. Today included another suggestion for pleasurable reading material.... the author suggested that English language manga comics would be a great tool- and I agree.

Thai kids love manga... especially the boys. They read Thai translations of Japanese comics and also home-grown comics. So, rather than force Oxford/Longman textbooks down their throats... why not invest in a library of graded English manga? Thats something they'd like to read... especially if there were plenty of levels to choose from and a wide variety of titles and genres (with appeal to both boys and girls).

Even better, why not offer these manga with enclosed audio CDs... with a native speaker reading the story? Grammar and vocab could be slipped in stealthily, without drawing attention to them. New words could have the Thai meaning written above them. In fact, Japanese manga do something similar. When new or difficult kanji (characters) appear in the story, the hiragana (alphabet) pronunciation is written next to it. Thus, readers don't have to pause to use a dictionary or check a glossary... they just keep on reading.

Classroom time could be split between
1. Manga: listening to required manga Cds, reading required manga, discussing the stories.

2. TPR Storytelling... excellent way for teachers to introduce (unobtrusively) new grammar and vocab and get lots of repitition in a meaningful context.

3. Free Reading: Students pick from a library of manga, graded readers, simplified literature, etc.....

4. Free Listening: As above but students pick from a sample of CDs or MP3 files which mirror the print selections.

5. At higher levels- Movies: Again mirroring the print and audio selections (ie. The Harry Potter movies with English subtitles).

Many Thai students study English for 8-12 years with grammar-translation-analysis methods and still cant communicate. 8-12 years of the above approach would be far superior and would guarantee communicative competence for all students who completed the program.

What's more, such a program does not place a heavy burden on Thai (non-native) English teachers. With a well stocked library of books, audiofiles, manga (with CDs), and TPR Stories they could provide comprehensible input for their students quite easily (most of it from authentic materials featuring native speakers).

But instead Im sure the poor Thai students will get more of the same: more boring (and expensive) textbooks, more boring and expensive "language tapes", more memorization, more drills, more (extremely expensive) computer games/programs. Ugh.


by AJ

"When you walk into the reception area of a [school] you've never visited before, you can tell within 30 seconds whether or not the place is exciting and cool, whether they're doing interesting work, or whether its a morgue."
-- Steve Farber

Ive substituted the word "school" for "company".. but the meaning is exactly the same. Unfortunately, when I walk into 99.99% of schools- they feel like morgues. They are dead. Boring. Subdued.

I certainly would never use the words "cool" or "exciting" to describe any school Ive attended or worked at. This goes for my current school too: Thammasat University. While I enjoy teaching there... the place looks and feels like a morgue. Its the same as every other school... the same ugly tile, the same ugly and cramped desks, the same colorless walls, the same flourescent lights. We all know the look because every damn school in the world has it.

Well, not every school. Ive never visited Wisdom 21 in Osaka... but look at their website and in 30 seconds you know they are doing cool and exciting things. I dont know what the teachers or curriculum is like... but its obvious that this is not your average English morgue.

Wednesday, August 17, 2005


by AJ

On the subject of the future of classroom teaching.... here's an idea.

A school-bar combination (for adults obviously). God, where is it written that a school must be a stuffy, bleak, dehumanized warehouse? Are flourescent lights, cramped desks, tan carpet, and whiteboards mandated by the UN?

If I had the money and the lifestyle (ie, I could stay in one place more than 2 years running) here's what Id do: Id open a TESOL pub. The "school" would completely capture the pub vibe: hardwood bar and decor, dart board, intimate corners with track lighting, etc.

The TESOL pub would serve good beer and a small selection of pub snacks (pub grub). Students and teachers would sit at tables in the bar during "class". [In fact, there's a study that shows that one drink improves language acquisition in most participants :) See sdkrashen.com

The pub would come stocked with a karaoke machine (English songs, of course)and it'd have TVs in each corner (for using movies/TV shows to teach).

Students would be encouraged to come to "class" after work, have a beer, kick back, listen, read, and converse.

Native speaker volunteers from the community would be encouraged to drop in and chat with students-- perhaps by giving them a discount on drinks. Students would be encouraged to hang out after class and chat with the volunteers.

The pub would organize a lot of social activities. There would be outings, a karaoke night, a trivia night, a game night, darts tournament, a movie night,.....

And maybe a speed dating night once a month.... with the twist that one side of the table would be students and the other side would be fluent English speakers (of the opposite sex)... (learn English, get a date: now THAT would increase "motivation").

Now be honest, wouldnt you rather learn a language in a pub setting-- rather than in a sterile, sensory-deprivation tank called a "school"?

Spanish Update

by AJ

Spanish is going quite a bit faster and easier than Thai... not surprisingly. Ive now learned about 200 new words in two weeks... from reading TPRS mini-novels and from Tuck Para Siempre. That puts my total vocabulary around 500 words or so.

In addition to reading for pleasure, I listen to an audio mini-novel (again, TPRS) every day for about 15-25 minutes. I find that I understand about 80% at this point.. enough to get the main ideas. Ive read the text version of the mini-novel several times and this has greatly aided my listening comprehension. Now Im eager to get ahold of more Spanish audiobook/print book combinations.

The main lesson Ive learned from all of this is that stories are incredible memory hooks. I remember the new words so easily. When I review a new word, I immediately remember where I encountered it in the story/book and this makes it much easier to remember its meaning. Im learning the words in an authentic context.

Contrast this with the typical textbook approach-- the word is introduced in an asinine dialogue... then listed in the back of the chapter in a "vocabulary section". Students are expected to memorize these words and their meanings but find it very difficult to do because the words are not introduced in a meaningful or interesting context. Result: They study, remember them for the test, and then immediately forget them.

Several years later they take the TOEFL test and do badly. Teachers, parents, and politicians then blame them. "They don't study hard enough", "they don't care enough", "they just aren't motivated".

But its not the students fault. Its the schools and the teachers. Education personnel are always harping at students to take responsibility....

I think its time for them to take their own advice: Take responsibility for the failure of your classes, programs, textbooks, and schools.

Thai Update

by AJ

I continue to try to read in Thai. At the moment, Im still having trouble with the multi-location vowels. These are vowels that simultaneously appear in front of, above, and after the consonant (in various combinations). I find them extremely difficult to remember.

On the other hand, I seem to have acquired the basic consonants and am getting there with with one location vowels. Im now reading books one and two of the "Daycha" series... its slow going but at least its going.

I continue to struggle with audio input because I cant find anything easy enough to understand. Everything Ive gotten so far is way over my head. I recognize a few words... but thats it. Im still hoping to find a storybook/audiobook combination so I can decipher the vocab and THEN listen to the story.

Until then, I try to make do with stunted communication with friends (which I cant even call "conversations" at this point... unless three words is considered a conversation).


by AJ

There was a great letter in The Nation today from Stephen Krashen and several other language teachers..... a response to the "crisis" of English education in Thailand.

Krashen and company suggested that the Thai Education Ministry should promote pleasure reading by stocking school and classroom libraries with plenty of interesting English books.... such as Goosebumps, Sweet Valley Kids, Dr. Suess, Harry Potter, etc. They also suggested using class time for silent free reading.

This is an excellent suggestion, of course. And it got me thinking about textbooks. Is there any reason to use them? They are boring and artificial. For decades they have been the cornerstone of TESOL education in Japan and Thailand... and for decades both countries have displayed dismal results. Thai students study (ie analyze) English for up to 12 years.... but many cannot communicate even after this incredibly lengthy time.

Somethings wrong. And that something starts with textbooks.

I often joke with my Freshman class that at the end of the semester we will have a textbook barbecue and burn the horrific books we've been required to use. In fact, Im only half-joking and might actually do it (I love to flirt with being fired).

But why not do this on a national scale? Thailand could have a textbook-barbecue day in which students across the country simultaneously burn their Oxford/Longman books and then dance around the fire.

What would we use to replace them? As an example, here's my list of "texts" for my BAS Thammasat class (college level):

Required texts: Harry Potter books I and II, The Bangkok Post (English language newspaper), articles I bring to class.

Supplementary "texts": Sources for required project (interviews, books, articles, web-based info, movies,...), pleasure reading books.

No textbooks. No "exercises". No drills. No "repeat after me". No obtuse dialogues.

Mobile Language

by AJ

I now have a tiny ipod shuffle and I love it... super small and light and therefore perfect for my nomadic lifestyle.

Im not hugely into music... rather I got it mostly to listen to books on tape while I commute to the Rangsit campus, sit in coffee shops, etc. Im NEVER in my apartment.. I sleep and shower there and thats it.

I highly recommend the mobile audiobook method.... using an MP3 player, ipod, CD walkman, or cheapie cassette player. Its a great way to get authentic language input. But one note-- dont waste time on boring "langage tapes". Go straight for real stories. [BAS students should STRONGLY consider an audiobook of Harry Potter!!]

Progress Meetings: BAS

Next Monday we will have a "Project Fair". This will be a chance for you to walk around the room and talk to other students about your project ideas. If you find someone with a great idea, you can offer to join their team.

Or, if you have a great idea, you can look for other team members.

At the end of the "Fair", I will give you time to meet with your teams and talk about what you want to do.

I will then meet with each team for a few minutes... to aks you some questions, answer your questions, make suggestions, and help you develop a progress plan.

During this class I will also quickly check your vocabulary notebooks-- to see how many words each of you has collected.

When you collect these words, you dont have to memorize them. However, its a very good idea to review them every few days. By "review" I mean read the list (and short definitions) quickly. After doing this a few times, you'll be surprised by how many of the words you will remember.

Later in the semester, perhaps in two weeks, I will meet with each of you individually to discuss your progress with: 1) Reading (Harry Potter), 2) Vocab Notebook, and 3) Researching for your project.

Finally, please put this information on your blog every couple of weeks. Let us know how much you have read in Harry Potter... and what you are doing to research your project. Also, let us know how many words you have collected for your notebook.

Thanks! See you Monday.

Monday, August 15, 2005


by AJ

While exploring The Linguist website it hit me: traditional TESOL teachers are endangered...

The "stand in front of the class, analyze grammar, and read from a textbook" industry is about to be hit by a meteor called technology. The dinosaurs won't survive. Students dont need to sit in a boring ass class anymore. They dont need a pontificating blowhard.

Rich, authentic, real English input is massively available. Conversationalal English input is readily available on DVD movies. English books can be bought on Amazon.com and delivered anywhere in the world. Audiobooks are just as easy to find and deliver.

But that's just the beginning. Downloading makes it all that much easier. No longer necessary to worry about shipping problems... just download the movie, the audiobook, and the print book. From anywhere. Its cheaper (no shipping costs, no "stuff"). Its quicker.

Then there's the services offered by The Linguist and other web based "schools". For a price MUCH cheaper than a language class... they give you a conversation tutor (internet phone), e-books, online dictionaries, audio files of the e-books, a writing coach (via email or blogs), and (MOST IMPORTANTLY) a learning method.

This is the future.

Dinosaurs take note.


Movie, Audiobook, Book Synergy

by AJ

Individually, movies, audiobooks, and reading for fun are all excellent means of learning a language.

But used together, they are much much more powerful. Movies, for example, are a great source of everyday conversation. Most movies contain a lot of slang, and a great deal of natural conversation.

Audiobooks are another excellent means of hearing new words... for hearing pronunciation and natural speech patterns. However, an audiobook (like a normal book) will tend to use much more formal language than encountered in most movies. Movies build casual conversation skills, while audiobooks are great vocabulary builders.

But there's one problem with both... they are hard to understand. Its hard to learn only from these two sources because the language goes by very quickly.

Thats where books come in. The disadvantage of books is that you dont hear the correct pronunciation and intonation. But there are big advantages: You can read at your own pace... as slowly as you need to. Its easy to look up unknown words in a dictionary. Its easy to reread difficult passages.

All of these sources are good... but combined, they are great. Im currently listening to an audiobook in Spanish and also reading it in print form. I find the print builds my vocabulary and makes it easier for me to understand the CD. The CD helps me hear pronunciation and forces me to try to understand the language at a faster speed. Together, they are much better than either are separately.

So why not combine all three? Why not read a book, listen to it on CD, and watch the movie version (not simultaneously :)... do all of three at different times during the week/day.

For example, my students are now reading Harry Potter. It'd be great if they could find it on CD. They could read the first chapter and look up unknown words. Then they'd be ready to listen to the first chapter on CD. And then they'd be ready to watch the first few scenes of the movie (even better if they could get ahold of the script and read it before watching the movie).

Each of these three sources makes the other two more powerful.

And so I will try this with my own study. My target: The Motorcycle Diaries. I have the movie. I can get the print book in the original Spanish. What Im now looking for is a Spanish audiobook of The Motorcycle Diaries (if anyone knows of a source for this, please comment!!!).

With Thai, I have a series of easy books. I cant find an audiobook, so I will make my own with a Thai friend. Once I build a little vocab... perhaps Ill add movies too.


Kickass Class

by AJ

I love my BAS class. They are amazing. Very sharp. Very creative.

I presented the Project assignment to them and it went well. The "investment game" part was confusing for them (it IS confusing) but they got the general concept and are already percolating some very interesting ideas. Im excited to see what they come up with. I expect some very interesting, very high quality, very well researched projects from this group. My expectations for them are high, but I think they will exceed them.

Over the next few weeks these students will be posting to their blogs. Many will write about their project ideas. Many will be looking for ideas, feedback, advice, and suggestions. Readers of this blog (who arent in the class) can help them.

Please visit their blogs on occaison. If you discover a project that interests you... or if you have expertise in that area... please comment to their blog. Im sure they would love to hear from you.

This project will not be easy. It will be judged by outsiders... who will be tough and will have very high expectations. Therefore, these students will benefit greatly from outside expertise.

Please give them a hand.

Sunday, August 14, 2005

English Classes Stink!

by AJ

Here's a great essay about why most English classes (or any language classes) don't work... I found this on The Linguist... here's an excerpt:

English classes are the most popular way in which people study English. They are so amazingly popular that most people do not even think about how to learn English. The process is automatic: I want to learn English, so I sign up for an English course. I will pay some money, sit in class for a few hours a week, and I will get good English.

This is very surprising, because English classes are a very poor way of learning English. We have spent a large part of our lives in English classes (in high school, college, and at language schools), and we know what they are like. With all our knowledge of English classes and courses, we would be surprised if we met a person who has learned to speak English very well by going to English classes.

This certainly mirrors my experiences with Spanish!

BAS EL 172 Final

Final (100 Points)

The Final will have two parts. One part is an assignment, which you will turn in the last day of class. The other part is a test (exam).

Part One: Assignment: Vocabulary Notebook (50 Points)

Throughout the semester, you will keep a notebook of new words and phrases that you've learned. On the last day of class, you will submit a copy of this notebook to me (or submit the original and keep a copy for yourself).

Your assignment is to learn at least 500 new words and phrases from reading and listening. This might include words and phrases from the Harry Potter books, Bangkok Post articles, things you read for your project, movies, etc....

Number the words in your notebook. Include the word/phrase, where you found it (ie. "Harry Potter I"), and what it means (in Thai or English).

Do not write a full dictionary definition for each word... just write enough to remember the meaning. Also, don't type this,.... write it by hand.

Typical Entries might look like this:

Essentials, by Tom Peters (book)

1. surpass: do better than
2. pack-animal: animal that lives in groups
3. bedrock: foundation.... most important.

Tuck Everlasting, by Natalie Babbit (book)
4. mutter: say something with a low voice
5. ridge: line of hills

You get the idea.

Grading: You will get 10 points for every 100 words you collect...... and if you get more than 500 words/phrases, you will earn 10 extra credit points for every 100 extra words (up to 100 total points for 1000 total words).

Be sure to list where you found the word or phrase. This is very important. I don't want words from textbooks!! I only want vocabulary from REAL English sources that you have read or listened to.

Part Two: Test: Vocab and Comprehension from Harry Potter I & II

This will be a standard exam. Much of the exam will cover English vocabulary taken from the two Harry Potter books. There may also be a few comprehension questions... and possibly an essay question.

BAS Project Assignment

by AJ

Project (75 Points)

The Assignment:

You will be playing a "Project Game". This game is designed to imitate a situation in a creative organization..... perhaps an ad agency, or a product development center, or a research center, or a movie studio, or a think tank.

You will gather a tremendous amount of information about a topic you choose. You will then make SOMETHING to turn in... maybe a paper, maybe a video, maybe a combination of "products". At the end of the semester, you will submit your "product(s)" and you will also give a 25-30 minute presentation to the class. Your mission is: Do something great!

You will need to form Project Teams in order to work on your projects.... these may be of any size you desire (see "rules of the game" below).

I know that is a vague assignment. But I do not want to limit your creativity by being too specific. I encourage you to talk to me about ideas... I will help you develop them. You can talk to me during class, after class, by emailing me, or by posting a comment on my blog.

Project Guidelines:

You are free to research anything you want and create any "product(s)" you want. However, there is one requirement: you must get information from at least four different kinds of sources.

For example, you could :
1. Interview "experts", 2. Read newspaper articles, 3. Watch videos, and 4. Read internet sites. Other possible sources of information include: internet "chats" with experts, phone interviews, radio broadcasts, audiobooks, blogs, emails, books, magazines, etc.....

Keep a list of all sources you study and copy/keep as many as possible. You will turn these in with your "product(s)".

Your presentation can take any form. Your goal is to teach us about your project and tell us what you learned and how.


A group of outside judges will grade your projects (products, sources, and presentation). These will be people I choose- probably native English speakers,... possibly a mix of teachers, businesspeople, artists, etc. Thus, nice Aj. AJ won't be doing the grading- they will!

Judges will give grades after they have reviewed ALL of the projects and seen ALL of the presentations... so they can compare them. They will be looking for creativity, great products, a large number of sources, a good variety of sources, and a powerful presentation.

Project Requirements:

1. A "Product": This is something you produce to show what you learned. Maybe a paper. Maybe a magazine. Maybe a video. Maybe an actual "product" that you design and create. Maybe a software program. Maybe a website. Maybe a business. Up to you. But it should be GREAT!

2. Sources: You will submit a list of English-language sources that you learned from (articles, books, internet addresses, interviews, videos, audiobooks, etc.). In addition to listing these sources, you should copy as many of them as possible and submit the copies to me and the judges (ie. copy articles you read, copy great passages from a books, print out sections of websites, etc.).

3. Presentation: At the end of the semester, you will present your product and talk about what you made, what you learned, and how you learned it. This presentation should be about 30 minutes long.

4. Points: To be submitted ("registered" ), a project must have a Project Name, a Project Leader, and at least 100 points invested (see rules of the game, below).

Rules of the Game

This is not an individual assignment. Instead, imagine you are part of a creative unit of a company.... perhaps a research group or a product design department.

Each of you has a limited amount of funds ("points") to invest in a project or projects. It is your job to either: a) Create a project and then recruit other students to it, or b) Join someone else's project(s)

How To Create a Project

If you have a great idea for a project, the first thing to do is to sell other students on your idea. You need to find other students to join ("invest") in it. To create a project, you need a Project Leader (probably you), a Project Name (up to you), and at least 100 pts invested in it (see "How to join and invest" below). Of course, you can invest your own points (see below).

Once you have all three, you should "register" your project with me. Give me (you can email) the leader's name, the project's name, and a list of "investors" (their names and how many points they've committed).

Since each student has a maximum of 75 points... every project will have at least two investors (the leader and at least one other person... see below).

How to Join and Invest

To join a project team you invest your points (if the team accepts you). The project is worth 75 points, so each of you has 75 points to "invest".

What does this mean? It means you decide how much you want to contribute to and risk for a project. Do you want to put all your energy (and grade) into just one project? Then you can "invest" all of your 75 points in it.

Would you rather do a little work for several interesting projects? Then you could "invest" 10-15 pts in five different projects... and do a little work for each of them.

Keep a list of your commitments... which projects you have invested in, and how many points you've invested.

Changing Deadline & Project Portfolio

During September, you may change your investments as much as you want. If you think a project is going badly, you can pull out of it and invest in a different one. If you are excited about one, you can invest more in it (if that team agrees). You can change your investments as much as you like... until the first class of October.

At that class you must submit a final list of your investments: List all projects you have joined and how many points you put in each project. This is called your "portfolio". After this class, you may not change.... you are stuck with your commitments.

Also, at this class, each Leader must submit a List of Investors for their project. This will include a list of all students who have invested in the project, how many points each person has invested, and how many total points are invested in the project.


Each project will get a percentage grade, ranging from 0% to 150%. This percentage will be multiplied by the number of points invested-- to produce the number of points each student will get for that project.

For example, say you invested 50 points in the "Rocket" project. The project gets an 80% grade. You would earn 40 points from this project (50pts x 80%). Say you invested your other 25 points in the "Language Teaching" project. This project gets a 100%.... so you would earn 25 points from it. Thus, your total points would be 65 out of a possible 75 (40 for "Rocket" and 25 for "Language Teaching").

Here is how the grading scale will work:

150% Wow! Amazing and Mind Blowing!!
120% Fantastic!
100% Great!
90% Very Good.
80% Good
70% Decent. Solid.
60% So-So.
50% Boring.
40% Low quality. Bad.

Grades over 100% will give students a significant number of "extra credit points". For example, if you invest 10 points and that project gets 150%... you would earn 15 points. Thus, you would increase your "investment" (you would earn 5 points of extra credit).

Obviously, if you want to earn a lot of points, you should contribute as much energy as possible to the projects you invest in.