[wisehat] Wise Hat News #3

  • From: "Wise Hat News" <news@xxxxxxxxxxx>
  • To: <wisehat@xxxxxxxxxxxxx>
  • Date: Sun, 17 Nov 2002 19:28:07 +0900

Wise Hat News

Issue #3,  17th November 2002

The online version can be found at


  1.. So Long Summer
  2.. Peace as a Global Language
  3.. Buy Nothing Day
  4.. What's New?
  5.. Wise Hat On Tour!
  6.. Administrivia


"Patriotism is a pernicious, psychopathic form of idiocy."

The chilly, rainy,November wind is sweeping across the rice fields outside
our apartment. Slashes of water fill up the muddy ruts giving the impression
that the fields have been long abandoned. The bright green frogs that
climbed our windows searching for insect food have long gone. Life here is
lying low, sliding dormant. And on the other side of the world plans are
being made to kill people.

Have you done anything to resist the US plans for war? Are you doing
anything? Perhaps you believe in the 'war on terrorism'? Perhaps you see
George Bush as a guardian angel commanding the forces of light against

The United States spends more on arms than any other country. The United
States exports more arms than any other country. The United states uses more
oil than any other country. The United States is planning a war that will
give it control over the country with the second largest known oil reserves.

The policies of the United States kill. We can live in denial or we can do
our best to do something. Yes, I'm singling out the United States. I know
the policies of most, if not all states kill people. But the United States
is the driving force behind repression, murder and death. Many other
countries hang onto the bloody coattails of Uncle Sam. The United States
calls the shots, controls the shooters and awards prizes to those that serve
its interests.

If you don't agree you can write and tell me - I'll include your comments in
the next newsletter.

If you are interested in doing something, here are some links. They aren't
much, but perhaps they are better than nothing.


Act For Change - send an email to President Bush

End the War - a very impressive site with lots of links

True Majority - send a personal free fax to the leaders of all five
permanent members of the United Nations Security

Vote No War - For United States Citizens?


"You see things; and you say, 'Why?' But I dream things that never were; and
I say, "Why not?"

What expectations do you have?

The first Peace as a Global Language Conference took place at the end of
September. there were some wonderful presentations and I'm looking forward
to the conference proceedings that will appear in CD format next year.

One highlight for me was meeting David Hough and hearing about how he deals
his University's requirement to grade on a curve (ration the good grades).
He explains the situation
to his students and asks them what to do. Options discussed include grading
according to participation, competitive tests and blood type.

This is a good example of making the structure of a situation explicit and
exploring ways to undermine it. I believe that is through identifying,
examining and challenging structures that lasting change can come about. I
also think that lasting change will be associated at some level with
structural change.

For example, when I team taught at a private Japanese high school we had the
same class all day, though the day was still divided up into the usual
lesson lengthed chunks. The students were used to taking a break between
classes (using the time between the end of one period and the start of the
next period). This created a very 'bitty' feel with little continuity. So we
scrapped all the 'mini breaks'. At first we introduced a half hour break in
the middle of the morning, but later we made the total break time flexible
by introducing an 'English only' break time. The potential length of the
break was determined by adhering to the plan for the day. Students could
earn break time minutes by completing tasks. The actual length of the break
was determined by whether the students could remain in English. Sometimes
they could and sometimes they couldn't. We were also flexible and ignored
'Japanese slips' or allowed them to be 'explained'. The feeling was very

The whole process was completely undemocratic. We changed the structure of
the class and we didn't consult the students. We imposed the structure on
the students. We did offer students the chance to opt out. We had two rooms
available so when, for example, students wanted to sleep we'd invite them to
use the other room. So I guess we were enlightened despots rather than
cynical tyrants. But we were very much autocratic.

Democracy is a structure. How much democracy is in your classroom? Lately,
I've become increasingly concerned with issues of democracy.

Behind co-operative learning there are some core values. These include
respecting oneself and the group, tolerance, acceptance of diversity,
honesty and commitment. Does democracy flow from these values or does
democracy create them? Perhaps it's like the solution in Zen Comics posed to
the question, "Which came first, the chicken or the egg?" I don't know, but
what I am sure about is that democracy must be experienced to be understood.

I find it strange that if democracy is such an important concept, if it is
integral to a humane, 'civilised and 'modern' way of life it is so poorly
implemented within most classrooms and schools.

Most children are told what to do and often how to do it. Even older
children and teenagers have little control or say over their immediate
day-to-day experiences. But as David Rovner wrote in a post to the
savesummerhill list (http://www.s-hill.demon.co.uk/contacts/egroup.htm)

"The way to ensure that people of any age will be deeply committed to the
democratic Way is to make them FULL PARTICIPANTS IN IT (provide real-life
experiences: making choices significant to their lives, exercising judgement
in consequential matters such as school rules and discipline, choosing
between alternative courses of action, and evaluating and discussing the
outcomes of these choices)."

This is an ongoing process. It is much more than signing a pledge or charter
about behaviour when starting a class. It means taking action. It also means
the teacher can not expect to automatically have authority. Authority may be
granted but would remain temporary and conditional.

Some teachers in Japan complain about lack of participation. The root of
this thinking is undemocratic. If a situation is created by group then the
group will naturally be committed to it. Teachers who complain about lack of
participation are imposing a structure upon the students. They are starting
at the wrong end. The focus is upon the result even if the intention is to
dwell on the process. Participation flows from commitment and commitment
flows from creation and behind creation stands choice.

I've mentioned it before and I'm sure this won't be the last time but choice
motivates. Even giving students the simply choice of determining the order
of activities will increase enthusiasm. This is something any teacher can do
without giving up any authority or jumping into the democratic maelstrom.
Moving to genuine democracy within a classroom is a gigantic leap, a cosmic
shift. I'm not there and being in a private language school I have the
luxury of teaching without the rules and regulations of the state. Currently
I'm experimenting.

One format I have adopted with some children's classes use a limited 'lets'
approach. I write out the plan on the board and number the sequence (yes,
there is no choice here). Under the number plan I draw a dotted line and
write 'Lets'. After we have completed the sequence anyone is free to make
'let's suggestions. "Lets have a snack!" and "Lets have a drink!" are very
popular. One group, like playing Guess Who? (from Milton Bradley) and have
been playing for every week for over a month. Some teachers might be
concerned about the time spent on this activity (usually the last ten
minutes of a sixty minute class), considering it a waste. In practice
though, I've been able to introduce more specialised vocabulary (this week
was eyebrows) as it is requested by the children. I think this is
motivating. Freedom of choice definitely creates a need for language when
the children choose to try to use English. For language classes choosing to
use the target language is a basic requirement.

The 'let's' approach does require some group cohesion. There is an
assumption that consensus can be reached. I saw one class fragment with
individuals and pairs doing their own thing. In this situation the ease and
convenience of using Japanese proved too strong and from a language teaching
point of view the process was useless. On that occasion the students neither
got the concept of lets or produced any English. Now I insist on consensus
(my groups are very small). This is perhaps less democratic but more useful
for language learning purposes.

I'll close this section with a hypothetical. If someone discovered a very
effective way to learn language that involved inflicting mental and physical
pain would you use it?


Imagination is the beginning of creation. You imagine what you desire, you
will what you imagine and at last you create what you will.

In the United States there are more shopping centres than high schools.
There has been since 1987. I wonder about Britain, the country in which I
was born, I wonder about Japan, the country that I am living in.

Is shopping your hobby? How many hours a week do you spend shopping?
Apparently 93% of American teenage girls report that shopping is their
favourite activity.

Where am I getting these facts from? Check here:

This year I wondered whether my students would be interested in learning
about Buy Nothing Day. I began by creating a game. The object of the game is
to not go shopping. Many of my students just accepted this as a game and
played it without comment but some wanted to know why the aim of the game
was to avoid going shopping. I ended up making a song. It should probably be
light and airy, like a TV commercial but at the moment it's in a minor key.

If you are interested in using the game or the song check the What's New
Section below.

What is your teaching style?

Mine is very personal.

Language is a means of expression. I aim to inspire learners to want to
express themselves. I show facets of myself to learners and create a
relationship with them. I use material that some teachers would describe as
political because that is part of what I am.

I don't push and I don't expect learners to follow me or agree with me. I
avoid imposing my concerns by making sure learners have choice. For example,
earlier I mention the Guess Who game. This is competitive. The games I make
and introduce into lessons are non-competitive. I don't ban competitive
games from my classes even though I have strong reservations about them. So
what I do is focus on the experience. If children end up arguing because of
a competitive game I can encourage them to look for the source of their
disagreement. I can encourage them to examine the process.

Targets might help people to attempt something. Targets might encourage
people to start a process, but I think the learning comes through the
process Structures determine the scope of the process.

I think this makes sense?


There are some more game ideas, some more articles and a song. Here's an
alphabetical list with links a brief description.

Beyond Repetition: An article that first appeared in Teachers Learning with

Beyond Words: An article that first appeared in Teachers Learning with

Buy Nothing Day Game: A complete Board Game to download

Buy Nothing Day Song: Comments Please!

Co-operative Bingo The name speaks for itself

The Education Revolution: Link to AERO - the Alternative Education Resource

Hello: An activity that practices meaning through intonation - elementary
age and up

Kings (and Queens) For a bit:  A simple game to practice imperative
commands - music available!

Nice To Eat You: An article that first appeared in Teachers Learning with

Parrot Parade: Unleash the power of mimicry with this musical activity

Touch: Take the competition out of 'slam' games

Uhuh: Intonation through logic? An activity

Wake Up! An activity for young learners

There are now some pages in Japanese. However, I'm sorry to say that some of
the links are not working and some pages may display in a weird way.


The Jalt National Conference is taking place next weekend at the Granship,
Shizuoka over 3 days (Nov. 22-24). For a link to the official site click
here. I'm involved in a joint panel discussion 'Activism in the language
learning classroom/engaged pedagogy' (Saturday, 1.15 pm to 2:35 pm, Room

Jalt Junior is a conference within a conference. It takes place on the
Saturday and Sunday (23rd and 24th). It's aimed specifically at teaching
children and there will be presentations in both English and Japanese. The
fee for Jalt Junior is separate and much lower than the main conference.
Jalt Junior costs 4,000 yen per day or 7,000 yen for both days. Summaries of
the presentations and a schedule can be found at
http://wisehat.com/jaltjunior2002.htm. I have a joint
presentation with Alison Miyake: 'The Yin and the Yang - team teaching made
easy' (Sunday, 10:55 am - 12:15 pm, Room B-1)


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"The reasonable man adapts himself to the world; the unreasonable one
persists in trying to adapt the world to himself. Therefore all progress
depends on the unreasonable man."

(Quotes this issue by George Bernard Shaw)

PS There are 148 people on the mailing list now. Some of you may well have
forgotten you joined. It's been a very long time since the last newsletter -
Wise Hat News is a proving a little more sporadic than was first imagined.
But the next issue will be out early December. I wonder how many people it
will be mailed to.

Other related posts: