Class of the Week: Critical Reading for Research

Words beyond words, meaning beyond meaning

This week we visited Professor Komura’s Critical Reading for Research class. Held in 2nd period on Wednesdays, this class for 1st year students incorporates both reading instruction as well as literature content – a hybrid class where the students are also lucky enough to enjoy some exposure to poetry.

The theme of today’s class was Image, and started with a question, one that Professor Komura introduced as “possibly the silliest question you’ve ever encountered in college” – do you like cats or dogs?
Why were the students being asked this? Why did they need to explain the reason for their answer? This was a mystery to everyone in the classroom, but by the end of the class, all was clear.

In fact, the majority of the students found it difficult to give a reason for their preference of dog or cat. And that was the point. Professor Komura used this confusion to lead the students into the next stage of the class, a conceptual explanation of Image. He told us that image is used to express something that is difficult to express in mere words, and this is where he used the phrase ‘words beyond words, meaning beyond meaning’. In this class, the students were being asked to move beyond word choice (denotation, connotation) to description (image). He also explained that image is a language that addresses the senses – whether it be sight, sound, touch, smell or taste.

However, learning about concepts is one thing – actually understanding them is another. It was at this point that we moved into the next stage of the lesson – an introduction of concrete examples of the concepts that Professor Komura had described. We worked with two poems: the first, “Poem” by William Carlos Williams (1883 – 1963), was used as the basis of a group discussion by the students. In their groups, the students were asked to talk about their feelings in response to the poem, its subject matter (a cat) and one of the images evoked (a cat in a flower pot). After a 10 minute discussion some of the groups reported on their discussions. The majority of the students reported that they felt that the cat in the poem was ‘cute’, and Professor Komura pointed out that the single word ‘cute’ actually doesn’t express all that is conveyed by the images in the poem. This led to the big question of the day: what do we do (or what can we do) when we want or need to express a thought or feeling that’s difficult to express? This is the function of the image: to express words or feelings that are difficult to express otherwise.

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We then moved on to the second poem, “Root Cellar” by Theodore Roethke (1908 – 1963).

ROOT CELLAR by Theodore Roethke

Nothing would sleep in that cellar, dank as a ditch,
Bulbs broke out of boxes hunting for chinks in the dark,
Shoots dangled and drooped,
Lolling obscenely from mildewed crates,
Hung down long yellow evil necks, like tropical snakes.
And what a congress of stinks!–
Roots ripe as old bait,
Pulpy stems, rank, silo-rich,
Leaf-mold, manure, lime, piled against slippery planks.
Nothing would give up life:
Even the dirt kept breathing a small breath.

After Professor Komura had read out the poem, the students once again formed groups to discuss questions such as what senses are engaged by the images in the poem, whether or not this is a favorable description of a root cellar, and what line seems to be the key in understanding the theme of the poem.
Given the difficult vocabulary used, the students were allowed to look up words as needed and spent around 15 minutes deciphering the meaning and answering the questions assigned. They performed admirably, identifying the key words and themes of the poem and adding their own interpretations of its meaning.

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After some further commentary from Professor Komura we moved onto the final activity of the class. It was here that the students were asked to put what they had learned into practice. In their groups, they were required to create their own poem, deciding on a theme together, and then each student adding one image or line to create their joint work. Two groups read out the finished product of their group work. While both groups coincidentally chose the subject of dogs, the tone and style of the respective poems were completely different and truly reflected the students’ creativity and imagination.

While the subject of Image and the medium of poetry may tend to be viewed as difficult, Professor Komura provided clear explanations with many examples and ample opportunities for the students to ask questions and receive individual guidance as they held their discussions. The class is predominantly in English with supplementary Japanese explanations provided. Thought-provoking and refreshing – the students looked both challenged and stimulated.

Annual Kobe College Festival

Professor Tsuda

Professor Tsuda

Professor Tsuda with her 4th year students. The students displayed posters of their research projects. There were also goods from the Phillipines for sale, including food, cosmetics and more.

Professor Fukushima with students

Professor Fukushima with students

Professor Fukushima also had students display posters of their research work. And sold delicious Brazilian sausages and other Brazilian food and drinks.

Class of the Week: Issues in Global Studies

Technology in the Classroom

The Class of the Week this week is Professor Shawn Banasick’s Issues in Global Studies, once again held first thing in the morning. This is a class for 2nd-year students, introducing them to the subject of Global Studies that they then may choose to pursue further in their 3rd and 4th years at Kobe College. The class is conducted entirely in English.

Before each class, students are required to complete three tasks: they watch two videos (videos that are produced by Professor Banasick and show him giving a lecture on a given topic), fill in their homework sheet, and learn 10-15 words for the weekly vocab test. The class today started with the vocab test.

単語テスト

単語テスト

And I must say, it was by no means an easy test. Professor Banasick sets the bar high from the start, but the students were obviously well-prepared and ten minutes later we were moving on.

The second part of the class was a discussion on the videos that they students were required to watch prior to coming to class. Professor Banasick asked questions about the videos, this time focusing on various concepts used in international relations. For example, what is a ‘nation’? What is a ‘state’? How are they different? The students told him that a nation can be defined as a group of people who are brought together for some reason – maybe historical events, language, race/ethnicity, culture or religion. The students were encouraged to answer Professor Banasick’s questions without looking at their notes….challenging! But great memory work.

Discussion

Discussion

The students were required not only to recall what was in the videos, but also expand on that to answer other questions based on what they had learned. Once ‘state’ had been defined for instance, the students were encouraged to think about what the state does, what it builds, etc. Professor Banasick then explained that in international relations, the term ‘nation-state’ is used instead of ‘country’ to emphasize the focus on the relationship between the state and the people.

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The discussion and subsequent lecture by Professor Banasick covered many interesting topics, such as the fact that there are often many different ‘nations’ existing in each country, and that governments are often working in subtle and not-so-subtle ways to engender positive feelings for the state.

This led us to the third part of the class. Using i-Pads, the students scanned a QR code to log in to a site where Professor Banasick had prepared some questions for them to answer in class. Their answers were then shared in real time via Professor Banasick’s PC and projector. The questions ranged from ‘What is done in Japan to make the people feel closer to the government?’ and ‘What do you think about the current level of nationalism in Japan?’ to ‘Should children with a Japanese parent and a foreign parent be required to choose one nationality at the age of 20?’ and ‘Is the concentration of military bases in Okinawa a form of discrimination against Okinawans?’ The students were required to consider a range of issues in Japan and re-examine their own country from a new perspective. Students were asked to explain their answers and the result was a very interesting discussion on topics that they possibly do not discuss elsewhere. Some of their answers were eye-opening for me too:)

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The class ended with a writing exercise, the exit quiz. Professor Banasick hands out a sheet with some questions pertaining to what was discussed in the lesson as well as the content of the videos. Students are encouraged not to use their dictionaries and were all very busily writing until the very end of class.

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Marks from the opening quiz and exit quiz contribute to the final score for the course, and students are also given additional opportunities to earn extra points, by watching a campus screening of a film on social issues and writing a short essay on it, for instance.

This may be an early morning session, but the students are constantly kept on their toes – no sleeping in this class!

Class of the Week: Research Skills

This week we’re introducing Professor Tateishi’s class for 1st year students, Research Skills. 9am on a Tuesday morning…expecting to see a lot of sleepy faces I was impressed by the enthusiasm of the thirty-something students in the class, many of whom arrived early.

The class started with a vocab test. This is a common test held by all teachers teaching the Research Skills subject.

単語テスト

単語テスト


テスト

テスト

We then moved on to the main activity of the day, a group presentation. The students have been divided into groups and are asked to prepare a research presentation on a set topic. They work as a group and divide up the presentation into sub-topics. At the end of the presentation they report on the conclusion they reached as a group.
The topic assigned to today’s group was Variety in Language. The five students in the group reported on their findings on six sub-topics: 1. How many languages are there in the world? 2. The difference between language and dialect 3. Is British English the best English? (I think we all know the answer to that question…?) 4. How different are Spanish and Portuguese? and 5. Do all Arabs speak the same language?

研究結果発表

研究結果発表

In their presentation (which was in English), the presenters challenged their audience with many thought-provoking questions, such as Who counts the world’s languages?, What is the future of US and British English? and Who owns English? They discussed how dialects are determined and provided some interesting and mystifying facts. Did you know that Serbs and Croatia can understand each other even though they have different writing systems? Or that people living in different parts of Germany are actually not mutually intelligible?
It was a very educational class for me. I think I might have to drop in again…

質疑応答

質疑応答

After the group presentation and question session, Professor Tateishi gave the students tips on presenting in English, such as the importance of putting emphasis on certain words to achieve clarity and avoid monotonous ‘reading’ of materials. He also recommended the areas that the students needed to prepare for possible questions from the audience. The students were very challenged and it looked like great preparation for the research they’ll be doing once they start their zemi activities in 3rd year.

勉強道具

勉強道具

The class ended with a video of an interview with Professor David Crystal, one of the world’s leading researchers on the English language. He spoke about the future of English – how long will it be a global language? He said that it was impossible to say, but did emphasize that it is global power relations that will be the decisive factor (You can see the video here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5Kvs8SxN8mc)
Professor Tateishi also said that even if English remains as the global language, we have no idea what shape or form it may take in the future.

The predominant language of this class is English. The Moodle tool is used to share materials and students can access Moodle to watch more videos on related subjects uploaded by Professor Tateishi.
Well done to the students who presented!

3rd-year Zemi Trip

On October 3-4, my 3rd-year zemi students and I embarked on a little adventure to Otsu. For those who don’t know Otsu, it’s the capital (?) city of Shiga Prefecture and just 44 minutes away from Osaka on the JR line. When asked ‘what do you know about Shiga’, most people would say ‘Lake Biwa’, and that indeed is one of the best reasons to visit Otsu.

琵琶湖

琵琶湖

We arrived at the hotel just before 2pm on Saturday and started a 3-hour workshop on the theme of Communication. Our instructor Ms. Terada started with ice-breaking and then one-on-one self-introduction sessions. The students were asked to write down 4 things: 1. Nickname, 2. Things you like, 3. Things you are good at, and 4. What type of guy you like:) The students then got into pairs and took turns explaining what they had written. Many of the students were meeting for the first time and they were asked to speak with students they did not know first. After about 5 rotations most of the students had spent time introducing themselves to other participants they didn’t know well, and there were many more relaxed faces when we ended this part of the workshop.

自己紹介

自己紹介

In the next part of the workshop, the students were divided into two groups. One group was given a topic to discuss, and as they discussed it the other group sat around them, observing their discussion. Those observing noted things like who was leading the discussion, how the group interacted with each other, communication styles and the expressions on the participants faces. We then swapped groups and performed the same task again.
Observation
This was a fascinating way to step back and objectively view how the way we communicate, effective methods and things that may hinder communication. The students took many notes and there were some very frank and interesting comments in the feedback session.

The reflection session at the very end of the workshop was also very productive, as the students divided into three groups and discussed what they had learned.
Poster3

Poster2

Poster1

The end of the 3-hour session was characterized by a number of rumbling tummies. Who knew hunger could be so loud?! We headed to dinner at a nearby restaurant and this was also a great opportunity to get to know each other in a way that’s not really possible when we’re in class. My son now also has a prospective wife, according to one of my students….The age difference may be an issue since he’s only 7…

Dinner

All in all, a great trip. The next day I went running with two of the students along Lake Biwa, and we ended with a group photo:
Group
And there was a birthday girl, who was very surprised when we broke into Happy Birthday and presented a card signed by all.
Birthday

Looking forward to going back next year already☆