2017 Tokyo Get-together reports

24 April 2017

The next get-together, with the theme of Explorations, is taking place on Sunday 28 May 14.00-17.00, Rikkyo University, Building 7, Room 7204. Even if you couldn’t make it to the April get-together, you are very welcome to join in the May session. Feel free to email us at ldsigtokyogettogethers AT MARK gmail DOT com if you have any questions about taking part.

At the April get-together people shared their learner development interests, discussed possibilities for exploring a learner development puzzle or question, and started imagining some kind of learner development project they would like to do this school year in collaboration with (an)other get-together participant(s). These pairs, groups, and projects are not fixed and are always open to change and new people joining in. Please see the April Get Together Handout for an overview of the April meeting. A short report will follow below in early May.

Best wishes

Andy, Ian, and Jenny (get-together co-coordinators)

Report on the Sunday April 23 2017 Get Together, Rikkyo University, 2-5 pm  

Taking part in the first get-together of the new school year were Mayumi Abe, Tim Ashwell, Andy Barfield, Martin Cater, Ian Hurrell, Kio Iwai, Nik Kasperek, Akiko Kiyota, Jenny Morgan, Sumire Shiba, and James Underwood (with regrets from Blair Barr, Fumiko Kurosawa, and Huw Davies).

A short report on the April get-together will follow here in early May.

Report on the Sunday February 26 2017 Get Together, Otsuma Women’s University, 2-4.30 pm  

Taking part in the second get-together of 2017 were Lee Arnold, Tim Ashwell, Andy Barfield, Martin Cater, Nicole Gallagher, Ian Hurrell, Ken Ikeda, Nick Kasparek, Tyler Kinkade, Debjani Ray, and Julie Torgeson (with regrets from Blair Barr, Fumiko Kurosawa, Huw Davies, Jenny Morgan, and Fumiko Murase).

Report compiled by Lee – many thanks, Lee!


The second get-together in Tokyo for this year marked the last time they were held at Otsuma Women’s University for the time being, as Ken Ikeda is departing for a sabbatical in the U.S. from April. Since September 2012 Ken has worked constantly behind the scenes to secure the facilities at Otsuma, and his efforts have made it possible for LD in Tokyo to maintain the get-togethers, hold the Creating Community: Learning Together informal afternoon conferences, and play a major role in keeping the Tokyo activities of the SIG consistent and coordinated. He will be greatly missed and we wish him well in his sojourn for the year. Thank you Ken!

Today’s get together began with mingling of some familiar faces along with some new and returning members with Tyler and Julie rejoining the get-together and Nick taking part for the first time.

Themes from Initial Pair Discussions

We then went into pairs and small groups and discussed some of our learner development interests and puzzles. Key themes from these initial discussions were to do with exploring:

  • motivation and autonomy, together with questions of empowerment and identity
  • third-year students’ perceptions of the value of a university education
  • learner emotion
  • reflective writing about learner development
  • autonomy and collaboration.

(The report continues after the photos.)

This led into a 30-minute plenary discussion of connections between the different learner development interests that people have. Here we tried to identify umbrella themes which people with similar interests might work with, and at the end of these discussions learner motivation, (teacher and learner) reflective writing, and collaborative projects emerged as likely areas of shared sustainable focus.

After a 10-minute break, we narrowed down to two broad themes for more incisive discussion:

  • Developing motivation (Debjani, Ian, Martin, Nick, Nicole, and Tim)
  • Teacher and learner reflective writing (Andy, Julie, Ken, Lee, and Tyler).

Developing Motivation Discussion

In our initial discussions, the topic of motivation came up in several groups and, though it was generally agreed that motivation is an essential component in teaching and learning, the term is so broad and all-encompassing that it is difficult to pin down what motivation means in practice. Therefore, in the “Developing Motivation” discussion group, we sat down to try and get as close as we could to answering two questions:

  1. What factors does motivation consist of?
  2. How might these factors play out in practice?

In our discussion of the first question we identified three important, and somewhat overlapping, factors in developing motivation. The first was engendering a desire to learn, which consisted of:

  • Engaging students and allowing students to take some ownership over their learning.
  • Focusing on meaningfulness in the activities we teach.
  • Raising awareness of the significance of learning beyond the classroom.

The second factor was a focus on personal development, which consisted of:

  • A focus on growth and development of self-efficacy.
  • Consideration of affective factors that might create barriers to motivation.
  • Making happiness of the learners a priority, as learners who are not happy will not be motivated to learn.

The final factor, which took up the bulk of our discussion, was creating a positive learning environment. This consisted of:

  • Giving learners a variety of activities and incorporating different learning styles into those activities, such as visual, verbal, and kinesthetic learning styles.
  • Focusing on the classroom as a social space and an environment based on trust.
  • Developing good learner-learner relationships through teamwork activities and activities that take into account different personality types.
  • Developing good learner-teacher relationships through showing trust in the learner and  having a principled approach to the creating learning programs that can be clearly and convincingly communicated to their learners.
  • Finally, connected to student-teacher relationships are extrinsic motivation factors such as teachers injecting their energy into the classroom and acting as an example for learner by showing a genuine enthusiasm for learning.

In the second half of our discussion we looked at how these factors might be practically applied to develop motivation at different stages of a learning program. In the initial stages of a learning program we agreed that the following points are useful in establishing motivation:

  • Providing learners with a variety of activities to keep them interested.
  • Aligning the expectations of teachers and learners through involving the learners in the negotiation of goals and tailoring the program to meet those goals.
  • Lowering anxiety by developing a positive group dynamic among learners through teamwork and ice-breaker activities.
  • Teachers developing a positive relationship with their students by showing a genuine interest in their students’ development and adapting their approach to meet their students’ various learning styles and need.

Next we discussed how to further develop motivation after these initial points have been established. The ideas we came up with included the following:

  • Engineering successes so that learners can build confidence.
  • Looking for turn-around opportunities when students are struggling with their learning programs.
  • Regularly coming back to the goal and expectations established for the learning program so that both learners and teacher can remind themselves of the meaningful purpose of what they are doing.

Unfortunately, we ran out of time before we could finish our discussion of how to maintain motivation in the later stages of learning program and after the learning program has been completed. This might be a topic we could come back to in subsequent get-togethers.

Teacher and Learner Reflective Writing Discussion

In the teacher and learner reflective writing group we discussed academic and institutional constraints on instruction and teacher research, and how they may make it difficult for teachers to write reflectively, either on their practice or as part of research. This discussion took us to questioning the commodification of “teachers’ personal practical knowledge” (a la Clandinin and Connelly) and the obstacles that teachers face in “writing from practice” rather than from “creating a research gap in the field.”

As a corollary, we also discussed how these constraints may be echoed in the classroom and how learners sometimes feel they are held back by them, affecting their motivation and engagement. We discussed at length how we as teachers may sometimes unwittingly pass on such constraints in our classrooms through too-strict, or too-literal, conceptions of curricula and adherence to prescribed course learner tasks and assignments. Among the many different questions we touched on were:

  • How might we include spaces for reflective writing in our own lives and also in different classes that we teach?
  • How do teachers and students understand the concept (and practice) of reflection? Why?

Ken: We discussed the differences in how Japanese students might regard reflective writing such as “hansei” and “soukatsu.” “Hansei” carries a negative connotation of ‘reflecting on one’s erroneous acts’. As for “soukatsu” [総括], Andy mentioned a “rotation kamoku” on multilingual issues that he co-teaches with several law, politics, and second foreign language colleagues. Each week students are asked in the last 15-20 minutes of the lecture to write a reflection in which they summarise the main points of the lecture, identify interesting points, and lastly raise questions. The purpose of the “soukatsu” is to help students think through their understanding, make their interest conscious, and raise questions about the issues in the lecture, rather than think over learning processes or goals.

  • How can learners be guided to develop reflective writing?
  • What scaffolds do we use? Why?
  • What challenges do our students and we face in writing reflectively? Why?
  • Why do some forms of academic writing “bleach” voice and personal experience?

Ken: Was this in reference to the adherence to a particular style (APA)?

Andy: More in reference to absurdities such as asking writers not to use “I” when writing about their own practices to do with learning and education.

  • How do we move from reflection to criticality? What differences can we trace between “reflection” and “reflexivity”? How do these differences connect to Exploratory Practice and Critical Pedagogy?

Announcements: LD Forum at JALT2017

At  the very end of the get-together, a brief announcement was made about the deadline for submitting proposals for the Learner Development SIG Forum on “International Communities: Fostering Learner Development on a Global Stage” at JALT2017. Exploring the theme of fostering international mindsets through autonomous learning both inside and outside the classroom, presentations could be based on completed or ongoing research in this area, or practical teaching ideas from a range of teaching and learning contexts. Please note that the deadline for proposals is Monday May 1st 2017. For more details go here. Many thanks!


Report on the Sunday January 22 2017 Get Together, Otsuma Women’s University, 2-5 pm

Taking part in the first get-together of 2017 were Andy Barfield, Blair Barr, Debjani Ray, Fumiko Kurosawa, Ian Hurrell, Jenny Morgan, Keiko Yuyama, Ken Ikeda, Lee Arnold, Martin Cater, Mayumi Abe, Nicole Gallagher, Peter Joun, and Tim Ashwell (with regrets from Alison Stewart, Huw Davies, Marcel Van Amelsvoort, Masuko Miyahara, and Sarah Morikawa).

Happy New Year to all!  It was great to begin 2017 with a lively meeting of fourteen people who attended our January get-together in Tokyo.  Nice to catch up with everyone after a very successful CCLT3 in December and New Year break (gosh, that seems aeons away now in the midst of grading and reports!) – and we were very happy to welcome Keiko and Peter to their first get-together too.

We started the get-together with an introduction round to welcome new participants, Peter Joun and Keiko Yuyama. Always good to welcome new energy, and thanks to members who’re reaching out to new members for the get-togethers.

We then discussed the new venue for the Tokyo get-togethers from April 2017, and dates for the monthly meetings.  Many thanks to Ian for firming up the booking of a meeting room at Rikkyo University for the first three get-togethers from April; thanks also to Tim for finding out about Komazawa University as a possible back-up location.

The meeting decided on the following dates for 2017 Sunday get togethers (details to follow at the February get-together):

  • Sunday 26 February 14.00-16.30 – our last meeting at Otsuma Women’s University as Ken will be away on sabbatical from April for one year
  • Sunday 23 April 14.00-17.00, Rikkyo University, Building 7, Room 7204
  • Sunday 28 May 14.00-17.00, Rikkyo University, Building 7, Room 7204
  • Sunday 25 June 14.00-17.00, Rikkyo University, Building 7, Room 7204
  • Sunday 24 September 14.00-17.00, venue TBA
  • Sunday 29 October 14.00-17.00, venue TBA
  • November: No get-together (JALT2017)
  • Sunday 17 December 12.00 to 17.30, venue TBA: Creating Community Learning Together 4 (CCLT4), an informal afternoon conference for learners and teachers.

We confirmed with each other that, in deciding these dates, we are making a commitment to meet regularly. The get-togethers work best when we create continuity and development from one get-together to the next, with a positive sense of moving forward together.

Next, we came to the all-important topic of the focuses and format for this year’s get-togethers, which is connected to sustaining interest and attendance at the get-togethers. We spent a little time reading and commenting on the responses to the short “Developing the Tokyo Get-togethers in 2017” online survey that 21 people responded to in November and December last year.

As a “participant-centred” SIG, the get-togethers are entirely reliant on the those attending co-creating the format and content of each meeting by bringing along their own pedagogic interests, puzzles and challenges, and/or research interests and concerns, to do with “learner development.” How do we wish to use these three hours on a Sunday afternoon?  People expressed the need/desire for some kind of structure, some degree of continuity – of themes, of people to talk with. Yet, we also want to balance any structure with the “open, inviting culture” of LD, keeping the looseness and spontaneity which allows us to create whatever happens each time with whoever turns up.

We discussed several different options for the 2017 get-togethers:

  1. Participants bring to each get-together samples of student work and related teacher puzzles/challenges, to share ideas and explore practical pedagogic issues that they face with their learners, so the get-togethers involve “teacher support group” discussions and sharing. In the past this has been done, and it works best when people prepare copies of student artefacts/work for such discussions.
  2. Another option is at the start of the get-together participants share their learner development themes/topics/areas of focuses, and then people split into ‘like-minded focus groups’ to discuss and learn about a theme or research focus of interest.  At subsequent get-togethers people continue to meet with the same theme group to develop and explore ideas more deeply. From experience it’s good if people have the option to change groups, so some flexibility is needed with this option. Past theme-based discussion groups led to some members later presenting together at the national JALT conference and writing up their learning and research together for the conference proceedings.  Another group’s discussions formed the basis of a book project on collaborative learning. Many of the research team members have since become active in the LD SIG.
  3. Some people said they had very much enjoyed the short workshops on doing research that individual members had presented in the first part of get-togethers last year (e.g., Exploratory Practice, interview-based research, narrative research, and diary research). Suggestions for continuing with this in 2017 led to the idea of having workshop ideas come from get-together participants so that sometimes people could volunteer to give an exploratory presentation on a learner development theme that interests them.
  4. Another possibility that some people would like to try includes people giving practice presentations to get feedback and critique before presenting at bigger conferences. This might be a particularly good focus for the October get-together where people could run through their presentations for JALT2017 and/or ideas for CCLT4. Such presentation-based workshops might be 20-30 minutes long with plenty of time for feedback and Q&A.
  5. Designate loose time-slots for say: similar format of mingling and sharing learner development interests, questions, and puzzles, with a 60- to 90-minute workshop/ teacher puzzles free-talk with student samples/ short workshop presentations from the participants/ working on research themes in small groups. Of course, these time-slots would be negotiated by whoever attends on the day.

We also talked about conveying some kind of minimal structure of the get-togethers on the Learner Development website and in the messages that go out via Mailchimp for each month’s session. People who have been to a get-together are familiar with what they involve, but for those who have not yet taken part, it would be helpful to have a basic outline such as:

  • 14.00-14.15  Mingling and meeting in pairs
  • 14.15-14.30  Sharing of people’s learner development interests and deciding pairs/groups and areas of focus
  • 14.30-15.15  Pair and small-group discussions
  • 15.15-15.30  Short break
  • 15.30-16.30  Pair and small-group discussions, and next steps
  • 16.30-17.00  Sharing with the whole group, announcements, the next get-together

As part of the rolling discussions around structuring the get-togethers and aiming for Creating Community Learning Together 4 in December, various suggestions were made about reaching out and linking up in an informal way with members of other teacher groups and Special Interest Groups (SIGs) in the greater Tokyo area. It might be possible for example to make some connections with a Reflective Practice group that has started up at Rikkyo University. We could also invite CALL SIG members to participate in the get-togethers and explore learner development dimensions of working with different forms of technology. Another link-up would be to encourage teachers with global issues interests to come and take part in the get-togethers. There is also the Framework and Language Portfolio SIG that is interested in a joint event with LD in 2017. Many ideas were mentioned, and we agreed that we want to keep arrangements informal so that CCLT4 keeps its accessible, student- and teacher-friendly, interactive character.

We also discussed how the get-togethers can lead into reflective writing for Learning Learning, the newsletter of the Learner Development SIG. Some participants from CCLT3 last year are writing short reflection reflections about the conference. Other presenters are putting together short reflective articles of 1000 to 2000 words about their own presentations, and these will be combined with write-ups from the SIG’s JALT2016 Forum for publication in a special issue of Learning Learning in 2017. The idea is for each short reflective article to be followed by 2 reader responses from SIG members. Several people at the January get-together expressed an interest in writing a reflective reader response and signed up to do so. It’s quite possible that other writing will emerge from the discussions at the get-togethers this year, and later lead into different publishing opportunities.

Finally we talked about a good, sustainable way to keep a record of each get-together that can be shared publicly. In the past we have done collective write-ups, but this has been somewhat of a burden at times to do and put together. For 2017 we agreed that a different person each time would take the responsibility of writing up a get-together. The recorder would be responsible for creating a Google doc and writing a summary of the get-together that would then be posted on the main LD website. For January Jenny kindly offered to do this. Many thanks to Jenny and Ian too for joining the get-together organising team for 2017.