Breaking Rules – Barb

Barbara Hoskins Sakamoto
Barbara Hoskins Sakamoto
EFT Course Director

Focus on Creating, Understanding, Sharing
– Barbara Hoskins Sakamoto

If you want to learn how to effectively break rules in young learner classes, look to the experts. If one of the aims of early childhood education is to teach what rules are and why we need follow them, then young learners are experts in the art of breaking them.

We can learn a lot about shaking up the rules we apply to own teaching by watching the way our students approach life and learning. Here are a few of the things they’ve taught me about teaching.

Nurture curiosity and creativity

Children are naturally curious, so encourage them to use English to ask questions and explore. “What’s this?” and “Why?” are very easy but powerful questions, and “I don’t know. Let’s find out!” is a great model for learning. Accept that there’s more than one way to look at things. For example, we often check comprehension by asking children to separate vocabulary into categories. If we put pictures of ice cream, spaghetti, a polar bear, a snake, a pencil, and a piece of paper on the table, we might expect groupings for food, animals, and classroom items. After students have done the expected task, ask them to create a new category of items and explain it. You might see milk, ice cream, polar bear and paper together (things that are white) or spaghetti, a snake, and a pencil together (things that are long and thin), or something else entirely. The point is to reinforce flexible thinking while building language skills.


If one of the aims of early childhood education is to teach what rules are and why we need follow them, then young learners are experts in the art of breaking them.

Focus on accomplishments

Young children are thrilled when they master a new skill or acquire a new word, and don’t tend to focus on what haven’t yet mastered or learned. Teachers have a tendency to see errors rather than accomplishments, which limits our ability to understand either one. In the example below, the student still has a long way to go in her writing development, but she’s already accomplished a lot. She has a good handle on her consonant sounds, is beginning to make some good guesses with vowels, has spaces between her words, and is writing from left to right. She can read what she wrote (“Kuro likes outside”), and is communicating something that’s meaningful to her (Kuro is her cat). Understanding her errors in the context of her accomplishments helps me to plan more effective lessons.


Sharing is another kind of showing, one that adds purpose to using language.

Show and share

Children nearly always show rather than tell. I’m almost always better off showing my students what I want them to do rather than telling them. I’m always better off showing them how language works than explaining it.

Observations can show me what’s actually happening in class (versus what I think is happening). One easy way to find an impartial observer is to set up a video camera in one corner of the room and leave it running for the entire class. I did this when I was having a problem with younger siblings disrupting class. What I observed was two young girls trying to join the older children and becoming frustrated when they couldn’t (usually because they didn’t know the English being practiced). Since the parents and students were all fine with the non-paying siblings joining, I turned it over to the students to set the rules. In the process, I got to see how students had interpreted my class rules. Beyond that, they came up with adaptations that enabled the younger children to join activities even without knowing enough English. I was impressed with the creativity and empathy my students used in solving what could have become a major classroom management issue.

Sharing is another kind of showing, one that adds purpose to using language. Technology makes it easy to share student projects with parents and other students. For example, my older students always need practice with writing and speaking clearly, in addition to opportunities to use English in meaningful ways. So, when my younger students were ready to take on English prepositions, the older students created listening tests for them. These student-made tests are motivating for everyone involved, and they encourage a level of care with enunciation that I can never achieve without an audience.


To see an example of student projects, visit my YouTube channel or authorstream.

Children begin formal education unaware of rules that limit answers to a single correct response, that make errors more important than accomplishment, that put an emphasis on telling rather than showing, and keeping rather than sharing. By learning to break these rules in our teaching, we can also encourage students maintain healthy attitudes about exploration and sharing, and develop creative and critical thinking skills, in addition to helping them become skilled language users.


Connect with Barb and other iTDi Associates, Mentors, and Faculty by joining iTDi Community. Sign Up For A Free iTDi Account to create your profile and get immediate access to our social forums and trial lessons from our English For Teachers and Teacher Development Courses.

Register for John F. Fanselow’s four-week More Breaking Rules Course with live sessions on June 9th, 16th, 23rd, and 30th. The course is only $49.95. The experience: priceless. All sessions will be recorded and the archives made available exclusively for registered participants.

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Professional Goals for 2013 – Barb

Barbara Hoskins Sakamoto
Barbara Hoskins Sakamoto
Course Director
Always Moving Forward

 “If one advances confidently in the direction of one’s dreams, and endeavors to live the life which one has imagined, one will meet with a success unexpected in common hours.”

~Henry David Thoreau~

While I’m not too good at setting goals, I am pretty good at moving forward. That really is our only option, isn’t it? I also have a decent imagination, and I count myself lucky to be part of a great group of dreamers in iTDi. Our shared dream is a big one: Making excellent professional development affordable and accessible for every teacher in the world.

We imagine a world where teachers without a lot of money can have access to the same quality teacher training that more affluent teachers enjoy. A world where teachers don’t have to be fluent in English in order to enjoy professional development, in English. A world where teachers in even the most remote corners of the world can join a safe, nurturing international community filled with teachers helping each other to become better teachers.

It’s a big dream, and there are plenty of obstacles on the from from where we are now and where we want to be, but we are blessed with an absolutely amazing network of teachers around the world who also believe that all teachers deserve respect and a chance to become better, regardless of teaching context, language ability, or prior training.

So, what will I be doing to move forward this year?

Writing a new course

iTDi is ready to add a new course to its roster of online offerings. So far, we have Teacher Development, for teachers who want to improve their classroom skills; and English for Teachers, for teachers who want to improve their English skills while talking about teaching. Our new course will be for teachers working with young learners. The course is still very early in development, but it’s exciting to see it come together. My co-authors, Catherine Littlehale Oki and Lesley Koustaff, are experienced YL teachers, teacher trainers, and writers. Eric Kane, our production manager, is the wizard behind ELF Learning. And bringing invaluable experience and authenticity to the lessons is a team of Associates spanning the globe:


Bruno Andrade, Brazil

Andy Boon, Japan

Marco Brazil, The Philippines (and Japan)

Vladimira Chalyova, Slovakia

Naomi Epstein, Israel

Fitri, Indonesia

Esra Girgin, Turkey

Marcia Lima, Brazil

Martha Mendoza, Peru

Anna Musielak, Poland

Cherry Philipose, India

Anna Pires, Portugal

Yitzha Sarwono, Indonesia

Malu Sciamarelli, Brazil

Ayat Tawel, Egypt

Juan Uribe, Canada (and Brazil)

Jennifer Verschool, Argentina

Chiyuki Yanase, Japan


Some of our TEYL Associates are veterans of the English for Teachers course, and some are new, but all are committed to making iTDi TEYL as practical as possible for teachers of young learners. You can read about all of our incredible Associates on our Community Page.

Working with Teachers

At the beginning of February, I’ll be back in Indonesia for several events. First, I’ll be at the LIA Semarang Candi International English Workshop with fellow iTDi colleagues Chuck Sandy, Eric Kane, Yitzha Sarwono, and Nina Septima. Then Chuck, Eric, Yitzha and I will join VIE Foundation, our Partners in Indonesia, for the Global Teacher Development Workshop road show in Bandung and Jakarta. The goal is to get teachers excited about the possibilities of collaborating and sharing with other teachers online, and to introduce professional development opportunities with iTDi.

Working Online

As much as I love to travel, I think this year will find me traveling a bit less, and doing more workshops online. Whether it’s facilitating webinars like the current series on Easy Web Tools for Teachers, presenting my own workshops like the upcoming Bringing Technology to your Young Learner Classroom, or participating in facebook chats being online gives me a chance to work with teachers from many countries at the same time.

While I have absolutely no idea where the end of 2013 will find me, I am confident that I’m heading in the direction that’s right for me. I will continue to dream and imagine, and feel lucky that I can share my journey forward with an amazing and ever-growing community of teachers around the world.

Rules We Follow – Barb

Barbara Hoskins SakamotoI’m not a terribly consistent rule follower, I’ve discovered. There are, however, two rules about teaching that I have been pretty good about keeping. They are:

1. Learn as much as possible about as many things as possible so that I have a large pool of resources to draw from in teaching.

2. Don’t let what I learn interfere with what I know is right for my students.

The first rule has helped me rationalize learning about any number of things — from trivia about the animal kingdom as a way of providing a context for learning English to technology tools as a way of teaching.

The second rule keeps me grounded. I try to stay current with research about teaching and learning, and I appreciate educators who conduct studies to evaluate how and why things work (and don’t work) in the classroom. There’s value in research. However, there’s also a risk in adopting or dropping something I do in class simply because it is or is not validated by research.

For example, the idea that teachers should incorporate techniques to reach different learning styles or multiple intelligences has been largely discredited in research studies. Not only is there no proof that teaching to different modalities is useful, there is evidence that it can be counter-productive. However, thinking in terms of learning styles is still a useful rubric for lesson planning, and getting teachers to see that they tend to teach in the way that they like to learn is a valuable step in encouraging them to experiment with different ways of presenting material. For many teachers, the idea that the same material can be taught in a variety of ways is new, and liberating. The idea that students process information in different ways resonates with teachers.

So, even though learning styles are “so last year” in research circles, I still use them as a way to make sure my lesson plan is multisensory, and  include them in teacher training because they are a useful way of looking at what happens in our classrooms.

Interestingly, cognitive scientists now suggest that rather than teaching in a way that suits our students, we should teach in the way that best matches our lesson content (e.g., learning to play soccer is probably best done by kicking a ball on a soccer field rather than by listening to someone talk about playing soccer). Learning a language involves multiple senses, so essentially we follow a different path to the same destination. We should teach in a multi-sensory way not because our students have learning style preferences but because it’s the approach that best suits teaching language.

Rewards are another example of me choosing to ignore what I’ve learned in favor of what is right for my students. A quick Google search shows many reasons why rewards are a bad idea — students get addicted, they won’t develop intrinsic motivation, and eventually the rewards stop working. However the majority of articles refer to teaching contexts very different from my own. I see students once a week, and English is simply one of many after school classes children participate in. The chance to choose a sticker means that homework is usually done (and shown and checked within minutes of entering the classroom door). Younger siblings get a sticker at the end of class if they’ve been able to follow class rules for the entire hour. There’s no penalty if homework doesn’t get done or younger siblings have an off day, but there is a small reward for compliance. Typically, students start forgetting about taking a sticker in about third grade, and are pretty autonomous homework-doers by the time they hit 4th grade.

Do I think all teachers should use learning styles as a rubric for planning lessons? Do I think all teachers should use rewards? No, of course not. What works with one of my classes may not even work with another of my classes, let alone another teacher’s class. Each group of students has its own dynamic, and requires a slightly different teaching style.

I think that teachers need to learn as much as possible about as many things as possible so that we can make informed choices about how to teach the students in our classrooms. The longer we teach, and the more we learn, the more confident we can become about making the choices we do, regardless of what research says is “right.” Ultimately, no one knows as much about our own students and their needs as we do.

If you’d like to do a bit of reading about learning styles and rewards, here are a few articles to get you started:

Don’t teach to learning styles and multiple intelligences []

Do Visual, Auditory, and Kinesthetic Learners Need Visual, Auditory, and Kinesthetic Instruction? []

The Risks of Rewards



Six Reasons Rewards Don’t Work


The E-books or Print Books Debate – Barb

Judging a book by its cover – Barbara Hoskins Sakamoto

Barbara Hoskins Sakamoto
Barbara Sakamoto
EFT Program Director

I’m a bookworm. One of the greatest challenges for me when I first moved overseas (in the pre-Amazon era) was to keep my home stocked with fresh reading material. On rare visits home, I raided used bookstores and shipped my loot back to Japan by sea mail. The Kindle I bought before my most recent move was one of the best gifts I’ve ever given myself. It feeds my need to read, and removes the anxiety of being caught without a book at hand.

Electronic books and the devices we read them on are great for many reasons — they save trees, they save space, and digital books never go out of print. In short, they represent a great development for voracious readers. However, research suggests that they may not be so great for children who are still learning to read.

Research into what happens when children read and interact with books on a computer screen or on a tablet is still in its infancy, but preliminary findings indicates that e-books, particularly enhanced e-books (where children touch items on the screen to make things happen), may actually interfere with a child’s literacy development.  The goodies that attract children to interact with the screen also distract them from interacting with the text.  There’s a risk that children could end up feeling engaged with books without actually developing the skills to read them.

Becoming a strong, fluent reader requires skills that aren’t easily developed with digital books:

Predicting. We want students to be able to identify genre, or predict what a story will be about by looking at the cover art, “walking” quickly through the pages, or reading the blurb on the back of the book. This is much easier to do with a book that has a cover rather than an icon.

Discovering preferences. We want students to browse bookshelves in order to discover their emerging tastes in literature. Searching an electronic catalog makes us more familiar with the contents of a category, but reduces the chance of a serendipitous discovery on the new arrival shelf at the library.

Skimming and scanning. Students can certainly go to different sections of an e-book or search for keywords, but that’s a different skill. There’s value in quickly flipping through pages to find information or to summarize.

Adjusting reading speed and approach based on the type of text and purpose. E-books are wonderful when our interaction with the content is essentially linear, as in following a story as it unfolds. They’re less than ideal when we need to jump around looking for specific information to answer a homework question or when we’re searching for a citation we vaguely recall seeing in a reference book. For text that explains concepts or provides information, a linear approach to reading is limiting. This may be why college students still prefer ridiculously expensive textbooks rather than the less expensive digital versions.

Aside from skills development, it’s still easier, and more cost-effective to purchase traditional books for a class library. If I purchase from a used bookstore like Better World Books, I’m also saving trees and contributing to literacy charities around the world.

Digital books are engaging; so let them be a reward for children working hard at becoming literate, or a motivator for the reluctant reader. However, let’s make sure our students learn all of the skills they’ll need to enjoy stories as well as story apps, and let’s celebrate their pride in being able to browse the library shelf for a book that looks interesting and say, “I can read it myself!”


Technology in your classes – Barbara Sakamoto

Technology is anything that wasn’t around when you were born.Barbara Hoskins Sakamoto

Alan Kay

I remember when video cassette players were the new tech toys in teaching. Schools wanted teachers to use videos in class in order to provide an edge in attracting students.  Teachers wanted to use videos because they were a new and exciting way to teach. The problem was, no one really knew how to use the things to do anything but watch passively. It took time for teachers to move beyond watching movies in class to using video as a tool to improve teaching practice.

Technology –in whatever form –is just one of many resources available to me as a teacher.  Since I only see my students for short time each week, I want to make the best use of that time.  A bit part of this is using my resources in the most effective way possible, whether I’m deciding to include a card game or an interactive website in a lesson. When I evaluate lesson resources, I always ask two questions: Is this appropriate for my students?  Does it improve on what I’m already doing in class?

Is it appropriate?

Sometimes it’s easy to tell if a something is appropriate for your students. You don’t give young learners unsupervised access to social networks, or you don’t ask students who haven’t learned the English alphabet to input large amounts of text. Tools can be appropriate or inappropriate because of the ages and skill levels of your students.

Sometimes, the decision about which tool is most appropriate depends more on which one makes the best use of your preparation time and your students’ class time. I’m a digital immigrant (who often feels more like a tourist than an immigrant) so every technology tool I consider has a learning curve. Before I can use something in class, I need to learn how to use it myself. I want to focus on tools that are simple to use, and rich enough that I can use them again and again. Generally, I want use tools to support the skills I’m trying to reinforce, rather than tools that become the focus of our lesson.

Finally, appropriate can refer to which tools are the best for a specific teaching context or group of learners. For example, I teach a few classes for senior citizens at a local community center. There’s no Internet available, and most of my students haven’t even applied for a tourist visa to the digital realm. However, they all have mobile phones, and most have electronic dictionaries. In this case, the tools they have available and are comfortable using are the most appropriate. Students can send English messages with their phones, we can compare English translations of Japanese words between different dictionaries (or compare pronunciation, or even check the built in encyclopedia). I can use my smart phone to find photos on Flickr to illustrate something we’re talking about, or do an online search to answer a question in class. I can bring in a digital recorder and my computer and we can use Power Point to create a narrated digital book. Or I can bring in a camcorder and we can record a video that I can upload from home. Rather than lamenting what I don’t have, it’s fun to figure out how to make the most of what is available.

Does it improve on what I’m already doing in class?

Pedagogy comes before tools. Teachers can and do have great lessons without technology. If my students are already speaking, and listening, and reading, and writing, and thinking, it makes sense to include a technology tool only if it will enhance what’s already going on. On the other hand, it would beequally silly to overlook any available resource that would help me do my job better. I’ve found that including even small amounts of technology can significantly improve my students’ learning experience.

Being able to create a digital comic strip as a final writing project makes the revision process complaint-free for my young teens. When my young learners see a camcorder, practice becomes rehearsal rather than repetition. Self-introductions become performance rather than speaking practice. Creating digital books makes writing fun for my emergent and reluctant writers. Putting book reports in blog posts gives students a real audience. Creating a collaborative alphabet book teaches my kindergarteners that English comes in many accents, and that children around the world are learning the same things.

In every case, adding a touch of technology improved on what I was already doing in class. And, because digital projects are online, they’re easy to share with parents, grandparents, and other teachers. If you’d like to see examples some of my students’ projects, please explore the workshop pages on the Teaching Village wiki [] or on our class blog, My Corner of the World. []. If you’ve used a technology tool to enhance your lessons, please share your experience in comments. I’d love to learn how you’ve incorporated technology in your own lessons!