The Blog is Back!

After a two plus year absence, this time I plan to have a clear data-driven focus.  I hope to post a mini-action research project and see where it leads me.  Recently, I have heard my supervisor at work talking about my rate of speech while teaching(in the form of “asking questions”).  So, I decided to record my speech looking for two things: a) what is my rate of speech and another topic which I have always harbored a little bit of worry about: b) do I have any level of aggressiveness in my voice?

These days students are preparing for public speeches which constitutes approximately 30% of their total grade.  In other words, i’m not doing too much lecturing.  However,  I do need to remind students about a few details and rules for smooth classroom functioning.  Thus, while doing those little things I recorded my classroom for the first 3:20 seconds.  I transcribed the relevant first 2:13.  Here is the transcript:

Shh….shh…just a few things before I begin.  Let me remind you (pause) today We are starting the 2nd round…the 2nd round of practice presentations, I am expecting a higher level of quality than the first round, that’s why we practice to get better, right?  Now, There is the 2 minute rule.  (pause) (Student interrupts who is late), Now, if you get up and ???? and your reading from the script, and I’m not hearing much enthusiasm in your voice, I’m not hearing much emphasis or gesture, I’m just going to tell you to sit down after two minutes and -4 daily participation points.  Again, if you’ve made some preparations and taken the task seriously, then everything will be alight.  And also, if you’re not presenting.  Please, use your time wisely.  You have a few options.  Option #1, enjoy the wonderful presentations from your classmates, option #2 (pause) start memorizing your speech make little notes, just practice in your head for the presentation.  Option 3, do nothing stare like a zombie, that okay, I’m not going to punish you are anything if you do that, the only big rule is during the actual presentations, 유진 is speaking presentations, uh, “don’t speak” if you do speak I’m going to take away points from you, daily participation points, now I’m not going to announce to you “희선 be quiet or I’m going to take away -2 points, I’m just kind of going to do it in secret and tell you at the end of class, so again, if you want to avoid that simply be quiet, other than that, I don’t think there is too much, as you know test dates and speaker order is up there (points to the board).  Do become aware of it, Remember, I do believe, next Wednesday we are beginning the test, so we are one week away.  So, please understand it is serious we need to be focused.  Before I begin, the test, I need to check I need to check if you added gesture and (lingering) voice notes (2:13 seconds of speech)

Regarding issue (a):

There are approximately 340 words in this time.  According to some internet searches (a very scholarly method), 150-200 wpm is considered a fast rate of speaking.  Given that I am teaching ELLs that indicates a problem.  Preliminary steps to improve this include: more conscious-pausing in my speech; b) clearly signal transitions (which I do somewhat with words like “option # 1” “option #2”), c) study models of quality public speakers.

Regarding issue (b):

I think there is a clear level of “authority” if not aggression in my voice.  I can see several authoritarian tones and phrases, such as “Let me remind you;” “I am expecting;” “we practice to get better, right?;” “I’m just going to tell you to sit down after two minutes;” Do become aware of it;” to list a few.

On the positive side I believe much of this monologue was rather clear.  Students had expectations clearly communicated to them.  In the future I may want to add additional checking questions, to provide more interaction, and less of a one-way, dare I say “authoritarian feel” when I am delivering what is essentially procedural information to students.

Has any readers had similar challenges?  How did you cope with them?  ‘Til next time.

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Blog Post 6-14-13

I’ll keep it a simple roll call of my shifts this week. 

Journaling Taking cues from my most recent RP meeting in Busan, I decided to follow the lead of a participant who said at one time during his teaching career he journaled immediately after class.  I now strive for at least 5 minutes of journaling immediately out of class.  It has yielded some fruit already, as detailed in the notes below.

Corpus lines? I typically do a basic inferential learning exercise when I introduce a target grammar/function item.  I will show worked examples and students need to determine the appropriate pattern.  I figure, I should briefly consult corpus data (such as the COCA) prior to construction of such worked examples.  Even after consulting the corpus data, I fully expect that I will have to modify the examples to both a) accommodate target vocabulary and b) simplify the text so students are neither overwhelmed and may be able to comprehend the text.

Scripted Instructions?  This is an idea I got from reading Michael Griffin’s post.  Sounds great for my level of learners.  I try to keep it as simple as possible.  Perhaps next semester I will attempt to train students on such procedures.  I’m already a firm believer in prefabs.  This seems like a nice extension of that general concept.

Arrange desks The virtues of journaling.  Previously, I would simply leave a class once I had finished teaching.  Since I started journaling, I noticed some teachers will rearrange the desks which students inevitably manage to put into disarray during a lesson.  I figure I should do one of two things.  A) Train students to rearrange the desks at the end of the lesson or B) help my co-teacher.  B is the more likely option at this point.  Perhaps I can start A at the beginning of next semester.

Learning Tab Merge A learning tab is a simple device that serves as a visual reminder of the basic theme of a lesson which I put in the right corner of the screen of the powerpoints I produce.  In the future, I hope to simply use the learning tab image as an illustration during a typical worked example.  Perhaps this adds excessive seductive detail?  My hope is that it manages to reinforce the basic concepts of the lesson.  Though, this is definitely a largely insignificant point.  Nevertheless, I feel it is important I do whatever I can to improve my teaching, however minor it is.

New Rules  I’ve noticed I am becoming more precise in my thinking, and thus better able to name what annoys me about student behaviors.  Thus, starting next semester, I will add a few new rules for students.  Rules include: a) after a class has started, the student is not permitted to stand up…if they have an issue, the student can raise his hand and explain the situation.  In my present teaching environment it is all too common for students to get up to do things like toggle with a fan, et al.  Another rule is that students can only have a notebook, pen/pencil, English textbook, or relevant folder on their desk during my class.  I’m tired of confiscating scissors that serve the purpose of constructing more aerodynamic spitwads.  Note to self: paying attention to all dynamics in a classroom is good, thus RP=very good.

Questions Plaguing me

I got two wonderful responses from students this week: For a multiple choice question during “game” time in one of my classes, a student answered the following to this question: “Which of these live in the sea?” Student: “Hot dog.” I asked another student to spell the word town…his answer? “T-O-W-teacher what is this?” Korean English Teacher: “that’s an N.”  How does one justify their salary as a teacher when so many students perform in such a dismal fashion?!

‘til next week,

Chris

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Prodding, tweaks, fluster, and growth?

Josette LeBlanc very gently prodded for me to elaborate on why I would make this bold statement on facebook: “I may have had literally the most pleasant experiences in my classroom in my life today.”  I’ll attempt that now.  Really there is nothing to it.  The students weren’t productively communicating at a higher level than they typically do.  So outcomes didn’t shift.  The atmosphere of classroom felt healthier than usual however.  When I reflect on this Monday’s class I see three elements that I can elaborate briefly upon:

 

a)      Ability to “turn the tide.”  My first hour class entered right after a school wide awards ceremony.  The word rambunctious seems to fit their behavior.  Sometimes I “get lucky” and the students are too drained to provide classroom management challenges during the first period of the day.  However, that was not the case during this period.  However, through the use of a game, a degree of humor (I have gotten into the potentially annoying habit of deliberately misconstruing students names for an attempt at comedic effect—it worked on this day, as I called one student not by his proper family name “Jeong,” but rather “Jjang”—or “very good”), and the structure effective rules can provide.  By the end of this class, with the assistance of a language game which produced a suspenseful ending, I really felt I “had” the majority of the students “in the palm of my hand” for that moment.

 

 

b)      Feelings of flow.  In my third period class for the same day, I had a few of those so-called “teachable moments.”  Typically, I will provide opportunities for students to practice the target structure by progressively removing scaffolding.  At the “final stage” during a typical lesson, students will have an image with a speech bubble which they need to complete.  This time, I had a picture of a puppy dog.  The target structure was “I’m looking forward to…”  Usually I provide models, but they are dry presentations—such as “I’m looking forward to resting after school.”  Today, somewhat spontaneously, I decided to add an element of humor.  I delivered two comedic lines which connected with the students: “I’m looking forward to eating dog food” and “I’m looking forward to biting [student name here].”  I could really feel the level of rapport increasing with such techniques.

 

c)       Clearer recognition of what enables “greater success” in the classroom.  While I was reflecting on Josette’s “challenge” I realized that in my experience as a middle and high school level teacher, the factors trigger both a more congenial classroom environment and greater insight as a lesson planner is based on the intersection between rules and reward.  For example, these days during the “game” portion of a semi-typical lesson, students are much more well-behaved.  The reason is simple I have established clear criteria for participation and “eligibility” to receive the reward (i.e. students must raise hand to receive the points; students must answer in a complete sentence; an individual student can only answer three questions during the game; those students who do not participate during the game cannot receive candy at the end of the game, et al.).  Such structure has greatly tidied up my planning and in-class teaching.

So I guess the moment wasn’t so special upon further analysis, however, it does remind me that reflection, especially structured and routine reflection, pays wondrous dividends.  Also, even if the “accomplishment” doesn’t look all that amazing, the feeling often is…that is something that shouldn’t be neglected.

**

Tweaks for the Week

There were a plethora.  I’ll strive for brevity!

a)      Warm-up is the absolute first thing I do.  No briefly explaining objectives…no detailing opportunities for students to receive additional candy.  My classroom requires that students are provided with an orienting activity once they enter the classroom.

 

b)      Nested displays.  I do this while explaining target functions.  Previously, I would have all components of a “grammatical” explanation on one slide.  For instance, as it pertains to the previously cited “I’m looking forward to” I would have brief explanatory key words like “future” “excited,” “+verb+ing.”  Now, I will put one slide with future, the next slide will have both future and excited…and so on until all components of the grammatical explanation are visible.  As a new slide is introduced the text is highlighted on the PPT.  This is perhaps excessively detailed.  However, I feel it is important to retain a personal commitment to doing one’s best in any way perceived during a given teaching task.

 

 

c)       Humorous bubble modeling…I have already explained this during the write-up on my “best moment ever.”

 

d)      Mix Korean and English names during worked examples.  I used to simply place only Korean names or only English names for the “characters” used while students practiced worked examples during class.  Now, I have decided to mix the two.  Why not? perhaps it promotes the message to students that they don’t have to segregate themselves from foreigners.

 

 

e)      Funny rules.  As mentioned before, I have some “rambunctious” students and classroom dynamics (to say the least).  I attempted to acknowledge this with a bit of humor this week.  While laying out the rules to the game, I spontaneously added a new one: “rule 1a: shut up” in that situation it worked to humorous effect.  It really depends on classroom mood at a given time, but a humorous rule may facilitate greater rapport in the classroom if used judiciously.

 

f)       Funny names: see the above write-up again.

 

 

g)      Debrief errors.  As I detailed in a previous post, I provided students with an “opportunity to get more candy.”  They had to recognize the errors I deliberately placed in my PPT display.  If they did it appropriately (i.e. raise hand) within 30 seconds they were eligible.  If I had extra time during a class, I would have students scan slides to “find the error.”  Now, I have decided to simply spend the last few minutes of class reviewing the slides and “finding” the errors. I also will align my deliberate mistakes with the target grammar of a particular lesson or as a review for the preceding lesson’s grammar.

 

h)      Model expectation.  Few things irritate me more than students who arrive late and decide it is appropriate to announce their presence with a loud, almost celebratory yell.  This isn’t a party, it is a classroom.  When students do that now, I simply tell the student to go back, enter quietly and sit down.  If there are any issues (such as the need to get a book), the student can simply raise his hand and we’ll proceed from there.  It takes about three times per incident for a student to “get it,” but that’s how the game is played.

 

 

i)        Candy: eat it after class.  I frequently use candy as an external motivator.  I know how toxic that strategy is in the long-term.  However, any critics don’t understand just how toxic my environment is for learning in the present.  Thus, candy is an unfortunate lifesaver (though it isn’t the lifesaver candy—perhaps fortunately).  However, I used to inattentively give the candy to students…they would then eat it and throw the wrapper on the floor, then starts a silly cycle again.  Now, I inform students a) eat it after class and b) other students cannot pester a student who has more than one piece of candy (which was technically earned) during class.  Students have, somewhat surprisingly, accepted this rule.

 

j)        Participation is a prerequisite for candy.  Previously, I would divide students into teams for a game.  All members, with the exception the MVP, received the same amount of candy.  This was a mistake.  Now, a student must provide at least one correct answer in order to get a piece of candy.  Hopefully, this will encourage more diverse participation among teams during game time.

 

 

k)      Cueing returns.  Prior to playing textbook audio, I give a loud 1-2-3 count to cue students to pay attention to the audio.  Not much, but it’s better than simply playing the audio.

Questions plaguing me

I lost my cool in the classroom this week.  Every other week, as a warm-up my (very low-motivation and low-level) students unscramble five vocabulary words with the prospect of receiving two pieces of candy.  I always introduce the assignment saying in Korean and English “please don’t speak…write the words…when you are finished raise your hand.”  Of course, there are multiple students that feel the need to announce the answers orally despite my chiding.  During a particular class this week, a higher proportion of students were stating the answer orally.  Thus I screamed at the class (in their L1): “don’t speak…write…we have done this for at least 3 months, you still don’t get it…are you stupid?”  That got the class quiet for most of the period.  I knew I crossed a line.  My co-teacher wanted to talk to me after class.  Much to my surprise, she praised me for my fluster.  She claimed a teacher needs to do that sometimes with certain classes and students.  My outburst was in no way pre-planned.  However, I’m left wondering: was my co-teacher right?  Do I need to show that harshness to survive in a low-performing middle school in South Korea?  Maybe…your thoughts?

Future Directions?

One thing I have learned through composing this blog on a weekly basis is that reflection gives profound hope to a teacher; it allows one to see potential errors, and make very clear alterations.  The real question is efficacy.  That requires data collection…perhaps as I continue to become a more mature professional and more organized I will be in a position to more efficiently collect and analyze data…however, honestly such a project overwhelms me just thinking about it.  Nevertheless, I recognize that while reflection may give me hope that I can improve, it doesn’t give me solid evidence that my practice is improving.  I may have to move into the next stage soon.

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Where’s the inspiration??

With the joys of food poisoning, this week’s blog will be a matter of duty rather than a chronicle of joy.  I looked through my notes and reflected on my week.  There weren’t too many tweaks which I actually applied to either my classrooms or lesson planning.  Perhaps there was one thing…

Speaking practice extension.  After the “tune-in” or “in conversation” feature of the text books I take a line, which is also part of the target communicative function, from the dialogue and ask students to provide a replacement sentence using the sentence stem that is appropriate for the context of the dialogue students have just heard.  So, for example in the grade 2 book, lesson 4, one of the characters in the dialogue says: “Feel free to give me your opinion.”  Feel free to… is the target function.  So, basically students have to provide an appropriate replacement…possible examples might include: “feel free to say how you feel.” Or “Feel free to give me any advice.”

KOTESOL National Conference

While I may not have had direct improvements in my lesson planning immediately, I feel I planted seeds for the future by recently attending the KOTESOL National Conference.  There were at least three ideas that I will consider implementing in the future.

“Murphy Mind Map.”  I honestly didn’t like Rob Murphy’s presentation related to the so called “NeuroELT.”  It just felt like he was much more interested in selling than diffusing knowledge.  I asked him a few questions about his techniques, for instance: Do his techniques have any empirical support or are they just inferences drawn from studying various avenues of neuroscience?  He gave two consecutive evasive answers, and that is when I realized that I couldn’t get a straight answer from him. 

Nevertheless, I feel I should give the “Murphy mind map” a try.  It is basically an elaboration on the traditional mind map approach.  Except for students need to give a judgment about the emotional valence of the words selected and classify the terms into positive and negative.  I certainly wouldn’t have thought of that myself.

Polarized Mind Maps Mind maps are quite popular in Korea, aren’t they?  Peadar Callaghan explained how to draw out mind maps to provide scaffolding for a basic conversation.  Somewhat similar to Murphy’s mind map, students mindmap and classify the words in to positive and negative categories.  For example, if the topic is food, the student can list pizza as something he likes, then the project can be extended further…why do you like it…how often do you eat it, et al.  This is definitely potentially useful and I intend to try it out during my English camp, and maybe my so-called “overseas travel class.”

Fly swatter  This is nothing new, but I have never tried it since I never felt my “classroom management realities” allowed such an activity (middle school boys!).  However, in the right context (say an English camp?) I think it would be great for listening practice and as the presenters suggest, helping students discriminate among minimal pairs.

So there it is, I hope to find a little more inspiration next week. 

Cheers,

Chris

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Another Week of Teaching

I made many small scale modifications in my teaching this week.  Noteworthy ones include:

Speaking Test Shifts This is pretty small stuff, but I decided to use the following sequence whenever students would enter the room for the speaking test: a) give a clear cue of the questions the student would answer, such as the number of the question b) I would attempt to establish rapport, for example one student entered the room with a hand grip (of all things), I asked him how strong he was, if I couldn’t derive any small talk fodder, I would simply ask the student “Jal Jinaesseoyo?”  After that I was sure to maintain eye contact, which according to research is a valuable method to get a conversation partner to continue elaborating.  In the future, I hope to construct questions that students might have a more preferential bias for.  During this cycle of speaking tests, I was given the questions (which were not aligned with the curriculum!)…nevertheless I’ll lobby for the freedom to design the speaking test next semester.  I noticed that when students had questions which they had an “affective preference” for, such as “what would you do if tomorrow were a holiday…” or “what is the most popular computer game in Korea,” many students were able to provide more detailed answers.

Polished Planning Document I use a set format for most of my classes.  I always attempt to enrich that set lesson plan as the weeks go by.  I used to have the details of my set lesson plan on a simple Microsoft word doc lacking ornamentation.  This week I decided to increase the font, add bullets, a border, and word art.  I noticed that I frequently forget to add small details while I was working from the simple Microsoft word doc.  Hopefully having a very clean and clear planning document will allow me to attend to the miscellaneous details of my lesson planning.  My lesson planning has gotten increasingly byzantine these days.  Completing the document at 14 font point took up four pages for a single lesson plan.

Name Lists/Folders I finally got a name list from my colleagues.  I hope to use that to learn the majority of my students’ names.  At my previous school I managed to learn over half of the names of the students in the school.  It is definitely less than 15% at my current place of employment.

Polish on Thursday and Friday  Previously I would construct my lesson plans on Monday, Tuesday, and if I was really busy, the planning period might extend into Wednesday.  After that, the blissful deskwarming aspect the NEST job in South Korea was devoted to recharging and various “professional development” activities, such as writing this blog.  After analyzing my time schedule, I felt I had the time and really the professional responsibility to polish or add any necessary features to my lesson plans intended for the next week during Thursday and Friday.

Thought Jogger Question I once sold knives in America for about 5 minutes (I had two appointments before I realized it costs more time and money to set up appointments with prospective customers than exists the likelihood of financial gain, i.e. a successful sale).  Anyhow, during the training for that job, our manager mentioned the term thought jogger, which in that context was basically used to entice potential customers to think of all the benefits of buying the product.  I took this idea and added it to my teaching.  Whenever, I see students struggling to complete a warm-up or construct an outline, I provide more general suggestions to keep them on track.  This is what most decent teachers do.  Anyhow, at the very end of the lesson I, as many teachers, ask “what questions do you have?”  This of course is frequently met with silence.  Though, perhaps if students had some thought joggers, they might be able to generate some questions.  Thus, in the future I will use some general key terms to ask if students have any questions about grammar, saying something in English, grades, et al.

Where’s my Personal and Professional ZPD?

This is always an important question to consider.  I feel I’m nearing the point where I should be writing small articles for ELT magazines, such as The English Connection.  I will be presenting in Seoul on June 15th.  In the classroom, I feel I am gaining increased facility with differentiated instruction (DI).  My “examples” of DI essentially consist of providing less scaffolding for higher level classes and well—throwing in the towel for the lower level classes (that means simple vocabulary based games), so I am not overloaded with lesson-planning for my main-level classes.

Some Gratitude

I am grateful for the upcoming KOTESOL National Convention.  I am going in with the expectation that I will find a treasure trove of insights to enrich my teaching.  I’ve rarely left a KOTESOL event disappointed. I doubt tomorrow will be an exception.  My frame of mind during the conference will be my context.  How can I make this information work where I work?  That requires transfer.  That requires diligence.

Questions Plaguing Me

I saw a great speech at Busan Toastmaster’s this week.  The speaker detailed the consequences resulting from receiving a label early in life and the consequences of his father, in his words, “believing in” him.  It really points to the profound power authority figures of a variety of stripes have to mold the consciousness of their subordinates.  My question is how do you maintain an awareness of the profound influence you as a teacher have, but the results of which are scarcely visible?  Hope to see some of my readers at NatCon.

Chris

 

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Another great week of continual insight. All I

Another great week of continual insight.  All I can do is attempt to catalogue it.  Some key insights and lesson planning tweaks include the following:
 
Shifting Game Rules: I added a new category of student who is eligible to receive candy during game time: “the MVP of the losing team(s)” is eligible to receive candy as well.  Perhaps this can help to sustain the motivation to participate when the score becomes lopsided. 
 
Contrast responses while debriefing the warm-up/mindmap:  I often use a very simple mind-mapping exercise as a warm-up related to the theme of a lesson.  For example, I will ask students what foods can you order at a fast food restaurant or some other such simple fodder for generating lists.  Now, I believe I can debrief the activity and use “transition” words to illustrate contrasts.  For example, once the list has been compiled individually by students I can list many of the examples on the white board.  From there I can use contrast words, such as: Mike likes pizza, however Jan likes ice cream…or something to that effect.
 
Video Shifts  I will often show a 30-60 second clip during an early stage of a typical lesson.  I have decided to implement a few shifts concerning how I introduce the video.  For example, when I begin I will have a general question with various ideas/words to jog students’ minds.  For instance, I may ask “Where a good place to propose marriage.”  Students will then vote among a series of options I provide (such as beach, buffet, concert, et al.).  After we vote, I will ask a more personalized question that allows students to generate lists on the topic, such as “where do you think is a good place to propose in Korea?”  So the pattern is vote on a teacher generated list, then move to a more personalized stage in the activity.  
 
Also, I have begun to incorporate activities which encourage students to infer the contextual features of a discourse segment and the character traits of the participants/performers in a video.  After viewing the video, I will ask a series of multiple choice questions such as “Do you think this character is a) busy b) nervous c) angry?”  OR “Are the people in this video a) friends b) co-workers c) classmates?”  These questions are ambiguous.  There is no clear answer.  Rather, I will ask students to vote as a class on what they feel is the most appropriate choice.  After tallying the opinions, I ask students to justify their views using evidence from the video (this is something I reserve for my higher level classes however!)
 
More Proximity  This is a term Johnathon Sweller employs in his wonderful book Efficiency in Learning.  Simply put, in the realm of visual display, the closer an explanation is relative to the “concept,” the more likely a learner will retain the knowledge.  That is an unclear sentence, allow me to elaborate.  For example, I may explain a grammar point…for instance simple tense: “Subject+verb+direct object.”  While students practice reciting a series of worked examples, I will place speech bubbles next to the subject, verb, and direct object (either on a handout or on a powerpoint display) of a sentence illustrating and explaining exactly where the subject, verb, and direct object belong in a sentence.  I have been doing something like this for some time, though now I have slightly enriched my use of proximity.  
 
At the start of a grammar explanation I will often push students to infer the patterns of a particular grammatical item (for instance where should one place the verb in “Which ______do you think will______.”) immediately viewing a series of worked examples.  Thus, after students engage in that modest form of “discovery learning,” I will display the exact same slide with identical content, but will add speech bubbles to illustrate the approrpriate grammar or communicative function(s).  For instance, where does one place the verb, who is the speaker for this particular function, et al.
 
Three Mistakes  This is an idea directly lifted from David Deubelbeiss.  In an effort to increase students attending/noticing/language awareness skills, I deliberately place 3 mistakes in the powerpoint presentation and deliberately make three oral mistakes during the lesson.  Students who notice the error within thirty seconds can receive a piece of candy.  The rules (which middle schoolers really need) are as follows: a) first student to raise his hand within thirty seconds after the error occured is eligible for the candy and b) he can’t collect until the end of the lesson.
 
Some Gratitude
 
There are a lot of things to be gracious for these days.  I’m not going to vainly mention names right now.  Though, I want to thank a group of people for encouraging me to continue this blog when it was getting tedious for me last year.  I also want to thank the person I recently met at toastmasters who shared with me his opinions on the value of good teachers and the personal impact specific “caring” teachers made on his personal development.  Finally, I want to thank whoever organized the beginning presenters event in Seoul on June 15th.  I will definitely be taking advantage of the opportunity.
 
Questions Plaguing Me
 
I made a mistake recently while designing elements of my upcoming speaking test (starts next week!).  I was supposed to teach 8 questions to my students–from which students would have to respond to two. I decided to focus only on 4. First, there is a high degree of apathy among many of my students, thus I felt confident that reviewing 8 questions over two weeks of classes in preparation for the speaking test would simply overload them.  Anyhow, students were initially supposed to prepare for four situations which each had two questions.  I reduced this by asking students to prepare for only the first question in each situation.  This is the first question from the final situation (“#19”) for my first grade middle school class: “Give an example of a household item you could recycle.  How would you recycle that item?”  Given that recycling is mandatory in South Korea, I couldn’t help but realize how absurd this question was.  Though, of course, I realized it after I had already announced to students the requirements of the speaking test, given guidelines, and prepared handouts, et al.  I think I would have been better off using question two in this situation.  My question for my readers is: what is your best method to stop the stupidity in real time, rather than realizing you made a faux paux just a little too late?
 
Have a great week!
 
Chris  

 

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Tweaks for the Week

There were a few positives this week.  I was quite harried as I was instructed by my supervisors to cram only 10 minutes of “speaking test” review into my normal lesson planning.  I hope it was of some benefit to my students…anyhow.

The tweaks this week include:

Taking a standardized approach to my “Yu-Hak” lunch class.  I tried to construct a coherent differentiated instruction model for this class.  While I would give individualized attention to one group of students, the others were instructed to read a text at their level.  I tried a few other activities as well.  However, the reality was that when I was not directly leading the students, the class became disorderly.  Thus, I changed plans this week and simply had students free write on a prompt highly similar to their upcoming speaking test.  They brainstormed, and then wrote a four sentence paragraph.  I provided feedback on the writing.  Students corrected the text, then made a (very) short presentation on the topic, while the other learners completed a listening matrix.

Opening with a Pre-Lesson Quiz  I used to begin my classes with a pre-lesson quiz.  Such a strategy has sound empirical support (see Marzano, et al. 2003) as it forces students to activate schema and generate hypotheses.  I let the activity slip from my repertoire over the months and years.  I’m not sure why.  It really alerts me to the need to have greater organization. 

Lesson Time-Line  This is, again, a bit anal.  But, to provide students with a clearer sense of how a lesson will progress I intend to construct a power point slide charting what activities we will engage in and at what point in the lesson we will perform a particular task/activity.  For example, I may display Funny Video: 5 minutes-10 minutes.

Focus on Speed and Intonation during the Worked Examples:  I am a big fan of using and analyzing worked examples (not sure if my students are!).  Though, for some time, I would simply have students read through the worked examples without attending to either speed or appropriate intonation.  I have begun to focus more on coaching and modeling students on the nuances and essentially tacit aspects of using appropriate speed and intonation while communicating in English (or reading out loud as it pertains to utilizing worked examples). 

New Rules  No, I am not Bill Maher, but I felt the need to make a few additional regulations during game time.  I have detailed some of these rules in previous posts.  This week I added a new rule for the high level classes.  To receive full credit the participant must pose his answer in a full sentence.  Failure to do so results in losing one point.

Questions Plaguing Me

Who the hell designed the speaking test in my school?  My students will have their semester speaking test beginning on May 20th.  My god it is so far above their level.  Here’s an example from the first grade selection of questions: How are people of a different color or look treated in your home country?  This is inappropriate for students on a variety of fronts: a) home country—that’s an idiom, my students can barely communicate their opinions on the weather.  Additionally, this idiom is something they have not been exposed through the curriculum.  b) treated.  I had to dig out the dictionary to translate this term…imagine my students perspective?  c) Different color or look.  Korea is largely a homogenous society.  I asked my students how many foreigners they see besides me?  The general consensus?  No one.  Not even at Hagwons. 

The unfortunate reality pertaining to this speaking test is that it was probably assembled in haste, but it was certainly chosen in haste by my co-teachers.  That is unfortunate.  It corroborates an opinion I recently heard a friend express:  Korea is a “last minute society.”

Future Directions

Where do I need to go to become a better teacher?  Certainly keep priming the pump and finding modestly creative applications for the various constraints I face in my job.  Probably the most joyful part of being a teacher—provided on has space to breathe during work.  That is a blessing I currently possess.  Beyond that, I need to refine my organizational skills.  My note on “rediscovering” the pre-lesson quiz was a powerful illustration.  I know the basic skills of solid organization.  However, application is a different matter.  What’s that Chinese proverb I once heard Ralph Nader deploy?  “To know, but not act, is to not know.”

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