Thursday, October 23, 2014

How to Get a University Job in South Korea

Maybe you've found your way to this blog because you're looking to break into the university job market in South Korea.  It's actually the topic that I get the most questions about, so I have a feeling that there are lots of you out there. 

Help is here!  I've been writing furiously for these past couple weeks and I have a 15 000 word Ebook about how to get a university job in Korea coming out in the  next week or two that I think you'll find very practical and useful. 

If you want to get it first and/or take advantage of any opening special offers, email me at and I'll send you an email when it's released.  It's quite possible that I'll release a limited number of free copies in exchange for promises of your (hopefully favorable) reviews on Amazon. 

Email: (Don't forget the "L" between the "J" and "Bolen") and put "Ebook" in the subject line.

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Making your test difficult, the easy way.

I teach the English majors at my university, which means that a lot of them are really good at English.  This is actually no problem, except when it comes to grading because I have to use a curve and there are a limited numbers of "A's" and "B's" available.  So, I have to make my tests quite difficult.  There are various ways to make a test hard, but the easiest way that I've found to do it is this:

Make each question all or nothing.  If my test is worth 15%, I'll have only 15 questions.  But, each question will have between 2 and 5 parts to it.  For example, 5 vocab matching things, or 3 fill in the blank with the correct verb form.  If the student gets even one part wrong, the entire question is wrong and they don't get the point.  I don't give 1/2 points and it truly is all or nothing.

The result is that student's scores are probably 20-30% lower than if I assigned 1/2 points because most students only get 1/4 blanks wrong, or 2/4 matching things incorrect and almost everybody would get at least 1/2 points for every question, instead of just nothing.

Is it fair?  I think so.  Nobody got 100% on my latest midterm exam, but quite a few students got 13/15 or 14/15.  But, they truly had to know their stuff and it was almost impossible to fake your way into this score.  Most students got around 10-11/15, which is what I wanted because that's a "D" or "C" grade, of which I can give an unlimited amount.  And those that are either terrible at English, or just didn't study got scores in the range of 3-5/15, which is actually what they should get.

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

An A-Z of ELT- Scott Thornbury (Short Book Review)

I bought this book for when I was doing the Delta course and found it invaluable.  There are entries for any and all English as a second language, or English as a foreign language related things.  Some random examples are: connected speech, deductive learning, dogme ELT, pairwork, and reflective teaching. I like this book so much because the entries are short, concise and just give you the basic details you need to know without all the fluff.  It's the perfect entry into a topic before you start digging further because it can give you a framework from which to work.

Plus, it's HIGHLY quotable for any kind of research paper that you're doing.  I can't recommend it enough for any English language teacher.

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Lunch at Work

This semester, I have breaks between all my classes, which is a bit annoying but nothing can be done about that, so I don't stress.  But, it does mean that I do spend a lot of time at work and on 2 days of the week, I eat both lunch and dinner in the office.  I don't like eating out for all these meals because it's so unhealthy and also expensive.  Check out a post on my other blog about how I deal with this situation.  A well-fueled teacher is a good thing!

Snacks and Meals at Work.

Monday, October 13, 2014

Speaking Tests: what went down

The other day, I talked about the various kinds of speaking tests for English language learners, but I didn't specifically talk about what I did this semester.  Here's what happened in my course for first year students in the English major at my uni:

I gave the students 6 possible topics, which were very general in nature and included things like, "Home and Family" or "Health and Exercise" and they were essentially what we had covered in class during the previous weeks.

The students came to my office in groups of 4, and then I randomly assigned them a partner and a topic.  The first 2 students had to talk about their first topic for a total of 2-3 minutes, and then the other topic for another 2-3 minutes.  Each person in the group had to start off one of the mini-conversations.  I only listened and quite rarely had to intervene (only in the case of someone giving 1-2 word answers and not asking any questions in return). Then the next set of partners had their conversation about their 2 topics.

I graded them on a 5 point scale on 3 things:

1. Grammar/Vocab use (only what we had studied in class).

2. Interesting, detailed answers (sentences +an extra detail or two)

3. Appropriate questions/ability to keep the conversation going.

Overall, this round of tests went very well. I was able to evaluate about 25 students in just under 2 hours. I finished not feeling totally exhausted, like I would have if I had had individual conversations will all those students. 

I think it was a good balance between random and predictable.  It was predictable in that the students had the 6 possible topics before the test, and they knew their 3 potential partners beforehand.  But, it was random in that the topics were randomly assigned, as well as the partner, so although students could prepare to some degree, they couldn't just memorize a dialogue.

One thing I didn't like was that the weaker students who gave one or two word answers and didn't ask a lot of questions made the test quite difficult for their partner, although I definitely took this into account during the grading. But, the students are all English majors so there are actually no truly terrible students in the class and most of them have at least a basic proficiency in English, as is not always the case in classes like mandatory Freshman English.

Sunday, October 12, 2014

"English Language Education is a Rudderless Ship"

An interesting editorial from the Chosun Ilbo about the state of English language education in South Korea.  Basically, Ahn Seok-Bae says that while Koreans throw huge sums of money at English education, it's actually largely ineffective.

I couldn't agree more with basically everything he says.  During my years in Korea, I've seen the policies with regard to learning English in public schools change seemingly as often as the seasons change.  Unis are often no better, with people who often haven't set foot in an actual classroom setting policies with regard to language education that are more often that not short-sighted.  There are no easy solutions, but here's my #1 idea:

Public schools need to "clean house" and get rid of the all the Korean English teachers who can't actually communicate in English.  Replace these teachers (often older ones) with teachers who can (often the younger ones) or with QUALIFIED native speaking English teachers.  By qualified, I don't mean the prettiest one with blue eyes and blonde hair.  But, I mean those with Celta Young Learners or Deltas or MA Tesols, or actual teaching certificates from Western countries in things like ESL or English and a few years of experience.  Pay them decently and give them their own classroom, doing away with co-teaching, which is basically a ridiculous farce.

Then, adapt the Korean Sooneung (University entrance exam) to focus on all 4 skills equally: Speaking, writing, reading and listening.  Design the test so that is focuses heavily on real communication, as much as can be done by a test.

Using a textbook like this one at the high-school level would help:

Friday, October 10, 2014

It's that time of year...Speaking Tests!

There are various ways for language teachers to do speaking tests, all of which have their positives and negatives.  Here's my brief summary:

1-1 interviews with the teacher.  This method is generally thought to have the highest validity, since no weaker student affect the stronger student in a negative way.  However, I think there are more negatives than positives:

1. The power dynamic which can come into play

2. The necessity to have students, alone in an office or classroom.  This is something that I'll always try to avoid if possible.

3. Exhaustion on the part of a teacher.  It just simply takes a lot of time and mental energy.

4. The teacher needs to serve as examiner and conversation partner, which can get tricky at times, especially at the end of a long day of tests.

Conversations/role-plays among students, usually 1-1 while the teacher just listens/observes.  The big negative of this one is that a weaker student can affect a stronger student, and although the teacher accounts for this in grading, it can often be seen as "not fair" in the student's eyes.  However, there are lost of positives:

1. No power dynamics

2. It can at least partly replicate "real" conversation, where the people are at a similar level of English ability. 

3. The teacher can just focus on listening and not have to act as a conversation partner.

4. Students often feel less nervous with at least one other person in the room besides the teacher.

Presentations, alone or in a group.  These are perhaps the easiest on the part of the teacher to administer, especially in groups.  You can "test" a group of 30 students in as little as a single 1.5 hour class.  The negatives are that it doesn't replicate "conversation" at all and this is most often what courses consist of at Korean universities.  But, if the teacher actually spends time teaching students how to do presentations, it can be a valuable life-skill that students can take with them throughout their lives.

So what am I doing?  3 of my classes with have presentations and the other one will have a conversation with another student, who will be selected randomly.  It's my first time in a long time teaching "conversation" to really high-level students, so it's an experiment of sorts.  I'll let you know how it goes.  Here's the book I used to help prepare my students for the presentation exam:

Tuesday, October 7, 2014

My #1 Tip for improving the Kotesol International Conference

Yesterday, I had a lot of negative things to say about the 2014 Kotesol International Conference.  Today, I'm going to give my #1 tip to improve it.  If I were in charge, here's what I would do.

Instead of focusing so much on the big, famous names, I'd try to feature some of the more popular local presenters.  I'd try to find out who the top 25 presenters in Korea are.  You could do this various ways such as comments on a Facebook thread, submissions by email, asking the Kotesol chapter presidents/VP's/national executive for recommendations.  Anyway, compile a list and find the people who get mentioned 3 or 4 or more times.  These would be your top 25.

Then, contact these 25 people and give them some sort of incentive to present in 1 or 2 slots (their choice) at the conference.  Don't make them go through the vetting process and give them freedom to present on topics of their choosing.  The incentive could maybe be a free conference pass for people in Seoul/Gyeonggi-Do and a free pass +100 000 Won for transport for those outside Seoul.   You'd probably have 15+ of them respond positively.

Then, ensure that at least one of these people covers every single slot during the entire conference, and even during the plenary sessions have one or two of these people giving a presentation as well.  People like choice and there are a significant number of people who don't care about the famous people.

Highlight them in the program as "featured local presenter" and give them some of the bigger rooms.  See what happens!

Sunday, October 5, 2014

Kotesol International Conference 2014....the good and the bad

 I'll start with the positives first:

1. The venue.  I think the move to Coex from Sookmyung was a good one.  You get what you pay for and in this case, you pay for no last-minute schedule/room changes, tech that actually works and a more "professional" environment to host a conference in.  Reasonably easy to get to and plenty of dining options around.

2. Networking opportunities.  It felt like I saw every last person that I have ever known in Korea.  Plus, I met a few new people who I enjoyed talking to.

3. The free coffee (and supposed snacks?).  Good idea, just not executed well.  Think bigger and better next year please!

4. Kotesol partnering with other organizations.  I think this is good thing.  Partnerships means better for everyone.

And now, onto the negatives:

1. I attended precisely one helpful presentation out of the entire weekend.  And I attended about 8 of them.  I was especially disappointed with the invited famous people.  Like really not helpful and quite often very boring. 

I'm wondering if it would be better to invite less "famous" international people and instead focus on the locals who are reasonably well-known and popular and give them some of the featured slots.  Especially the ones who bring it down to the classroom level.

2. The scheduling.  For example, Sunday at 1:00.  There were 2 featured presentations, but neither of them sounded interesting to me, or most of the other people that I informally talked to.  Most people ended up taking a 2 hour lunch-break.  It wasn't what I wanted to do, but there was just nothing else going on.

3. Saturday 9am presentations, which were before the opening ceremony. Did anyone actually attend these? I'd be quite disheartened if I was given this time slot.

4. I fault myself for not reading the program carefully enough, but a couple of the sessions I was interested in were actually advertisements for a book.  Maybe an asterisk besides them in the main schedule page would be helpful for people like me who don't read the whole program book.

Tuesday, September 30, 2014

A small rant about night classes

A small rant:

At my uni, there is a program for students who have jobs, but want to get a degree in English, whereby they can do all their classes at night.  This, in theory seems like a good thing.  Working people can still go to uni too.  Except, a large majority of the students treat the class like it's kind of a drop-in thing and use all manor of excuses along the lines of, "I had to work!  I had a meeting! My work went late! I'm busy at work!" to miss a majority of the classes and not do any of the homework.  Most of them will eventually fail and then the admin at the uni will probably tell me just to pass them.

And, even the students who are actually full-time students and don't have jobs have started to use the same kinds of excuses for being late and not coming to class.  I'm so, so, so tired of it.  I hate excuses.  Either work long hours and do something like an online course or program.  Or, don't work and just go to school.  This working+studying thing, but not actually studying is annoying when it's me having to deal with it.

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Lesson Plan: More Technology, Less Sleep

I based this lesson plan loosely on an article from Breaking News English, which is an extremely helpful site for any EFL/ESL teacher.  I used it for a 1.5 hour "News Club," which is a discussion group about current events.

More Technology, Less Sleep Lesson Plan.