Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Review: an under-rated "Time-Filler"

In the regular classes that I teach, I have freedom to teach whatever I want based on "Top Notch 2."  However, in of the extra programs that I teach in, we use "Smart Choice" and are assigned 1-4 pages for each 50 minute lesson.  For anyone who has taught Smart Choice before, you know it can be a little hit and miss in terms of quality pages (although I generally like the book). 

And what to do when you have only 2 pages assigned for that day, 1 takes about 7 minutes and the other one is complete crap?  My coworkers seem to bring in random puzzles and activities unrelated to what the students are studying, based on the worksheets I see left in the classrooms when I go in there.  Others, youtube videos, or something of the sort. 

Me: Review.  And lots of it.  Students need to hear things like 37 times (my scientifically based guess!) before they remember it for good.  Why don't you help them reach this number?  My goal is to have the students groaning "WE KNOW IT ALRIGHT! NO MORE!"  when I start to go over the grammar concept or vocab "one more time."   If you know it, you know it and you've walked away from my class with something solid to take with you for the rest of your life.  A little random puzzle or youtube video?  Will the students remember anything (helpful!) from that 2 minutes after class ends? 

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Do you test and tell?

I was talking with my colleague the other day about doing speaking tests and whether to give students immediate feedback or not.  He's at one end of the extreme and doesn't tell his students a single grade (including their speaking tests) they receive the whole semester until they see it on the University Intranet system.  I'm at the other end and my students know what grade they're going to get before the semester ends.  And, they always know their test grade immediately after it's finished. 

Since my uni bases renewals almost solely on student evaluations, I like to factor that into what I do in class.  One of the things we're evaluated on is "Fair and impartial grading."  When I tell them (and actually write down) every single mistake they made on the speaking test and tell them immediately after it's finished, it's quite obvious why they got the score they did.  However, if I was a student and did a test and got no feedback, I would think that it's annoying.  I would be even more pissed off if I got a low final grade but had no idea what my scores were or the breakdown of the grade even was.  And so I have a feeling that my colleague has extremely low scores in this category.  How could he not?

What do you do?  Tell or not tell?  I thought everyone did the same as me until I heard this yesterday.

Sunday, October 16, 2011

Kotesol 2011 International Conference...the Good and the Bad

I've just returned home from a couple of days at the Kotesol Conference in Seoul this past weekend. As is usually the case, it was a mix of good and bad.  Here are my thoughts:

The Good:

1. As always, the venue is fabulous.  It's convenient transport-wise, has plenty of restaurant choices outside the main gate, and is big enough to not feel too crowded. 

2. I enjoyed some of the presentations I went to and picked up a few practical things for the classroom.  Even the not-so-helpful ones weren't horrendous, as was the case last year.  The emphasis on "101" workshops seemed popular and I noticed on the schedule that there weren't that many presentations on purely researchy, non-applied stuff.  This was my main complaint from last year. 

3. It was nice to see some people from way back in my early days in Korea.  Plus, I got to meet a member of the Seoul Podcast (did you know I was on the Podcast once?!) in person, where previously we'd only talked on the Podcast.  I also met a few people who follow the blog, which is always nice.   If you want to make contacts or see random people you haven't seen in years, this is the place to do it.

The Bad:

1. Pre-Registration always seems to be a nightmare on the website.  It was perhaps different for me, since I was a presenter, but I got what seemed like 6 million emails from many different people about registration.  It was quite unprofessional and in my experience from organizing similar things, having one contact person is a very good thing.  Any attendees with reports about pre-registration on the website?

2. Presenters had to pay more in conference fees.  This is totally ridiculous in my opinion.  After all, without presenters, there is no conference. One of my friends decided not to do her presentation as a protest against this.  I will be joining her next year if things stay the same. 

And what did I get for my extra fees? 

A. Being changed to a new classroom that wasn't even on the map.  I was amazed that anyone even came.  I would have just thought it was annoying and given up. 

B. A 9:00 Sunday Morning presentation time.  I'm not from Seoul so it forced me to stay overnight, adding to the expense of my weekend.   Perhaps the Seoul-ites could be given these early-morning slots?

C.  No "room monitor" until about 1/2 way through my presentation.  A Tech-guy interrupting my presentation 2/3 of the way through to make sure I had no tech problems.  It was purely sink or swim on my own for getting the computer and projector and powerpoint set up. 

Anyway, I'm kind of neutral on the whole thing.  In the future, I'll be sticking to the conferences where I don't pay more in fees, or get to go for free for presenting as a matter of principle.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Speaking English at home

Koreans are all about education.  Everything I read talks about how Koreans spend the most per capita on education, and in my experience here, it feels true.  Huge numbers of high school kids attend University, even the ones who are not academically inclined and would perhaps be better off just getting a job or attending a technical college to equip them with a practical career.  Children as young as 3 years old attend English and Music hagwons.  Older children do the circuit from English hagwon, to math hagwon, to science hagwon to music hagwon and finish it off with a dose of Chinese.  This is a daily affair, and ON TOP OF the regular day of school at the local elementary or middle school. 

I get approached by Koreans every couple of months, wondering if I will teach private English lessons to their kids ( I don't do it because it's illegal and I get enough legal OT at my uni to keep me busy).  The thing is, these people that approach me are fluent enough to have this entire conversation with me, in English.  In many cases, they work as translators or English Teachers, or are in some field like International Business. 

And so my answer to them is always the same: just speak English to your kids.  They'll pick it up, even if they answer you only in Korean.   Read English books to them when they're young, instead of Korean ones. Watch English TV or cartoons and cover up the Korean subtitles with paper.   The bonus is that these kids won't need to sit through some English lesson with me, or go to a hagwon. Plus, it's free!  And they'll be far better at English than their peers who attend hagwon or private English classes. 

For most of these people that approach me, speaking English isn't that difficult for them because they've mastered the basics and could speak it in their sleep.  Many of them have lived overseas.  I wonder why they don't speak it at home?  Is it laziness?  A non English-speaking spouse?  Lack of knowledge about language aquisition?  They are obviously not apathetic if they are willing to shell out  money so their kids learn English.  Bizarre. 

Anyone with insight into this phenomenon? 

Monday, October 10, 2011

Reader Question...Can I get a Uni Job?

"I'm 42, black, female and have a BA in Business and a MS in Organizational Development. I just got a TEFL certification and I want to work at a University in Korea.

I applied to EPIK out of desperation but I would love to work at a college instead. Ewha's Womans University doesn't take online applications and wants my degree apostilled in the mail but I can't do it since it's the only one I have and won't send it without an actually offer.

I put my age and race in because one recruiter said he and others don't like working with blacks because companies don't think of us as Westerners and don't want us to have "Black Talk"."

My answer:

1. Black people have an EXTREMELY HARD time finding a job in Korea.  And now that there are so many economic refugees from North America, it's even more competitive.  I've heard stories lately of blond haired and blue eyed ladies having a hard time finding a prime job.   My uni has hired a couple black people over the years, so there is some hope.

2. Not that I'm really in the know about immigration policies, etc, but I'm pretty sure that you have to Apostillise (how do you spell that anyway?!) a COPY of your diploma, not the actual thing.  It's something to check out.  I personally would never get some stamps on my University Diploma. 

You have a lot of things going against you and will probably not find a uni job.  You are black, a bit older than desired, not in the country for interviews, seem to have no prior ESL or teaching experience, haven't lived in Korea before, and don't seem that well-informed about what is required for the visa.

You never know though, some people have gotten uni jobs where I never would have thought it was possible.  A more realistic scenario would be to come to Korea and work at a hagwon or public school for a year, make connections and then be in country to interview for uni jobs the following year.

Friday, October 7, 2011

It's that time of year Again!

Midterm Exams are just around the corner and I've just made my exam/evaluation criteria.  They are for the book "Top Notch 2."  Maybe they're helpful to you.  I give much of the credit to my coworker David for his helpful Evaluation Rubric that he generously shared with me. 

Midterm Exam Speaking Test Evaluation Rubric

Top Notch 2 Midterm Exam Speaking Test

Thursday, October 6, 2011

My Upcoming Presentation at the Kotesol International Conference 2011

As you might have read already, I'll be presenting on the topic of Motivation on Oct. 16th at the Kotesol Conference in Seoul. 

Here is a preview of my Powerpoint presentation and a copy of the handout I plan on giving out.  But, perhaps you should just come check out the presentation?  I promise fun interaction and no Death by Powerpoint.  I hope that everyone will walk away with some new ideas for the classroom.  And, I'd love to meet some of the people that read this blog.

Kotesol Presentation Handout

Tuesday, October 4, 2011


On Tuesdays, in addition to the regular credit class that I teach, I also teach 5 OT classes.  These are smaller classes of about 10 students who sign-up for extra English.  The classes are 45-50 minutes long and I have to cover 2-3 pages of the "Smart Choice" Textbook.

My style of teaching is totally interactive.  I will NEVER stand up at the front of the class and lecture with the exceptions of the first day syllabus explanation and when I talk about the tests or homework assignments.  Even with the grammar lessons, I will always leave lots of gaps on the board and work together with their students to get them to help me fill it in. And I will ALWAYS do an example of what I expect for when I set up a conversation activity.  In this instance, the students usually have to ask me 3-4 who/what/when/why/where/how questions beyond the initial question (such as, "What's your favorite movie?")

The first 4 classes on Tuesday seem to love this style.  They are all participating, giving me some answers and feedback.  And the class just works, with everyone seeming to be happy and not sleeping and learning something.  However, the last class is a nightmare.  Dead silence.  It's a perfect storm of quiet, low-level, unmotivated students with not a single bright light mixed in.  I soldiered on with my normal style for a couple classes but yesterday, I switched it up.  I went into Robo-Teacher mode.  No interaction, just lecture, kind of like the standard Korean style.  I would ask my normal questions but then just answer them myself.  Leave the blanks on the board but just fill them in myself.  Then I handed out worksheets based on the lecture.  And they seemed to love it.  Like all smiles and thank-you's at the end of class.  Back into their comfort zone of what they've had their whole lives. 

Anyway, what I'm saying is this: do whatever it takes.  If you have a "dead-class" don't stress yourself out trying to force interaction.  It's just not worth it.  Just lecture, as per the standard Korean way.  I know it's not ideal for actually learning, but it's only the second time I've had to do it in over 4 years at my uni, so my track record for interactive is still intact.

Saturday, October 1, 2011

Homework, and not doing it

So here in Korea, standards at unis are pretty lax.  As in almost everybody, as long as their mommy and daddy pay tuition will get the degree.  The result is that in my classes, expectations have to be ridiculously low in order to not fail the majority of the class.  And speaking English is not even really a requirement.  Showing up for class and putting forth a very, very minimal effort with studying and doing homework is.

My school has this new online homework thing in the classes that I teach (using Top Notch) because they want to transition to "Blended Learning" (online +classroom).  It's worth 20% of the student's final grade.  In general, I like it and I think the students don't mind it either.  But, there is usually about 1/4 of the class who just straight refuses to do it.  I'm not sure why.  I hold their hand and show them how to sign-in and open the homework and do it and submit it for grading.  And, if you get it wrong, you just have to go back and change the answers to the right ones (it's ridiculously hard to not get 100%).  And I remind them each week in class when the next 2 weeks homework is due.  It's actually a source of major frustration.  15 minutes a week for 10 weeks in order to get 20/100 points in a class?  It's almost too easy and unbelievable to me that students don't do it.

I've become a naggy old crank, hassling my students about homework.  Aish.   Is there a better way?