Thursday, October 29, 2009

Video Logging

...I teach in this evening class where the students have been doing blogging and vlogging (video). It's been pretty fun to teach, because it's the kind of stuff that I actually like doing in my real life. However, one word of caution. If the students are not so advanced, it might not be that useful. Like, my coworker and I who designed the program were told that the students were the best of the best as far as English goes. In reality, they were similar to my average student in freshman English. Meaning, a basic textbook covering the basics of English would have been far more helpful perhaps.

Anyway, equipment was a bit of an issue as well, with the girl who was supposed to be taking care of video for us never coming to class despite the assurances of the coordinator. So, I took things into my own hands and actually figured out how to make videos on my macbook. It was outrageously easy, using Imovie. I learned how to do it about 30 minutes and it was exactly what we needed for our purposes in the class. Then, I uploaded them either to the class blog (blogger), which took an outrageously long time. So, I switched to youtube and then embedding the link onto the blog.

Results here

Tuesday, October 27, 2009


Whenever I have friends stay over at my house, they get a bit freaked out when they see me get ready for work in the morning. Like they can't quite believe that this person they had never seen not wearing jeans and a t-shirt or hoodie is putting on real dress pants, shoes and a nice shirt or sweater to go to work. While some of my coworkers wear jeans and running shoes to work, this is bad form, in my opinion. Look around at the Koreans. You'd never see any of them in something other than a variation on a business suit. Even the Korean part-time lecturers (which is what the foreign language teachers basically are) are dressed to impress. It's just expected here and goes along with part of the job. And I think it helps me with the students. Like if I'm all grubby, and not so professional, then the students might think they can treat me less than professionally. However, looking the part goes a long way in maintaining control, having authority and garnering respect. What do you think?

Sunday, October 25, 2009

The Wheat from the Chaff...all while appearing to be a kind teacher

For my evaluations, I do 2 kinds of tests: a conversational speaking test and then a written grammar/vocab test. If the students study at least a couple hours for the speaking test, they'll get an A or B. I don't really have the heart to fault students who try hard but perhaps just don't have the background or exposure in English needed to speak fluently and flawlessly, even with things we've studied in class because everything we study (World Link Level 1) assumes a basic grasp of a lot of stuff. The students that don't study is an entirely different matter. While some of them do have enough of a background to get a decent mark, many do not and I don't hesitate to hand out C/D/F's. Now, it's natural for a student, if they fail my class to associate me with the bad grade. This is especially true for speaking tests where the grading is somewhat subjective, so this is why I won't give anyone who obviously studied below a B grade. The average for my speaking tests is a B+ usually for the better classes and B for the worse ones. At least 1/5 of the class will get a perfect score.

However, the written test is where I separate out the weak from the strong. I make it hard. Like you'd actually have to have studied the specific grammar and vocab and know how to apply it in order to do well. The average score is usually in the B/C+ range. Only 1 or 2 students will usually get a perfect score. Somehow, students don't seem to be as annoyed at me for getting a bad grade on a written test because it is what it is. They can't really argue with their poor answer down on the paper, especially after I show them exactly where it came from in the book.

I'm only allowed to give out 30% A's and so in this way, I can do that without appearing to be mean or stingy. My secret for you!

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Do my students know...

...that they could get kicked out of a uni in North America for doing the very same thing they try to do in front of my eyes?

Like, I try to minimize the cheating by not doing any written homework or assignment and being heavy on the speaking tests where there is almost no possible way to cheat. Except they try.

For example, this week I'm doing speaking tests in my office with groups of 4 or 6 randomly picked students from the class. And then out of those people, I pick 2 of them to ask each other 4 questions from a list I've prepared ahead of time. I listen and evaluate. I've had at least one student in the class have the questions written on their hand, back of their phone, their binder, etc. Do they think I won't notice them looking down all the time? Bizarre.

Or, the people that aren't going try to connive and figure out what questions they're going to ask each other. Do they think I don't notice them talking and pointing to the sheet. There are only 6 of them.

Sigh. How did this ever become okay in Korea? Ethics? Personal integrity?

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Time Wasting...

...I admit to being a time-waster in my first year teaching at a hagwon (private kindergarten/after-school kind of thing). Like, I'd plan my time in class based upon how I could fill up the minutes in the best way. Educational value was the second priority. Now, it was partly my fault for not reading up on ESL or taking a class before I came to Korea. But, I do remember expressing my frustrations/clueless-ness to the owner of my school and asking for advice and she said, "You speak English, how did you learn it?" Useless.

Anyway, just recently I encountered a teacher showing a movie in their class. They had the door open for some reason, so I stopped for minute to see what they were watching and say hello. The weird thing was that no students were watching. Like they were texting/talking to their friends, doing other homework and some were literally turned around in their seats, with their backs to the screen. The door was probably open because students were wandering in and out. And so I wondered what exactly the purpose was? There didn't seem to be one, except to waste everyone's time and fill up class time in a way that's easy for the teacher.

And so I thought a lot about how I plan my classes. These days, everything I do has a purpose:

I'll usually play a little warm-up game to start and the purpose is usually just that: to get the students thinking, in English, have a little fun and get their attention.

Paired conversations: to practice speaking, listening and asking questions. This is basic in a conversation class.

Readings in the book: usually to introduce new vocabulary, which is vital for improving language skills.

Grammar exercises. Usually a short lesson by me, a written and spoken practice session and then some sort of game or activity. Again, vital for improving language skills.

These are my basic activities in class that I'll do everyday. Other stuff, varies class to class. But these days, I feel like I have too much good stuff to do and not enough time! I wouldn't even imagine showing a movie that didn't have some sort of purpose or goal behind it. And so when you're planning your classes, try to get out of the mindset of wasting time and into the mindset of thinking about what kind of educational value this certain activity has.

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Textbook Selection

I'm thoroughly convinced that textbook selection can make or break a class. While an excellent teacher can overcome a bad textbook, or just plain not use it and do their own thing, in some situations there is nothing that can be done.

In the kids program that I teach in, most of the students are fluent (ish) and are quite articulate, even in their writing. But the textbooks we're using are ESL textbooks, designed for adults. Do dating and Bollywood movies have any relevance for a 10 year old kid in Korea? NO! By way of example, I used the exact same textbook for my conversational uni class last year that the elementary kids are using now. And it went over well with the uni students so just imagine how much elementary kids like it! And so I wonder why we're not using textbooks that are designed for native speaker kids in the USA, Canada or England. Maybe at two or three grade levels below where they're actually at in Korean school to account for the second language factor.

And the thing is, that the teachers are getting hassled by the power that be to teach exactly what is written on the syllabus. In some cases, using 3 different inappropriate books in a 45 minute class. I'm frustrated. And powerless. And thinking that this semester might be the end of teaching in this program. The money is not worth the stress of trying to make something interesting, engaging and fun out of something totally inappropriate.

Active English Discussion 1 (With CD)World Link, Book 1 Teacher's Edition, With CD-ROM (World Link, Developing English Fuency, 1)Smart Choice 1 Student Book with Multi-ROM pack

Saturday, October 17, 2009

Are you a backpacker?

I teach in this program at my university, that's on weekends and for gifted kids. Because it's on a Saturday and for kids, the guy in charge seems to have a hard time finding foreigners to teach in it so there are various and random Koreans doing it as well. One lady, who I just met for the first time and I had a conversation that left a bad taste in my mouth.

The gist of it was, "So, you're just a backpacker?" Me: "No, I've been teaching for 5 years, I consider myself an ESL professional, I don't want to talk to you anymore, goodbye." Anyway, some thoughts:

1. I was most definitely a backpacker during my first year teaching in Korea. I was almost totally clueless about teaching, especially the kindy kids which are not my cup of tea. However, by year 5, I have gotten my act together and consider myself a true professional. I'm not formally educated in the area, but have done extensive reading, thinking and talking with co-workers about the field. So it's insulting to be labeled as a "backpacker" and clumped together with the newbies fresh out of uni and off the plane.

2. Korea is my home. I'm not here for the one year plan anymore. I have a garden, long-term friends, hobbies, and furniture. I will stay until something offers me serious motivation to leave. I'm definitely not backpacking through on my way to greener pastures.

3. Yes, I like traveling. But I do my job and am pretty good at it (I think!) for 34 weeks of the year. Why shouldn't I be a backpacker and enjoy the other 18 weeks traveling around Korea or other countries? Why does this backpacker label have to carry over to when I'm actually working and clearly not in that role anymore?

Your thoughts? Backpacker or professional?

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Public Education in Korea

The foreigners that work at the public schools here in Korea often like to pick on them as having a lot of problems (compared to back home). But it seems like they're doing some things right:

I was shocked to see the USA high school graduation rate was only 69% and that rose from previous years (2006).

Canada fares much better at around 90% in 2005.

And Korea fares the best in the OECD at 97% (article written 2008).

Nice work Korea! Maybe it's time for the most vocal of the foreign-complainers to stop criticizing Korea and acknowledge that they're doing a lot of things right.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

An example

I will ALWAYS do an example for every activity that I do in class. The times that I haven't, things have often gone quite wrong, with lots of confused students not doing what I want them to do.

Today, we were talking about memories and I had 2 conversation questions up on the board. "What's a favorite memory from high school? .....from middle/elementary school?" Then, they have to follow-up with some "W" questions. I prompt my students to ask me question #1. I tell a bit of a story from high school, but very vague with almost no detail so they want to know more. They throw a few more questions at me. Then question #2: same thing. Then, once they see it in action and understand, it's easy enough for them to do it themselves and they can talk to their partner for 4 or 5 minutes. If no example, the activity would have probably been done in about 1 minute.

Sunday, October 11, 2009

Typhoon! Review Game

A fantastically fun review game that any age group of students will love that requires a little prep but no materials. Especially if (as in my class) the winning team gets a stamp, which translates into 1% of their final grade.

Draw a grid on the board, marking one row with numbers, one with letters. I usually do 5x5 or 6x6 for a 20-30 minute game.

Put in the following letters:

T=typhoon. Lose all your points
H=hurricane. Pick 1 team, for minus 5
V=vacation. Get 5 points for free

For these ones, I'll do each one 2 or 3 times

E=easy question, 1 point
M=medium, 3 points
D=difficult, 5 points.

Fill in the rest of your grid.

Then depending on how big your class is, make 4 or 5 teams. They pick a square, (B-6), then you write the letter in the box and ask them a question of whatever. Have a list of easy/medium/hard questions beforehand (I literally use the questions from the mid-term exam as a way to reward students who care/pay attention). If they get the question correct, give them the points, if not, erase the letter in the box and another team can pick that square if they want.

Play until all the squares are done. That's it! Make sense?

Free: 40 Tried and Tested ESL Games and Activities

Thursday, October 8, 2009

It looks good... that I will probably be able to have a job in Korea, if I want one at least for the foreseeable future. An article from the Korea Times about how English ability seems to the major factor in whether people land the top jobs at the major companies or not. In the past, this was based solely on Toeic scores, but recently some companies have been introducing speaking tests as well, which is where I come in!

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

The main issue...

Korea, despite spending more money than any other country in the world on private English education, and studying it in public schools for 8 or 10 years, has an extremely low proficiency in actually speaking English. By the time students get to my class, at a middle-of-the-pack university, some of them don't know their numbers to 100, a few can't read, some can't tell me their name when I ask, they don't know colors very well and get confused with very basic grammar concepts such as is/are and past/present verbs.

How does this happen? My theory is that Koreans love to do the hard stuff without ever mastering the basics. For example, despite not knowing the basic things that I've listed above, I'll see people studying these crazy advanced grammar concepts, for a TOEIC test, with questions that I'd even have a hard time answering. Or, because they've studied English for so many years, most students will call themselves "advanced" and register for hard classes when in reality they are basically false beginners and going back to level one would sometimes be appropriate. When setting up programs, I keep hearing that the students are "high-level" so I do things appropriate for that kind of setting and then discover that what they really need is a basic textbook to get a grasp of the easy stuff before moving on to the stuff I had planned. Frustrating!

Monday, October 5, 2009

Cultural differences

At my uni, there are a variety of programs that the foreigners teach in for extra money. Some of them are volunteer, while others are an ask a certain few people kind of thing. Some of my coworkers spend a lot of time and effort worrying and wondering about why there weren't picked for a certain thing. To me, it's just futile because what matters to a Westerner doesn't necessarily matter to a Korean.

Example: appearance. Westerners have kind of a minimum standard of appropriate dress that they would wear in a professional environment and as long as you meet that minimum standard, you're in the clear. However, appearance is much more meaningful in Korea and the best dressed=the best teacher in some cases. And of course, every Korean has an opinion about what skin or eye or hair color the "best" teacher has. And how old they are. You never know what is running through the minds of the powers that be in regard to this.

Example 2. Qualifications. A Westerner would think that the person with the best qualification to teach a certain class should get a job, regardless of almost all other things. However, Koreans seem to consider a wider array of factors such as if they know you and have a personal relationship already, if you smell bad, reputation among students, if you speak slowly and they can understand you, etc. A multitude of things that makes me head dizzy and leads me to not even try to figure it all out. In general, it won't really matter to the people you work for what kind of and what level of degree that you have.

Example 3. Positive attitude. Korea is a top-down kind of society whereas in the Western world we like to be all warm and fuzzy and pretend that organizations can be run by consensus. So any appearance of being a complainer, demanding extra things, or just being plain difficult to work with will lead to being taken off the list of people they ask to do the extra things. The person in charge is the person in charge in Korea and they don't like to be approached by you, thinking you are their equal whereas in the Western world, having a little heart to heart with your boss about an issue at work might be kind of acceptable and/or encouraged.

So realize these things and try to stay in the clear by dressing well, realizing there is more to you as a teacher than your degree and ALWAYS having a positive attitude when around the higher ups (and coworkers too...since it will usually get around who likes their job and who doesn't).