Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Free Talking

This semester, I'm doing some overtime at my school's "Global Zone."  It's a program where students can sign up in 30 minute time slots with a Native Speaker.  In theory, they're supposed to prepare something, like a writing sample, some Toeic speaking test questions, some homework they want help with or a conversation topic or reading they'd like to discuss.  About 1/2 of the students do this and it's actually quite helpful.  The other 1/2 of the students show up with nothing, and just want to do "free-talking."

Free talking is kind of ridiculous after the first session together.  Sure, it's fun to sit and chat, in English about hobbies or classes, or general school life stuff but then it's gets boring and not helpful.  And almost each of these students say, "I really want to improve my English!  How can I do it?"  And then I tell them that they should read some articles or listen to a newscast or tell me about what they're learning in their classes, just in English.  Or read a book and then tell me about it.  Anything to challenge themselves.  Except they don't.  They just come back and want to do more free-talking.  Ridiculous.  Free talking is definitely not an English improvement tool, let's just say that.

Monday, October 22, 2012

Kotesol 2012 Review

Overall, I was pretty satisfied with the Kotesol conference this year.  Here are some thoughts:

1.Registration for me (a presenter) and my friend (registered on site) was easy and painless.  Signage was much clearer this year to prevent any confusion about where to go.

2.As a presenter, I was much happier than last year.  The Internet in my room worked.  I had a prime-time slot.  I had a room monitor.  I didn't have to figure out how to turn the projector on.  My room didn't get changed at the last minute.   

The only thing that I still find extremely distressing is the fact that presenters have to pay more than regular attenders for the "privilege" of presenting.  The only response I can get from Kotesol is that it's standard practice around Asia.  And, that I get some picked-over muffins and coffee without sugar or milk in the presenter's lounge!  But, as my friend said, "Isn't is just common sense that presenters should get in free or get a reduced rate?  That's so crazy.  You're doing them a favor!"  Yes, that about sums it up for me too. 

3. For the presentations I attended, it was again hit and miss as it always is.  I think a large part of the problem is the fact that presenters have to submit presentation titles/abstracts about 6 months before they actually do the presentation.  And, in those 6 months, the presentations often morph into something else that perhaps I'm not particularly interested in.  I wonder if giving presenters a little window to update their info, say 1 month before the event would be a good thing?

One thing I liked is that the presentations by publishers had "commercial" marked next to them in the schedule.  So, I avoided them and had much less annoyance overall! 

And one thing I loathed about the presentations?  People that insist on using all this tech stuff even though it's clear that they are totally incompetent at using it.  When presentations are only 50 minutes long, but the presenter wastes 15 or 20 minutes figuring out their stuff, it's annoying.  And the one worst example was a presentation on leadership (not naming names!) that had the 1:30 slot on Saturday.  This was after lunch, where there were no presentations.  So truly, there really was no excuse for not coming early to get everything set-up.  And this was one of the "featured" ones.

4. The venue was again fabulous, as usual.

5. I'm wondering why there isn't a reduced rate for those that attend only on Sunday?  I had a couple friends in this situation.  From what I can tell, Kotesol has a lot of money in the bank.  Or, they could just invite fewer of the featured speakers (like 2-3 famous people is enough!) and then reduce the fees for regular attendees/presenters. 

Kotesol 2012 presentation

Here is the powerpoint that I used for my recent presentation at Kotesol 2012.  Teaching: the Small Stuff that Actually Matters.  Since I'm not a Powerpoint warrior as a matter of principle, you'll probably note that there are very few details on it.  But, don't worry.  I will probably do a 2-part podcast on it soon.  And, I see that I got a quite favorable review from Foreigner Joy.

More Kotesol soon!

Monday, October 15, 2012

Comprehensible Input

Stephen Krashen thinks that comprehensible input is the most important factor in learning a language.  Our brains have an LAD (language acquisition device) and our job it to provide input to it, in a low anxiety situation.  Classrooms can give input in a comprehensible way but it's often not interesting.  The real world gives interesting input, but it's often not comprehensible for language learners, especially beginners.  So, classrooms and teachers still have a place in language learning, especially for the beginner.

Comprehensible input can offer language learners a good start, but it's not really appropriate for academic English, or ESP (English for Specific Purposes).  Language learners have to acquire this language in the same way that a Native Speaker would (naturally) because it is actually too complicated to teach it directly.  This language is naturally acquired through extensive, free reading.  For example, starting with comic books, easy novels, progressing to sci-fi books, up to journal articles and then serious textbooks in an area of interest.  There are different paths, but all involve reading, for pleasure. 

Stephen Krashen in Busan

A couple nights ago, Stephen Krashen came to Busan.  That's pretty big news!  He is one of the foremost people in the  world of Language Acquisition theory.  I'll do a couple of posts about the good stuff he talked about (and any of those who know his theories well/were there at the speech, please feel free to leave a comment if I misunderstood anything).

Basically, he explained that there are 2 ways to learn a language:

1. Acquisition.  This is the "natural" way and happens subconsciously.  It can happen at any age, so you're never too old to learn a language!  If you can speak a language fluently and easily, it's because you've acquired it.

2. Learning.  This is the "conscious" way and is what happens in a classroom.  It deals with grammar rules, etc.

He used to think that a program balanced between the two was the way to go.  However, that's actually not true.  If you learn a language by acquiring it, you'll be able to speak/write fluently and you'll actually be similar to or better than the "learners" in grammar tests.

So how does someone "acquire" a language?  By getting large amounts of comprehensible input, which is at the learner's level, in a light, easy kind of way.  A teacher talking louder, or saying it again if useless if the learner doesn't understand it.  And speaking, especially for beginners is not really necessary.  There is a silent period where learners just take in this input, and eventually, they'll be able to speak in a coherent way.  As teachers, we should encourage speaking, but not force and actually, the most value in speaking is for the partner who gets more input.

Interesting Developments

With all the recent cuts of foreign teachers in Korean public schools, I'll have to see this to believe it.  All schools to Have Native English Speakers Next Year.  And, I think some of the more rural schools might actually have a hard time filling positions due to foreigners not wanting to work out in the boonies.

Friday, October 12, 2012

Content Classes

This year, I was given a class called, "Open Discussion" or "Advanced Conversation" or "Skillful Speaking."  Who really knows actually.  It was a lost in translation moment.  Anyway, what I took from that was that I could basically just do whatever I wanted, that I would have around 15 students, and that most of them would be somewhat advanced, especially considering that it's an elective class.  I chose to do a "Speech Class," because it was something that I'd never taught before, and that I thought could actually be quite helpful for the students, for their lives, and presentations that they have to do in their other classes.

I love this class for a lot of reasons, but here are a few:

1. The students are actually really into it.  Like they've basically covered every single topic that one could "conversate" about, and so an English class that doesn't involve this is a nice change of pace (for me too!)

2. It's a sneaky way to teach new vocab.  Like I'm sure none of these students knew words like: "gestures, voice inflection, posture," but now they do.

3.  It's also a sneaky way to teach listening/speaking/reading.  They do all of these things each class, but kind of forget they're doing it because the content is the focus. 

4. They take some skills away with them besides English.  Like how to make a good PPT, or how to speak with confidence in front of a group.

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Korean Uni Jobs

Although I have a job that I've just signed a 2-year contract for, if you're in the market for a job at a Korean Uni, it seems that now is your prime-time.  Have a look over on the ESL Cafe Korean Job Board.

I'm so tired of this...

40% of public school Native English speaking teachers in Korea are "unqualified."  As Matt points out, if Koreans are concerned with this, why do they not require teachers to have some sort of qualification such as a Teacher Certification from their home country, or a Celta?  But, this is Korea, and in general, Koreans would much rather hire the most handsome blond/blue-eyed 21 year old rather than a slightly overweight 60 year-old with greying hair and 45 years of teaching experience.  You can't have it all I guess.

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Review Game for Midterm Exam

This is my midterm exam review game.  I usually just write it up in pen on paper, but I was inspired to be more organized :)  Anyway, I'll explain how I use this and how it works:

I draw up the same grid on the chalkboard and then put the students in 4 or 5 teams.

E=easy question (2 points)
M=medium (4 points)
D= difficult (6 points)

You can see the questions I used below the grid.  They are directly from the study paper that I gave my students for the midterm exam (only speaking, 1-1 with me).

Then, there are special squares:

T=Typhoon (lose all points)
H=Hurricane (choose 1 team, -5 points)
V= Vacation (+5 free points)

I go around the class from team-team and then the students have to choose a square.  I write up what letter they get and then ask a question/add points, etc.  At the end, the winning team gets a prize of some sort.  It's an easy, fun way to do review and I always add additional commentary for almost every answer.  Like, if it was a A/B/C..answer, or how it could be improved, etc.

Free: 40 Tried and Tested ESL Games and Activities

Thursday, October 4, 2012

Once vs Twice/Week

At my old uni, I used to teach a lot of Practical English (Conversational English/Freshman English) classes once/week to 7-9 different classes of students.  Each class was 1.5 hours long. 

And where I'm working now, it's kind of the same deal, except I have only 4 Practical English classes and I meet them twice a week for 1.5 hours each time. 

Why I liked once/week?  It's easy for the teacher.  Obviously preparing only one lesson and teaching it 8 or 9 times is quite simple.  But, on the downside, it can be tedious and boring by the time you get to round #9.  However, you have a chance to learn from your mistakes in the early lessons about what didn't go so well and by the later lessons, you can actually be quite a fabulous teacher :) And, it's easy to keep things fresh when you only see students for such a short amount of time every week.

However, on the downside, it's not enough time for students to actually improve in their English skills, even with homework outside the classroom.  And, it was often weeks into the semester before I actually learned student's names and got to know a bit about them.  And also, it would often work out that a certain class would have 2 or 3 or 4 holidays during the semester.  When you only have about 15 weeks with a class, missing 4 classes is a lot. 

Teaching each class twice/week is more work for the teacher in terms of preparation.  Basically, it's double.  And, it's not as easy to plan activities that are new and interesting and exciting for the students.  However, students can actually have a change to improve their skills.  I'm finding it quite useful to teach a lesson in one class, and then have a kind of "review session" the next one to consolidate what the students learned from the last lesson.  And, I feel like I have more freedom to have relaxed days, where I can try different activities, such as a Picture Quest, since I will see each class about 25-30 times.  And, if there are a few holidays, it's not really a big deal, since it's quite rare that the class will miss both their days during the same week.

Anyway, to sum things up:  I'm finding that I like teaching the same class twice/week a lot more than once! 

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

Picture Quest

Today is a beautiful day outside here in South Korea, and the students were just coming back from a long vacation.  We've been working hard in class lately, so I decided to give the students a bit of a break.  I made a Picture Quest and put them in teams of 5 or 6 people.   I shared the link with them on Twitter and they could download it onto their phones.  I flashed it up on Powerpoint and explained the purpose and the rules.  Then, I gave them 5 minutes to make a plan and translate anything that they needed to, as well as ask me any questions.  And then I sent them off.

Essentially, the students have to take pictures of all the things listed as quickly as possible and the first (second/third) place teams to come back, get a prize of some sort.  And...it worked really, really well.  Like this class that I just had is generally unenthusiastic about anything, but they really enjoyed it!  Success!  However, I'm not sure I would necessarily do this at a public school or hagwon.  I'm lucky at my job in that nobody is looking over my shoulder at what I do and it's fine to send students outside for some fun on a nice day.