Monday, March 31, 2014

Essay Writing and Student Autonomy

One definition of autonomy (from the source of all things good: Wikipedia) is: the ability to take charge of one's own learning.

I believe that the current model of teaching paragraph/essay writing in most unis in Korea (and perhaps around the world where English is taught as a second or foreign language....I don't really know) does nothing to foster student autonomy.  This model is basically that the student writes something and gives it to the teacher, probably with very little in the way of editing.  The teacher spends ridiculous amounts of time editing something that in some cases is barely understandable, gives it back to the student and they make the changes.  Repeat the cycle endlessly.  This cycle can also be done with peer-editing, of which I am not a big fan of either.  In this model, the learner essentially takes very little responsibility for turning out a quality product on their own because they know that the teacher or friend will just make the changes they need. 

However, this is 100% unlike real-life.  When students are taking an English proficiency test that involves writing, there is no teacher or friend sitting next to them, helping them along.  Nor would they have this at any job.  They would just be expected to turn out a decent email or whatever they would need to write. 

So my system?  I'm attempting to teach students to self-edit by giving them check-lists with things like, "Check all the verbs: correct tense?"  and "What is your thesis statement?  Is it stated or implied?"  And, I'm not totally unkind.  I'll read essays and give general feedback like, "Your hook is quite weak....what about changing it to something like....."  Yes, it's challenging.  No, I'm just not lazy.  I truly think it will be better for the students in the end, even if they are not so happy about it.  Students generally hate what is not easy for them, but spoon-feeding has really never been my style. 

Sunday, March 30, 2014

Youth Unemployment in Korea lesson plan

A little lesson plan that I made up for my "News and Current Events Discussion Club" that I have at my school.  The students are quite high level.  Youth Unemployment Lesson Plan.

Saturday, March 29, 2014

Same test, different versions

So yesterday, I was talking to a guy who used to work at my university.  He was trash-talking the students saying they were all cheaters, etc, etc.   And yes, students in Korean universities will cheat on tests simply because there isn't the social expectation that they won't.  Nor is there any real punishment if they get caught.  Not really their fault, it's just the system that they're in.  Anyway, he asked me if my students cheated.  I said, "No, never."  His response was that I just simply didn't notice.  Yes, perhaps one or two have slipped by me, but I really don't think so because I do the following things:

1. For conversation/speaking classes, I will only do 1-1 type interview tests.  It's just me and the student.  I will give them a list of 8-10 possible topics or questions and then randomly choose three or four.  How you could cheat when you are having a 1-1 conversation with the teacher, including follow-up questions that are "off-list" is beyond me. 

2. For written tests, I will ALWAYS make 3-4 versions.  It takes like 10 minutes to do in Google Docs.  Just cut and paste and then change the numbers.  For a few questions, I'll change some of the vocab too. For example: "Write 2 sentences comparing a desktop computer (living at home) (Seoul) and a smartphone (living in the dormitory) (Busan)."  I very clearly write "TEST VERSION A(B) (C)," at the top.

Then, I make a big show about handing out the papers from various folders depending on seating arrangements and tell the students that it truly is futile to even try to cheat. 

3. I NEVER do multiple choice questions.  It's simply too easy to cheat (by sending answers to friends via text) or by looking at someone else's paper.  It's almost impossible to catch cheaters this way as well.  But, by expecting students to actually write out a sentence, it's much harder for them to copy it and it's much easier to catch them (ie: the same 10 sentences, complete with the same mistakes on 2 student's papers means that there certainly is a problem of some kind). 

4. For my advanced writing class, 50% of their final grade is the 2 tests that they physically do in class.  10% is attendance and then the other 40%: I guess they could cheat, but the majority of their grade is cheat-proof so the curve should reflect who can actually write and who can't.  I plan on giving the students a list of 30 or so possible essay topics.  To start the test, I will hand out of a piece of paper with their essay topic on it, so each student will be writing something different from their classmate.  How could you possibly cheat on this?

QR Codes

QR codes are those little boxes of squiggly lines that you see in stores or on the subway or bus that you can take a picture of with your Smartphone or Ipad using a QR Code reader from the app store.  You can embed information in them such as contact info or a link to a website or a survey or something.  They are extremely useful in Korea because almost everybody has a smartphone with a camera and in a class of 40 students, there's probably a 99% chance that every single student has one.

I use them in situations in class where I want the students to go to a website on their smartphone, but it's not an easy link for them to just type in (ie: a Google Doc file).  On my PPT, I'll post up an image of my QR code that I've made using a QR code Generator.  The students just scan it and then they can have the link to the Google Doc that I want them to use or look at.  Here is the PPT from my next week's Advanced English Composition class, where we're focusing on editing their essays that they've done for homework.  If you scroll down to slides 7 and 12, you see can examples of what I've done.

Friday, March 28, 2014

Good days and high-level students

Some days are fabulous at work, and other, well not so much.  Although I really can't complain this semester as I'm mostly teaching 3rd and 4th year English majors who are reasonably good at English and usually do their homework, etc.  Today was one of those really fabulous days.  Even though Friday is my day off, I got asked to do some overtime preparing students for an overseas internship in the USA.  Motivated students/fluent-ish in English/small groups/ high pay/ interview preparation/ business English.  Yes, I will most definitely work on my day off. 

And then after 3 hours doing that, I have a little "News Club" in my school's Global Zone, which basically means that I choose a current events topic or article and discuss it with 4-8 students for 1.5 hours.  An interesting topic of my choice (I use Breaking News English), mostly International Trade/Economics/ law/accounting majors who actually have opinions about things and are good at English?  Yes, I will most certainly do that one too!  I'm thankful to have such good students, especially since I spent a lot of years talking weather and hobbies and family at a very basic level.

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Google Drive Power-point

You know I'm all about making my teaching life as easy as possible.  That's not to say that I don't spend a ridiculous amount of time doing prep: I do.  But, what I'm saying is that you really shouldn't spend your time doing things you don't really have to.  For example, I use Google Drive to make all my Power-points and then I "share" the folder so that the students can have access to it outside of class.  I have the students follow me on Twitter, so it's really easy to share the link with them that way.  Benefits:

1. Students don't have to print off stuff.
2. I print/copy basically nothing
3. If a student misses class, they can catch up really easily.
4. It's extremely easy to revamp stuff a wee bit if I have to teach the class/book again and save a lot of time on prep (especially in case of epic computer fail or changing schools, etc).

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

April 12th: Conference Presentation in Busan

My readers: come see me live and in person on April 12th in the most fabulous Busan. You could actually make a weekend of it, go to the beach, check out Beomeosa, etc, etc, etc. I'll be presenting at this conference: Busan-Gyeongnam Kotesol Symposium at 4:30.  There are some other fabulous speakers lined up starting at 2:00.

My presentation is called, "Teaching: the Small Stuff that Actually Matters."  Check out the details of the presentation here.  It's actually similar (but new and improved!) to the presentation I gave at the Kotesol International Conference back in 2012 and for which I received an extremely positive review from a blogger.

Friday, March 21, 2014

Some new ideas for classroom activities

If you're stuck in a bit of a rut and need some fresh, new ideas for your ESL classroom, check out some of this good stuff:

Speaking Activities
ESL Writing Activities
ESL Vocabulary Activities 
Top 5 Flashcard ESL Games

And of course check out one of my favorite books: Speaking Activities that Don't Suck

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Teaching Writing

When I teach writing, I always have the debate in my head about whether to focus on essay or paragraph level things, or the sentence level things.  For example, at the essay level you're focusing on crafting a quality hook and thesis statement, making topic sentences, ensuring that there is strong supporting evidence and actually just choosing quality main points to write about.  At the sentence level, the focus is on things like word choice/vocab and grammar.

Can't you do both? might find yourself thinking.  Yes, in an ideal world with ridiculous amounts of class time and ridiculously small class sizes, I could.  But, I only have 14 weeks of teaching for 3 hours/week, with classes of 30-40 students.

So I decided to focus on the essay level.  My thinking is that Korean students, especially the English majors that I teach have had an obscene amount of vocab/grammar study up until this point in their university careers and more than 2/3 of them are pretty solid with the basics and only make small mistakes that really don't affect the meaning of what they're trying to write.  And for the other 1/3...well, if someone hasn't gotten a grasp of basic grammar/vocab usage by this point (like literally 1000s of hours of studying English), then there's not much that I can really do to help them in this class.  And they have plenty of other general English classes and grammar classes and literature classes in which to get themselves up to speed on grammar and vocab.

Most Korean students don't really write academic essays, even in Korean, but it's actually quite a valuable skill, especially for those who are taking any sort of standardized writing test or planning to study abroad (as many of my students are).  I'm hoping to give my students skills that they can use beyond just this class.  Boning up on topic sentences and thesis statements and main idea selection can't be a bad thing I'm sure.  I'm even learning a bit about writing through teaching these classes!

Just FYI, the book I'm using (and love) for this class is Great Essays by Keith Folse.

Monday, March 17, 2014

A review of a not-so-recent conference presentation of mine

A very flattering review of my presentation at a Kotesol conference last year, which I just discovered.  Find it at LivingLearning.  And, as an aside, I'll be doing another presentation on a topic of some sort on April 12th in Busan, so mark your calendars!

Sunday, March 16, 2014

My latest blogging venture

I've just started up a new blog about building passive income streams.  Lots of good stuff to come hopefully including dividend stock investing, squidoo, frugal living, selling stuff on Amazon, retiring early and more.  Check it out at: Freedom Through Passive Income.

Thursday, March 13, 2014

Boundaries and Teaching and Life

This is kind of a new experience for me since I've started teaching English majors: students who actually want to talk to me outside of class, and come to my office, and go for coffee and be my Facebook friend and work as my TA.  Not that my other students didn't like to talk to me or interact with me, but they were quite often 1st year students who are usually quite shy, and they were also a lot of engineers who often just didn't speak English well enough to have more than a 1-2 minute conversation and the thought of actually coming to my office filled them with horror.

But now.  How to deal with it?  I know that I want to have a life outside of work and actually require it in order to have any semblance of joy and happiness in my life.  But, if I said yes to all requests, I wouldn't and I would quite literally be at work from sun-up to sun-down every single day.  And then that leaves the dilemma.  I actually do want to meet with some students, but how could I say yes to one and not the others without seeming unfair? And if I answered my office door every time someone knocked, I'd truly never be able to get any prep/ grading/ academic publishing (trying to get my Delta paper published in a journal!)/ professional development done.  People knock every 10 minutes or so.  Literally.   And, I actually do teach a significant numbers of hours/week (around 20), with 5 different classes to prepare for each week so my time is not so abundant.

So my solution so far has to be in the Global Zone at my university for 4 hours/week, where the students have to make appointments online to meet with me for a 30 minute slot.  This takes the responsibility for who gets an appointment and who doesn't entirely out of my hands.  And it's very well-defined in terms of time so it's very easy to finish and leave at the end of it.  I like the idea of office hours, but I REALLY don't like the idea of being in my office 1-1 with students.  Stuff like that is dangerous.  Even when leaving the door open.  And, I tell the students that the best way to contact me with any problems or questions is via Twitter or email and that I'll respond within 24 hours. 

Are the students happy?  Not exactly, but I'm kind of okay with not letting my students suck all life out of me.

Check out one of my favorite books about this topic:

Sunday, March 9, 2014

Delta Module 3 Tips

I'm happy to report success on the Delta Module 3 (big paper).  I got the middle grade, not the highest, but higher than just the basic pass, so take my advice for what it's worth.  Admittedly, I didn't put as much effort into it as I could of and just kind of sent it in at the end, even though I know I could have worked on it more and gotten the higher grade.  Anyway, my tips:

1.  Get yourself into a good preparation program (The Distance Delta) and then follow ALL your tutor's advice.

2. Follow ALL your tutor's advice!!!

3. Not that you'd want to pick an "easy" specialization just because it's easy, but if you're doing any exam preparation classes that semester, "examination preparation" is a good choice because it's relatively easy to do assessment of your students and there's a lot of materials out there to read and reference.  Plus, it lends itself to quantitative measurements, which could be quite helpful.

4. Unlike Module 1, where studying everyday is the key, this took more focused effort.  I set aside a block of about 4-5 hours each week on my day off and that was sufficient.  It would have been confusing to try and do 20 minutes/day or something like that.

Check out this book if you want to get a University Job in South Korea.

Saturday, March 8, 2014

Teaching Content Classes, with PPT

So, I'm back in Busan after my not-so-brief semi-vacation in Thailand.  And although the chilly weather was quite a shock to my system, all is well these days and the first week of classes went very smoothly.  And, I'm EXTREMELY happy to report that not an hour of my 22 or so teaching hours/week consist of anything resembling "conversational" English.  I'm teaching 3 sections of Advanced writing to 3rd/4th year English majors, a presentation/interview class to engineering students, business English to students who have graduated and are preparing for an internship in the USA and a current events discussion club kind of thing. 

But, teaching content (especially writing) is much different than conversation classes and I'm trying to figure out my teaching style.  Previously, on very rare occasion would I use a PPT (Powerpoint for my North American friends), and instead I would focus almost exclusively on having the students interact with each other, in a student-centered to the extreme, engaging and purposeful kind of way.  And I would generally try to keep my whiteboard warrior activities to about 5 minutes out of every hour or less.  But, there is almost no way to do this for something like Advanced Writing and in fact would probably lead to extreme frustration and confusion for the students (and me too).  So, it's back to the PPT, even though it kind of kills me on the inside and I wonder if there is not a better way.  I've tried to include lots of group work/exploration within the lesson but it's still a lot of me, lecturing.

Anyway, I'm interested to see how this will all work out by semester end.  I'm sure you'll get an update or two!