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Today I had three classes worth of speaking tests . . . and I heard the worst answer I’ve ever been given in the course of five plus years of testing English speaking skills in Korea with middle, high school, university, and teacher training programs.

A student answered the question, “Who is your hero?”, when I asked him with this response,

“Hitler.”

I blinked, took a deep breath, and told myself that his pronunciation must be terrible . . . or that I must have misunderstood him somehow.

I asked him again, “Who is your hero?”  This time the friendly look in my eyes and patient smile on my face that I try to maintain at all times during speaking tests were gone.

He gave the same answer.

Now I’ve been in Korea long enough to know that the holocaust and Antisemitism are things that some/many (?) Koreans don’t seem to have any education or understanding of how they are perceived in western English culture (and many other languages and cultures around the world), but it still rankles me that there’s such a huge degree of insensitivity to this issue.

After hearing the student give the same response again that Hitler was his ‘hero’ I checked one final time to see if I still wasn’t mishearing him somehow.

I spelled it out, “Are you saying “H-i-t-l-e-r?”

“Yes.”

Now that any benefit of a doubt or error on my part, or his part for that matter, had been erased I had to decide very quickly whether or not I would say something about his response while in the middle of testing . . . I decided to say something.

“That’s not good.” I also added an extremely disapproving look.  But I had to stop there because it was neither the place or the time to try and educate this kid about the holocaust, and that Hitler was an evil monster.

To compound the issue I don’t think I can rely on getting any kind of help from the student’s Korean English teacher because all too often in Korea when issues of racism arise in a classroom situation with a native teacher and a co-teacher there is a gross lack of cross-cultural awareness about racism and taboos in English.  For example, if a student yells out the N-word when I’m showing a video clip or have a picture with black people during a lesson, I reprimand the student, and then ask the co-teacher to reinforce my reprimand in Korean to make sure it sinks in . . . well, in this kind of situation the co-teacher has often been laughing with the class at the racist comment, or thinks it means nothing and therefore doesn’t merit any kind of serious reaction on the part of the teacher.  I’m not saying this happens all the time, but it happens with far too high a degree of frequency . . .

I remember in 2006 a situation that happened while I was doing a Remembrance Day World War I and II lesson that focused on women in the wars for the all girls high school I was teaching at.  Upon seeing a picture of the devastation that happened after the atomic bomb was dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki one girl bellowed “GOOD!”  I’m pretty sure my jaw hit the floor, and I said “No, not good!” back at her.

But again, I was put in a situation where the limited language abilities of the students mixed up with the seemingly complete and utter lack of awareness that saying dropping the bomb was ‘good’ is a horrible thing to say (and in a country where Buddhism is a major religion, seriously!) . . . what do you do?

The next slide in that power point had some facts about the Koreans who had been kidnapped and taken to Japan as forced labor, and I can’t remember the exact number but I think it’s something like 10,000 Koreans were killed and/or injured by the atomic bomb blasts in Japan . . . yet this girl thought that it was only the Japanese who were hurt, and thought that it was a ‘good’ thing.  I have to wonder what kind of historical content is in the high school textbooks about the atomic bombs because you’d ‘think’ that the fact that Koreans were killed by the Americans dropping the bomb might be something the nationalists would fight to have students learning . . . but maybe not.  I don’t know.

Ah, here is an entry on wikipedia, “During the war, Japan brought many Korean conscripts to both Hiroshima and Nagasaki to work as forced labor. According to recent estimates, about 20,000 Koreans were killed in Hiroshima and about 2,000 died in Nagasaki. It is estimated that one in seven of the Hiroshima victims was of Korean ancestry.[8] For many years, Koreans had a difficult time fighting for recognition as atomic bomb victims and were denied health benefits. However, most issues have been addressed in recent years through lawsuits” (my italics and bold).

That’s really sad.

I think I might write a post about native teachers and cross-cultural issues that come up in the classroom, and focus on the issues of race and racism that I’ve personally had to deal with, and also stories I’ve heard from other native teachers over the years.

It’s definitely a topic that I haven’t seen a lot of blogging about (then again, I haven’t done much research so there could be a lot of blog entries about this topic) on the Kblogosphere.  I have read a few posts here and there, mostly written by African-American native teachers, about stuff that has happened in their schools and classrooms.  But I don’t think I’ve read any posts about situations that have come up, and how the teacher dealt with them, and what they’d suggest to new teachers, and veterans for that matter, who are coming to Korea to teach.  Definitely something that is worth writing about, I think.

Alright, time to end this post with a positive story about teaching in Korea.

One guy that had his speaking test today made me laugh.  He walked in and before sitting he paused, crossed himself, looked up and kissed his hand, and then sat down, LOL!

I know for sure that I’ve had Catholic Korean students before–but I’ve never had one cross themselves and pray before taking a speaking test with me!  LOL!

Well, time to go do some listening test recordings and then watch the soccer game tonight.

J

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I was surfing my blog roll and came across this 3 part series by Supplanter on what happens when a native teacher’s speaking test design and plan get changed by a Korean supervisor . . . it’s well written, and I could totally relate to everything being described as I’ve been through similar experiences at other places I’ve worked at in Korea.

Some people reading my blog posts about speaking tests may think I’ve been a little paranoid but I was really striving to avoid having to deal with any ‘English test score ajumma fallout.’  Really, who likes to have an ajumma aka Korean supermom appear at your desk to cry, yell, and attempt to browbeat you into quivering submissive goo so that little Subin will get a perfect English test score–not me, that’s for sure.

Anyways, check out Supplanter‘s series cause it’s definitely a wake up call to any native teacher considering asking for permission to start giving speaking tests.

The Grade Changing Fiasco Part 1

The Grade Changing Fiasco Part 2

The Grade Changing Fiasco – part 3

As I’ve mentioned a few times I’m working on a massive post about designing, planning, and giving speaking tests in Korean public schools . . . for now, here are some of the smaller posts I’ve written on the topic.

EFL/ESL Speaking Tests in a Korean Boys Public High School: Trials and tribulations of test #2

False-beginners and low level students in a Korean all boys high school — How do you help them get ready for a speaking test?

Co-teacher/Native teacher mis-communications: Korean Public School Testing System — Each semester has a final grade?

Thoughts on designing speaking tests and their relationship to native teacher respect and authority in Korean public schools

The relationship between the power of tests, corporal punishment as the primary classroom behavior management system, and respect for a native English teacher in Korean public schools….

Time to go get some chow.

J


Today was the first day of speaking test #2 at the all boys high school where I teach.  It went pretty much as I expected though there have been a couple last second curve balls thrown at me . . .

I’m still working on a massive blog post about designing, planning, and giving speaking tests in Korean public schools.  I just haven’t had the time and energy, or the motivation, to finish it up.  I hope to get it done sometime soon but it may have to wait till the final exam testing period when I have no tests and just come in to school to warm my desk.

Anyways, on Mondays I only have 3 classes which is nice cause it gives me two spares first thing in the morning with which I can do prep.  I photocopied my test rubrics sheets, and printed out the group A and B test groups to post on the door of my classroom in case the guys forget their order of testing while walking from their homerooms to my classroom (and being high school boys this is highly probable–err, likely), and then had to pick up garbage left by a Korean teacher’s Saturday morning class when they used my classroom . . . argh, not impressed.

I then taught my first grade class, and it went fairly well considering it was hot and the guys were all zombies because it was Monday morning.

In the next period the speaking tests began . . . well, actually, not right away because my co-teacher failed to be in the homeroom before the class time started so he could organize the first five guys and send them to be ready to go right when the class time started . . . whatever.  Apparently, if I don’t explicitly tell my co-teacher what he should do, and what he needs to remember, it won’t get done in spite of the frequent reassurances “Don’t worry about that” . . . yeah.

For the first speaking test I tried setting up meetings with my two co-teachers and ran into so many problems and resistance to having meetings, especially on the part of the oldest male co-teacher, that this time for test 2 I didn’t waste a single molecule of oxygen asking to set up any meetings, and neither co-teacher asked about them too.

Actually, I decided that I wasn’t going to approach them at all about the second speaking tests to see if they would ask questions and take some responsibility for the tests–and I got nothing.  No questions, no requests for meetings to go over the testing rubric, test questions, and to review the test procedure–nothing.

They didn’t even ask to see a copy of the test . . . I give up.  Seriously.

In fact, this morning, the first day of the tests, the oldest male co-teacher comes into my classroom while I’m cleaning and organizing the classroom, and setting everything up for my lessons and tests . . . and he says to me, “Jason, are we having the speaking tests this week?”  I look at him with what I’m sure must be “ARE YOU FUCKING SERIOUS?” stamped all over my face . . . unable to hide the incredulity at his display of ignorance.  We had just finished doing an ENTIRE WEEK of speaking test preparation and review last week, and in every single review class I told the students that next week Group A will begin testing . . . and yet my co-teacher is asking me whether or not we’ll be starting the tests today?

Unbelievable . . .

Two minutes after the class time starts my first group of guys finally arrive.  I begin testing . . .

The first four questions of my test are ‘warm-up’ questions that allow a student to calm down a bit, raise their confidence level, and get the momentum going.  One of these questions is,

Jason: How are you today?

And my favorite answer of the 15 tests I gave this morning was,

Student: I’m supreme.

LOL! I couldn’t help but laugh my ass off, and both of us enjoyed the moment thoroughly.

Another student, when I asked how he was, replied “I’m VERY ANGRY.”

I blink, and ask him why.  He explains that nobody told him the speaking tests were today.  I look at him, and fight to hide my surprise, and say, “But last week we did speaking test preparation class.  I’m sorry, but I think YOU forgot.”

At this point the student kind of took on a look like Dory . . .

Note to whoever replaces me: Don’t forget that Korean students pretty much have as good a memory as Dory does in the movie–which is to say don’t expect them to remember anything about testing dates and times.   I already knew about this, but had forgotten.

The rest of the tests went by fairly quickly, and then it was time for lunch.

While sitting with a couple of other co-teachers one of them reminded me that there were two days next week where there would be no classes, a Wednesday and a Friday.  While making my first speaking test I’d made a semester calendar in order to map out when my lessons were, and when the two speaking tests would take place . . . the bugger is I must have been possessed by a bit of Dory-esque memory loss cause I’d forgotten to check the dates I’d marked off where they’d be no classes during the two week testing period for test 2 . . . argh.

It would have been nice if one of my co-teachers that I teach the classes with had helped me out with preparing and organizing test 2, but as usual it was pretty much all on me to not miss anything in the preparation of the tests . . . and this time I had missed something.

Luckily, after finishing my lunch and then looking at my class schedule and a calendar, I saw that I’d be able to bump the two testing days to the week just before final exams.  Initially, my co-teachers had asked me to assume the week before finals would be textbook review classes where I wouldn’t be needed; this meant that I scheduled my two weeks of speaking tests just before review week, and that the makeup speaking test days would have to take place during the final exam review days . . .

Frankly, the school really needs to embrace the fact that if they want the native teacher to give speaking tests they should integrate my testing into the mid-term and final exam official testing days . . . but something I realized today was that I’m not really doing ‘speaking tests’ in the minds of the school administration and my co-teachers–rather, I’m doing ‘proficiency tests.’

“Proficiency tests” are given BEFORE the mid-terms and final exams, and the testing scores have to be submitted before the official mid-term and final exam days begin.  It’s nice that I’ve been given testing points for my classes, but I still wish that I wasn’t losing FOUR WEEKS of class time in order to test all the students (more on that later when I publish my post about designing and planning speaking tests in public schools).

Another thought occurred to me, after thinking about how my speaking tests are really ‘proficiency tests,’ and it kind of irks me a bit.  Giving me the ‘proficiency tests’ may have had nothing at all to do with helping me to give the native English teacher’s conversation/speaking classes more legitimacy, and may have had more to do with GIVING AWAY all the duties and tasks that the Korean English teachers had had to do when THEY were the ones giving the proficiency tests . . .

I just asked my co-teacher about how ‘proficiency tests’ are usually done by Korean English teachers.  She told me that they’re typically listening tests, and that the testing materials come from the education office.  One of the reasons, probably the biggest reason, that speaking proficiency tests are not given by Korean English teachers is, and this comes from a Korean English teacher and NOT ME, the students don’t trust the Korean English teachers to evaluate them fairly and accurately–wow.

I told my co-teacher that I was surprised that the students, and parents, hadn’t complained that having speaking tests instead of listening tests is ‘not fair’ somehow because I imagine that some students and parents might think they have a better chance of getting a higher test score on a multiple-guess, errr, multiple-choice listening test . . . but I only had one student complain about his test score on the first speaking test I gave, and after offering to replay his speaking test recording and to go over the notes I’d written on his score card he declined and accepted his score.

Another thing, though, to add to why students and parents might not like having speaking tests instead of listening tests for the English proficiency test is that in general speaking isn’t tested, especially on Seunung (the Korean university entrance exam), and that that might somehow also be detrimental to scoring higher, etc . . . but come to think of it, a speaking test is not only a test of speaking skills but ALSO a test of listening skills . . . so in some respects the speaking tests are perhaps more beneficial because they necessitate a more active listening skills performance than is typically required.  Hmmm . . .

Anyways, I’ve written pretty much everything I can think of . . .

Time to go get ready for the last class of the day.

J

All this week I’m doing a speaking test preparation and review class at the boys high school where I teach.  This afternoon on my schedule I had what is probably the lowest level class . . . and it was ‘interesting.’

One of the reasons I chose a one-on-one interview testing format is because any other format would almost guarantee that half of the entire 2nd grade fails–perhaps even more.  Doing a teacher-student interview style test allows me to create as relaxed an atmosphere as is possible, and to prompt the student if necessary; if I were to pair the students up the number of possible problems that might occur are just too large to warrant the risk.  One on one interviews also allow an easier and clearer understanding for the students in terms of what their role is during test, and places 100% of their scores on themselves.

At the start of the class I explained once more the basic testing procedure, and had it written out on the white board behind me so students could read the information too.  In addition to this, I had my co-teacher translate the information to avoid any possibilities of students not understanding what is expected of them.

Students then wrote their names and numbers on little pieces of paper, folded them, and then placed them into a mop bucket (hey, whatever works right?) with a spinning basket (it’s supposed to dry the mop).  The guys are fascinated with the whole spinning the basket with their names in it–I imagine because gambling culture in boys’ high schools is pretty widespread, and they think they’re somehow ‘winning’ something, lol.

I asked two students to help me out: one is the secretary and types out the names and student numbers on the computer, and the other draws the names out of the basket.  In the first speaking test prep and review class I had my co-teacher do this task, but it ended up taking three times longer than it really needed to, and I wanted to avoid that this time.

After organizing the class into two testing groups, and determining the order of testing, we then moved on to going over the test prep handout I’d made.  The handout has four warm-up questions to allow the guys time at the start of the test to remember to breathe and calm down a little, and then there is a list of questions they would have to ask and answer during the test.  Some teachers might question why I am giving them the questions for the test but this is a common practice in Korea, from what I’ve heard, in public schools (the small numbers that actually give speaking tests), universities, and teacher training programs.  It allows motivated students to practice and prepare in a much more focused manner than if I were to just say please study and practice lessons 1-6.  This is especially important for high school boys because their language learning skills and habits are not the best too much of the time.

On the right side of the handout I also included warnings for common errors the boys had made during actual class time.  One of the warnings, for example, was that the boys should be ready for me to ask one question at a very fast speed, and then they have to respond with the correct “If you don’t understand expression” that they learned from a lesson: “Sorry, could you repeat that again?” or, “Excuse me, I didn’t catch that.”  Along with the warning are examples of common expressions the boys use when hearing English spoken too fast: “Pardon?”, “What?”, “One more time.”, and ” . . . ” are explicitly stated as not acceptable responses during the test.

On a side note, in the coming week or two I’m hoping to finally publish a post I’ve been writing on and off for about two months detailing every facet of making speaking tests in a public high school . . . but for now I’m going to keep my descriptions and explanations in this post brief.

After going over the test questions, and telling the guys that they needed to write out their responses and if necessary use the lesson handouts to help them, I went over the rubric with the help of my co-teacher who again translated to make sure nothing was missed.

The remaining 30 minutes of the 50 minute period were then to be used for the guys to look over the test questions and ask for help if they needed it . . . instead, 60% or so thought it was ‘free time’ and sat around hitting each other, joking, chatting, drawing pictures on each other’s hands with their pens, rolling around on the chairs (they have wheels–BAD IDEA), and other generally non-studying related behaviors that boys do.  The other 40% spent time looking at the handout, asking questions, helping each other out, and asking myself and the Korean English teacher questions . . . I expect most of them will get A’s on their tests.

In spite of the majority of students trying to avoid prepping for the test, my co-teacher and I constantly circulated the room, going from table to table trying to coax and coerce the boys to prep while they had access to us for help.  Some of them listened, and made a little progress in getting ready for the test, while others mostly did the typical “Yes, teacher”-smile-and-nod, and looked busy for a second, and once we would move on to another table they’d be back to hitting each other, chatting, and doing nothing in general.  Oh, and my particular ‘favorite’ of the day was the two boys playing ‘Rock, Scissors, Paper’ and then the winner getting to hammer the other on the leg with a rolled up magazine–I put a stop to that . . . which lasted all of 2 minutes before they were back to just hitting each other with their hands and feet–yeah.

At the end of the class, my sense of things was that 30-40% would be prepared for the speaking tests which begin next week, and the remainder would be lucky if they are able to answer 25% of the questions before lapsing into the shoulder shrugging and “Sorry, sorry” responses they give when they don’t know what to say during the test.

While I really want to help the guys it’s pretty frustrating because for this particular class I’ve had FIVE classes canceled with no make up times for lesson content . . . add to the mix that 50% of them are false-beginners, 25% advanced-beginner, and 25% intermediate and things become VERY difficult.  I chose an EFL speaking text book for this semester that is intermediate level content, and while it works for the vast majority of the classes it is beyond the abilities of the majority of guys in this particular class–but I cannot change the lesson content because that would then skew the testing points . . . argh.

There comes a point where I think even my idealism and drive to get every student to learn ‘some’ English runs into too many obstacles that cannot be overcome no matter how creative and proactive I am–and for me, I’ve hit the wall.

If a student truly doesn’t want to learn there is a point where the teacher has to accept this reality, and as long as they have done everything within their power to help the student they then have to let it go.

I’m getting better at not beating myself up over this kind of thing, but when I first came to Korea it would really upset and frustrate me.  I guess that’s part and parcel of my personality and the kind of teacher I am.

But at the five years and change mark of my teaching career I think I’m getting better at constructing boundaries and reasonable expectations of myself as a teacher–and knowing when to let students take responsibility for their own lack of effort.

It’s a beautiful day outside, and it’s time to let my frustrations go, acknowledge that I’ve done everything I can to help the guys, and go enjoy the blue skies!

J

Last weekend I chatted with Joe McPherson of Zenkimchi Korean food blog, and Stafford from Chosunbimbo blog, on their Seoul Podcast interview show . . . Seoul Podcast #99: Kimchi Icecream in The Fridge.

We talk about everything from why Julianne and I are leaving Korea to live and teach in China to co-teaching in the public school system to what is in my fridge (nice one, Stafford, lol).

Anyways, if you have two hours to kill check it out.

J

About a month ago I sat down with my co-teachers to get them to explain to me  how many points my speaking tests would have in the students’ English final grade.

I brought paper with me to write everything out in the hopes that it would help prevent any miscommunications . . . god I’m such a fool to think that there is any method that might prevent this!

Today, after already finishing 2 classes where I explained the speaking test procedure, the rubric, and talked about how the test points add up and effect the students’ final grades . . . today I find out that I have no clue what I’m talking about.

I’m a little pissed off.

To start with, during the meeting I had a month ago I used the phrase “final grade for the whole year” several times.  I talked about “100 points for the final grade” and asked how many of those 100 points were delegated to the native speaker conversation class tests–SEVERAL TIMES.

I wrote out on a piece of paper a break down that looks something like this,

Final Grade = 100 points

Jason’s Class = 10 points

Term 1

Test 1 = 2.5 points

Test 2 = 2.5 points

Term 2

Test 3 = 2.5 points

Test 4 + 2.5 points

Jason’s Class test point total = 10 / 100 final grade points

After writing this out, I then asked THREE co-teachers to confirm that my understanding was correct. None of them even hesitated for a second as they all enthusiastically said I understood the point system.  WRONG!

The reality is that each semester of the school year’s testing points culminate in TWO FINAL GRADES: one final grade for the spring/summer semester, and one final grade for the fall/winter semester.

The two final grades are NOT averaged on the student’s academic record (according to what I was told this morning, but take that with a grain of salt)–believe me, I asked because I find the whole concept very strange.

The long and short of it is that this grading system helps the schools construct the student academic rankings each semester.

When I pointed out that the English classes throughout the entire year use the same textbook, and that all the tests in the spring/summer semester and fall/winter semester are based on the same source of material, and that there is a performance continuum that goes through the entire year . . . it was acknowledged that I had a valid point, but that the practice was to isolate each semester’s test scores in order to, wait for it, produce the academic rankings.

My co-teachers didn’t seem to understand why I was irritated today when I sat them down to hash out this miscommunication.   In fact, one of them thought the discussion was a waste of time, and just walked away.  Fine, thanks for the support–not.

The fact is that when I’m in the classroom and I am talking about TESTS and TEST POINTS I NEED TO KNOW WHAT I’M TALKING ABOUT cause otherwise the students will lose confidence in my authority and competence as their teacher and evaluator.  But these things don’t seem to register in my co-teachers’ minds . . .

It’s extremely difficult for me to trust anything and everything I’m told by a co-teacher in Korea because I always have to wonder if there is authentic two-way communication taking place . . . whether I’m the one making a mistake and operating on some kind of unconscious cultural norms assumptions, or they are, it’s really hard to trust the information.

Often, Korean cultural norms and automatic assumptions create static and noise that inhibits thinking about the message and its content, and distorts and twists the specific contents of a message being sent by one party to another . . . even with the visual aids of pen and paper, and the frequent use of repetition of the key words in the message, comprehension checking questions, and rephrasing the SAME information in several different forms . . . the communication often gets distorted by the automatic thinking and cultural norms of the Korean, and/or the native English speaker.

It drives me a little crazy when this happens in my every day life outside of teaching, but most of the time I laugh it off.

But when it happens in a teaching context I have a really hard time shaking it off.  Especially when it damages my teacher reputation and the quality of education in my classroom.

Explaining the testing and grading system to new native teachers arriving in Korean public school teaching jobs might just be something that NEEDS to be added to orientation curricula in the near future as English speaking tests begin to appear in more and more public school native English teacher conversation/speaking classes . . . otherwise I foresee the exact same situation happening to hundreds if not thousands of native English teachers in the near future.

J

I’ve been back teaching in a Korean public high school now since last fall/winter’s semester . . . and I’m revisiting a lot of issues that native English teachers face when working and teaching in public school jobs.

One of the biggest challenges a native teacher faces is being patient and flexible with Korean public school class schedule culture.

The first issue that native teachers run into is Korean teachers who make schedules have a hard time figuring out how to integrate the native teacher’s classes into the already insanely busy schedule.  I think there are now 4 English classes per week in high schools, and one of those classes is given to the native teacher.  It would appear to be easy to just pick 22 time slots and type in the native teacher’s name . . . but for some reason it never is.  Often native teachers simply sit at their desks in the teacher’s office twiddling their thumbs for days until a schedule is finally made that has their classes on it (though this can be a good thing as it gives them time to acclimatize to their schools and prep for classes).  For native teachers new to Korean public school culture it is a really big culture shock if they make the mistake of comparing scheduling culture in Korea to that of their home country.

The second issue is that in the spring/summer semester (which in Korea, is the beginning of the school year) the schedule is never made before the first day of classes . . . I’m not sure exactly when Canadian high schools have their class schedules planned and distributed to teachers but I know that it’s BEFORE THE FIRST DAY OF CLASSES.  It is now day NINE of the semester, nearly two weeks of classes have been completed, and there is no officially finished master schedule for the school’s classes (and I’ve heard the same thing from nearly every foreign teacher I know in Korea).

The third issue native teachers run into is that their classes can be canceled or ‘appropriated’ (the most diplomatic word I can think of, sigh) at any time by their Korean co-teachers.  There is a gross lack of respect and value for native teacher class times because native teacher speaking/conversation classes are generally not tested.  This results in the class time being seen as disposable in whatever manner is needed by the ‘higher priorities’ of whatever is going on in the school.  Often, in the week before midterm exams, or final exams, Korean English teachers will approach native teachers and ask them if they can use the native teacher class time for test review.  This is extremely disheartening to motivated and professional native English teachers because it makes everything they have prepared for the class a complete waste of time.  It makes native teachers question why they were hired if they’re not being used to teach students . . . Also, when native teachers attempt to teach classes in the week before midterms or finals classroom behavior management is nearly impossible; students do NOT want to spend time and energy in a class that cannot help them attain higher test scores, and since speaking is not a tested skill the native teacher’s class is actually, and sadly, a waste of their time and energy.   The lack of testing for my classes has led me to believe that I’m simply in the school as a walking propaganda poster that tells parents and students that ‘something’ is being done to help Koreans learn English.  It looks good on the surface, but underneath it’s almost completely meaningless.

(Some readers might be wondering why native teachers can’t do test review of relevant and tested content from public school textbooks . . . this is an issue that I won’t get into here, but suffice it to say that a number of (I don’t know how many, but I think it’s a majority) native teachers try to avoid using public school English textbooks because they are designed with Korean English teacher teaching methods and the public school testing format (rote memorization, multiple choice style testing) in mind.  Korean teachers generally teach through a grammar and translation-based lecture style which is something a native speaker cannot do.  Until you’ve actually sat down with a Korean public high school textbook and attempted to pull out vocabulary and language content to then make a conversation lesson based on that it’s hard to explain in terms other than . . . it’s like trying to take one color of toothpaste out of a swirl of colors,  and then fill up another tube with just that one color to use to brush your teeth.)

In regards to issue #3, my experience is radically changing . . . as this semester my speaking/conversation classes are finally being included as 10% of the English final grade, and there will be speaking tests for my classes.  You can read more about this in these two posts.

Thoughts on designing speaking tests and their relationship to native teacher respect and authority in Korean public schools

The relationship between the power of tests, corporal punishment as the primary classroom behavior management system, and respect for a native English teacher in Korean public schools….

As a result of the third issue native teachers have to produce their own personal ideas about how they value their classes, and cling to them like a life preserver.  They have to teach the Korean students to value things like learning for learning’s sake–a VERY difficult concept for Koreans in an education system where the only thing that counts is what your test scores are, and what your overall academic ranking is.  Native teachers have to teach their co-teachers to see their classes as valuable time where both the Korean English teacher and the students can get exposure to native speaker pronunciation, intonation, idiomatic expressions, etc, and learn about English culture from them too.  I’ve had a very small degree of success doing this, though, because of the realities of the EFL environment in Korea outside the English language classroom.  English conversation and speaking skills are only used in the following situations: job interviews, university entrance interviews, romance and dating, being friends with a foreign person, and a few other situations.   For most Korean high school boys it’s almost impossible for them to imagine using English outside of the classroom because of the small numbers of native English speakers in Korea, and the small number of situations where they MIGHT be required to use English.  As for Korean English teachers, the same thing applies.  If I had to make a guess I’d say about 40-50% of Korean English teachers speak English in an out of the language classroom situation in Korea–note: I have no research to back this up, it’s simply based on observation and conversations with several hundred Korean teachers over the past five years.

A fourth issue is the plain and simple fact that the school schedule has too many classes.  Korean teachers and students get burned out and exhausted by the mind boggling mass of class hours they have to study/prep for, attend, and then take tests for . . . I can’t imagine, as a native teacher, what this must be like for them.   I have a great deal of sympathy for the situation because it’s something that only the powers that be at the top of the system can change.  The grunts in the trenches just have to bow and say “Ne” (“Yes”) and do what they’re told.  Oh, and the school schedule doesn’t end when regular classes finish but continues on into the late afternoon and evening.  After school program classes run until 10pm at night.  Imagine having to be at school around 7am every day, and then work until 10pm at night . . .

Fifth, even after the school class schedule is finished being made days after the semester begins there is a blizzard of events that cancel classes from the schedule: national holidays, school birthdays, practice test days, school festival days, school field trips, medical health checks (a medical van/truck comes to the school and students line up outside to get checked), midterm and final exams, national test days, and more all cause classes to be canceled.  If a native teacher is lucky they have a co-teacher who keeps them informed about the million different things that can cause a class to be canceled.  If a native teacher has experience in Korea they know they should sit down with a calendar and write down as many of these dates as they can find out at the beginning of each semester.  And if a native teacher is really savvy they ask their co-teacher every morning when they arrive at school if there are any changes that day for the native teacher’s classes–but even after doing this every morning when you arrive at school you can still be told at the very last second, or even after the school chimes have rung sounding the start of a class, that you are teaching a class . . . a class that is at a different time than is on your schedule.

The sixth issue that generally appears after a native teacher has been in their school for a few weeks is the lack of a clear chain of command and communication between the teachers who make schedule changes, the co-teachers, and the native teacher.  Sometimes one Korean teacher will be in charge of making the schedule for one grade level, and a different co-teacher will be in charge of making the schedule for another grade, and then yet another teacher is in charge of putting all the class schedules together . . . this whirlpool of disorganization often births a chaotic eight-armed monster, and all too often its four left hands are not aware of what the four right hands are doing . . . all the while the native teacher is tossed about willy-nilly as all eight hands try to direct it to do what they want it to.

Even if a native teacher gets the emails and cell phone numbers of all their co-teachers, and tries to maintain daily contact with all parties involved in setting up schedules, and tries to act as a communication vehicle to keep everyone informed and acting as a team . . . it is likely that miscommunications will happen, and mistakes will be made because plans are made without consulting all the necessary parties, without sharing updates and changes, without sharing information, and the list goes on . . .

I don’t have much else to write about this because I experienced yet again nearly every scheduling issue I’ve described above for the Nth time this morning.  I personally visited each of my co-teachers several times every day of this week, emailed them, and called them–and yet I still had a co-teacher come to me 4 minutes after a class had begun to tell me I was supposed to be teaching . . . and then a blizzard of conversations happened with myself, several co-teachers, and it all headed nowhere really fast . . .

Only 18 weeks left in the semester . . . yikes, beginning a countdown like that in week 2 is usually not a good sign.

30 hours till the weekend . . . next week is a new week, and I’m hoping I can recharge myself and come back with my usual irrepressible attitude . . . wish me luck.

J

Update: Brian in Jeollanamdo pointed out a few things I forgot in a comment, and they’re big ones for native teachers that have to teach at MULTIPLE schools, and other things that should be added to this post.  See the comments for more info.

Today I taught my first public high school class lesson that will have speaking tests on its content.  It was amazing.

I couldn’t believe how much the high school 2nd graders in the class paid attention, and tried hard during each of the lesson’s listening and speaking exercises.

I couldn’t believe that they took notes when I told them to, and were paying attention to what I was saying when giving instructions, explaining grammar points, and talking about pronunciation and intonation rules . . . it was surreal.

The reason I couldn’t believe everything comes from having tried to do ‘real teaching’ in the past when I first came to Korea.  The absence of any testing and value for the native teacher’s lessons in the students’ final grades made it practically impossible to expect them to pay attention and make efforts at learning because of the already mind-numbing amount of testing and studying they have to do for their regular school classes.  The native speaker’s class was seen as sleep time, play time, and do anything but learn English time–especially if the native teacher was attempting to do ‘real teaching.’  I made a decision after a while that ‘having fun’ and doing ‘a little bit of learning’ would be the foundation of my lesson planning because the alternative was to drive myself insane fighting the realities of the lack of a clearly defined role for a native English teacher in the public school English classroom, and the absolute lack of testing value being given to the native teacher’s classes.  Students in Korea often make choices about what they will give learning time and energy to based on 1) how many test points the class is worth, 2) how it can impact their overall academic rating in the education system, 3) how a class can help them score higher on tests . . . and you get the idea: no test often equals no motivation or interest.

Anyways, during the end of last week, and over the course of the weekend, I spent about 4 hours studying the book I’m using, and how it’s lessons are designed.  I then set about making a power point for the first lesson and its four pages; this took about 3 hours.  While 7 hours might seem excessive I tend to think that’s fairly normal in my mind when doing teacher prep for a speaking textbook I’ve never used, and haven’t made lesson plans for and need to learn and study how I can teach it best.

Add to the mix that I also have to design 4 speaking tests , 2 for each semester (test #1 will take place during the two weeks leading up to the mid-term exam period, and test #2 in the two weeks before the final exam period), and that it will be the first time ever at my high school for speaking to be a tested language skill in the English classes here . . . and yeah, I needed to spend some time on organizing my lessons and designing the tests.

You may have noticed that I mentioned the speaking tests will take place in the 2 weeks preceding the midterm and final exam periods.  This is because in spite of the fact that it had been decided by the powers that be at my school that my classes would be given 10% of the final grade no one batted an eyelash at the fact that NO TESTING TIME WAS ASSIGNED for my classes in the school’s official testing periods.

The lack of time slots being scheduled for my tested classes therefore means that I have to use regular class time, one hour each week, for the speaking tests.  This means that with an average of 35 students in each class I have to sacrifice two weeks of class hours in order to be able to complete the speaking tests for each student.  Oh, and each speaking test can only be 2 minutes in duration.  Some EFL university profs I’ve been talking to suggested that I do small group speaking tests but I don’t really think that’s a viable option in a boys high school environment (I’ll talk about why in an upcoming post in more detail).

It kind of strikes me as being a wee bit bizarre that FOUR WEEKS out of the twenty-week semester will be lost to speaking tests, and on top of that an additional four weeks for the midterm exam period, and final exam period used for testing all the subjects at the school.   If you do the math on this it means the students lose four hours of instruction time with the native teacher . . . but there’s absolutely nothing I can do to avoid this because of the scheduling choices made by the powers that be.

There seems to be a wide-spread ignorance of the logistical realities involved in testing speaking when it comes to public schools, and when you consider how difficult it is for schools to figure out how to integrate native speaker classes into the schedule I guess it should come as no surprise that something like speaking tests is pretty much not even a blip on the schedule organizer’s radar screen . . . I wonder what will happen when the formal public school curriculum testing for English classes changes and schools have to introduce speaking tests into the already bursting midterm and final exam schedules?  I shudder to think about it . . . lol.

From what I hear on facebook, emails and comments on my blog, and talking to other foreign native teachers it seems like more and more schools are beginning to let the native teachers have 10% (and sometimes more) of the English final grade for testing the speaking/conversation classes they teach.  I don’t know what the actual percentages are of schools with native teachers doing speaking tests but I’d be VERY curious to find out.

Last week I began re-reading key chapters from EFL/ESL speaking methodology books that I have in my library.  The most useful of these were chapters 6 “Developing test specifications” and 8 “Ensuring a reliable and valid speaking assessment” from Assessing Speaking by Sari Luoma, Cambridge Language Assessment Series, Series Editors J. Charles Alderson & Lyle F. Bachman, Cambridge University Press, 2004.  There was a lot of material that I haven’t thought about in a long time and it was really good to refresh how to design speaking tests and rubrics and to have a very detailed process laid out for me in the chapters.  Another really great thing, especially in chapter 6, is the model test specification write ups that they have in the book depending on the type of testing situation you find yourself in, so you can read about how other teachers have gone about looking at the curriculum they’re teaching, and then fleshing out in detail all the different issues that need to be considered when making speaking tests . . .

A university EFL/ESL teacher-trainer I know mentioned to me that in their particular sphere of English testing it takes two eight-hour training sessions per year to keep the raters accurate.  Considering the fact that native English teachers in public schools generally receive no teacher training in how to design speaking tests and rubrics it’s amazing that some native teachers voluntarily ask to do this because then it is up to them to pay for their own EFL/ESL training, and books, in order to produce quality speaking tests and to do the evaluations fairly and well.

If, and when, native teachers are officially told to design speaking tests for public school classes I have to wonder how it would be possible to offer training by qualified teacher-trainers . . . I can just see this kind of training session also being set for the MIDDLE of a semester–long after lesson plans have been made, and test design should have been considered . . .

Anyways, I’m in the process of doing my own test specifications write up in order to make sure my speaking test design is good, and that my rubric will be reliable and valid . . .

Once I’m done writing it up I’ll probably post it on my blog.  It’d be interesting to hear what other EFL/ESL teachers think, and I hope they’ll share stories about what they’re doing too.

Wish me luck,

J

Update 2:  Wow, I just read Gusts of Popular Feeling‘s post called “English teachers to be wiped out by robot revolution” and, wow . . . it’s awesome.  Read his post first, and then if you’re bored and have some time to waste, read mine.

Update 1:  The BBC just did a small piece on the robot nonsense.   You can hear a phone interview here, and more importantly a recording of the robot ‘speaking’–COUGH COUGH HACK HACK!

WHAT A JOKE!  Are you serious?  Anyone who feels that this threatens their position as a human teacher, let alone native English teacher, is being paranoid.  Like I said below, “Or will it just be a ridiculously expensive mobile-stereo-with-English-CD-DVD content that the Korean teachers pull out for photo-ops, class demonstrations when the local education office executives stroll in for their 30 second inspection tours, and maybe when the native teacher is sick . . .”

There have been news stories (for example, South Korean Robot English Teachers Are Go) circulating about how the Korean government is planning to use robots to teach English–and all I can do is roll my eyes every time I read about this ludicrous idea.

The basic premise is, “A shortage of English teachers has compelled South Korea to take the next logical step and plan a $45 million rollout of robotic teaching assistants. That official go-ahead follows several months of robot trials, io9 says based on Korean news reports” (source).  I have to wonder what kind of ‘education experts’ were involved in these trials . . . all too often businessman-politicians are really pulling the strings in education policy decisions, and the results of these education policies are still that Korean English language learners rank near the bottom of the world each year when test scores are compared around the world.  Based on such a dismal track record one has to wonder what kind of success is possible . . . actually, I don’t wonder–I know it won’t work.  It’s too easy to blame the teachers and ignore all the other problems that contribute to the overall consistently poor English language abilities of Korean students . . . a robot does not a miracle create.

The article goes on to describe how “The robotic teachers would deploy in 500 preschools by 2011, and 8,000 preschools and kindergartens by 2013. In the short run, that could help address the lack of English teachers in rural areas or remote islands” (source).  If you were a parent would you want your child left alone in a classroom with a ROBOT?  An experimental one at that?!  I don’t even think it’s LEGAL to allow a robot to act as a teacher in a classroom in terms of supervision and safety, and I’m pretty certain insurance is not bloody likely to cover Mr. C-3P0 accidentally stepping on little Hana’s foot and crushing it, or any of the million other problems that arise in a preschool classroom environment.  Will the robot really be replacing the teacher?  Or will it just be a ridiculously expensive mobile-stereo-with-English-CD-DVD content that the Korean teachers pull out for photo-ops, class demonstrations when the local education office executives stroll in for their 30 second inspection tours, and maybe when the native teacher is sick . . .

The best part of this nonsense is found here: “But South Korean robotics experts have already begun predicting that the bots could replace more than 30,000 native English teachers in Korea’s language institutes within the not-so distant future . . .” (source).  HAHAHAHA!  Right . . . if “not-so distant future” means 20-30 years from now when robotics and education artificial intelligence programming have evolved beyond the gleam in Dr. Soong’s eye . . . maybe.

I’ll end this post with a list of reasons why I think that as of this moment in time a robot cannot replace a human teacher, and especially native English teachers in Korea.

A robot can’t read body language like a human teacher.

A robot can’t use personal stories to explain ideas.

A robot can’t vary their information delivery speed in as flexible a manner as a human teacher.

A robot can’t detect bad student behavior as well as a human teacher can.

A robot can’t stop two students from beating the snot out of each other.

A robot can’t use other teaching technologies in the classroom (not at least without expensive equipment being introduced into every classroom).

A robot can’t talk to parents about their children’s behavioral problems.

A robot can’t produce original and new lesson materials.

A robot only knows what is programmed into its data banks–based on what I’ve seen of Korean English textbook makers the content will have errors.

A robot cannot improvise.

A robot cannot talk about English cultural background information that goes with textbook curriculum unless it’s been programmed with it–and that information must be accurate too.

A robot has limited mobility and most Korean classrooms are crowded with desks and have narrow aisles–how will it interact with students in a wide variety of situations.

A robot cannot play games with children, especially physically active games.

A robot cannot exhibit true human joy and enthusiasm when playing games and doing activities.

A robot cannot understand why little Subin is crying, and it will not be able to hug him and tell him everything will be okay.

A robot is made of plastic–human contact is something that cannot be substituted when humans interact with each other.

A robot cannot provide the model of a good person to children.  Body language and interaction rituals cannot be performed by a robot.

A robot cannot be creative, and the Korean news media, government, and major corporations are all talking about how Korea needs creativity and innovation to be introduced into the national public school curriculum so that Korean corporations have a chance of competing in the global marketplace.

A robot cannot modify lesson content to adapt to human factors like fatigue, boredom, stress, and all the other frailties that our human condition bring into the classroom.

And the list goes on and on and on . . .

It’s far more likely that the robot-teacher idea is a fantasy of politicians who wish that there could be some kind of magical solution to the education system problems in Korea, and in particular a magic solution to learning English.

There’s only one ‘magic’ solution to learning English: hard work over many years.

Period.

For now Teacher Jason, or Teacher Fester, will be the guy giving 110% effort to teach English in a fun and effective way to Koreans.


I think I know who I’ll dress up as for Halloween this year, lol!

J

I’m still writing up the first English camp I just finished this past Friday and will try to post the series (it covers 8 days) some time this week.

This morning I came to school and did the small bit of prep I needed to do for my second two week winter English camp.  Then the events of today reminded me yet again why lesson prep in Korea is pretty much the Achilles Heel of EFL teaching.  Let me explain.

Last December I organized an informal winter English camp workshop at my high school for other foreign teachers who wanted to collaborate ideas and materials.  About 9 teachers showed up and we talked for nearly 3 hours.  It was awesome.  Ironically, we ran out of time before my turn came up to describe the criteria of my camp (number of students, grade level, number of classes per day, number of days in total, and other info) and get some ideas from the others–but that was okay because my English camp experience Korea is pretty extensive (click here to see my English Camps in South Korea – A Guideline for Foreign English Teachers) and while it would have been nice to get some feedback about my camp plan there were other teachers, especially newbies, who really needed more time to collaborate than I did.

Anyways, the reason I mention the workshop is that I had been planning my winter English camp theme, lesson outlines and notes, supplies I would need, and other details nearly TWO MONTHS before the camps I am now teaching would begin–and I should have known better!

Some time in the last week of December my co-teacher and I got together to confirm all the details of my camp . . . and it was at that point that I realized the camps were really just a ‘Come See The Alien Teacher Show’ for the incoming freshman students.  The camp schedule had been set up so that I’d only have TWO HOURS with each of the freshman classes–two hours?!

The only things I would have been able to accomplish in a two hour period of contact time with freshman are: introductions, ice-breaking activity for myself and the students, and self-introduction posters–my favorite ice-breaking activity for the freshman to introduce themselves to each other.

Needless to say I was a bit . . . uhm, what’s the word I want to use here . . . ARGH! That’ll do.

I politely (though with a very disgusted facial expression, I’m sure) explained to my co-teacher that I did not want to do an alien freak show, and asked her if any of the other Korean teachers were having the same sort of schedule set up with the incoming freshman (I already knew what the answer would be–no, of course not) and after she said they weren’t I pointed out that this was a complete and utter waste of my time, and the students’ time . . . and she agreed with me.

I’m pretty sure it also helps that I had several papers with me including a camp syllabus that I had designed.  I had already gone over with her the theme I’d chosen for my camp, the learning goals I had for the students, the number of classes assigned to each of the learning goals, and other planning I’d done . . . it was pretty obvious to my co-teacher and the Korean teacher that this wasn’t a case of a foreign teacher whining and complaining for no good reason–I had specific professional teaching issues with a camp concept and schedule that wanted to use me as an alien freak show, and lucky for me this was one of those rare times during my teaching tenure in Korea that the Koreans in charge of my teaching situation listened to me, heard and understood what I had to say, and agreed with me.  (Yes, I’m still in shock!)

(For those reading this blog outside of Korea, and who have never taught in a Korean public school, what I mean by ‘alien freak show’ is the tendency in Korea to parade foreign teachers out in front of students, Korean teachers, and sometimes even parents during the first day of an English camp.  Typically the audience ooohs, and ahhhs, laughs a lot, and yells things at the native teachers whose reactions range from ‘let’s get this over with’ to ‘oh my god, why am I here?’)

The fact that my co-teacher listened to me, and didn’t try to strong-arm me into agreeing and submitting to a plan that we both knew is bad, is yet another example of why my co-teacher is the goddess of all Korean English co-teachers in Korea.  (Anyone who knows me in Korea will also know that this is NOT typical of my general discourse about co-teaching in Korea–so let me assure you that when I give this kind of high praise it is based on having worked with a large number of co-teachers.)  Most other co-teachers would have argued with me or tried to persuade me to just say yes or blatantly ordered me to obey and follow the schedule as it had been set up.  I didn’t get any of that pseudo-Korean army culture nonsense from my co-teacher–wow.

After talking with me in English for a couple minutes she then explained in Korean what I had been saying to the Korean teacher in charge of organizing the camp schedules for all the teachers at the school.  He understood, and had the decency to look a bit embarrassed at the situation; I found out later, however, that it hadn’t been him at all who was responsible for the idea of putting me out on display for the freshman (I won’t say who it was, but expats with time in Korea will know who makes those types of decisions in Korean public schools, ’nuff said).  The  meeting ended with me telling my co-teacher that if I had to do an alien freak show that was ‘fine,’ but that I was very unhappy about it and hoped that some kind of changes would be made to the concept of the camp and its schedule.

Looking back at this meeting and the fact that I didn’t go into a typical Jason-hyper-assertive borderline hyper-aggressive push for concrete changes to be made in my camp schedule and the type of camp classes I’d be doing . . . well, let’s just say I am shocked by how much I’ve changed since, oh, let’s say 2007.  In 2007 I had been in Korea going on 3 years, and I got to a point, I think for very legitimate educational and professional reasons, where I stopped being concerned with education ‘cultural differences’ and would go hard core assertive on my co-teachers about any issues and situations that fell under the general category of ‘good EFL/ESL teaching and learning’ criteria; I got to the point where I completely stopped considering relationships and social harmony (according to Korean cultural rules) where I was working because I truly believed that those things in Korea are the antithesis, rather, the Nemesis (I mean ‘Nemesis’ here in the sense of something that is the education system’s own worst enemy) of professionalism and quality teaching and learning.  I still believe that the Korean school and work culture focus (one might also say ‘obsession’) on relationships and social harmony as a priority that supersedes professionalism and quality teaching and learning is one of the biggest problems in the education system in general–but I’ve learned how to identify Koreans who will use the indirect approach effectively (meaning ‘backroom meetings where Korean social political power is really exercised away from the underlings–namely ME) to try and maintain harmonious relationships between everyone involved in the English camp situation and at the same time try to produce a good quality camp concept, schedule, and ultimately avoid making teacher Jason an alien freak show.

I think it was a few days later that my co-teacher told me that my ideas had been well received and that instead of doing the alien freak show style camp that I’d now be doing 2 two-week camps, 20 hours of teaching time each, with 20-25 students in each of the camps, and that I could use the same lesson materials for both camps thus cutting down on my prep time and energy.  SERIOUSLY?!  She truly is Korea’s goddess of co-teachers!  I was in shock that this big a transformation had been made, and I had been working really hard to try and create a more open-minded attitude on my part towards the original plan in spite of my absolute disgust towards it . . .

To tie all of this back to today, and it being the first day of my second two-week camp . . . my first camp went exceptionally well.  Last Friday I gave my guys a student survey questionnaire to fill out about my teaching, camp lesson content, and other aspects of the camp and I got really good scores on everything.  Here’s the questionnaire I gave them,

2010 Winter English Camp Student Survey

1.  How was the teacher’s speaking speed in class? 1 2 3 4 5
2.  Did the English paragraph writing have enough classes? (6 classes) Do you think you need less or more classes?*If you missed a writing class please check this box.

1 2 3 4 5
3.  How was the teacher’s explanation of how to write English paragraphs? 1 2 3 4 5
4.  Did you have enough time to do writing exercises in class? 1 2 3 4 5
5.   Please rate your interest level in learning how to write BEFORE the writing classes. (1 = no interest . . . 5 = very high interest) 1 2 3 4 5
6.    Please rate your interest level in learning how to write AFTER the writing classes. (1 = no interest . . . 5 = very high interest) 1 2 3 4 5
7.    How was the teacher’s attitude? (1 = not prepared and uncaring …. 5 = excellent preparation and high enthusiasm) 1 2 3 4 5
8.   Did using video raise your motivation to practice speaking? 1 2 3 4 5
9.   Did using video help you improve your speaking and gestures? 1 2 3 4 5
10.   How was the teacher’s explanation of how to do a demonstration speech?(pronunciation, rhythm, gestures, body posture, etc) 1 2 3 4 5
11.  Were the demonstration speech handouts interesting and fun? 1 2 3 4 5
12.  Were the writing exercise handouts interesting and fun? 1 2 3 4 5
13.  Did your English writing skills improve?(1 = not at all …. 5 = 100%) 1 2 3 4 5
14.  Did your English speaking skills improve? (1 = not at all …. 5 = 100%) 1 2 3 4 5
15.  How would you rate this winter English camp overall? 1 2 3 4 5


1 = Needs Improvement, 2 = Okay, 3 = Good, 4 = Very Good, 5 = Excellent

1.  What are your 3 favorite things about this English camp? Please explain why for each.
2.  Where are 3 things you didn’t like about this English camp?  Please explain why for each.
3.  What would you like to learn in future English camps?  Please explain why. (Think about this summer 2010.)  Here are some examples: essay writing, story writing, reading, listening, speaking/conversation, business English, job/university interview English . . .
4.  Please write any thoughts or feelings about the English camp and Teacher Jason you want to share.  Be honest so that future English camps can improve.

I think the freshmen, and my Korean co-teacher, were shocked that I was giving them the opportunity to VOICE their thoughts and feelings about the camp, and potentially to criticize me as a teacher.  I also think that the freshmen really liked that they were being given a tool with which they could actively participate in shaping future learning and teaching–something that rarely if ever happens in their regular classes (though this coming semester will see the beginning of Korean teacher evaluations by students).

I was really happy to get 5/5 across the board from all the students for overall satisfaction with the camp.  The rest of the scores were predominantly 5s, and the remainder 4s . . . with one exception.  Many students gave 3s and 2s for question #2–they wanted MORE WRITING CLASSES WITH ME–AWESOME!!!

Okay . . . re-reading this post I’m realizing that it’s gotten a bit more ‘organic’ than I’d like it to be though I would like to think the tangents I go off on all spring from writing about winter camps and lesson prep, lol.

To wrap this up . . . I think my winter English camp schedule changed a total of about 8 times before it was ‘set in stone’–though I hesitate to use that expression because in camp #1 and now in camp #2 I am being thrown a curve ball that impacts how I organize my lessons for writing and demonstration speeches.

Apparently no one gave much consideration to the fact that the incoming freshman have to return to their middle schools during February to attend their graduation ceremonies.  There are also a few days where the guys have to go to the school too for ‘classes’ which are really nothing more than an opportunity for last minute administration tasks to be done before they move on to their high schools.

How does this impact my camp schedule and lesson plans you might ask?  Well, I’ve assigned six hours of class to learning how to write paragraphs and paragraph format rules.  The six hours take place over the course of 3 days, and if a student misses even ONE day of the three they have a really hard time catching up with the others because of the developmental structure of my lessons and the writing exercises I have them doing in each class.  Last week, a couple guys missed one day, and one guy missed two days, and when they walked in and tried to participate and keep up they really struggled.

I know that professional teachers, regardless of what socio-cultural teaching environment they find themselves in, always have to adapt and be flexible to schedule changes, and to having students walk into their classes who have been absent and need to be caught up . . .

But I think that Korea must be at the far extreme end of the scheduling and lesson planning continuum.

More to come about Day 1, Winter English Camp #2.

J

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