Monday, April 28, 2014

Sewol Ferry Disaster Lesson Plan

This is a lesson plan for a high-intermediate/advanced discussion class of 90 minutes.  I struggled a little bit with how to approach this.  It's a sensitive topic, but one that will be valuable to talk about.  And my discussion class is actually a "News Club" and this for sure is the number one story in Korea right now, so it would be strange to not talk about it.

Sewol Ferry Disaster Lesson Plan

Check out: How to get a University Job in South Korea

Sunday, April 27, 2014

The Introverted Teacher

Whenever I've done those little tests about personality (Myers-Briggs for example), I've always scored pretty high on the introverted, as opposed the extroverted side of things.  Which means that although I like being around people, large groups of them make me really tired.  Especially large groups of people that I don't know and if I spend time in situations like this, I really just need time alone to recharge and get my energy back.

One of my friends was talking about it in terms of energy credits.  Like you have a certain amount of energy and some people (energy-vampires) or situations suck up large amounts while other times and with other people, it's neutral or very little.  How does this relate to teaching?  Here are a few tips for Introverted Teachers:

1. Relax in class.  You probably cannot be one of those super high-energy teachers like some of your colleagues.  Students don't always need that.  Sometimes they just like to have a chilled-out, relaxed class.  The introverts will certainly appreciate it.

2. Design your class well.  Lots of students interaction time in pairs and groups so you don't have to be "on-stage" all the time.   Limit the lecture time where there's pressure to be funny and entertaining.

3. Think carefully about OT opportunities.  What will suck the life out of you and leave you with nothing and what will be a neutral?  Small groups or 3-4 students are my favorite and what I usually end up doing.  Ditto with things like checking writing, which involve more brain work and less interaction.

4. Boundaries.  Get them and make them strong.  Limit your office hours and even if you're in your office doing work, just lock the door.  If things like "counseling" exhaust you, make it clear that you'll help students with English related stuff, but not other stuff.

5. Life outside of work: schedule in alone time.  Limit social activities during the week.  For example, I know that I will hate my life if I teach 6 hours and then go straight to a dinner with a big group of friends.  I focus my friend energy for the weekend, when I don't teach.

Check out one of my favorite books on this topic:

Saturday, April 26, 2014

Thursday, April 24, 2014

Content Classes, minus the PPT and Lecture death

When I cruise by the open classroom doors of some of my colleagues, I can see the power-point screens of death.  12 point, full-sentences, no titles or subtitles.  What is the main point?  Who could possibly tell.  I'm quite sure even those fluent in Korean probably don't know either.  Combined with this is a teacher, standing at the computer, either reading word for word from said slide, or reading from the textbook.  It really, truly does seem like death.  Students are either sleeping or using their phone and maybe only 10% are actually paying attention and taking notes. 

This semester, I have the content class thing going on since I'm teaching advanced writing and presentations/interviews.  Avoiding PPT/lecture death is totally doable!  Here are my top tips:

1. Make your PPT slides simple!  Then make them even simpler.  Main points only!  Refer students to the relevant pages in the textbook for more information. Make them available online so students can just pay attention and listen and not worry about taking notes.

2. DO NOT READ word for word from either the slides or the textbook.  People can read much faster than you can speak.  If I have a page or two in the textbook I want students to absorb, I'll throw up 4 or 5 question on a slide.  Then, I'll give them 6-10 minutes (depending on density and difficulty) to read the pages and then think about answers to the question. 

Then, they close their books and do the little "test" with their partner.  Then, I will very briefly hit the main points. 

3. Use a variety of activities besides just lecturing.  I do the reading on your own/answer questions with a partner as previously mentioned.  I also use a million and one other things, such as group discussion, doing an exercise in the book and then discussing the answers, standing up and finding a new partner to talk about something, warm-up discussion question, watching a video and talking about xyz, worksheets, etc. 

4. Teach what is relevant to the tests!  If students know that they have to know the stuff, they'll have  A LOT more incentive to pay attention.

5. Make announcements/give important information each class, but at random times.  Beginning/middle/end.  That way, students will be far less likely to sneak out.

Lectures are actually one of the worst ways to teach, if you actually want students to retain any information.

RESULTS:  in my classes, nobody sleeps.  I quite rarely notice anyone sneaking out for smoke breaks, etc.  Almost nobody is on their phone.  Sure, some of them look a little bored sometimes, but that's not necessarily something I have control over.  A lot of people shut-down" with the English only thing.  When I compare that to my colleagues, I think that I'm doing pretty well :)

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Subjectivity and Grading Writing

Grading writing is not easy when compared to something like a grammar or vocab test.  There is no right or wrong answer; it's all kinds of shades of grey.  So how to do it in a way that is fair and appears this way to the students as well?  

My solution is to use this ESL Writing Grading Rubric, even though within reading the first 2 or 3 sentences of a 5-paragraph essay, I know what grade the student will get.  I use it because it *appears* much fairer in the student's eyes and this will significantly cut down on the number of complaints you get about grading.

The other top trick I have to reduce the number of complaints is this: I tell the students that of course they are free to ask me to re-grade their essay.  And, I will do my best to look at with fresh eyes.  But, I will spend 3-4 times the amount of time I spent the first time around and get out my red pen and circle every single mistake they've made and I will most definitely not overlook anything.  Of course, they might get a higher grade but it's also very possible to get a lower one.  So consider carefully.  

Mean?  Yes, perhaps, but effective.

Teaching Writing, minus Peer Editing/Teacher Editing- the 1/2-way review

Midterms exams are done and graded and I want to give an update on how  things are going in my 3 advanced writing classes for English majors (3rd/4th year students).

My approach has been to veer away from the traditional approach to teaching writing that consists of endless cycles of teacher and peer editing.  Part of it is that I simply don't have time to do this because I have about 100 students in my writing classes, plus 3 other classes I need to prepare for and teach.  And the other part is that I simply don't think it's that effective or helpful.  Students need to become autonomous instead of just relying on the teacher to correct them.

Peer editing fills class time quite effectively, but I got beyond doing that in my first and second year of "teaching" and now actually "teach."  But, I also don't think it's so effective because it often degrades to just sharing misinformation, especially among the very weak students.  Pairing up the extremely weak with the extremely strong is just an annoying total waste of time for that strong student too.  How can students who are essentially beginners at writing judge whether or not a thesis statement or topic sentence is a good one or not?  Sure, some of my students can but probably less than 1/3 would be able to do this. 

Instead, I've focused most of my class-time on genre analysis-that is looking at quality essays and analyzing them, as well as on crafting good topic sentences, thesis statements, hooks, etc.  We've also spent time reviewing some basic punctuation (a major weakness), as well as significant amounts of time on self-editing.  Also, we do "free-writing" each class in order to get practice writing fluently. 

Results: 90% of the students in my classes have an extremely firm grasp upon the basic structure of the essay and did it almost flawlessly, including parallel organization.  The ones that don't have missed a lot of classes and/or are late almost everyday so obviously they're not so engaged in the class and getting the content.  I feel happy about this because it's a solid skill they can take with them into their lives. 

Punctuation is solid.  Basic grammar is also solid for most of the students.  But, I take no credit for that.  The students that were solid before the class have remained that way.  And the ones who couldn't put together a grammatically correct sentence before the class still can't do it.  But, I'm not worried about that.  If a student, after 1000's of hours of English language instruction can't put together a sentence, how much could I actually help them in 3 hours/week for 14 weeks? 

Vocab/sentence variety-a bit shaky for some students.  But again, I wonder how much I could actually help students in the short amount of time I have?  It's just not my priority.

Of course, for a more "professional view" of things, check out Jeremy Harmer's book on how to teach writing:

Power Through It: Essay Grading

This semester, I'm teaching 3 advanced writing classes, which means that I have over 100 hundred, 5 paragraph essays of varying quality to grade.  Here is my system to get it done in record time, with minimal brain fry-age. 

I do it at home in my "office."  It's a little room where I store my sports equipment.  What is has going for is that I can spread out all my papers and it doesn't have my computer/phone.  I divide my essays into groups of 8.  Then, I do one pile at a time and in between each pile, I take a little mental-health break.  I cook some dinner, or hang up a load of laundry or exercise or watch a TV show.  It's the best way to see each paper with "fresh-eyes" and not "tired-eyes" because each student deserves a fair grade. 

Monday, April 21, 2014

Getting a Uni Job in Korea Tip #9: Experience

These days, due to government regulations it seems like most jobs ads want candidates to have a BA+4 years experience or an MA +2 years.  It varies for what this "experience" can consist of, but the general requirement is that it be at a Korean uni.  If you don't have that, what can you do? 

There are a few options, but they all have their positives and negatives:

1. Work at a high school in Korea, although this will be extremely difficult to find since most of those positions have been cut.

2. Work at an international high school in Korea, preferably teaching high school, if you're qualified (teacher's certificate from back home).

3. Teach adults at a hagwon (private institute), but we warned that this experience may not "count."

4. Teach at a university outside Korea, but this experience may also not count. 

5. Teach anyone in Korea, including children and hope for the best.  But, public school is probably better than hagwon and this experience will be more respected.

***whatever you do, make sure you get proof of employment through an "employment certificate***  It's an official form in Korea and all employers are required to give it you by law.  A reference letter isn't good enough.

Saturday, April 12, 2014

Teaching: the Small Stuff that Actually Matters #9/10

So, I had a great time yesterday at the Kotesol Busan-Gyeongnam Symposium, learning lots of good stuff and my presentation went very well.  But, I didn't quite finish this series!  Here are the last 2:

#9: Plan.  It's not a badge of honor to walk into class, ask your students what page you're teaching and then start "teaching." It's actually kind of ridiculous and even teachers with 30 years experience make a "plan."  All teachers should lesson plan; it just shows respect for our students.

#10: Never lose your cool.  Getting angry in Korea will NEVER get you the results you want, so you really need to stay calm at all times in class.  If your students don't do their homework, think about why they didn't.  Maybe it's just busy work and not actually helpful.  Perhaps they have no external carrot or stick for doing it.  Give them one.

If there is a particular student who is giving you a difficult time, take them outside the class and have a talk.  If you lose your cool and show a bit of anger, it's not so terrible.  But, never do it in front of the class.  Students who are acting out, just want to cause you to have a negative reaction in front of their classmates.  Don't give that to them.  You'll find that they are probably much more humble and apologetic 1-1 outside in the hallway.

Friday, April 11, 2014

Teaching: the Small Stuff that Actually Matters #8- No Shame

Something you realize after living in Korea for like even a couple weeks is that shame, or the avoidance of it dictates many a social situation and that in your class, it's really no different.  Koreans will feel shame for a myriad of things: appearing not as smart as others, appearing less well-dressed, not doing homework, having weak second language skills, etc, etc.  The smarter, more well-prepared students will not show their true colors because they're afraid of making their lesser classmates feel shame.  It's a little bit ridiculous at times and often gives me stress, but it's one of those things I've just come to accept about living and working in Korea.  Here's how I deal with it:

1. Never put students on the spot.  NEVER.  Always give students a chance to practice something with a partner or small group before you pick an individual student to answer.

2.  I generally choose a team or group to answer and one person has to do it.  So, the weaker students can hide behind the stronger ones.

3. Ask for volunteers, but give some sort of incentive.  Like a reward system, or telling the students that once you get 5 answers, they're finished for the day.

4. Don't embarrass students for wrong answers.  There are plenty of ways to deal with mistakes that don't involve doing this.

5. Never call out of students in front of his or her peers.  If you need to discipline someone, do it outside the classroom 1-1. 

Thursday, April 10, 2014

The Small Stuff that Matters #7: Smile

Come see me tomorrow at the Kotesol Busan-Gyeongnam Symposium.  It will be myself and 3 other speakers presenting on a wide variety of topics and promises to be informative and interesting. 

Tip #7 from my presentation is smile!  It's easy, but actually makes a big difference.  I get so many comments from the students at the end of the semester that they loved my smile and thought that I was very friendly.  Nobody likes a grumpy teacher unless they're some sort of freakish genius.  But, chances are most of us aren't, so that leaves being friendly as the better option.

The Small Stuff that Matters #6: Simple is Better

I'm all about simple in almost all aspects of my life and that includes teaching.  I like to go simple in the following ways:

1. PPTs- white background, black text.  No animation/graphics, etc.  Just the info.

2. The amount of info in a class.  Instead of like 10 different grammar points, 1-2 is better.  Instead of 20 vocab words, 5 is better.  Instead of a million and one activities and games, just a few that you can expand upon.

3. Grading.  Make simple homework and tests that are easy to grade.  Not multiple choice of course, but like essays for conversation classes is just too complicated.

4. And going along with grading, if something is worth 20% of your final grade, why not make it out of 20 points?

5. Routines.  Have a routine so that the students know what to expect and you have something to assist you in your planning.

Simple!  It's better!

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

ESL Writing Grading Rubric

So, I've just used this grading rubric that I designed to grade my first round of narrative essays and I'm happy to report that it is working quite well.  So far, I've just been circling the sentences that best define the essay and then using that to score each section.  I've been able to grade 500 word essays in about 5-6 minutes/essay, including some helpful comments at the bottom for the student on how to improve.

I think it will also cut down on grade challenges because it's pretty black and white.  The student either made 1-2 grammar errors or 6-8.  They either had a strong thesis statement, or a weak one. 

I realize now that I should have modified it slightly for a narrative essay, which has some different elements than a standard academic essay, but it still worked out pretty well.  Next year!

Renewable Energy Lesson Plan

The article was taken from Breaking News English and you can find the speed reading/listening parts of this lesson on that site.  Here it is: Renewal Energy Lesson Plan.

Tuesday, April 8, 2014

Teaching: the Small Stuff that Matters #5: Names

I must confess: I'm pretty terrible at remembering names and it's probably my greatest weakness as a teacher.  However, it really is possible to compensate for this (somewhat).  The solution is that I require my students to have name-tags on their desk.  Basically, just an A4 paper folded into a standing triangle.  I tell the students they can use their English name, or Korean name; it's up to them.  I introduce the idea by telling a joke about how I'm getting old and my memory isn't what it used to be.  I like the name-tag idea for 2 reasons:

1. It's far friendlier to use a name, then to say, "Hey! You!" if you want to ask someone a question or something.

2. It actually helps you remember the names because you have many chances to put names/faces together (every class basically).

Perhaps it's time that I check out something like this.  Summer reading? How To REMEMBER PEOPLE'S NAMES

And of course, come check out  my presentation on Saturday!

Monday, April 7, 2014

North-South Korea Unification Lesson Plan

I just put together a little lesson for my 1.5 hour "news club" discussion group for advanced level students.  I adapted an article from the BBC for length and difficulty.  This topic was a suggestion from one of the students and I also though it would be quite interesting.

North and South Korean Unification Lesson Plan.

If you want to get a University Job in South Korea, check out this book.

Teaching: the Small Stuff that Matters #4: Patience

As a lead-up to the Busan-Gyeongnam Symposium (this Saturday),I'm previewing what I'll be talking about.

Today's tip is patience. I remember back when I took a Korean class and the teacher would ask me a question. It wasn't hard and I almost always knew the answer but she would only give me about 1/4 of a second before she would just answer it herself. And even after I told her to just give me like 2 seconds instead of a 1/4 second and that it was really annoying, she still kept doing it. Which is when I dropped out; it just made me feel stupid.

People's brains don't work that fast in another language, especially for beginners and they can often formulate answers but it just takes them a bit of time. So be patient. Allow for some quiet time. Thinking time. Ask a question and don't expect an instant answer. An alternative way to "be patient" is to let students answer the questions the first time in small groups or with a partner so that they have some time to work it out before they talk to you.

Sunday, April 6, 2014

The Small Stuff that Actually Matters #3: Time

Korea is a time-oriented society.  I can honestly say that in my years here, I've once or twice/ never?  been on a bus or train that has left late.  Meetings generally start on time and people show up to work precisely on time or early.

When it comes to classes, for some reason Korean professors usually start late.  Like I walk down the halls at 10:35 when classes start at 10:30 and there is a room full of students but no professor.  Bizarre.  However, this is not my style, so I start the class precisely at 10:30 and then finish exactly 80 minutes later, or sometimes a wee bit early depending on how things go.  And of course this involves coming 5-10 minutes early to set-up everything.  It's just part of being a professional.  I think the students actually like it, knowing that they won't have to deal with the stress of being late for their next class, and there's actually a section on the evaluations about whether the teacher "keeps the scheduled time" or not.   

Saturday, April 5, 2014

The Small Stuff that Actually Matters #2: "Don't Hide"

I'll be doing a presentation next Saturday at Busan National University; all the details are:
Kotesol Busan-Gyeongnam Symposium

Come check it out, but in the meantime, I'm giving you a little preview of what I'm going to be talking about.  Tip #1 was: "Where are you Going?" and #2 is don't hide. 

It's extremely easy to hide behind technology (my thoughts on this in detail here), or a physical thing like a desk but it's actually a relationship that the students want.  Don't hide behind a flashy PPT, or leave no room for going off the beaten track, or questions.  A funny joke or a moment of inspiration.  A re-explanation of something that the students didn't quite understand.  Be moving, interacting, and engaging the sleepy or the lost or the bored.  Get them back on track.  You can't do this from behind a desk. 

Book Review: Speaking Activities that Don't Suck

If you're looking for some new ideas for English as a second of foreign language speaking, check out this site that I've made: Speaking Activities for ESL Students. 

However, if you're looking for bigger (and quite possibly better!), here is my top recommendation: Speaking Activities that Don't Suck.  It's quite genius and I regularly refer to it for my own classes. 

And of course, sign-up for the 40 free ESL speaking games and activities that I use in my own classes.

Friday, April 4, 2014

Teaching: the Small Stuff that Actually Matters

If you want to see me live and in-person, come check out the Kotesol Busan-Gyeongnam Symposium on April 12th at Busan National University.  I'll be talking about my top 10 small things that actually matter in the classroom.  Leading up to that, I'll be taking the next 10 days or so to talk about each one individually. 

Small Thing #1: Where are you going?

People like to know the plan, particularly if they are the organized type like I am.  Even those who are generally not organized probably like to know as well.  In the classroom, students like to know what's going on.  What is the beginning and middle and end of a class.  And students seem to feel reassured about the whole thing if they know that the teacher has actually prepared.  I've taken some language classes where it felt like the teacher threw together some crap 1 minute before walking into class and was just making stuff up on the spot.  It didn't give me a happy, comfortable feeling. 

Anyway, in the classroom, I'll always write up the plan on the side of the board.  Just general stuff and this is maybe what is would like for a conversation class:

Today's Plan:

1. Warm-up: review game xyz

2. Simple past - pg. 12 + conversation practice

3. Listening - pg 13

4. Simple past board game

5. Homework: Workbook pg. 34

For my writing classes, it's usually much simpler and I just throw it up at the first slide of my PPT for the students to check out as they come into class. 

Tuesday, April 1, 2014

Book Review: Great Essays 4: Keith Folse

Great Essays 4 is the most fabulous book that I've been using this semester to teach Advanced Composition to English Majors, who are mostly 3rd and 4th year students.  I was given this book to teach and didn't choose it myself, but thankfully, it's one of the best writing textbooks I have ever used, if not the best.  Why is it so good? 

Because it's kind of a hybrid between the process approach to teaching writing (focusing on brainstorming/selecting main points/editing, etc) and the product approach to teaching writing (using a model text upon which students should use to base their own essay upon).  It's like the authors have selected the best from each approach and combined them into one, easy to use and teach book. 

The first chapter is an introduction to essays in general, and then subsequent chapters cover a certain type of essay (narrative/comparison, etc) in detail.  There is always 3-4 example essays and some questions to help the students analyze it.  The questions are helpful at getting the students to notice the subtleties of the text, but not too detailed that it's burdensome.  I've found assigning the reading of an essay and answering the questions an excellent homework assignment.  Then, I put the students in groups of 3-4 and give them about 15 minutes to discuss their answers together. 

The second part of the chapter is more focused on the actual process of writing, with things like writing good hooks and thesis statements, brainstorming, or vocab focus.  And then finally at the end there are some topics for that kind of essay, as well as a timed writing assignment.  I've been using the essay topics for graded homework assignments and the timed writing as in-class practice. 

Weaknesses?  I'm not sure I love the vocab focus.  While I like the idea of it, it's just one of those things that I never use due to time constraints and I'm really not sure it's the most important thing to focus on.  I also don't love the peer editing, for reasons mentioned in this other post about teaching writing, and the book seems a bit heavy on this.  I'd MUCH rather have some stuff in there about self-editing, complete with checklists, etc.  It's actually a major weakness in my opinion.

Anyway, Great Essays 4: you can't go wrong if you teach very high level students who are at the point where they are ready to write academic, 5-paragraphs essays.  And if they're not quite there yet, check out something like Great Paragraphs.  I've also used this book and was quite happy with it.