Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Your problem and my problem, part 2

The other day I talked about boundaries and students trying to harass me into doing something I don't want to do.  The example I gave was in my school's "Global Zone," where students will try to catch me as I'm leaving to go to another class and trying not to be late, or running to the bathroom in my 2 minute break between sessions to help them with their last-minute homework.

Today, I'm going to talk about boundaries with the admin and requests that they have.  Over the years, I've gotten some very ridiculous requests.  Like working on Saturdays, teaching young children of some professor or another for $10/hour because there's no book and I just have to talk with them, therefore it's "easy."  Or, someone being disorganized about something and leaving it to the last minute and expecting me to cancel my regularly scheduled for-credit classes (which the students pay tuition for!), just so I can be a judge (ie: white face) at some relatively meaningless contest or another.

I will say what I said in my last post.  Your stress and last-minute problem does not need to become my stress and last-minute problem.  Of course, it's kind of tricky because you don't want to get a reputation of being uncooperative/ a bad employee if you always say no, but here my top 5 tips that I have for dealing with admin requests:

1. Say yes sometimes, especially when you are new at your school.  This will help you build a stellar reputation.

2. Also say no sometimes.  You don't want to get the reputation as the pushover who will do anything because then when you say no at some later point, you'll be looked unfavorably upon.

3. The best excuses are those that involve you helping students in some way.  You are taking some students out for dinner.  You're meeting them at the park for a picnic.  You're holding extra tutoring sessions in your office for the students who missed class.  You're already doing this other overtime thing  Not that you should lie about this........

4. The second best excuse involves a "promise" of some sort.  You're going to a friend's wedding or a child's first birthday.  These things are important in Korea.

5.  Ask for the details in writing, via email before you make a decision.  Most Koreans will not be bothered to do this and will just phone the next person on the list.

Check out this book about how to get a University Job in South Korea.

Tuesday, May 27, 2014

Your problem and my problem

Boundaries.  Strong ones.  This is the key to having a happy, successful and long-lived experience working in education.  There are many areas where you really need boundaries such as saying no sometimes (to people asking for you little favors, or more OT work when you're really busy, etc) or keeping a good balance between work life and home life and not letting a bad class or two get you down.

But today I'm going to talk about "my problem" and "your problem."  I work at my school's Global Zone, where students have to make appointments to meet with me (or others), the native speaker of English.  The slots usually fill up each week and those that try to squeeze in last minute usually won't make it.  And in the 2-3 minutes between appointments, I'll always get 1 or 2 students trying to catch me just to "check something quickly" for them.  Or, when my shift is done and I'm heading to another class, they'll try to stop me.  Or, they'll try to pressure me to end a scheduled appointment early so I can help them for a few minutes.  In these cases, I will always say no.  Their stress does not become my stress.  Why should I rush through a student who made an appointment?  Why should I not get myself a cup of tea and rest my mind for 2 minutes in between appointments?  Why should I be late for my next class?

It's always urgent homework that the student has left to the last minute, which is most definitely the student's problem and  most definitely NOT my problem. Sure, the students get kind of angry but I actually don't really care.  I consider it a life lesson!

My favorite book on this topic:

Sunday, May 25, 2014

Reader Question: Airfare covered?

This question from David:

"Do I have to pay to fly over or is this covered by most programs?"

My answer:

With the exception of unis, most programs/schools in Korea cover airfare.  Although I think those days are kind of numbered and we'll probably see more and more contracts offering higher salaries in return for no airfare and housing.  If you think about it, it's a pretty big risk for a small school to pay that much upfront for someone, sight unseen.

Outside Korea?  Generally, you'll have to pay your own way with maybe the exception of the Middle East, but most of those jobs require serious qualifications/ experience which is doesn't sound like you have.

Save your pennies!  Another alternative is to find a camp of some sort (common in Asia) which offers you a modest salary and covers your airfare.  It's a way to get your boots on the ground without fronting too much out of your own pocket.

Saturday, May 24, 2014

Graded Language, or "You're an English Teacher and you should know better"

In the past couple of months, I've had an opportunity to witness two of my colleagues interacting with students in a small-group discussion kind of setting and what I saw kind of disturbed me.  Even though the students were somewhat high-level (maybe low-intermediate +), the teachers made no attempt whatsoever to grade their language.  You can grade your language in 2 ways:

1. Speed.  Just use whatever grammar/vocab you want, but speak more slowly.  And use pauses to allow for some thinking time.

2. Difficulty, in terms of grammar/vocab.  Make it simpler for lower-level students and more difficult for higher-level ones. 

These two teachers didn't grade in terms of speed or difficulty and just talked to their students like they would have talked to me, a native English speaker.  The result is that the students had the "deer in headlights" look in their eyes and really didn't know how to interject any comment into the "conversation."  The result was the teacher perhaps felt awkward and then just kept talking, but ended up just making worse because instead of the 1 minute monologue the students didn't understand, it had now been upgraded to a 3 minute monologue.

Now, if the teacher had noticed the confused looks in her/his student's eyes, she/he could have thought, "Wow!  My students have no idea what I'm talking about right now" and then simplified/ summarized what she/he had just been saying.  Except, of course this wasn't the case.  The "teacher" who would do this in the first place probably is not the one who is really caring whether or not the students are "getting it."

So many Koreans have commented that they can easily understand my "accent."  It's not the accent, it's just that I grade my language, but they don't know how to say this.  Think about it!

Tuesday, May 20, 2014

A card game for Korean students

Koreans are all about "Go-Stop," which is a card game kind of like Crazy 8's as far as I can tell.  And it truly is the only card game that 99.9% of Koreans know how to play, so trying to teach them another card game that uses a standard card deck is often an exercise in futility.  Trust me, I've tried. 

So if you're going to have a game day and play some cards with students, you really need to get a game that has a special deck that doesn't look like regular cards.  I've had a lot of success playing Skip-Bo.  It's easy to explain, strategic and has a few rounds so you can play for a while.

Monday, May 19, 2014

South Korea's Education System Lesson Plan

This is for a 1.5 hour discussion club for advanced level students.  It could easily be adapted for a 2-4 hour class by finding a podcast/Youtube video of some sort and implementing listening into it.

South Korea's Education System Lesson Plan.

Saturday, May 17, 2014

Teaching English in Monolingual Classes

Monolingual (as opposed to multilingual) classes can present a problem for teachers because there is often no compelling reason as to why students actually have to communicate with each other in the target language.  Sure, they have to speak English to the teacher but in a class of 30 or 40, it's just not feasible because, as we all know: Teacher Centered is Bad!  It's hard enough for me, who pretends to speak a total of 0 Korean words to my students, but the situation is actually far more difficult for Korean teachers. 

This post was actually brought about by talking with a Korean colleague of mine who teaches the same students as I do-the ones who are preparing for an internship in the USA.  These students actually all speak English reasonably fluently, except that she told me in class, they just all speak Korean to each other and to her.  I find this really bizarre because the students are actually some of the best students I've ever taught and are in no way lazy or apathetic. 

Anyway, some tips I have to help deal with monolingual classes:

1. Set the expectations high.  For high-level classes, I say that I expect 99% English.  1% Korean is okay if they need to ask your partner for a vocab word or clarifying an instruction or something.  For lower level classes, I say 95-5.  

2. Design activities well.  Make it easier for students just to use English with each other than Korean.  It takes some experience to do this well, but it's really possible. 

3. Encouragement/positive reinforcement.  Praise students who are making a serious effort to speak in English to each other. 

4. I "rank" classes in group activities such as a survey.  It's surprisingly effective, at least in Korea and it can definitely help turn a "bad" class around.  I will write an arrow on the board: 

terrible----------> good----------> excellent

At the end of the activity, I will rank the class.  If excellent, I will say things like: I loved how you all spoke together 1-1, You all wrote your partner's answers in English, I heard almost all of you speaking in English. 

If not excellent, I will give suggestions for how to improve.  Something like: I heard many students just speaking Korea...that's a waste of time, we are here to improve our English. 

For even more tips on handling monolingual classes, check out this resource:

Friday, May 16, 2014

A fabulous board game to play with your students

Yesterday, I had my Internship preparation class with extremely high-level students (basically fluent) and these days, only 4-5 students are coming because a lot of them have already gone to America.  We've been studying for months now, quite seriously so I decided to play King of Tokyo with them.

King of Tokyo is one of my favorite games because it's fast, reasonably easy to explain but also contains lots of strategic play.  The only kind of difficult thing for ESL/ EFL students would be the cards, which can be quite wordy.  But, my students loved it.  Like really loved it and one of them actually beat me!  Some of the cards took a bit of an explanation from me but it was actually no problem.  And, my students were extremely cute, actually speaking in English things like, "My only mission is to kill you," or, "I don't want to die."  Haha!

Thursday, May 15, 2014

Teacher-Centered is bad!

These days, all the current ELT research, no matter what perspective it's coming from, advocates student-centered classrooms.  And for good reason!  Teacher-centered classrooms, beyond the very, very basic level of learning a language, or for extremely young learners has largely proved to be very ineffective at creating students who can actually communicate in a meaningful way. 

Just the other day, I was teaching across the hall from one of my colleagues and could overhear his/her (identity secret!) class.  It was teacher-centered to the extreme.  Like this person basically was "on-stage" shouting out vocab words quite loudly for 20 minutes out of the 50 minute class.  There were only 1 second breaks in between the words.  It was bizarre and I couldn't quite believe that this was actually happening in a university classroom.  What did the students actually walk away with at the end of that class?  My guess is probably absolutely nothing except maybe a headache. 

Here are a few tips to help make your classroom more student-centered:

1. Groups.  It's all about partners, or groups of 3, 4, or 5.  Beyond that is often too big to be effective.  Mix them up, randomly.

2. Set-up an activity (give them a task) and let students do it.  Supervise and give gentle correction or feedback, but don't interfere if they're doing a good job. 

3. Lecture, if you must, but only in 3-5 minute intervals.  Students will not pay attention for anything beyond that.  Then, use some activities to get students to practice what you just lectured about.

4. Think of your job as more of a "coach" than a traditional "teacher."  You're guiding students to correct language use, not uploading it into their brain. 

5. Challenge students.  Give them tasks that are big and not so easy.  Encourage them that they can do it.   Support them and give help when necessary.  Praise them when they genuinely meet the challenge and do a good job. 

Tuesday, May 13, 2014

Teaching Writing, minus the peer/teacher editing

I wrote last month about how my approach to teaching advanced level writing has veered away from the traditional endless cycles of peer and teacher editing and instead has focused on things like:

-self editing
-genre analysis
-awareness of common problems: verb choices, punctuation, etc.
-crafting quality thesis statements, hooks, topic sentences, etc.

A month ago, I thought things were going well and at this point, I've even more confident in it.  I've been informally asking students about how things are going in the class, whether it's really difficult, or not too bad.  The students have been telling me things like:

-at first it was so difficult, but now it's okay
-no one has ever taught me how to actually write an essay
-I've learned a lot
-the class in interesting
-I want more group projects (only from the weak students! What strong writer could possibly want this in a writing class?)
-I can analyze essays really easily now

Success?  Perhaps.  The majority of students (like 99%) can, at this point tell you about the basic structure of an essay in their sleep.  And the majority (maybe 95%) can produce a basic 5 paragraph essay with all the major elements.  If I had spent endless days focusing on sentence level grammar, vocab usage and peer editing, I don't think this would have been possible. 

The book I'm using for this Class is Great Essays 4 by Keith Folse:

Monday, May 12, 2014

"Empathy" lesson plan

This time, I didn't make this lesson plan but it looks like a good one.  I'll probably use it for my Internship preparation class.  I think they'll like it and it will be a springboard for lots of interesting discussion.

"The Conditioned"-Empathy Lesson Plan

Sunday, May 11, 2014

"Goose Fathers" and Studying Abroad Lesson Plan

This is for a 1.5 hour, advanced level discussion class.  It could be easily adapted into a longer class with some additional activities, such as looking at a relevant Youtube video or listening to a related podcast of some sort.  

Saturday, May 10, 2014

"How to Teach English" by Jeremy Harmer

A lazy sort of book review: If you're a beginning teacher looking for a quick, easy to read, but helpful overview of how to teach English as a Second Language, you can't go wrong with Jeremy Harmer's Book, "How to Teach English." It's filled with lots of practical goodness to help your first year or two in the classroom go at least somewhat smoothly.  Of course, a Celta course would be a better choice, but that's a major undertaking!

Friday, May 9, 2014

Renewable Energy Lesson Plan

I made this Renewable Energy Lesson Plan based on a Breaking News English article and have used it quite successfully for 3 classes so far.   The first page (A-D) is perfect for about a 1.5 hour, reasonably high-level class.  You can use the second page (E-H) for a longer class of 2-4 hours. 

And here's the Renewable Energy PPT, which I used for a 3 hour class.  I used the MP3 file on Breaking News English that goes along with the article for a listening exercise and then we did some reading/discussion/speaking.

Korean students generally don't think that much about environmental issues such as green energy, but I think it's actually quite an important thing to be aware of.  And even though I'm "just" an English teacher, I think I still have the potential to change lives and thinking for the better.  Go green!

Thursday, May 8, 2014

Networking, or putting your money where your mouth is

Lots of people approach me in person and also send me questions via this blog about how they can get a uni job.  My first answer is usually that networking is the most important thing and that they actually need to meet uni teachers.  I suggest joining a local chapter of Kotesol, such as the one in Busan that I'm a part of (we're having a meeting this Saturday, btw) because chances are, you'll meet teachers from 5+ unis in the area.  And don't just show up, but actively get involved and meet people and make personal connections.

And for the people in person that I suggest this to, I've almost never seen them at any of the meetings.  And I go to 95% of them.  I guess life gets in the way and they're busy, which I get, but then it makes me think that that person is not really serious about getting a uni job and I will most definitely NOT go the extra mile to help them in any way further!

Anyway, just a little rant to start off the morning.  And, I hope to see you at the meeting this Saturday if you're in the area. 

Wednesday, May 7, 2014

Dealing with the busy

My life is slightly insane at this point and I feel like I've actually over-committed myself with regards to all the overtime I'm doing, as well as keeping up with my regular classes.  It's too late to go back and reduce my schedule somehow, but here are some tips that I have for dealing with this situation:

1. Recycle.  You truly don't need to reinvent the wheel.  Use some old lesson plans if appropriate and just modify if for the class in question.

2. Use the textbook.  While I generally don't like to use textbooks and will often use my own material for class a lot of the time, if you're pressed for time, do the book-warrior thing for a couple weeks until you have some more breathing room.

3. Breaking News English is your best friend.  Ready made lessons at a variety of levels, on a variety of topics.

4. Grading-without the stress.  While giving helpful feedback is important, I simply have too many students (over 100) to correct every single grammar mistake on a 500 word essay.  I will just circle the errors and make some general comments.  If the students are actually interested and don't know their mistake, I encourage them to ask me.

5. Keep up with lesson planning/grading. Just because you're busy, don't get into the habit of doing stuff minutes before class.  That just pumps up the stress.  Try to have things done at least a couple of days before, even if you have to use a weekend day to do it.

6. Breathe.  Exercise.  Eat healthy food.  Cut down on the alcohol.  Sleep.  Make the time that you have to spend on planning/ grading productive time.

Tuesday, May 6, 2014

Authentic Materials for Intermediate-Low Level Students

Yesterday, I talked about using authentic materials instead of ESL textbooks for very high-level students.  But, is it possible to use authentic materials for intermediate or low level students?  My quick answer: yes, kind of.  Let me explain.

Authentic materials can be very valuable because they give students confidence that they can actually function in English in an authentic kind of way and I also like them because it's "real" language as opposed the artificial stuff that you'll often find in textbooks (especially the bad ones).

But, careful selection of the materials if a requirement so that the students don't become frustrated.  Nothing is worse than choosing some reading or listening or speaking or writing activity that is higher-level than your students actually are.  If you choose something easier, it's possible to adapt it on the fly, but it's very hard to do this with something that is too high of a level.

So, for low-level students something like a restaurant menu, greeting card, or "kids" newspaper from an English-speaking country is possible.  The language is usually very simple.  And for intermediate-level students, you have a wider range of choices including short newspaper articles that deal with "fact," as opposed to "opinion," teen fiction, or simple TED talks (non-native English speakers are a good choice usually). 

And, if your students are not at a high enough level to use authentic materials, you could venture into the realm of semi-authentic materials (very suitable for low-intermediate levels).  My favorite site is Breaking News English.  It's amazing because the articles are categorized into easier/harder and they 2-page mini lessons are extremely teacher (and student) friendly.  It's almost hard to believe that all this stuff is free!

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

Monday, May 5, 2014

Authentic Materials vs. ESL Textbooks for High-Level Students

This semester, I've been teaching all high-level students.  Like high enough level that I generally just talk at a pretty normal pace, but I use somewhat simplified grammar and vocab and my students seem to always be on the same page.  When writing, I don't filter my words at all and just use my normal style.  Many of them have lived overseas, or are preparing for internships in the USA.

And, it seems that almost without exception, they want to use inauthentic material, that is stuff from ESL textbooks.  It's like a kind of crutch I guess and what they've been using for years and what they feel comfortable with.  Except when students are at such a high-level, they actually need authentic material.  Here's why I think so:

1. Students need to be challenged.  Even the highest-level ESL textbooks are actually too easy for most of these students.  And at what point do these extremely high level textbooks become somewhat ridiculous because the students should actually have moved to authentic stuff.

2. Students need confidence.  They need to be shown that they actually can read (and understand) an article from the BBC or Newsweek.  They probably won't read these things on their own, unless you show them that they can actually do it.

3. Students need strategies for when they don't understand everything.  If a student can breeze through a reading in less than a minute, or listen to something once and understand everything, it's not really helpful.  Students need to struggle a little bit, even high-level ones.  They need to adapt and use learning strategies.

4. Even the best designed textbooks are "artificial."  The grammar and vocab always has an element of not so much like real-life.  Authentic materials are real-life.  

5. Authentic materials create in interest in the class.  Which textbook has an article about the Sewol Ferry Disaster?  None of them.  What about Park Geun Hye's recent visit with Angela Merkle?  None of them.  Except these are the topics in the news these days and what students actually want to talk about.  It's actually really helpful to take what the students are talking about in Korean and do it in English, because they actually have a lot of insight and background knowledge about the topics.

IF you must use a textbook, here is one of the better ones:

Thursday, May 1, 2014

"Great Essays" sample lesson plan and PPT

I must confess that I don't actually make "lesson-plans" because my PPTs are my lesson plans.  And, I will usually just write some additional notes in the book on the pages that we're covering to remind myself of things, give some extra examples, etc. 

Here is my Great Essays 4, Unit 3 Lesson Plan.  It's an introduction to Cause and Effect Essays.  A few things to note:

1. It's a lot of content, but I try to give the information in a way that is interactive and involves group work/discussion.  And minimizes the lecture time, which I think is actually quite ineffective and leads to sleeping students.

2. The PPTs are simple. 

3. Never give back midterm exams until the end of class!

4. Give the plan for the day at the beginning of class.

5. It's actually the PPTs for 2 classes.  I teach 2, 1.5 hour classes/week