Sunday, August 31, 2014

Teacher Centered Classrooms vs. Student Centered Classrooms

student-centered classroom
Teacher vs. Student Centered Classrooms

I'm a big fan of student centered classrooms, perhaps due to the influence of my Celta trainers and the Delta stuff I've done.  The other part of it is that studies have shown that lectures are the least effective way to transmit information and that students retain very little of that information even hours later.  In a second language, I'd guess that even less is transmitted.  Which is why I strive to create student-centered classrooms for at least 95% of any given class.

What does this mean?  It means that the students are actually engaged almost all of the time, either with some material or with each other and that I quite rarely lecture.  I try to create activities that make it easier just to actively participate, than to not.  Even discovering new information or material or vocab is possible through a process of discover rather than me just telling them.  Students compare answers with each other, instead of me always giving it to them.  The teacher is more of a guide down the path of language discovery, rather than the all-knowing guru.

In a teacher-centered classroom, the teacher is more of a performer, on stage and is talking, a lot.  Students in Korea seem to love it.  And probably for good reason!  It's actually so easy just to let all these words pass you by, passively and if no response is expected, then there is really no incentive to even actively listen.  But, it's just so ineffective and really quite useful for student's language development, which in theory is what I'm getting paid to promote.

Teacher centered language learning classrooms are just so, so wrong on so many levels and yet I hear (literally with my own ears) and get told by students of so many of my colleagues who do this.  Everyone should take the Celta!  My small rant is now done :)

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Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Public Speaking for ESL Students

Presentations for ESL Students

It's seems like at my uni I've become somewhat of a presentation guru.  I keep getting classes that require me to teach them, which actually makes me very happy, especially because I've been using the most fabulous Speaking of Speech: Basic Presentation Skills for Beginners.

Even in classes that are not really dedicated to speeches, but which fall under the general umbrellas of "conversation" or "whatever the hell you want to teach," I'll try to slip in a little public speaking and presentations.  Here's why:

1. It's a concrete set of skills which students can hold onto and use at a later date.

2. It helps increase confidence when speaking English.  Things like eye contact and speaking loud enough are important, even in general conversation.

3. Presentations at job interviews are big these days in Korea.

4. I'd far rather listen to some (well done!) presentations for the speaking portion of a midterm or final exam than actually engage in 1-1 conversations with over a hundred students, which leaves me exhausted for weeks.

If you're mostly teaching ESL conversation classes, you'll probably find this website really helpful: ESL Speaking: Games, Activities and Resources,

Monday, August 25, 2014

2 of my favorite cards games for students

If you're looking for some card games to play in class with your students (kids or adults), check out Phase 10 or Skip Bo.  Phase 10 takes quite a while to play but it can be adapted into Phase 5 or something like that for a shorter game.  Skip-Bo is kind of like Uno but it has the novelty factor going for it.

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

How to start a class

How to start a class is something that I waver back and forth on and I'd actually like some ideas and suggestions on it.  I've done a lot of things over the years ranging from the, "Hi everyone, how are you?" to giving students some free-writing time, or things like riddles as a warm-up.  They have their various pros and cons, but these days for bigger classes, I'll usually just start with "Hi everyone, this is what we're doing today...."  And then I'll go over the plan for the class.  This semester, I'm planning to follow that up with attendance and then 2 riddles as a kind of warm-up.

For small classes, I do much the same but I get a bit of banter going on.  Banter with big groups of students in Korea usually doesn't work that well so I try to avoid it.

Tips from the readers?

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

What gets me down about teaching in a Korean Uni

Korea uni
South Korean Unis

Teaching in a Korean Uni is truly an excellent job and I have very few complaints about it.  Compared to almost anything else I could be doing, it's probably the most chilled out job I could almost imagine.  There is NEVER an English teaching emergency of any kind.  But something that kind of gets me down is the futility of it.  Or at least what seems like futility.

For almost everything I teach, there are no learning outcomes or expectations of any kind, unless I make them myself.  But, if I make them too high and actually challenge students, I'll probably get low evaluations and lose my job.  Teaching in Korean most often feels like I'm just filling the time, while just having to look the part of "professor" but it doesn't really matter if I actually teach anyone anything.

I'm feeling down and out.  Can I make it another 1.5 years to the end of my contract?  Maybe yes, maybe no.

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

Monday, August 18, 2014

Student Ridiculousness: a Small Rant

Yesterday, I taught an advanced level class where the students are preparing for internships in various locations around the world.  I'm covering the "general English" portion by doing discussion/listening/reading about various topics (that are interesting to me!) like Korea's aging society or workplace discrimination.

There were only 4 students in class yesterday and three of them were excellent, participating in class and trying to figure out new vocab and phrases and actually thinking about the issue and coming up with some constructive responses.

But, one of the students kept looking at her desk and not really participating, at all.  Her answers consisted almost exclusively of "yes," "no" and "I don't know."  When pressed for more details, she would just giggle.  I casually walked over to check out what she was reading and it was some kind of English grammar book, that was almost all in Korean.  And I thought to myself, how bizarre because it seems to me that her time, in a class of only 4 students, with a native English speaker would be far, far better spent actually interacting with that native speaker and the other students.  Like she's going to America in about 3 months, where she will have to actually interact with real, live English speakers on a daily basis.  I just don't get it.  Like really don't get it.

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Thursday, August 14, 2014

On Organization, Part 2

 Yesterday, I talked about my experience in working for admins who are not really teachers and how that can lead to less than ideal results.  Today, I'll talk about the qualities of admins that I like to work for:

1. They are teachers, or ex-teachers.  They actually have spent a good amount of time in the classroom.

2. They give enough information to teachers about the class, but then are also hands-off in terms of actual teaching.

3. They filter the ridiculous.  One student complaining about something?  They never let it get to the teacher.  5 students saying the same thing?  They'll let the teacher know.  Discretion is required!

4. They want to improve their programs, which involves getting feedback from teachers at the end of the course.

5. They have clear, achievable goals for the students.

6. They do placement tests and divide the students into appropriate levels. 

7. They are easy to talk to.  This involves speaking English at least at an intermediate level and having some understanding of "Western" culture. 

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

On organization

I'm a big fan of working for admin who are actually teachers, or who have some sort of training in ESL methodology.  If they don't, it can often be extremely hit or miss in terms of what's actually happening in the program.  These kinds of admin will often do the following things:

1. Pick the flashy book, which can perhaps lack actual teachable content.

2. Not have any clearly defined goals for the students, such as "be able to write a 5-paragraph academic essay," or, "be able to successfully pass an English interview." I can work with those things. 

Things like, "Whatever," or, "Just make sure they're not bored," I can also work with but...yeah...what a total waste of time.

3. Change things half-way through the course when they realize their poor planning is getting bad results.  This usually results in mass confusion.

4. Be poor at communicating important information to the teachers.  Anyone can be guilty of this, but these admins often just have no idea what information teachers actually need to know, such as class size, level of students, or if there is a book or not.

5. Are not interested in post-course evaluation.  As long as everyone isn't complaining, it's considered successful.  There is no thought beyond that to next year and how things could be better.

Friday, August 1, 2014

It's that time of year

Vacation time!  It seems like most uni teachers here in Korea head outside the country for a couple weeks at least, if not the whole summer.  It's definitely one of the best things about our jobs.  Here are some of my useful travel tips (as opposed to the crap on the major news sites!) over at my other blog, Freedom Through Passive Income.