Saturday, March 30, 2013

Teaching tip: Think-pair-share

Think-pair-share's a teaching strategy I first heard of while student teaching in Milwaukee. My co-teacher mentioned it in a meeting. It's a simple idea that can be used in any classroom at any time and it ties into my earlier post about wait times. I found it works quite well for foreign languages because the students will need time to translate their Korean thoughts or think in English. Talking to another student helps because the students can share their responses and possibly formulate a newer, better one.  

I use think-pair-share every day and have seen it work well. Students will translate for each other, suggest new words/phrases, and correct each other’s spelling before they speak. Many times, a stronger student will help a weaker one or a more outgoing student will help a quieter one. 

You can implement it right now by asking a question and telling the students they have 10-15 seconds to discuss the question with their neighbor before you take answers.

It may take a couple of attempts, but they'll get it. Many students are not accustomed to answering questions on request and will probably stay silent. This happens because they're afraid of not saying the "right" answer or of getting the grammar wrong. I ran into this during my first few months in Gimhwa, by it rarely happens now because the students know that mistakes are okay and that there are many "right" answers in English. 

Have a good time with this one!

The technical information's below:

PURPOSEProcessing information, communication, developing thinking.RELEVANT SKILLSSharing information, listening, asking questions, summarising others’ ideas, paraphrasing.STEPS
  1. Teacher poses a problem or asks an open-ended question to which there may be a variety of answers.
  1. Teacher gives the students ‘think time’ and directs them to think about the question.
  1. Following the ‘think time’ students turn to face their Learning Partner and work together, sharing ideas, discussing, clarifying and challenging.
  1. The pair then share their ideas with another pair, or with the whole class. It is important that students need to be able to share their partner’s ideas as well as their own.


Friday, March 29, 2013

Korean school culture: Indoor voices…

...don't exist in schools here. 

Part of the Korean school system goes like this: Inside class, the kids need to sit the hell down and shut the hell up. Outside the class is deemed free time. The 10 minutes between classes is a veritable free for fall because it considered the students’ time. Boys and girls alike will run down the hallway screaming at the top of their lungs. Boys will shout and girls will shriek at the slightest provocation.

I’m still coming to terms with this dynamic. Back in the States, we had to keep quiet in the hallways when we were moving between classes. We had to keep quiet lest we get in trouble for making too much noise. This held true from kindergarten to high school. We heard about indoor versus outdoor voices since day one. This isn’t exactly so over here. If the boys and girls are taught about indoor voices, I can’t tell. When class ends, even the sleepiest students erupt in a frenzy of energy while the teachers file back to their offices. The teachers don’t seem to mind the noise.

It took some time to get used to the kids being able to run and scream outside class. I’m still adjusting to it because it seems crazy that as regimented as the school day is, the students get plenty of leeway to run about. It’s wonderful that they get some free time here and there, but I think it’d help if the students knew to keep the volume down. Maybe I’ll mention it in upcoming lessons.

Monday, March 25, 2013

Bring your materials to class

Since my first days as an educator, I’ve told students what teachers around the world tell their students: Bring your materials to class. By materials, I mean notebook, textbook, and something to write with. I honestly don’t care if students write in pen or pencil so long as they avoid hot pink or other bright colors.

Today I nearly lost it with a couple of classes because most of the students showed up without their materials. They simply came to class with nothing and acted as if it were normal. Such behavior has happened too many times before and today I decided enough was enough. I’ve been telling the students to bring their materials every single day of school since arriving here in 2011 and the message still hasn’t sunken in. I’m tired of making copies of textbook pages and carrying around extra paper. 

As mad as I was, I kept my cool and began class. I mentioned the lack of books and notebooks on the desks and reminded them of the rule about bringing materials. After that, I did something I thought I’d never do and assigned lines as punishment. Despite disliking writing as a punishment, action needed to be taken. I will not stand for students who disregard the rules and waste my time because it is frustrating to spend hours preparing for a lesson only to have students bring nothing to class and effectively derail it. It is a waste of my time and the students’ time when this happens. And while there will always be a student or two who forgets a pen or a notebook, whole classes shouldn't be forgetting them. Whole classes of students who forget their materials are unacceptable.

I threw out a good chunk of the lesson today and lectured on this point.  Neither teachers nor students can do their jobs without their materials. My classes are a normal part of the school day and are not something to trifle with. As a guest in this country, it’s my responsibility to ready these kids for the future and teach them well. None of that can happen without appropriate materials. It’s expected that I have lessons and it’s expected that they have paper and pens. Moreover, showing up without materials implies that class isn't taken seriously. I don’t expect everyone to like English class, but it’s not too much to ask to expect students to come prepared for it.

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Teaching tip: Let the kids pick the next person to go

After months of waiting ‘round for some brave soul to raise his hand and go first to read or speak, I got tired of it and instead went for direction action: I pick the first student to go and have him pick the next student. The next student in turn chooses the next one. Since doing so, activities run smoother and quicker thanks to eliminating the down time. It worked so well I wish I’d done it sooner.

I was warned against letting the students choose the speaking/participating order in the States because it usually results in kids picking on other kids and bullying them into speaking before the group. I was told to have kids volunteer because it makes the teacher less of a dictator and more of a facilitator. And while yes, I have seen kids bully other kids and disrupt the class in the States, I noticed that the bullying doesn’t happen in the classrooms here. The students do tend to choose their friends, but those friends choose other friends, so eventually everyone gets to go.*

One classroom reality is no one wants to go first because volunteering to do so takes nerves of steel. This reality’s doubled in Korea because the culture revolves around group activities. Moreover, the students are generally shyer than their US counterparts due because they don’t have to do as much public speaking as US kids. They instead wait to be told what to do and therefore have no problems with being asked to pick the next person. And while I suppose taking direct action makes me more of a dictator, I’ve also helped the class run better. Sometimes the teacher does indeed need to step in and direct the traffic. Doing so certainly beats standing there for 30 seconds while the group wonders what’ll happen next.

*This may have something to do with Korean classes spending all day together. Each grade gets divided into classes and those classes get their own room.

Playing the "sage on the stage"

[Reposted because  of formatting issues.]

The past 1.5 years here have brought some changes to my teaching style. Indeed, learning to be a better teacher formed part of why I came to Korea in the first place. All this time in the classroom has provided plenty to reflect on about how teaching styles evolved. In teachers college I was warned against playing the sage on the stage,” or lecturing the class from the front of the room for the entire period. Doing so was an outdated method, one that made the teacher the focal point of the class. It did students no favors for fostering collaborative learning or independent thinking by not giving students any time to work amongst themselves. In this instance, the teachers delivering the knowledge to the students directly. He has all the answers and he is running the show. Instead of this philosophy, we concentrated on playing the guide on the side,” wherein the teacher acts more like a coach or a mentor to the students. He still lectures, but he spends more time talking to individuals or small groups than he does the entire class. Such a setup allows for maximum student collaboration and thinking time. It gets the teacher out of the front of the room and thus can cut down on disruptions because he doesn't have to address the whole class.

When I began teaching, I kept lectures to a minimum and focused on getting the students working and moving as quickly as possible. Lecturing tested their patience and it went against my vision of a collaborative classroom. Though I enjoy speaking to groups and preparing speeches, talking for 45 minutes straight doesn’t appeal to me. Moreover, expecting a group of high school students to remain passive for that amount of time is a tall order.

As can probably be ascertained, the USA and Korea follow two different models of classroom instruction. Most of the Korean teachers follow the old style method of playing “sage on the stage,” for middle and high school classes get conducted like college lectures. Older readers of this blog will probably see many similarities to their own school days. Since this method reigns supreme, it is what the students are used to.

It took time to adjust to this reality. I’ve lectured more than I’d ever thought I would here. I’d figured that since EPIK teachers classes were supposed to be different, the students would eagerly latch on to collaborative learning. After all, we EPIK teachers were brought in to enliven their English language classes, and while yes, the students do enjoy working in groups, they didn’t take to them as much as I’d thought at first. Though my classes usually involve a group activity, I’ve found that some of the best classes have been the ones where I lecture for the majority of the period. (I’ll pause from time to time to ask questions and elicit responses before moving ahead on the PowerPoint slides) The “sage” style works to a large extent because the students expect it. At first this idea seemed anathema, for the students surely would rather talk amongst themselves than listen to me, but it’s not so strange when I considered that lectures are what they expect from classes. I came to Korea partly to learn to be a better teacher and to learn from the Korean teachers. Though I never thought I would adopt this style, I’ve found it was warranted. The expression “When in Rome, do as the Romans do” comes to mind here because it does me no good to fight against a culture that isn’t my own. It’s best do as the Koreans do. I’m fine with these changes and look forward to the classes to come. Though I still don’t like playing the sage all the time, it needs to be done here.

Another part of this change comes down to EFL version standard English—In the States, the students already knew how to speak and write in English and the object's to get them to think deeply and critically about x. In Korea, the goal's simply to get the students speaking English. The deep thinking's possible, but the focus goes to conversational skills because it's difficult enough to think in a foreign language. Moreover, in each lesson, there's a good chance I'm introducing brand new words and expressions to them, words and expressions that require explanation. Explaining that stuff takes time and it'd be counterproductive to ask students to struggle with all of it when I or the co-teacher could explain it straightaway. So, even though it's not what I expected, I'll do whatever's necessary to help the kids learn English and speak better. 

Monday, March 18, 2013

Makgeolli on the mountain

The best St Patrick's Day I've ever had. We climbed Geumhak Mountain (금학산) in Dongsong, ate kimbab and drank makgeolli at the peak, and wound down with shabu shabu and beer.

It's possible to see North Korea from the top of the mountain, but we couldn't make out too much in the mountain haze.

We happened to go up at the same time a tour group was, so we had some company at the peak. Some of the men and women came by to talk to us because there aren't many foreigners in our area and they wanted to know where we were all from and what we did in Korea.

We had a steep and occasionally muddy climb up and down; all of ended up in the muck. The rising spring temperatures warmed up all the snow that lies along the trail to the top and moistened the ground, though we still saw snow in places.

What a time. We were all worn out, but exhilarated from the climb. Aside from Dave, the four of us make up the Midwest contingent of the Greater Cheorwon Crew: Wisconsin and Michigan, baby.

It's now time to go and get ready for school. Forgetting about St Patrick's Day means one more thing I can talk about at the high school today.

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

The first week at the high school: Still getting the schedule figured out

True to form, the high school co-teaching scheme has changed again:
  • The 2nd grade classes have still been split, but now the halves been divided into all-male and all-female classes.
    • One lesson per week.
  • The 1st grade classes have still be split too, but now I see half of one section twice a week and the other half twice in the next week. 
    • This means two lessons in a week, but those two lessons are good for two weeks at a time.
  • Mr. Lee's back in the mix as a co-teacher. We didn't teach together last semester.
  • No extra classes like English Conversation.
  • Both English rooms are in use and only now have I figured out the scheme:
    • JB and I have the Hemingway room.
    • I'm in the Shakespeare room for the classes with Mr. Lee or Mrs. Park. 
Combined with the special events and lectures of the first week, I haven't seen all the kids yet and probably won't until at least next week. It'll be difficult to get each grade's classes on the same page for a while, but it'll happen one way or another. The students are rolling with the schedule changes a bit better than I am. I'm more amused than annoyed--I'm long past getting mad at sudden changes thanks to living here--especially when JB sees me in the empty room after the classes has supposed to start and says, "Ben...Why is no one here?" Usually the kids will barrel in within a few minutes because they themselves haven't been told what's going on yet.

Classes have been going well though. It's been a pleasure meeting the freshman boys and seeing the my former middle school girls adapt to high school life. They seem to have grown up somewhat in the two months between middle school and high school. They've also been less shy about speaking, and not in a "I'm a teenager and will give a 3-minute angry response to everything I hear" kind of way. They liked to do that in middle school. No, the girls have been speaking English more and seem less afraid of making mistakes. Maybe this trend will continue. The freshman boys are, true to Kirsten's words, quite fun. They have no fear of speaking up and showing off their vocabularies. Good for them. This is better than last year or even the first semester when everyone felt afraid to talk.

So far so good. It's Tuesday. Time to keep trucking on...

Tuesday, March 5, 2013

Daegu 2: Why Daegu?

At Daegu Station. What you don't see is the massive Lotte Department Store that the station's connected to.

At Dalseong Park

We had a decent smoothie here. I couldn't pass up going to this regional chain. It's a strange yet apt name for a coffee shop.

Rochelle told me that people would ask, "Why Daegu?" when she told people we were going there for a 3 day weekend. I fared better; everyone at school said,"Have a good time!" Apparently Daegu isn't a big destination among Koreans. (Maybe not among expats either, for we saw fewer than 10 foreigners in the the downtown area this weekend)

Our reasons for going were simple: We wanted to see another of the big Korean cities and to enjoy some regional cuisine. Another reason centered on going to a brand new place. There's something about going somewhere I've never been before that's exciting. It's the unknown and the thrill of the new. My Wasu buddy Dave had fondly remembered the place from his army days and said that we'd have no trouble getting around because everything's centered around the downtown area of Jungang-ro. 

We came down with a loose agenda of restaurants, markets, and parks to go to and we ticked off everything on it. We mostly stayed in the downtown area, so our experience was far from all-encompassing, but we did get a good look at the city and enjoyed wandering about the area. Aside from a subway ride to Beomeo Station (범어역), everything we did was within walking distance of our hotel next door to Daegu Station.

Sunday, March 3, 2013

Live from the KTX/Daegu 1

The Daegu adventures have ended and we're rolling home now. I've now ridden the KTX for the first time and quite enjoyed it. Rochelle was indeed right when she noted its speed and smoothness: The train's smoother than the Mugunghwa train I wrote about in September. That ride took a long time and we did it mostly so I could see the Korean countryside. It was indeed worth the time. The KTX tickets may be more more expensive, but they'e worth it. The 2:10 train ride from Seoul to Daegu flew by. I hardly noticed it.

The Daegu posts will be up soon. We had a great time and will return sometime in the future. For now, here're my initial impressions of the city:

  • People look less glamorous and more casual than Seoulites
  • Everything's closer together
  • Roads and sidewalks are wider
  • Everything's flatter and the city feels more expansive than Seoul.

Last day before school begins/teaching updates

Thursday brought a flurry of activity at my school. Everyone was scurrying about cleaning up the offices and getting ready for the new year. Why they weren't doing that earlier, I don't know. It's not like anything much was going on this past month. So little happened that I grew nervous with wondering when I'd ever get the timetables for classes. The answers--most of them, anyway--came on Thursday. I went from knowing nothing about the upcoming year to hearing the following in 2 hours:

  • I'm not teaching HS 3rd grade
  • All the high school classes take place from Monday to Wednesday
  • I'm not teaching girls MS 3rd grade
  • All of the girls MS classes take place on Friday

And this:

  • I am indeed teaching at the boys MS now and classes will take place on Thursdays.

I'd long wondered about whether this would happen after Kirsten left, for her departure would mean the boys MS wouldn't have an EPIK teacher. It makes sense that I'd take over there as well. I've yet to meet with the boys MS teachers, but that doesn't bother me too much because there's still plenty of time to talk about the first few classes. As it stands now,  two weeks of lessons are ready to rock for every grade and though I'm nervous about the new year beginning, it will go well.

One more thing--another big piece of news:

  • Dongsong's only getting 2 replacement teachers and not 3 as we'd figured. This means that a position's been cut from the Cheorwon EPIK program. More on this and what it means later.

  • *Written on the KTX