Sunday, August 31, 2014

Stuff I did on the first days of classes (of year four)

The first week is over. I've begun my fourth contract for EPIK and have started teaching at two new schools: Sincheorwon Middle School and High School. Here are some things I did in my first week of classes:
  • Greeted students with a smile and a hearty greeting. Some teachers have said "Never smile until after X time," but I disagree, simply because I am indeed happy to have the students in class and am happy to be their teacher. Also, Harry Wong strongly recommends this practice in  his book The First Days of School.
  • Set an agenda and a dedicated place for it. In the middle school, the agenda's on the right-hand side of the whiteboard. It's separated from the "main" board by a nearly-invisible vertical line. The high school classes have the agenda written on a whiteboard next to the door. In every class, I wrote the agenda either in advance or in the first minute of class if there wasn't time to do it beforehand. I also took a minute to explain what an agenda is and how it shows what we'll do in class every day. In some classes I drilled pronunciation by clapping the syllables a-gen-da.
  • Established one or two quiet signals: Clapping and flicking the lights on and off. Clapping came easily because the students have done it in their other classes. I often lighten the mood by clapping different rhythms for the students to copy. The light flicking is for the high school classes, for the students consider clapping too juvenile for their tastes.
  • Used some Korean words and phrases while addressing the class. Some teachers have debated this practice, usually because the class is English and the focus should be on speaking English. As much as I agree that the focus should be on speaking English,  I did so for the following reasons: 
    1. To catch their attention and show that I know or am learning some of the students' native tongue. 
    2. To demonstrate that I make mistakes with pronunciation and syntax. As the students learn English, I too learn Korean. Experience has shown that (1) and (2) can be powerful motivators for the students. By speaking Korean and admitting to not being perfect at it, I'm demonstrating that mistakes are okay and that practice is the only way to get better.
      1. I usually said, "We're both learning! I learn Korean, you learn English. 우리는 함께 배우자!" [Uri neun hamkke bae uja! = We learn together!]
    3. For easier explanations or for showing that I might have idea of what the students are saying when they talk to each other.
    4. My Korean is far from fluent. It's limited to words and phrases and thus doing an entire class in Korean is impossible.
    5. Asking at intervals, "What's X in Korean?" has proven a good way of focusing students' attention and for learning new words myself.
    • Furthermore, I do keep on the focus on speaking English. If students respond to a question in Korean in speech or writing, I always say, "English please" or "Use easy words." Sometimes I invite the class or group to help. If a student writes something in Korean, I usually say, "Okay, but what is it in English? Can you tell me?"
  • Moved around the room as I talked or while the students were working. Teacher textbooks call this proximity control, but moving around is what it is.
  • Held a questions and answers session. In some classes I called this KWL and in others it was simply Questions. As I'm a new teacher in a new school, but not new to Korea itself, the students had many questions to ask me. I either handed out Post-Its or asked the students to write questions in their textbooks. The students were free to discuss their questions and how to write them (in English, of course) in partners or with their neighbors. While they wrote and talked, my coteacher and I moved around the room monitoring students and assisting with questions. At times I stood back and watched. Moving around is fine and good to do, but sometimes its best to stand back and watch from a few feet away. The students should have some room to breathe at times.
    • Doing so also established that the students are expected to write in class. Speaking, reading, writing, all goes together.
    • In some classes, I wrote question stems on the board to give the students a starting point:
      • Who/what/where/when/how/why...?
      • What's your favorite...?
      • Do you like...?
  • Noted students' goals for the class and ways of learning English. This too was done in small groups. I had a little trouble here, for "Improving English" is too vague a goal; it lacks specifics like "Improve English by doing x." I usually gave students a hint by saying, "I'm learning Korean. One way I learn Korean is by listening to Korean rock songs and reading their lyrics." Saying so resulted in the following ways to learn English:
    • Reading books
    • Writing Kakao messages
    • Listening to pop songs
    • Watching movies in English
    • Drama/dialogues/role plays
  • Ended the class by asking for specific things the students remembered from our discussions.
Altogether, I'd say it was a good start. There's still room for improvement, but compared to my earlier "first days" this one established a few classroom routines and produced tangible products. I ditched my earlier introductory lecture and accompanying PowerPoint presentation in favor of letting the students ask the questions. Sure, telling them X, Y, and Z is fine, but letting the students ask questions (and reviewing question stems) put the focus on the students and gave them a voice in the class. Did strange questions arise? They did. Depending on the question, I either said "I don't know" or "No comment. Let's think of something different." I figure it's just some students wanting to test their new teacher. Teens will be teens. We'll see what questions come up in the lessons to come. So far so good though!

Friday, August 29, 2014

Resuming writing a teaching journal/class log

Which is why I’m writing this book. To think. To understand….I have to write things down to feel I fully comprehend them.             Haruki Murakami, Norwegian Wood.
Early in my teaching career I decided to keep a journal of my thinking after each day of teaching. No matter how exhausted I was at the end of the day, no matter how well or badly the day went, I sat down and considered the following: What worked in that lesson? What didn’t work in that lesson? Did my students take what I wanted them to take from that lesson? More than any suggestion from a master teacher, more than any conference or workshop I attended, more than any professional book I have read this reflective log advanced my teaching more than anything else I have done in my career. It taught me the value of reflection.             Kelly Gallagher, Write Like This.
I thought of these two quotes this week because I began keeping a dedicated teaching journal again. I’ve kept one before, but around two years ago, I began including thoughts on teaching in my regular journal. It seemed simpler at the time; having one comprehensive journal instead of separate ones for different topics. That thinking has changed now. When I arrived at my new school this week, I saw a brand new black journal lying on the desk and thought, “This is will be the teaching journal.”

I’m glad I did it. My previous entries about teaching were usually short and general things like “Good class. Lots of participation.” They didn’t say much because I’d usually be eager to write about other things. But with a dedicated book for teaching, there’s no need to cut observations or riffs short.

And like Gallagher writes above, I’ve been keeping track of classes and how they've gone. What was good, what was bad, who said something particularly interesting, who might need extra attention…it all goes in there. Maybe it’s overkill to write a half page or more for every class, but doing so has forced me to remember what happened and what I might do the same or differently in the future. The extra time means extra care goes into the lessons. I suppose that writing has cut into planning time, but then again, I find it difficult to plan for the future if I don’t understand the past or present. Like Toru the narrator writes in Norwegian Wood, writing’s something I have to do. It helped when teaching high school in America and it’s helping now in Korea.

Rock on, everyone. More posts are on the way.

*Keeping a journal helps satisfy one of Wisconsin’s 10 standards for teachers, which is that of being a reflective practititioner.

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Reblog: How I see it now: Eat, Pray, Love (Plan and Reflect)

How I see it now: Eat, Pray, Love (Plan and Reflect): “You need to learn how to select your thoughts just the same way you select your clothes every day.” Elizabeth Gilbert. Eat, Pray, Love ...
Excellent post about the fine line between reflection and self-flagellation. See also the blurry division between concern and worry. I completely agree with her, for I moved into a new apartment to begin a new contract in a new school in a new town. There are new coteachers and hundreds of new students. Not only that, but as Coordinator, two new teachers have arrived to replace the two who transferred out of the county. It's important to see that they're settling in, for as lovely as it is, Cheorwon's rural-ness can be difficult to adjust to. Though the two of them have coteachers and neighboring EPIK teachers, they're in my thoughts this week. Going overseas to teach is a big jump. I hope everything works out okay. And the same goes for my school. The past few days have been a whirlwind and it's taxing my mind and body. Moving schools is exhilarating, but it's also tiring.

At least I'm better prepared now than I was last year, let alone three years ago. The books that I read over the summer have come in handy.* I've the plans and the procedures ready; next week's plans are almost finished, and I've a clearer idea of what ELT is. And so begins another year in Korea.

[Addendum: I wrote most of the above this morning while in a hurry. It probably wasn't the best way to write, but I wanted to get the link up along with an explanation. I don't normally reblog things on Dispatches, but this post from How I See It Now warranted a mention.]

* Some of them have been mentioned in the "Books for ELT" pages on the sidebar, but more reviews and recommendations are on the way. One I can recommend right now is Teaching Large Multilevel Classes by Natalie Hess. Special thanks to Joel from China for recommending it! The book's packed with dozens of speaking and writing lessons for the language classroom. Most require zero-to-minimal preparation, too.

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Moving on and moving out III: Last days in Wasu

Good morning! It's my final week in Wasu. Some notes and reflections:

I didn't post much this month because R and I went to China on vacation  for a week. It felt good to get away and explore a new place. Planning our days and getting around left us both exhausted at the end of the day. We were simply too tired to have any nagging thoughts in our heads. All of the stresses of transferring and beginning a new semester got subsumed under the new maps we read and places we saw. I slept better than I had in months. 

Teaching and school came back to mind toward the end of our trip. "Out of sight, out of mind" only works for so long, I suppose. Buying Frank McCourt's memoir Teacher Man in Beijing and reading it during the trip played its part, yet that wasn't completely it. No, a number of things we saw or did sparked ideas for lessons or anecdotes in class, like how I went from teaching the summer class ways of saying "I'm not interested" and "No thanks" to saying it every 15 minutes in China. We encountered hordes of hawkers there. I remember thinking that I have learned those phrases in Chinese. By the last couple days, I was feeling refreshed and eager to resume work.

The school days this week have been good. The high school's having a staff dinner tonight  for me and the health teacher because we're both leaving the school. I'm going across the county and she's moving to be with her husband, who's been in another country on business for a while. While I'm grateful for the dinner and the goodwill, I hope that the drinking doesn't get out of hand. Soju and beer can taste good, but only for a glass or two. We'll see what happens. I don't want to be rude or ungrateful. It's just that I'd rather drink Chilsung cider to keep a clearer head.

I've been cleaning and moving things out of the apartment for some time now. The place looks and feels bare. The posters have come down from the walls and the books have been stashed in boxes. It felt good to throw out old and unnecessary papers and clothes. Moving also meant mailing out things I'd long delayed. Moving spurs action. Having to move meant doing stuff I'd put off, which I can't do in the future. The little maintenance work here and there will save time in the end.

The new apartment in Sincheorwon will be smaller, but that will be okay. What it lacks in size, it makes up for with two things: A side window in the kitchen and a cross breeze. The Wasu place, despite its large windows, never received much of a breeze, but the Sincheorwon apartments do. What's more R lives in the same building, so we won't have to take different buses home anymore. We'll be able to have more time together. I'm looking forward to cooking more dinners for us.

There's one last thing to do with Gimhwa HS: Update the summer class page. I didn't write anything about the final class.

Two of Cheorwon's teachers will be transferring this month. I wish them both well. We're at semi-annual time of people arriving and departing. Some of our friends have already left the country for new endeavors. I wish them well, too. 

Finally, I noticed my post about the Trick Eye Museum in Hongdae has received hundreds of hits lately. I'm happy to see that. Who's linking the page? Why the sudden interest? I'm just curious, for many bloggers (expat and Korean) here have featured the Trick Eye Museum on their blogs and surely others have done it better than I have.