That one piece of feedback

It has been 159 days since my last blogging.
I’m doing fine, thank you. And you? I’ve been busy and doing a lot of work online and the computer and sometimes the last thing I feel like doing is typing even more at the end of a day.  I’m continually thinking about what I would blog about if I had some time. Well, I find myself at a coffee shop without an internet connection and decided to share a few thoughts, so here goes.

you da bomb

You are.

One of the things I think about most often is feedback. By that I mean observer to teacher feedback, teacher to student feedback, and student to teacher feedback. One aspect of this in particular that’s frequently on my mind is course feedback students give in accordance with university policies and forms, you know, course required administrational feedback (hereafter CRAP). I have long held the view that teachers who collect their own feedback at various points during the course and have open channels for feedback tend to do better on such CRAP forms. I don’t have any evidence to support this, just a feeling and thought based on anecdotal and personal evidence.

Speaking of evidence, I’m sure Russ Mayne would say that CRAP is crap and essentially meaningless. I suppose for me to agree, I’d have to parse out exactly what we mean by meaningless because it surely holds a lot of meaning for those who lose their jobs on the basis of such feedback. “Don’t hate the game, hate the bigger game” as I always say (well from now on I will start saying it.) I think CRAP is meaningful for those who depend on not getting let go as a result of such an admittedly fickle means of measuring. Bean counters gonna count, though.

I still remember shocking a fellow conference attendee when I said I never read my university feedback. I now read through the CRAP and treat it as just one more source of information and as long as it is not dreadful I don’t give it too much thought. The numbers tend to be pretty good and fine and fine and good and nothing to lose sleep over. The comments sometimes show examples of a miscommunication or a misunderstanding and also sometimes provide some valuable ideas for next time (when it is of course too late for the student in question.) I know I could do a better job of collecting feedback while I have the students in my course and still have time to make changes and this is something I often tinker with. Note to self: the term is already ¼ over (!), why not collect some feedback soon?

My main question at the moment is what sort of things does the already busy admin staff look for when analyzing the responses to CRAP sheets? I think the first thing would probably be consistently low numbers, especially in comparison to similar courses. Maybe they’d also briefly look over the comments. I have to think this is (or perhaps should be) particularly challenging for those without a background in education. How can the admin determine which comments should be trusted and valued? I really have no idea. Maybe the seemingly objective numbers would be the most important thing to look at. If anyone has any insights on this I’d love to see them in the comments. I fully realize it would vary from staff to staff and place to place.

As I think about one particular course I’ve taught numerous times I recall the numbers have been pretty high over the past few years while, interestingly, the comments have trended more towards slightly negative as students shared some thoughts on how they wished the course had gone. I’m the type (as I suppose most teachers are) to remember (and occasionally brood over) the negative comments. However a comment that has stuck in my mind for the last 15 months was simply, “You are the BOMB!” It was written in English and punctuated just like that.

bomb-006

I can’t decide if I would have preferred being “da bomb” instead

While it is nice to be considered the bomb, I had questions. As feedback is was essentially useless. What were the most combustible aspects of my class?  How could things have been even more explosive? Still, I think these more detailed questions are perhaps better left to unofficial (non-CRAP) feedback where the teacher writes the questions and gets the answers directly from the students. I tend to believe CRAP is best left as something like quality control and not seen as an important source of information.

My student decided the last words they’d say about my class would be that I am the bomb. I wondered how this comment would be taken by others who read it. Would these readers, without consulting their 1990s slang dictionary (or the Urban Dictionary) , think it means every class was a violent disaster? Assuming  the meaning would be clear enough my central question is about how meaningful such a comment would be for the admin staff. Would “you are the bomb” be less valued than “You are the BOMB?” How many, “meh” comments would be offset by “BOMB” comments? Would the fact that one student thought the teacher was so awesome offset low numbers on the survey? Probably not, right?

I think my silly questions get to something potential important. At the risk of reading far too much into it and being more than a bit arrogant, I wonder how valued is it to have a profound impact on one or a few students or if it is more important to just not mess up and avoid leaving a certain percentage of the class be disappointed.

Even if it was not the most useful feedback in terms of improving my teaching I’m still thinking about 15 months later so that’s something.

Guest post on eportfolios

A while back I made the unusual move of tweeting to ask for suggestions about what to blog about: 

I received some nice ideas but haven’t managed to sit down and write anything yet. I got the following suggestion/question from Benjamin Stewart: 

I told him that I didn’t have too much to say on this topic and wondered if he might be interested in writing a guest post on the blog. He graciously accepted and his post is below.  I thank him for taking the time to share his thoughts on this topic and for giving me (and hopefully you, dear reader) some things to think about. 

Benjamin (whose bio appears at the end of this post) is interested in scheduling a public chat (like a Google hangout or something like that) on the topic of eportfolios. He has a colleague who would also be interested in joining the discussion. If you are interested please contact Benjamin on Twitter or by leaving a comment below. I will now turn it over to Benjamin…

It´s all about evaluation. In formal education, evaluation is simple yet complex. It´s simple in that most would agree evaluating English language learners (ELLs) includes assigning grades based on what they know and can do and is an obligation a teacher has to the profession. It´s complex in that trying to pinpoint how and what to evaluate, when to provide an evaluation, and why to provide it in the first place are likely to generate a wide range of perspectives. Understanding terms like testing, formative assessment, summative assessment, peer assessment, self-assessment, and dynamic assessment can quickly reveal the importance of context (i.e., group sizes, resources, etc.) when trying to narrow down what student evaluation is and how to apply it. Similarly, when to evaluate (or assess) a learner can vary as well: before, during, and/or after a performance; in class and/or outside of class; individually, in small groups, and/or a whole group; etc. Finally, the purpose of assessing English language learners can be influenced by industry or government (e.g., standardized, high-stakes testing), institutional policy (e.g., predetermined, internal standardized exams), and individual learner goals (e.g., getting a job).

Assessment for learning, or formative assessment, in the English language learning classroom underpins the educative experience from a learning standpoint while assessment of learning provides vital measurements of student outcomes. Depending on the situation, institutions may have a particular course book, adhere to a particular method, or invoke mandatory exams that on the face of it, appear to go against reaping the benefits of a more formative-focused approach to learning. But assessing for learning can happen despite having other forms of evaluation that are more summative in nature by finding ways to include both in the overall learning design. One way to incorporate both formative and summative assessments is by employing eportfolios in the classroom, or portfolios that are co-created between learners and the instructor and shared publicly online. Thus, eportfolios provide the means of conjoining and assessing various types of work.

Learner eportfolios

Generally speaking, eportfolios can be described as being either transformative or representative.  Transformative eportfolios reveal how the ELL´s knowledge, skill development, and disposition (KSD) grow over time.  For instance, including different writing samples in an eportfolio can show how iterations improved throughout the course which can also be combined with audio commentary from the learner related to improvements in specific aspects of writing such as unity, coherence, and cohesion.  Representative eportfolios, in contrast, showcase the KSD of the learner by featuring the individual´s best work.  Whether transformative or representative, eportfolios are a means for both formative and summative assessment, testing, peer-assessment, self-assessment, and dynamic assessment depending on the learning design;  objectives of the course; teacher preferences; and learners´ wants, needs, and preferences. The way in which an ELL eportfolio is assessed will depend on the instructor, learner, and course objectives.

Rarely is a single approach to assessing learner eportfolios warranted. Eportfolios for a general English class typically will be distinct from those in other kinds of English classes such as English for specific purposes, business English, English for academic purposes, and content and English language learning, or CLIL. Moreover, assessing a learner eportfolio as part of a requirement for a course is not always the same as assessing the same eportfolio for purposes that extend beyond the course syllabus. That is, ELLs may have particular reasons for designing an eportfolio related to future academic or professional goals which  may require guidance on the part of the instructor but also may not be necessarily a requirement for the class. An instructor should refrain from any lock-step approach to learner eportfolios both in terms of design and feedback.

In addition to adapting and adopting an approach to assessing learner eportfolios, deciding on the types of artifacts to include in an eportfolio will vary as well. Some artifacts to consider include essays, recordings of performance tasks, recognitions or acknowledgements from teachers or schools, slide presentations, audio/video presentations, poems, and case studies to name a few. Depending on whether the eportfolio is transformative or representative, the teacher and the student usually come together in deciding on what artifacts to include. The goal is to assist the learner in becoming a better decision-maker as to what artifacts to include and how to organize the eportfolio in a way that represents the individual as a competent and maturing professional. A learner eportfolio becomes a celebration of what the learner knows and can do and is presented in a way that can potentially lead to some future benefit, whether academic or professional. The best interest of the learner is forefront as the intent is to have the learner assume more responsibility over the eportfolio as evidence of personal growth and academic achievement.

Point of reflection: As an instructor, how will you assess learner eportfolios in a way that not only motivates learners to share their work openly online, but also adhere to an overall school culture and allow learners to engage with the community at large?

Instructor eportfolios

Much like learner eportfolios, instructor eportfolios can also be transformative or representative, or some combination of both. An instructor eportfolio serves as ongoing evidence of one´s professional KSD for the purposes of better job opportunities in the future and connecting with other teacher practitioners in growing one´s personal learning network (PLN). Understanding one´s PLN provides the basis for open, ongoing professional learning that can directly and indirectly impact future job opportunities.

A good place for instructors to start when thinking about how to organize a professional eportfolio is to refer to various professional organizations. The National Council for Accreditation of Teacher Education (NCATE) is dedicated to high quality teacher preparation and offers strategic goals and objectives around current issues related to education. Other organizations worth referring to  when organizing a professional eportfolio include: American Association of Colleges for Teacher Education (AACTE), Association of Teacher Educators (ATE), American Federation of Teachers (AFT), National Education Association (NEA), and the National Association of State Boards of Education (NASBE), among others. Associations more related to the teaching and learning of English as an additional language include the American Council on the Teaching of Foreign Languages (ACTFL), Teachers of English to Speakers of Other Languages (TESOL), and the Modern Language Association (MLA). A review of the various associations generally reveal a congruity with the following standards which can assist in organizing one´s eportfolio:  the KSD of the educator, the sharing of course content, evidence of student outcomes, professional leadership, professional learning, and professional qualifications. The kinds of artifacts to be included in one´s professional eportfolio will be based on these standards as decided upon by the educator.

The kinds of artifacts may be similar to those of a learner eportfolio but also may include additional types.  Cambell, Cignetti, Melenyzer, Nettles, & Wyman (2010) suggest action research; awards and certificates; educational philosophy; curriculum plans; interviews with teachers, students, or parents; journals; peer critiques; rubrics; and research papers. Herrera (2016) offers an example of an instructor eportfolio that includes a professional bio, courses taught, tutoring services, and important links for students and other educators. Although an instructor eportfolio will likely include different types of artifacts than that of a learner, the instructor is in position to model exemplary practices when it comes to the design and usability of cultivating a unique professional eportfolio.

Point of reflection: How might you create and maintain an instructor eportfolio as an extension of your own PLN that fosters ongoing and transparent professional learning?

Spaces

What makes portfolios electronic is that artifacts are shared both openly (i.e., publicly) and online. Two good websites for hosting an eportfolio are Weebly and Wix, which both offer plenty of free services and flexibility for the novice website designer. Weebly has mobile applications available (aside from normal editing from one´s desktop computer) that make it easier to modify content from an iPhone or iPad whereas Wix offers greater flexibility in positioning content within a webpage. Other hosting options include Wikispaces and Google Sites. Regardless of the site, choose an option that allows easy uploading of PDF documents, audio files, video files, slides, etc. so that one has more options for personalizing the types of artifacts to be shared with others.

By way of example, a group of pre-service English language teachers taking a third-semester composition class were given the option to choose between Weebly, Wix, Wikispaces, and Google Sites for collecting artifacts for a representative (showcase) eportfolio. The artifacts were to include assignments related to the objectives of the course (mainly texts), but could also include artifacts related to prior and concurrent subjects in the bachelor´s degree program in English language training.  Learners had never created a website before, but quickly began personalizing their public space with virtually no assistance, choosing to use either Weebly or Wix (See example 1, example 2, example 3, & example 4).  At the time of this writing, all students only included composition assignments (i.e., texts) to their eportfolio, but were encouraged to continue managing their eportfolio in subsequent classes and even beyond the bachelor´s degree program as a way to become better prepared entering the workforce.

network-63772_960_720

Conclusion

Learner and teacher eportfolios offer situational learning opportunities that can occur both within formal educational situations as well as within professional contexts. This bridge between formal and informal education comprises of the assessment of student outcomes by making the evaluation of KSD more transparent. By making assessment more open and ongoing, the ELL begins to see concretely how life-long learning can become more purposeful. At the same time, instructors can not only use eportfolios for growing their own PLN but also to model exemplary behavior for their learners as daring, sharing, and caring professionals. To define what an eportfolio is to understand its purpose and how individuals interact with each other because of the eportfolio. An eportfolio is consistently a result of prior engagement and at the same time a direct cause for future engagement.

Point of reflection: What role does an eportfolio have in terms of cultivating your own personal learning network that ultimately defines your own personal approach to open, ongoing professional learning?

 

Author’s Biography: Benjamin holds a PhD in curriculum and instructional leadership and a master’s degree in education, curriculum and instruction: technology. He is a full-time EFL teacher educator and researcher at the University of Aguascalientes with an interest in researching personal learning networks and language teaching and learning.  His website can be found at www.benjaminlstewart.com

 

 

Seventeen thoughts about 21st century skills that will not blow your mind!

On Sunday morning (bright and early) at the 2016 KOTESOL International Conference I will be hosting a workshop entitled, “Is it okay to teach English instead of 21st century skills?” Yeah, I think it is a sexy title, too. In this session I mostly just want to talk and think about (what I see as) the push towards 21st century skills. I’d also like to figure out what 21st century skills means to other people. Here is the abstract for the session, which in some ways repeats parts of what I just said:

ic-final

Korea TESOL 2016 International Conference poster Source: http://koreatesol.org/IC2016

The phrase, 21st century skills is something of a buzzword and a common theme of ELT conferences in the region and world. These skills are, of course, related to the theme of this conference. The need for English teachers to focus on these 21st century skills appears to be largely unquestioned. More teachers are focused on enhancing students‘ creativity, critical thinking, and 21st century technology skills. Is this the right path? In this interactive session, reasons for and against these expanding roles will be considered. Participants can expect to walk away from the session with a clearer sense of their actual roles and desired roles as English teachers and their reasons for choosing these roles.

As part (a large part!) of the session I’d like to share some opinions on 21st century skills that I’ve heard and ask the participants to give their thoughts on these. Below is the start (or the rough draft) of my list. If you have any additions please feel free to let me know. Also, if you have any thoughts on any of these please feel free to fire away. Without further delay here are the opinions I’d like to hear participants’ (and your) opinions on:

  1. If you are trying to teach critical thinking skills in an EFL situation where the students are below upper-intermediate you are doing them a disservice. It is hard enough to learn English let alone have to worry about critical thinking too! If you really want to teach critical thinking then you should become a subject teacher in the students’ L1 or work with very high levels.
  2. If you are teaching English to adult students or even college students and you are trying to teach them how to collaborate you are wasting both your time and their time. If they don’t know how to work with others yet they are never going to learn and it is not your duty or concern.
  3. Some people say that 2st century skills are just another fad but I can’t see it like that. These are things students will need and this is not changing anytime soon. We, as a profession, need to step away from our old-fashioned thinking and modernize our teaching practices.
  4. My issue with this push for creativity training (and all the other stuff) is that the teachers who profess the need for it are not adequately trained to do these sorts of things. Kudos to KOTESOL for putting this front and center but there needs to be even more training and support for teachers who are taking the important and necessary plunge into these new waters.
  5. If 21st century skills are so important why do our students even need to waste their time learning to speak English? Why not just teach them to code or something?
  6. 21st century skills is nothing but jargon designed to sell textbooks and bring people to conferences. This term doesn’t mean anything or change anything. Let’s focus on important and real things instead.
  7. I think this push to teach Asian students to be more creative is borderline racist. These teachers come from “native English speaking countries” and try to save students the education system that supposedly kills creativity. Maybe just do the you are hired to do. We don’t need another hero.
  8. This is the ELF era and what is most important is collaboration with people who don’t share an L1. When they start working, many of our students will be speaking on conference calls to English users from places like China, Japan and Malaysia so we need to prepare them for this reality. Old style grammar and writing focused classes are a waste of time and the key is giving students practice in situations they might really be in.
  9. I am afraid that too many teachers these days are attracted to shiny new webtools and use them without considering the pedagogical value of such sites and tools. What we need is a return to solid pedagogical principles.
  10. If you are hired to teach history you teach history. If you are hired to teach English you teach English. It’s very simple. I am not sure why we need to add all these new roles to the job. Our field is filled with this sense of inadequacy and doom so we are always looking to do more. In this case it is shortsighted because it takes away from our main job which is teaching English. Anything else is an unnecessary distraction.
  11. It’s not a just a buzzword when it can change students’ lives for the better. I honestly don’t understand the reluctance of some to face reality. What are they fighting against. We are in the 21st century so of course we should be helping students cope with this in any way we can regardless of our job title.
  12. I think Mike’s title for this workshop (it’s really just a discussion isn’t it?) is a bit off. He asks, “Is it okay to teach English instead of 21st century skills?” Why does it have to be either or? Can’t it be both? Do we have to choose just one?
  13. It is our duty to prepare students for the globalized world out there and if we stick to just teaching grammar and vocab we are robbing students of a chance to compete in the global marketplace.
  14. English is inextricably linked to both the internet and globalization. To attempt to teach English without helping students develop skills related to tech is cruel and unusual punishment.
  15. I feel sad for those students who are stuck with dinosaur teachers who refuse to do anything that is not in the textbook. Creativity is the name of the game these days and the students will suffer from the bad luck of having stubborn and antiquated teachers.
  16. I am sorry but I think the people who are talking  up 21st century skills have never really considered why they are important. What is the big deal? If it is important won’t students learn it on their own?
  17. I think anyone who criticizes focusing on creativity in language class is missing the point! When students’ creativity is explored and exploited they have more fun, activate their brains, and learn more. It is that simple.

Again, any comments and suggested additions are very welcome!

I don’t need your stinkin’ worksheets

Around 4 years ago I was giving a presentation in Seoul. The topic might have been something related to teacher talk but I don’t remember exactly. What I do remember clearly from that day is how a participant (a well-known workshop hijacker, in fact) somewhat interrupted the presentation and handed me one of his worksheets right there in in the middle of my talk. He had it with him and was ready to pounce, I suppose. As I recall, the worksheet was only just tangentially related to the topic of the session.  I considered this share of the worksheet an unusual move so I did what any fake polite presenter would and thanked the man for his kind gift. I told him I’d take a closer look at it after the session. I told myself the same thing. He seemed quite proud of the worksheet. I got the sense he thought there were profound truths and lessons for teachers built right into his worksheet. It was as though he thought the worksheet would elucidate his teaching philosophy while somehow connecting to the session he found himself in. I couldn’t really see the connection and thought maybe it would be more clear after further investigation of the worksheet.

The more I thought about the situation the less interest I had in examining that worksheet in detail and seeking the truths supposedly inherent in it. There are a few reasons for this. It was written for his students in a very different course in a very different program in a very different university from mine. I suspect this teacher and I have different teaching beliefs as well. There are so many variables! His worksheet  was nothing I could ever imagine myself using. Especially in my current context. Given the time I’d much prefer to make my own worksheet (or of course go paper-free).

I’m ready to admit to being less than fully opened-minded on this but I couldn’t see how his worksheet could be much use to me as a teacher. Maybe it was just given as an example and was not intended as something I could potentially use? Fine. Maybe the expectation was that I file it away for the next time I was “doing the present perfect” or something? I hope it was not given with the expectation that I just rip off 11 copies of it and use it on Monday morning.

This worksheet sharing is not a one time thing, though. I have noticed worksheet sharing sessions (“Bring your favorite worksheet!) at a few local ELT group meetings here in Korea. Is the idea to see how others approach certain grammar points (or vocab or whatever) or is it to help participants build a collection of worksheets that can be pulled out of the drawer as needed? Is it to get a sense for the principals of design that others employ? Is it to facilitate discussion on best practices in worksheet creation? Is it to get a peak into others’ classrooms through the papers their students see? I have never actually attended one of these sessions. Maybe I am missing something or a lot of things. Any explanations or experiences shared in the comments would be very helpful and greatly appreciated. If you have ever received a worksheet from someone and found this very helpful I’d love to read about it.

Look, I don’t have any great antipathy for worksheets (or their sharers). I think worksheets are fine and can even be great. I think they are beyond being just a necessary evil. Also, I’m not going to say I’ve never been to busyteacher.org and printed off some sweet and tasty documents. I’ve been there. I can say I believe there are better ways to spend a Saturday afternoon with other teachers than sharing worksheets.

perfect-worksheet

Disclaimers and additions: 

  • I want to mention this post is in no way a response to anything I have seen in the ELT blogosphere recently. I started this post (staring with the title!) about 18 months ago and am now just getting around to polishing (?) and posting it. Please don’t take this post as an indictment of anyone
  • I also want to clearly state for the record (in case it is not obvious) that this is just my own current take on things and I am ready to admit many teachers might be in a different position in terms of time available, time teaching, as well as teaching beliefs and a whole host of things that would impact views on a topic like this.
  • I suppose the title of this post is more aggressive than my actual feelings on the issue.
  • I am pretty crappy at making worksheets and would love some tips on layout and the like. This would be much more interesting (and useful) to me than a collection of random worksheets from people in different contexts.
  • Regarding the group meetings mentioned above, I suspect it is partially a way to get more people involved and not have so many presenter-focused sessions. This is something I’d applaud but I believe there are other ways to do this and certainly other ways which would be fruitful and interesting to me.  I’d much rather hear about someone’s toughest teaching challenge of the year instead of their favorite worksheet of the year. I’d rather hear about how they learned to be a better worksheet creator or how their term without worksheets went. I’d prefer to hear about their thoughts on what makes a good/bad worksheet.
  • Alex Case of the excellent TEFLtastic blog commented below and this reminded me I have used lots of stuff in recent years, especially for lessons focused on business English.

All prepped for the term!

“I’m all prepped for the new semester” they say with alacrity. I smile and nod but I don’t actually know what it means or if it is even feasible, let alone an enviable position to be in. Does it mean all the individual lessons for the whole term are planned? To the minute? Does it mean the course goals are written up? Does it mean the objectives for each session are already decided? Does it mean all handouts are printed up? Surely it means all the materials have been selected, right? I suppose it means all the assignments have been decided upon? And written up? With models and examples? Or does it simply mean the teachers have a general sense of what they want to do in the course? Does it mean they have outlined key questions, challenges and constraints that will inform their decision making? I truly don’t know. Sincerely. Any thoughts in the comments on what being “all prepped” for the term might mean would be appreciated.

774427467-preparation

This statement seems to hit my ears more commonly in late August (just before the fall term starts here in Korea) but I have also heard it in late June. Late June after the semester just finished. When I hear the “all prepped” statement it sounds, perhaps just to me, a bit like bragging or as though they are announcing their professionalism and great organizational skills to the world. It could just be my imagination but that is how I hear it.

I have to wonder if there might be different beliefs about teaching and learning (and perhaps professionalism) at play here. For me, with my personal style and beliefs I’d find it very hard to say I was all prepped for a term before meeting my students. As an example, just today I finalized a weekly plan of topics and language points for the next 15 weeks for one course based on students’ needs and wants as discussed in class last week, which was the first week of the course. Even after completing and distributing the (sorta tentative) weekly schedule I cannot say that I feel “all prepped” by any means. I hope I will continue to fine tune my lessons work best for the students I in the course and the progress they do and don’t make throughout the course. I have a hard time seeing this view as controversial.

Maybe I don’t see the huge benefits in being fully prepared for the term well in advance because I know that I will inevitably end up collecting more information and changing my mind about things as the course progresses. I’m not saying I wildly change my plans from day to day and week to week without reason but do I try to base my lessons on what happened in class and not what I hoped would happen in class when I planned it 3 months in advance. I’m also not saying that my way is the best way and that I am always at the optimum balance of prepared and flexible. I’m really just wondering what “all prepped” means for others and what it could mean for me and how fruitful that would be for my students.

Another aspect that prevents me from getting and feeling all prepped for a term is my fear the schedule or course or details or students or something will change or even that the course will be cancelled. I have had so many last minute changes (yes, especially in Korea) and I always feel somewhat vindicated by not being completely prepared and thus somewhat flexible. It might sound like an excuse but this is a real factor preventing me from completing preparation what I’d consider too far in advance. Two Septembers ago I wrote about my desire not to do tons of work in advance for a course that might not end up happening and in my post I wondered if I was lazy or typical. Good on these diligent people who burn the midnight oil throughout the summer in advance of their autumn workload but I find it challenging to go beyond the basics, especially for courses that are not guaranteed to run. Certainly, circumstances could be different and other teachers could have more assurances or expectations their courses will be likely to run. In any case, I think I am too hung up on sunk costs and not interested in laboring away unless I am quite sure it will pay off. Again, I think we are back to personal preferences and styles.

I suppose my personal preferences, styles, beliefs, experiences and all combined with my confusion on what it actually means to be fully prepped make it hard for me to genuinely share the joy when colleagues tell me they are all prepped for the term. Sorry. Anyway, good for them if it gives them some comfort and makes them feel they are more prepared. Good for their students if this makes the learner process better. Good job everybody.

Well I’d love to stay and write more but I have to get all prepped for tomorrow’s class which starts in 11 hours. Thanks for reading!

 

Please teach them English: The even fuller story

In July the crack research team here at ELT Rants, Reviews and Reflections reproduced some emails from a language school manager to a new teacher and a few weeks ago (with the help of Steve Brown) we were able to share the teacher’s perspective through her replies. Last week , with the help of Maria Theologidou we were able to share the learning journal from one of the students in the class. Today we are honored to share the learner diary of another student in the class. Thank you to Mark Makino for his help with this. I took the liberty of adding some links to Wikipedia for topics readers unfamiliar with Korea might not know much about.

Please be sure to read the previous posts for  context if you have not already done so. What follows are excerpts from Pill-Soo’s (Bill’s) blog. 

 
10/10
We met our new foreign English teacher today, Ms. Susie, and she seems very energetic, not nervous like a lot of our teachers from before. She brought in a bunch of games the first day and had us play with a big ball she called a beach ball. I guess she really wants us to like her.  It is cool that she plays Minecraft too, I didn’t know it was popular abroad. It was a good first day. I wonder what she’ll be like when she starts teaching for real.

27/10
OK, again she seems nice, but so far we’ve talked about (or at least she’s talked about) like 10 different Big Important Issues and only when she seems like she’s bored does she teach us grammar and vocabulary. We did a project, which she called a poster presentation, on our hopes and dreams, and mine was about getting into SKY. She was really confused by that because she doesn’t know any Korean universities. I was reading out loud my notes for my presentation (which took hours to translate) and when I said I really wanted to do well on the Suneung (CSAT) she made a face after Maria explained to her what the CSAT is.  It was a really hard project, and I learned some words from working it, but not from Ms. Susie.  All she did was tell us what to do and although she didn’t criticize my pronunciation or anything I could tell she didn’t like my speech. Should I have talked about my hobby instead?

11/11
We talked a little bit about music in class, and again Susie wanted us to say what we liked about our favorite bands before she gave us the grammar and vocabulary to do that. She does this a lot-waits for us to make a mistake then teaches us the grammar we needed afterward, like springing a grammar trap. People know I’m shy, and even though Ms. Susie wouldn’t criticize my grammar or pronunciation in front of the class other students did after she left. I know she thinks it’s important we speak without worrying about mistakes but my classmates here and at my regular school made fun of me for giving such a bad answer. I hate it when she forces me to embarrass myself. I get a stomachache whenever she uses the word “task” since I know I’m going to make some mistake or someone else will which she’ll write on the board for review. She doesn’t say who made the mistake but of course we all remember! I think if she could hear and understand what we say to each other in Korean, she’d stop putting us in these situations.

20/12
I feel like I’ve learned some things from Ms. Susie’s English classes, but it’s all floating up in space and not tied down to anything real or useful. My words come out more naturally and I’m less scared of talking. But I’m not going to use these skills and I can’t explain them to my parents or anyone else, so it’s like they’re hidden from everyone and everything that matters. My mom asked me to speak like I do in class to prove we weren’t just “playing” but I couldn’t, not that I can’t but in front of my mom?  Anyway she got together with some of the other moms to complain about Ms. Susie.  I think she’s nice but her class is really hard for me and a bunch of us and I think she thinks she can solve all our difficulties with just positivity.

When this year is over I don’t think I’m going to have another teacher who does classes like this, so it’s like I’m practicing a sport that I’m never going to play again. Yes, if I went abroad this year I would probably have an easier time, but I’m not, I’m going to study hard to pass the entrance exam for Yonsei, become an engineer, and after that maybe use English for email, not to make Youtube videos or speak in front of the UN or anything. Ms. Susie acts like she has an allergy to tests. She just doesn’t know what we do in Korean schools and I don’t think she cares. It’s like she flew in from abroad to save us from being Korean. I know Korea has a great education system and I don’t see how Ms. Susie thinks she knows better than us, like we’ve been doing it wrong this whole time and only she can see that. I don’t feel like Ms. Susie hates Korea but she definitely thinks her foreign way of teaching is the best and she only does things our way when Mr. Lee makes her.

20/2
We have been doing more grammar and vocabulary in class now because Mr. Lee has started giving Ms. Susie worksheets and lesson plans to follow. I’m glad we can finally work on something useful but Ms. Susie still doesn’t check our work properly. It’s like she doesn’t believe in mistakes. She just says, “What did you mean by this?” like there was some deep reason I put “been” instead of “was.”  If I could answer questions like that I should be the teacher. I know I’d be able to explain more clearly than she does.

Mom and the other parents are pushing Mr. Lee for a new teacher next year. I think Ms. Susie is still too young and maybe not flexible enough. With more time in Korea I think she’ll learn to teach better. Our school English teacher Mr. Park is just the same as her but the opposite way-he never uses English in class but explains the meanings of English words and grammar very clearly. I don’t think he could do well on the CSAT listening sections now but he knows a lot and I like listening to him. I feel like he at least respects our ability to be good students and knows how we like to learn. Ms. Susie thinks the only way we can learn is by doing, and anything else is old-fashioned or not Real English.  I need to do well in school now, and if I want to speak to foreigners I’ll practice that after I finish college. Right now I need Mr. Park more than I need Ms. Susie. He’d never ask us to say something unless he’d said it first.

Some of my classmates want Ms. Susie to stay. The students who like her classes are the ones my parents don’t let me see outside cram school-most of them go to the public junior high in the city and don’t study hard or like school. Maybe she’s a good teacher for them since they don’t like studying and she doesn’t make them! Some of them are way happier in her class than with our other teachers. I don’t think it’s good for Ms. Susie to encourage kids like that to neglect working hard and say their own opinions too much.  Like I said, if we knew enough to have opinions on all these topics we should be the teachers!

3/3
I feel a little bad for Ms. Susie, but you can’t keep a job that you can’t do. Some of my classmates are making her a big going away card with our signatures. Sure, I’ll sign it. I don’t want her to have bad memories of Korea. Maybe she can do a better job teaching in a country where people think like her and are used to talking before they have any idea what to say. I don’t think she’ll have much success in this country unless she works in a really rural place where the kids don’t care about success in school. Then again, those kids probably don’t care about Justin Bieber either.

 

Just like the previous entries in this series these learning logs are invented. Mark Makino was kind enough to take up the challenge of writing from a second learner’s perspective and I am thrilled to share it here and I hope you enjoyed the post as much as I did. My sincere thanks go to Mark for taking the time to write up a different perspective. Check out his very interesting blog here

A not necessarily critical experience from 2006

I knew it was off. Something was strange. I could feel it. I could see it. I could almost smell it. I couldn’t, however, explain the problems clearly. I didn’t always have the words to express what I thought was wrong. I guess I also lacked the gravitas needed to persuade people the problems I saw required action.

At the time I was working as a cover instructor for a company that dispatched teachers to universities all around the city. On the days no teachers were sick or recently laid off or in jail for drunken brawls with taxi drivers I would head into the office and work on the project. My main job on the project was to find typos, inconsistencies, grammar mistakes, and logical errors. In doing so I learned that such tasks appealed to my nature.

My duties did not include commenting on methodological concerns, although sometimes I could not help myself. My main task was to simply collect and pass along the language mistakes I saw and let the decision makers make their decisions on what would happen next. Despite the fact it was not my remit,  I did at times discover what I thought to be flaws in the methodological basis of the units.

It was not really up to me to suggest new activities or sequences but sometimes I felt compelled to. It was during he process of looking for typos but instead ending up with a suggestion to scrap the existing activity and creating a new one I learned the term mission creep from a colleague. I fell into this trap quite often and ended up doing a lot more work than I was tasked to. I found myself pointing out errors and inconsistencies the higher ups did not necessarily feel like hearing about or thinking about at the time. I also think the decision makers were able to see the whole picture and knew they were not looking to make something perfect or earth-shattering but just wanted to make something quickly. Perhaps my naivete, youthful exuberance, and perfectionism were not an ideal fit for the project but I like to think I caught a quite a few mistakes which were previously unnoticed.

American_Kestrel_on_the_hunt

I was not hired to be an innovator so my suggestions to be ahead of the curve typically fell on deaf ears. It was 2006 and we were laboring away on a CD-ROM for Japanese learners of English. I always wondered about the insistence on a standalone CD-ROM (with no possibility of connecting to or using the internet). I was always wondering at various decibel levels  exactly where all these computers that could not connect to the internet were and why there was a resistance to use the internet in any meaningful way. I was so confused by this. Perhaps at the time I was still unaware of Japan’s love for the fax machine.Or again, maybe I just wan’t seeing the bigger picture.

Armed with a BA in History, a CELTA, and 5.5 years of experience I couldn’t always understand my colleagues’ reluctance to follow all of my suggestions and repair everything I said needed repairing. Through my experience working on this project I decided I should develop both my skills and credentials in materials development so I never had to feel again that I couldn’t properly explain my criticisms or beliefs about materials development.

I suppose this is another one of those blog posts of mine where you, dear reader, are left to your own devices to figure out the moral of the story, if there is one. I just felt like writing it and thought it might be slightly interesting. I hope that is the case.