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.

Please teach them English-The full full 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. Now we are thrilled to share a learner’s perspective through a learning journal we were able to recover through the help of Maria Theologidou. This post will likely be even much more enjoyable if you read the previous post(s).

10/10
Today was the first day of our English lessons at the SHEA. I had mixed feelings as last year was dead boring and if I didn’t have to put up with my parents’ concerns about my future, I wouldn’t probably be here. Our teacher this year is Ms. Susie. The first thing that struck me about her was how she came into class. She was holding a big beach ball and a box full of stuff. She introduced herself and then we started playing a ball game-turns out the ball had questions on it which we had to answer. That was pretty cool as I couldn’t stand another year of “Find someone who” bingos! She also shared some things about her-she loves drawing, cooking and playing video games. In fact, she showed us a video of some Minecraft tips and tricks. When homework time came, she asked us to write a letter to ourselves about what we expect to learn by the end of the year. She didn’t specify how long the letter should be-still, I don’t have a clue what to write about. We did some goal setting in class last year, but this is completely new to us all. Let’s see how everything will go.

14/11
It’s been more than a month since my last entry, but seriously I had no time to write at all. Ms. Susie is something else! This past month was full of firsts!

Every week we have a different project we work on-last week it was bullying, this week it’s renewable forms of energy. She grouped us in teams which I didn’t really like because I don’t get along with all the people I have to work with. I complained at first, but she explained that we need to learn to work together even if we end up being with people we don’t like much. The first days were a disaster-no one paid attention to me, so I ignored them as well. But then she gave us all different roles, so things started to run more smoothly. Sometimes we run out of time, but we all see how much effort she puts in all of this. She’s more excited about projects than we are!

Another thing which I didn’t expect was all this speaking and writing. Although I enjoy writing (here, not in class, no one corrects my writing here), I’ve always hated speaking. Maybe it has to do with Mrs. Theo, our Beginners’ class teacher, who always repeated and corrected my mistakes after me. She constantly had this huge grin on her face whenever she said “You mean…” or “Not like this, dear. Hear me and repeat!  So, I hated and still hate speaking. You can imagine how I felt then when Ms. Susie asked me to talk about my favorite band in class and what inspired me about them-Arctic Monkeys btw. I turned red and only muttered “Because they are great. Arctic Monkeys are great.” Of course, we didn’t stop there! She then said “Bill, why don’t you tell Maria what you like about 30 Seconds to Mars?” I don’t think I had ever spoken to Bill before and everyone knows Bill is way too shy. So, we just stared at each other for a minute or two. I could see beads of sweat running down Bill’s forehead-after what seemed like a century, Bill managed to say “I like them because they’re nice!” Success!

Since that day, we have speaking activities all the time!!! Speaking time still freaks me out, but we’re getting somewhere I think. One thing I don’t miss is grammar-hooray! Ms. Susie shows us short films in class which we then discuss and surprisingly enough there’s grammar there! Who would have thought?

Have to go now, I still have a poster to prepare on wind and solar energy using Canva, it’s a web tool Ms. Susie showed us in class.

20/11
How can I suck at something I’m supposed to be good at??? Today we did some story writing in class. Half of us had to work on preparing the background to the story and the rest had to work on the plot. At some point we started looking into tenses–Ms. Susie drew a forest on the board with two stick figures walking. Then, she wrote a list of verbs next to the picture and asked us to make sentences. Before doing that, she asked if we remember the differences between Past Simple and Past Continuous. I was Grammar Queen (no comment) 3 times last year, so I was sure I knew the differences. So, I raised my hand with confidence and said all the rules I had learnt by heart last year. I expected something like “WOW, that’s awesome, Maria”, but instead she said “Thank you for telling us the rules, Maria, but can you give us 1-2 examples using the verbs on the board?” And that’s when everything fell apart! Everything I said was wrong!!! I’m so confused-what’s grammar supposed to be about IF NOT rules?

20/12
Christmas is almost here-yay! We’re having a party later on today and I’m trying to come up with something to cook/bring in class. We talked a lot about Christmas, especially about how the holiday has been commercialized and we analyzed popular ads in class. I’m still not sure where all this is leading us to though – I know that some of my classmates (actually their parents, but anyway) are worried about all the grammar and vocabulary quizzes we’re not taking. There was a big incident the other day during the parents’ meeting. John’s mum complained to Mr. Lee that we’re not having enough grammar practice, not taking enough tests either (tbh, we’ve only had 2 tests since September and that was because Mr. Lee stepped in and said all students should take them). I’ve thought about it as well from time to time. It’s the first time I’ve enjoyed being in the English class, but am I supposed to be having fun? We have our C1-level exams next year, so will I be ready then? Obviously, we won’t be asked to comment on John Lewis’ ads there! I don’t know-I trust Ms. Susie, but then everything is new and I’m still trying to make sense of it all.

22/01
I knew this was going to happen, I just knew it! After the Christmas break, we started talking about web design and how we can promote our city to tourists. It’s a project I was scared of at first (like I always am), but I loved how we all came up with ideas and actually worked on something different and personal at the same time. Of course this meant that we focused on the project alone and only touched our books once or twice the whole month. John’s mum has paired up with 4-5 other mums and have been complaining about Ms. Susie again. Last week they were in Mr. Lee’s office and I overheard (ok, maybe I eavesdropped a bit) them saying that she only wants to be friends with us and there’s no real educational value in what we’re doing. Mr. Lee tried to calm all of them down, but they complained that we shouldn’t be focusing on skills and talents. Bill’s mum (Bill, the shrinking violet, remember?) said that her son feels intimidated by Ms. Susie and that this isn’t what the school is famous for. “Where are all the nice practice tests they used to take?” she shrieked “Have you forgotten how much we pay for your “success guaranteed” results?” and so on and so forth. Luckily, Ms. Susie wasn’t around at the time, but I’m afraid this isn’t going to end well.

14/02
OK, so today I’m confused. Like hopelessly, terribly confused. For Valentine’s Day we had agreed to work on a class debate about beauty campaigns and how they influence our perception of beauty. Instead, Ms. Susie walked in class with a stack of worksheets and said we wouldn’t be doing the debate at all. She had brought us a nice article to work on, answer some questions on it and then work on Indirect Speech in more detail. We were all shocked! That wasn’t what we had been used to! Ms. Susie was obviously upset – I could tell from her expression and the frozen smile (which reminded me of Mrs. Theo btw) that someone had changed her mind. As you can guess, it was the most boring lesson we’ve had so far. The only ones who seemed to love everything we did were the “gang”-John, Bill and the rest. Then, we had 6 (???) grammar exercises as homework! When it was Ms. Susie who told us again and again that simply answering questions and filling in gaps doesn’t mean we know how to use grammar in speaking and writing. It’s not that I minded doing the exercises, they took less time than all the other homework assignments we had to do so far. It’s just this creepy feeling I have that the forces of evil have taken over-the same I had while watching Anakin Skywalker’s transformation into Darth Vader! Seriously now, I’m scared that all the other parents have managed to make Ms. Susie change her mind about how teaching should be and how we are supposed to be feeling. Let’s hope she won’t turn into a Sith Lord!

18/03
It took me a week to find the strength to open this notebook, pick up a pen and manage to write a line or two about everything that happened last month. Ms Susie was fired. She never told us, but we all knew. The Dark Side finally won. I don’t know what’s worse-that she showed us a different way of learning and I know what I’ll be missing from now on or that I’ll have to get used to doing things the old way? Our class is split in two-those who feel relieved Ms. Susie is gone and the rest of us. Mr. Lee has already told us we will have extra Saturday lessons to make up for all that time lost in project work. So now my weekend is completely ruined! He has already given us two essays as homework and told us we will meet our new teacher tomorrow. Can’t wait…

I’ve been wondering a lot about the reasons why adults behave this way.  I mean it was obvious to all of us, even to those who couldn’t stand Ms. Susie, that she really loved teaching and always bore our needs and interests in mind. I can’t really tell if she was a good teacher, but she was definitely someone who was passionate about teaching and cared for us. She was the first to organize Mini Master sessions in class where we shared our talents and offered tips on how others can learn what we do best. She was the first to respect that some of us hated English or speaking (like me) or writing and had class discussions on how we can change that or what we would be interested to talk/write about.

I can’t blame Mr. Lee entirely-I know we spent tons of hours working on projects, special days, debates etc. It was something no one else in the school did or had done before and it was against all school’s standards and rules. But yet-why not find some middle ground? Why not give a younger person who obviously likes teaching a second chance? And now that I’m thinking about it why not ask us instead of our parents how WE felt about Ms. Susie?

I heard some of my classmates saying that none of their friends did what we did in their exam-prep class. So that got me thinking again -why should teaching an exam class be all about tests and exercises? What was wrong with project work and speaking and …fun? Why isn’t fun serious or important enough? There are so many questions on my mind right now that I really don’t know how to put everything in words. One thing is for sure–Ms. Susie helped me discover a part of me that I never knew existed. I don’t know if she is the best teacher ever, she was a good teacher for me and that’s all that matters.

 

Just like the previous entries in this series these learning logs are invented. Maria Theologidou was kind enough to take up the challenge of writing from a learner’s perspective and I am thrilled to share it here and I hope you enjoyed the post as much as I did. I’d like to share a big thank you to Maria for this! Please be sure to check out Maria’s excellent blog if you are not already familiar with it.

A blast from the past: Notes from a talk I gave to students in 2008

A while back I got an email from the good people at pbworks informing me one of my wikis  was scheduled for “reclamation” since it hadn’t t been used in 11 months. Wondering what this particular wiki (as I have created more than my fair share of wikis in my day), entitled “Practical English,” had on it I clicked through to have a gander. Some sections were interesting. One that immediately caught my eye was follow up notes to a speech that I delivered to students who were finishing their 20 week intensive English program back in 2008. One of the reasons this caught my attention is because I didn’t really remember doing it and it seems I have been making farewell speeches for some time. In fact, one of the most popular posts on this blog in terms of hits is a 2013 farewell speech. The other thing I found eye catching about the 2008 speech  (as referenced in the notes) was the advice I gave as I am not so sure if current me agrees with everything I said at the time. I will share the speech and then follow up with comments from present day Mike. If you have read this blog before you might be guessing I will also share some random thoughts as well. You’d be right. 

 

Hello!

 

Thank you very much for coming to my speech. It seemed like you understood most of what I was saying, but I wanted to be sure to put the links and some comments on the internet for you to see. I hope that it was helpful for you and I also hope that you will continue to improve your English. This page is quite different from my speech, but I think that most of the important points are here.

Suzy and I both said that you need to practice, which is very true. (1) I think that you should think of this as the beginning of your English study, rather than the end. (2) You have made an incredible investment of time and money and now it would really be a shame if you were to waste that investment.

I think that the internet is a resource that many Korean students don’t use enough for improving their English. I think this is strange because Korea is such a wired country. (3) There is a whole world out there in English and you can find anything you are interested in. (4)  

(My favorite website) Wikipedia is a great resource for learning English. (Notice I didn’t use the word study!) Just go tohttp://wikipedia.org/ and search for things that you are interested in. (5) You could search for people or places that you are interested in. You will see natural English sentences and words the way they are usually used. Wikipedia is an encyclopedia that can be edited by anyone so there might be mistakes, but there are mistakes everywhere.

I talked about social networking websites. The most popular one right now is Facebook. I won’t tell you my name on this site because there are some embarrassing pictures of me on there. The URL is http://www.facebook.com/. I think that this could be a good way to interact in English. (6)  I really like the idea of students meeting people from all around the world and using English to communicate. You will learn a lot by simply communicating with people. Other sites that are focused on learning English are http://www.englishbaby.com/ and http://www.livemocha.com/. I am really impressed with Livemocha’s system. (7) There are courses and role plays that are helpful but even better is the system of practicing with people at a similar level from all around the world. It is a great site. (8) 

Another site that I talked about is Skype. It is a free online telephone service where you can talk to anyone in the world. There is an option that you can set (Skypeme) which means that random people can just call you. (9) I think this is a fantastic way to practice spoken English because you can sit in the comfort of your home and practice speaking. You might be nervous the first time, but it can be lots of fun. I like that you get a chance to talk to many people, like in real life. Also, if you don’t like someone, you don’t have to talk to them. I don’t use Skype very often these days, but my name is migriff99. (10)

A website that has been very useful for me is Englishtips.org (http://englishtips.org/) This site is probably a little illegal in Korea. (11) It is a collection of 1,000’s of resources for learning English. You can download books and files absolutely free. You have to register, but it is very simple and easy. If you are bored of studying English a look around this site might change your feeling. It is a Russian site but you just have to click on the British flag if you want English. The search function is very helpful to find your way around.

I talked about ELLO which is the listening site that I think is the best in the world. Actually, my friend made it, but I would recommend it even if it wasn’t made by a friend. Just go to http://www.elllo.org/ to see what I mean. (12) I really like the use of lots of non-native accents and he tries to make the listening interesting. (13)

The most popular listening site is http://www.esl-lab.com/ which is pretty good as well. (14) There are a lot of things to listen to on that site. Two websites that are good for listening to the news are http://www.simpleenglishnews.com/ andhttp://www.voanews.com/specialenglish/index.cfm

They might be a bit easy for some of you, but it is a good place to start if you want to practice listening to news

Something that I didn’t mention in my speech is podcasts. (15) These are radio shows made into MP3 files. This can be a great way to practice listening on the train. Some interesting sites related to podcasts are http://www.eslpod.com/website/, http://a4esl.org/podcasts/

and http://www.eslpodcards.com/. The final one is a combination of a postcard and a podcast, which is pretty cool. (16) 

A final podcast recommendation is a site that is not very active at the moment, but has great potential, Bomb English. This site is two (very well-educated) foreigners living in Korea. They are both fluent in Korean and Korean culture, but they are native speakers of English. They offer a perspective on Korea that might surprise you. They also swear a lot and talk naturally. They don’t write what they will say before they say it, so their speaking is the opposite of the boring dialogs you might find in textbooks. Please be careful with this site because you might be shocked. I recommend the episode called, “Why we hate Misuda.” (17) 

To improve writing I recommended the obvious: write a lot. (18) Don’t worry about mistakes and just make a habit out of writing every day. You will make mistakes but you will find out what is difficult for you to write. Why not send emails to your soon-to-be former classmates? Reading is also a great way to improve your writing. (19) 

I mentioned that students should try to spend as much time reading as possible. Only read what you are interested in. What do you read in Korean? Try to read that in English. It is a great idea to follow one story in English. I mean, read the same story in different newspapers on different days and you will find that your understanding will improve. I strongly recommend reading the whole newspaper in English. (20)

I think it is great if you read something and understand 80%. (21) You don’t need to understand everything. I can certainly say that I don’t know every word that I read in English. That is natural. You need to see words in their natural context many times before you can really know it. This is why I told you to burn your “Voca” books. (22) 

I also recommended graded readers. They are classic or famous books made easier. (23) The harder vocabulary words are taken out but the stories are the same. I think these are great, especially for lower level students. The key here is to make sure to read a little bit every day. You can find these books at most bookstores. Perhaps you could do a search on Englishtips for some suitable books.

Another general hint–Think in English as much as you can. (24) Train yourself to see the world in English. When you do this, you will also discover what you don’t know how to say in English. 

Remember Einstein’s quote, “Insanity: doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.”  (25) 

 

Notes from 2016: 

  1. Who the hell is Suzy? I don’t think it is this Susie (from some recent posts). I guess that was placeholder name all the way back then as I am sure I never worked with anyone named Suzy.
  2. Trite but good point. I wonder how many followed this.
  3. I am still surprised by this.
  4. True, but is it so simple? Are there skills and strategies and language needed to do this? Is this something that could or could have been included in such a program?
  5. So nerdy to have Wikipedia as a favorite site.
    Of course now I might suggest Simple English Wikipedia and also students making edits themselves.
  6. It seems a bit quaint to be telling Ss about Facebook like it is some brand new thing but back in the day (the Cyworld days) not a lot of Korean people were on Facebook.
  7. From afar and from 2016 it seems like this type of site never really got too popular with students. I am not sure and would love to be corrected on this.
  8. Is it? Really?
  9. As far as I know, Skypeme never really took of for students or the general public. Again, I could be wrong.
  10. Still my address.
  11. By probably a little illegal I mean “illegal.” I’d be lying if I said I never downloaded a book from Englishtips but I am not sure if I’d recommend such a site these days. Maybe I’d recommend Free and Fair ELT instead.
  12. Still a great recommendation. I am looking forward to seeing ELLLO founder Todd Beuckens at the 2016 KOTESOL International Conference.
  13. In 2008 I would have predicted by 2016 there would be an abundance of nice resources for listening with non-native speakers doing the speaking.
  14. I have no idea what I based the “most popular” line on. I have not thought about that site for ages. I guess it is fine but it doesn’t really excite me and has not been part of my recommendations for a few years now.
  15. Podcasts! Nice recommendation, Mike!
    I feel like I saw a nice list of recommended podcasts for students recently but I couldn’t find it in an intense 4 minutes of googling. Suggestions welcome.
  16. I forgot about this one!
  17. This was an interesting pod and I thought they had a lot to offer students.
  18. Perhaps a little simplistic but yeah writing is good for writing.
  19. I think this is solid advice but I am not sure if I made it clear enough or provided enough proof or reasoning. I am not an official member of the “Cult of ER” but I do believe it has a lot to offer and I wish I sold the case a bit better in my notes and in the speech itself. Maybe the paragraph that follows was convincing enough.
  20. The whole newspaper? Even the classified and ads? Doesn’t that conflict with the previous point about reading what is interesting? Anyway I like the idea of reading about the same event from different sources and on different days. Lots of lexis related to the topic would likely be repeated.
  21. Nice idea but that number might be a bit low.
  22. We’ll have us a little book barbecue in the yard. They’ll see the flames for miles.
  23. I know 2008 is not soo long ago but I felt a twinge of pride about recommending these all the way back then.
  24. I don’t  even really know what this means nor if it is good advice.I wonder what other people think about this one. From here the advice seems a bit empty and potentially unhelpful without clear examples or strategies.
  25. I like to think this quote was not quite so banal back in 2008. I also like to think I wasn’t completely convinced Einstein had said this or that I’d have been easily persuaded by the plethora of myths out there about Einstein and what he said.