How is everyone fine with this?

Recently I was discussing job ads for EFL jobs in South Korea with a friend (who also happens to be a former advisee and hopefully will be a future co-author).  After he’d  read a sampling of ads from a popular “ESL” jobs website he was struck by how few job ads professed any desire for teachers with experience, qualifications, or personal characteristics or anything except a heartbeat and an ability to acquire the appropriate visa. “How is everyone fine with this?” he wondered.

He said he couldn’t get his head around how these language schools seemed not to care at all about experience or anything related to the job itself. The idea of language schools in Korea (and indeed around the world) just looking for a young (White?) face with “the right” accent is nothing new but I thought his question was poignant.

He went on, “How can these school directors be happy with such high turnover? How can they be happy to get new teachers with no experience showing up every year? How can parents be happy with this situation? How is this better for the students? How is everyone fine with this?” As he asked these questions he was referring to the job ads not mentioning qualifications and also how some ads seemed to paint teaching in Korea as something of a vacation from life.

*Disclaimer break
This is as good a time as any for me to mention that I not talking about all language schools in Korea. I’m doing my best to base these thoughts on the handful of ads I saw on a popular site. And yea, just a handful or two so all thoughts can be taken with a healthy portion of salt. Perhaps there are hundreds or even thousands of schools interested in hiring the best teachers and providing the best possible education for their paying customers. I don’t want to besmirch the reputation of a whole industry and I apologize for any over generalizations here. I cannot claim to know the reasons schools would not mention qualifications in their ads. When I speculate wildly as I do below please keep in mind I am only speculating wildly about a few places and not every single hogwon in Korea. Again, I’m just sharing some thoughts based on what I saw on job ads and a discussion I had.
*

When my friend asked how everyone was fine with the situation I was feeling quite cynical and suggested maybe school directors and owners don’t want teachers with experience or strong beliefs because teachers without these are likely more pliable. While quite cynical I don’t think it’s an unreasonable explanation. I think in the private education business (both in and out of Korea) teachers are asked to do things for reasons other than maximizing students’ learning. Some typical examples of such reasons might be, “that is what the parents want,” “that is what our competitors are doing,” “that is what we have always done.” My idea was that teachers who know about the field might resist doing things like swamping students with word lists of over 30 words to memorize daily.

In the conversation with my friend I didn’t mention the desire of language schools to cut costs and the assumption that more experienced teachers would cost more money. I can see how hiring more expensive teachers would cut into the profits of a small business. I suppose part of the issue here is that from the view of many employers experience is not really worth paying for.

This leads me to darker and even more cynical points. Maybe the schools simply don’t care at all. Maybe it doesn’t matter. Maybe knowledge, attitude, skills, and awareness are not important to the objective of getting students to pay for English lessons.

clusterfuck

I have only mentioned three potential reasons here. I have a sense I might be missing some potential reasons for the dearth of requirements related to the job of teaching in the job ads we saw. Any additional theories are welcome. What am I missing?

Lingering over this whole discussion is the native speaker fallacy and the idea any “native speaker” will do. I think this pernicious belief influences students, parents, teachers, schools and the whole industry. I don’t even know who benefits from this situation (with the possible exception of recruiters). How is everyone fine with this?

Get your Linguistic Landscape on

I recently participated in an interesting course from iTDi. The course was called Creating ELT Materials and was led by Katherine Bilsborough. I learned a lot in the course and decided to share some of the material I used for one of the assignments.

The assignment was to create learning materials based on authentic material. I pored over the Authentic* materials that may or may not be useful for class page on this blog and decided to try something new. I had a bunch of pictures of signs from around Seoul on my phone and thought I could cook up something interesting using these signs.

Thus far, with my future interpreter/translator students I have not done too much with signs except for occasionally asking students about the Korean in a particular interesting looking (well, to me at least) sign. I think there is a lot of room to exploit English and mixed English signs in an EFL country. My friend Michael Chesnut’s narrative article on three Korean undergraduate students’ experiences conducting a linguistic landscape research project can be found here and might offer some food for thought.

Another potentially useful resource is the Map of the Urban Linguistic Landscape blog which has a variety of pictures as well as ideas for using them. This Storify of the #KELTchat on Linguistic Landscapes also has a lot of ideas for using linguistic landscapes with classes and the preview for that KELTchat chat also includes some nice links including a post from Scott Thornbury. If readers would like to share other useful and related links in the comments I’d be happy to paste them here in the body of the post. 

In order to use the signs in class I thought I’d simply create a slideshow of the pictures and have students look at the pictures in turn and discuss them with a partner. I’d also offer some suggested questions which would be something like the following:

  1. Have you ever seen this sign before? If so, where?
  2. Why do you think Mike chose this picture?  
  3. Where might we find this image? What is the purpose of this sign?
  4. How can we say the English part in Korean? How can we say the Korean part in English?
  5. Are there any interesting aspects of this sign?
  6. Do you think the sign conveys what is intended?
  7. Is there anything you’d change on this sign? Why
  8. What do you think about the choices to use English in this sign? 
  9. What questions do you have for Mike or our classmates? 

One thing I wanted to avoid in this lesson was choosing a bunch of pictures that showed bad English all over town. I wanted to avoid the Engrish.com style which I figured could be demotivating (though also potentially valuable as a way of identifying errors). I wanted to focus on things I thought were interesting rather than simply wrong. I think there is enough worry about getting signs wrong in Korea as witnessed by this recent article in The Korea Times, “Authorities fry [SIC!] hard to fix Korean menus lost in translation.” So, sometimes in the pictures below there is something that probably *should be changed but not always. There is always something I found interesting. Please enjoy the pictures! I will share some thoughts and a brief explanation of each picture at the bottom of this post. All shots were taken on my Samsung Note II and were taken with #nofilter.

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1) Don’t get your freak on, though.

reporuous

2) So repurous. Very temptation.

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3) Especially dangerous to say in Korea, perhaps

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4) Not his most famous quotation.

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5) Presumably about the Greek (well, actually Egyptian originally) goddess.

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6) Good ol’ Uncle Beard.

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7) Cool example of mixing languages in the same word.

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8) All the cool guys avoid peeing on the floor.

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9) Delicious.

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10) Party without worries.

My notes and explanations:
(If I missed anything or got anything wrong please let me know. I’d also be happy to explain more, or better yet ask a student to do so, if the brief explanation is not enough.)

  1. I  mostly chose this because I thought the phrase “get your __ on” was interesting. I wasn’t sure if most of my students would know it but there it was on an ad for the whole student population to see. I was also interesting in hearing what sort of feeling this expression might give readers. Does it seem hip and cool or forced and strange? Does it seem too casual? Does it matter?
  2. I know I said I didn’t want to focus too much on errors but this was too interesting. It is actually just a typo. The only hits on Google for repurous seemed to be Chinese and Korean misquotes of the following:The instinct of the coffee is temptation.
    Strong aroma is sweeter than wine, soft taste is more rapturous than kiss.
    Black as the devil, hot as hell, pure as an angel, sweet as love.
    – CharlesMaurice de TalleyrandPérigord (1754 – 1838)
    I am not sure if there is much learning from this except that we need to be careful and that spellcheck can be a good friend.
  3. Many of my students this year were surprised to note the difference between “I love dog” and “I love dogs.” This picture is a good way to introduce the concept.
  4. The main reason I chose this picture is because of the importance of the question “Did you eat?” in Korean culture and how it doesn’t always match to what “native speakers” would expect to hear. There might be more on this question in an upcoming post.
  5. My guess is if this salon were in the US they would have changed their name. But it is not and they didn’t and the name jumped out at me. Maybe it’s not all that interesting. Moving on.
  6. The Korean word 아저씨 (ajeossi) is something like “older guy” but here they called it Uncle (which is not so far off). And the guy (the owner of the restaurant) has a beard so he became “Beard Uncle.” Maybe “bearded uncle” would have worked. I’d probably go with “The bearded guy ” but I don’t know. I’d love to hear how students would translate it.
  7. There are some interesting things happening here including using two scripts within one word.
    I’m reading this as a pun on a Korean folk tale (Kongji and Patji) and a pun on
    Bean 콩 (pronounced “kong”)
    Red bean 팥 (pronounced “pat”)
    Which makes Kong-G (kongji) and Pat-G (patji/patzzi).
    Maybe my students won’t think it as clever as I do and maybe they will not be as impressed with themselves for figuring it out but I felt compelled to share it.
  8. I love this image so much and actually used it in a presentation recently. The basic idea is that Chung-Ang is the name of my uni and chung-ang in Korean (and Chinese characters) means “middle.” This image is found in the male restrooms, exhorting viewers to be “Chung-Ang people” and aim for the center.
  9. Very punny.
  10. It says something like “Don’t worry about the school festival (which is like “Spring Weekend” in some US colleges). Chung-Ang University will pay for you.” The English in the first line caught my eye, especially because the sign is for the whole student population. I had to wonder what was behind the choice to use English here in this way.

 

Updates: 

Sandy Millin shared some great links/sets from #ELTpics in the comments and here they are:
Linguistic Landscapes
Signs:
Weird, wacky English

 

 

Please teach them English

The crack research team here at ELT RRR has uncovered some letters from a language school manager to a new teacher. We thought the emails would be of interest to readers, especially in light of the push for teaching 21st century skills in English classes, so we are posting them here. Please enjoy and let us know what you think in the comments.

 

Framework_for_21st_Century_Learning

Framework for 21st Century Learning from Wikipedia 

 


Dear Susie,

It is wonderful to have you working with us. We appreciate your enthusiasm and energy. It is great that you care about the students and connect with them. It is great to see you have some interests in common with the students, including Pokemon Go and Minecraft. I am sure you will be able to share thoughts and ideas related to computers and Internet Technology. I am looking forward to a nice year (or more!) working with you at Super Happy English Academy for Children. I know that you don’t have much experience teaching English but I think your passion for learning and teaching will be a great asset for you. I also think your artistic background and your previous experience teaching underwater basket-weaving will be useful experiences for you to draw upon in your work here. Please let me know if you have any questions or if I can be of any assistance to you. Take care and have a great year. Best of luck!

Sincerely yours,
John LEE
Academic Manager


Dear Susie,

I hope this finds you well. I have heard good things about your teaching performance. Thank you ever so much for the great efforts you have been making. It is noticed and very much appreciated.

There is one issue, however. We have noticed you are placing a huge priority on creativity, critical thinking, and collaboration. These are very important, of course, but we need to find a balance between these skills and actual language learning.  I feel I was not clear enough in the orientation. My apologies. Our main focus at SHEAFC is teaching English. We always need to keep in mind that students’ parents are paying a lot of money for them to develop their vocabulary and grammar. Also of utmost importance are speaking and writing skills, which our students don’t get much practice with in their public school classes. We need to focus as much as possible on teaching English. Please be sure to let me know if you have any questions or concerns or if there is anything I can help you with or clarify.

Best regards,

John Lee

 


Hello again Susie,

I hope you had a nice weekend and are feeling energized for another week of teaching English to our students. I am writing again to remind you about your your primary job here, which is teaching to English to our students. Things like creativity and critical thinking are always secondary. I can fully understand why and how you view them as important but I want to emphasize the main aim is always improving the students’ English ability. Thank you in advance for your understanding. As always, please let me know if you have any questions. Have a great week!

Best,

Mr. Lee.


Dear Susie,

I hope you are doing well. Unfortunately I am not doing very well. Many of the parents have been complaining about what is going on in your classes. They expect their children to learn English not website design and programming. I know that you think your students are “digital natives” and this type of work should be no problem for them but this is all very new to our students. They are spending an inordinate amount of time building up their webdesign skills and not enough time brushing up on their English. This is not a coding academy. It is an English school. Also, just in case you are not already aware, our students have technology class at their schools with trained professionals who studied education and technology in college.

I did a bit of research on these 21st century skills you are continually talking about and using as a reason for your pedagogical choices. The criminals at Pearson (who, let’s face it, are not at all interested in students’ development or well-being but are only motivated by the almighty dollar) say,  “Twenty-first century education gives students the opportunity to think deeply about issues, solve problems creativly, [SIC] work in teams and communicate clearly using a varietly [SIC] of media to help develop critical thinking skills. It is less about students getting the right answers and more about students asking the right questions.” I have to tell you, unfortunately, within our current system and paradigm getting the right answer is still important.Students have tests that determine their futures and we need to ensure they are as prepared for these tests as possible.

Also, please use your own 21st century and googling skills to find out about Pearson and what they are doing in the country of your birth in order to decide if you want to align yourself with them and people of their ilk. Alternatively, just have a look at this link: http://fortune.com/2015/01/21/everybody-hates-pearson/
or this one:
http://www.politico.com/story/2015/02/pearson-education-115026
As you know, I have nothing against running a business or trying to make a profit. I think many of those pushing this 21st Century skills are trying to find a new blue ocean and profit for the rest of this century. Since you are a proponent of critical thinking I’d ask you to think critically about the forces behind this 21st Century skills movement, especially as related to teaching English.  I think I am a bit off track and on a tangent here but my point is to remind you to focus on improving students’ English ability.

I don’t want to be too harsh or direct but I want to remind you that you were hired as an English teacher and this is what we hope and expect you will do. Please teach them English. I hope you will consider this message as a first warning. As always, my door is always open for questions and discussion.

Sincerely,

John


Hello again Susie,

I am sorry to always write to you with complaints but when the parents complain to me I have to relay the complaints on to you. The issue is again a lack, or a least a perception of a lack, of focus on actual language learning. I know we discussed the idea of doing a debate in class and I said it sounded like a good chance. I just didn’t know you were going to spend 2 weeks setting it up and choose such challenging and grown-up topics. The  issues of female genital mutilation, gay rights and bathrooms for transgendered people in the United States are not things our students have considered much to date. It is beyond their life experiences and everyday talk. These are not issues our students would likely be comfortable or articulate talking about in their first language. It seems such topics are well beyond their English ability. I realize you could make the case that your English class is the the time and the place for developing these skills but my point remains that you are here to teach English. I’m also not sure if it is appropriate to foist your worldview on impressionable students under the guise of critical thinking. Would you have been completely fine with the situation if students didn’t eventually concur with your views on these topics? I suppose it doesn’t matter. What matters is that our students learn English or at the very least that their parents are satisfied with the progress their children are making and the class content. Please, I implore you, use the textbook. It has the English students need for their tests and their future here in this imperfect yet real world we find ourselves in.

Regards,

John Lee


Dear Ms. Smith,
I regret to inform you that we will have to terminate your contract. Even after receiving multiple emails and warnings you still persisted in your pursuit of 21st century skills instead of simply teaching English. I asked you and reminded you many times but you never listened. I tried to be understanding but the last straw was when you spent 3 weeks creating a Justin Beiber parody song and then had students perform a lip dub version of it to upload to youtube which took another 3 weeks. I actually had to hire a temporary worker just to field all the complaints from parents. When I asked you about the educational purposes of this you didn’t really give me a clear answer but just said something about it being something you should do as a 21st century teacher and that it was all about collaboration. Our school is not a proving ground for your status as a 21st century teacher and the focus should be on the students and their needs. Instead of dealing with further complaints I have decided to let you go. I hope you will understand my position on this. I wish you good luck in all your future endeavors and in spite of your early termination I’d be happy to provide a reference, especially for jobs outside the English teaching sector.You are a passionate and energetic person and I hope you can find your niche.

Please do me a favor and avoid Twitter in class for the next 2 weeks before your employment is finally terminated.

Thank you for your understanding. I sincerely wish things had turned out differently.

Yours truly,

John Lee
Academic Manager
Super Happy English Academy for Children


 

In case it is not obvious I must admit these are not real emails (and there is not really a research team for this blog). I just made them up. I hope you enjoyed them and found something interesting to think about. 

An historic moment in pedantry

Did anything jump out at you in the above title?

Last week A few weeks ago I posted the following on a popular social networking site that allows for more than 140 characters:

This is an English usage post. Not a political one.

If you are USAmerican you probably don’t want to type or say “an historic” and *should probably stick with “a historic” because you probably do pronounce that h in historic.

Thank you for your kind attention to this. It’s been an honor to share this information with you.

The background for the post was that it was just after Hillary Clinton secured the Democratic Party’s nomination. I got a variety of responses including some nice quips like, “You mean, ‘It’s been a honour’?!” and “As an British person with an poor grasp of grammar, I say “the historic” in every cases.”

Many people agreed with my point and some said this was a pet peeve for them and one guy said it drives him crazy. My mother, a known pedant, “liked” it. So, that was pretty cool.

I also got some of my fellow Americans stating they would say, “an historic” which I found somewhat surprising. One gentleman was kind enough to send me an MP3 file.  Well actually he sent a few files but I wanted to illustrate my knowledge of the rule by typing “an MP3” much like I did in the original post when I wrote, “an honor.” The common thought among those USAmericans who’d say “an historic” seemed to be some blending of the sounds or simply dropping the H sound. Regional variations were suggested as well (which makes some sense to me).

I found myself wondering if any of these folks  would say “an history” or “an hit” but nobody said they would. So, for whatever reason it seems like  the word “historic” is somehow considered to be different than other similar words.

grammar police

Before sharing my thoughts and getting the responses on this point I was under the impression this usage of “an historic” was more of an over-learned  (or mis-learned) rule or an attempt to sound posh by sounding British. I don’t usually get too worked up about usage which doesn’t match my own. That said, I think this “an historic” is especially aggravating to my ears because it strikes me as an attempt to be too correct or too posh for American English users. For example, I could care less if someone used the word ain’t.

Here is what the  “Grammar Girl” had to say in relation to this an/a issue with historic  (and a full post on a/an here)   What I found most interesting in her post was the line, “There’s nothing special about historic that exempts it from the standard rule.” Speaking of the Grammar Girl, I always liked Russ Mayne’s post on her, who vs. whom, and “The (false) Gods of Grammar.”

I had some mixed feelings regarding posting my thoughts on this issue and the resulting responses because I feel like doing so seemingly placed me in a position of looking down on those who don’t say it the same way I would. I guess it’s the risk one takes when opining on language issues.

Another aspect for me to keep in mind here is the whole prescriptivism vs. descriptivism debate. I generally trend towards being a descriptivist and tend to think harking back to the good old days of yore when English was pure and correct is a losing and inefficient battle.

I think that is all for today. Thank you for reading. All typos and grammar mistakes in this post are completely intended.

Eduardo, Harry, and Daljeet walk into a bar…

The title is not the start of a bad joke but rather the start of a true story that could serve as a parable of sorts. The names have been changed to protect the mostly innocent. Keen observers and those who know me in “real life” might be able to figure out who the people are and that is fine. 


Picture it. Haebangchon, Seoul 2012. Eduardo, Harry and Daljeet walked into a bar. Over too many gin and tonics they caught up on each others’ lives and teaching situations. The conversation, as it frequently did, turned to their complaints about the EFL industry in South Korea and around the world.  They bitched about TESOL organizations, textbooks and the admin where they worked among other things. On this night, the topics that drew the most ire were racism and native-speakerism in Korea and around world. As the drinks flowed the rage grew. While the lads had all been hired as “native speakers” and benefited from the situation in Korea, they were driven by a sense of fairness as well as hopes that Korean students would get the best education possible. They could see this was not happening.

Eddie, Harry, and Daljeet had varying degrees of experience working with untrained native speakers and felt the system was broken. They had seen and dealt with a lot of shite native teachers and didn’t think the way hiring foreign teachers in Korea was reasonable or helpful. They had varying degrees of disdain for the hiring system and its results.

The boys had all finished their MAs in TESOL or Applied Linguistics within the past 4 years and were deeply affected by their readings, discussions, and assignments related to native-speakerism. They were hyped up on ideas of fairness and equity. And yes, gin.

Gin_and_Tonic_with_ingredients

Courage

Harry mentioned how he’d recently seen a job ad requiring only native-speakers from a small list of countries to be hired as teachers in Seoul.This was it. After talking bitching about the situation for an hour this ad set them off. There was nothing particularly new or different about the ad but it happen to be in front of them. It came to symbolize everything that was wrong with the industry.

Job ads usually contain contact info. This particular ad contained the contact info for the Korean-American coordinator, including his cell phone number. Can you see where this is going? Yep. All fired up on gin and equity they decided to place a call to the coordinator.It was just after 11:00 pm.

They decided not to call the coordinator on their cellphones (for fear of callbacks and/or repercussions) and decided to call via Skype. This being Seoul there was wifi in the bar. Eddie was carrying his laptop with him, as he is wont to do.

Eddie left a series of semi-coherent messages imploring the coordinator to change his ineffective and immoral hiring policies. He appealed to the coordinator’s sense of fairness and justice. He talked about helping Korea get away from the perception of racism in its hiring practices and how the hiring just native speakers might be hurting Korea. Since he only left messages we can only guess about the impact these messages might have had. My guess is that they were not very effective. The coordinator probably listened to them over his morning coffee and thought some people have too much time on their hands.

With some distance I can say Eddie (who is, in fact, me) is much more of a fool and perhaps a coward than a hero. He called out the coordinator for a policy the coordinator surely is not in charge of. It is an issue of visas and not the coordinator’s own personal preference or racism. This decision was made by people much higher up.

I think  these phone calls were a case of the wrong target and the wrong approach. I don’t think it is useful to vilify someone for something they have no power over. What would I have the coordinator do, leave his job in protest in order to be replaced by someone who would have the same directives? I believe the above story is an example of misguided idealism and poor manners.

I wrote above that this story happened in 2012 but it could have been 2013. I think it was 2012. In any case it was surely before I was aware of TEFL Equity Advocates. A recent post over there highlights “Five ways to speak out against the discrimination of non-native English teachers” This post would have been useful for Eddie/Mike and the boys back then. I think there is a good reason why “leaving slurred messages on coordinators’ voicemail” is not mentioned as one of the five ways.

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Rather than finishing on a self-flagellating note perhaps I can share some good news. Last week at the KOTESOL National Conference I had the pleasure of speaking to Lindsay Herron, the President of KOTESOL. She informed me that KOTESOL had a new policy for their job board and suspected I might be happy to see it. I was, especially since  in the past I wondered if TESOL orgs should allow ads with discriminatory language.

I mentioned at the start that this could potentially be something of a parable. So, Dear Reader, any takeaways you’d like to share?

Lessons from Behavioral Economics for EFL Teachers

Right about now (isn’t technology amazing?) I am delivering a workshop entitled “Lessons from Behavioral Economics for EFL Teachers” at the KOTESOL National Conference.

For the ideas I mostly used three books.  They are

  1. Thinking, Fast and Slow by Daniel Kahneman
  2. Nudge: Improving Decisions about Health Wealth and Happiness by Richard Thaler and Cass Sunstein.
    I am a big Thaler guy from way back.
  3. Think Like a Freak by Steven Levitt and Stephen Dubner
    (Click here for my “Teach like a Freak” collection.)

Here is the abstract from my workshop:

Are there things that Kahneman,Thaler, Harford, and Levitt can teach us about English language teaching in Korea that Thornbury, Nation, Krashen, Farrell, and Larsen-Freeman cannot? While Behavioral Economics is not typically the province of EFL educators, perhaps there are important lessons that could be garnered from readings in the area. Perhaps lessons and ways of thinking embedded in the field Behavioral Economics that are typically not considered in ELT conferences and research or the field in general could be of use to English teachers in Korea. In this interactive and discussion-based session, lessons from Behavioral Economics will be considered and audience members will be asked to share their thoughts on how ideas from behavioral economics could be applied to their own teaching and working situations. The world of nudges, biases, sunk costs, loss aversion, and framing choices will be connected to the world of English language teaching and will be used as lenses to examine the ELT field.  Attempting to bridge the gap between these seemingly different fields will provide participants with fresh perspectives on both their teaching contexts and the challenges that might be found in these contexts. Participants can expect to walk away with new ways of framing and attempting to work through challenges they encounter as EFL teachers in Korea.

And finally (for now) here are my very simple and not at all flashy Powerpoint slides:
Lessons from Behavioral Economics I’m not sure how helpful they will be to those interested in the topic but I am sharing them anyway. Please let me know if you have any questions, ideas or reading suggestions. Hopefully there will be another post or more coming on this topic.

Recalibrating the feedback machine

It’s been a long time. I shouldn’t have left you without a dope post to step to.

I’m actually super busy at the moment so this will hopefully be a short post. Although it might end up being long a la Mark Twain’s letter.

One of the things keeping me busy at the moment is preparing for the KOTESOL National Conference in Wonju next weekend. My workshop is entitled  “Lessons from Behavioral Economics for EFL Teachers” (and you can read the abstract here if you wish). I will touch on some of themes (and add a lot more) I’ve treated on the (currently hibernating) “Teach like  Freak” series on this blog. That is not my main focus today or of this blog post, however.

My focus at the moment is on delivering feedback on students’ writing. This particular round of feedback is on end of course projects and I am doing my best to provide whats I think and hope will be meaningful and helpful feedback. A series of thoughts gnawing away at my mind are “What if they don’t read this? What if they don’t care? What if they ‘checked out’ at the end of the course and this feedback is just for me to feel like a diligent professional?” Yet I soldier on. Now I’m wondering if there might some ways to better balance my effort and spend more time on the feedback for those who are interested in reading what I have to say even after the course is finished.

My amazing and earth shattering idea is…wait for it…to ask them. I’m thinking I could ask students how interested they are in the feedback that might be coming. If students say they are very interested in reading it and very interested in taking it on I might recalibrate my feedback machine and give more attention to the work of these particular students.To those students who state their lack of interest I would gladly do the minimum.

feedback machine

The Happy Feedback Machine by Anh Nguyen

I can almost hear and even feel some readers recoil at this idea. Some might say it is not fair and all students should get a balanced amount of feedback and attention from the teacher. And that the teacher should do their best for everyone. I can see that side of it.

The idea of balance or fairness is probably not the main reason I won’t pursue this idea. I’ll probably not do it because my sense is most students would automatically tick the box which  says “I want the most and most detailed feedback possible” even if they actually will not spend much time reading and considering the feedback. I think students might make this choice because they think it’s what students should do and wouldn’t want to hurt the teacher’s feelings. They also might be optimistic in thinking they will take on the feedback but might change their mind when it comes.

Another thought bouncing around for me is if students were asked to make a statement on how much they want the feedback it might have a spillover effect on how deeply they consider the feedback. My guess is if students say they want feedback it might end up being more meaningful to because the students already stated this. Just a thought, really.

I guess what I’d be interested in (in general and not just in the one instance described above) is asking students to take one small step to prove they are interested in the feedback (and honestly if they are not, that’s no problem at all) then making my decisions and time and energy allocations from there.

Come to think of it, I guess I have played around with similar ideas in the past. In a previous course I asked students to email me if they wanted my feedback on their presentations. Since it was a course on professional communications I thought the extra email practice was a good selling point. If I recall correctly, I got a feedback request on around 60% of presentations. It was fine from me and I didn’t lose any sleep over students not asking and I am sure they didn’t lose much from not getting my feedback. I had my notes ready to go even a few weeks later if they suddenly got curious. Only a few students asked for feedback every time. I think this is in and of itself interesting, just to see how how often students would take the opportunity to ask for written feedback.

Some might think I was shirking my duties but I’d argue I was just trying to meet my students’ needs as students saw them. I’d also mention there was lots of feedback swirling around the course (including peer and self-assessment and teacher feedback on spoken and written tasks) Of course some students might have been to shy to email and thus missed out on the feedback on the presentations and the opportunity to practice writing requests.

I think I can see some shades of Do Nothing Teaching (per Kevin Giddens) here. Maybe instead of providing feedback and doing stuff the default mode for teachers could be more like doing nothing until something is needed or asked for. This might help ensure the feedback falls on willing ears.

I will never do this (and certainly not this round) but it is fun to think about.