12 Things I will probably do in class today

Hi there! How is it going? I have class in a few hours and I wanted to share some things I will likely do in class today.

  1. I’ll probably ask “Do you understand?”
    I will explain something and then check for understanding with this question.

    I might even say, “Does that make sense?” or “Is that clear?”
    I will probably also say, “OK” a lot too.
    I will almost certainly not check students’ understanding by somehow getting them to prove to me that they have understood what I have said. I will say things, ask if I have been understood and then move right along.
  2. My “Teacher Talking Time” will be through the roof at times
    I might talk for 5 minutes in a row. I might take long interrupted turns and do some mini lectures.  Lots of telling. Lots of explaining. Not a whole lot of inductive anything.
  3. I will almost certainly explain grammar and usage points
    In doing so I will probably use meta-language too.
  4. I will focus on the tiniest of errors/slips/mistakes/whathaveyous
    I will focus on the smallest of errors. Prepositions and articles out of place will be noted. I will prioritize accuracy over intelligibility.
  5. I am going to highlight esoteric English points most “native speakers” are not even aware of
    My pickiness will know no bounds. I will focus on the tiniest of confusions or possible confusions.
  6. I will rely on “‘native speaker’ intuition” rather than researching the lexical and grammatical confusions I choose to highlight
    True story.
  7. I might highlight a specific student’s error for the whole class by saying what the mistake was and who said it
    I will not save the errors for later or hide the fact who said what. 
  8. If a student makes a funny/interesting mistake I will probably highlight this mistake
    Saving face is not my primary concern. Making the the problem memorable is a much more important consideration.
  9. If I don’t know the answer to something I will proudly say, “I don’t know”
    Yep. (Actually, I think this is generally good practice and is something I would usually do in almost any class).
  10. I will encourage my students to speak L1 if they feel like it
    They can feel free to speak Korean as much as they’d like.
  11. I will probably check Twitter during class time
    And Facebook. And email. I will probably daydream too. 
  12. I will not plan
    I realize this is something I will not do, but I still think it is worth mentioning. 

    (In the interests of full disclosure I should mention I planned 20 minutes of the 3 hour lesson.)

Confused? Wondering if I had a bout of self-flagellation or some sips of truth serum? Actually, I am doing all of these things consciously, for a reason. No, I am not doing some experiment in “worst practices” nor I am trying to do a bad job. I am simply teaching my students in that way that makes the most sense to me and matches what I see as their goals.

Before you decide that I am a terrible teacher/person, the reason(s) behind these decisions can be found below (written in white font so you just need to scroll your cursor over the paragraph that starts with “So” and ends with “Thanks for reading!”

So, the thing is that my class is anything but a typical English class. It is actually a class for simultaneous interpretation, entitled “Seminar in Simultaneous Interpretation. All the students are 2nd year grad students in an interpretation/translation program. The class is designed to be like a mini conference each week.  To this end, one student reads a speech in Korean and other students go to the interpreting booth at the back of the room and interpret what they hear. Then students give each other feedback on what they heard while I prepare what I want to say. Then I share some (picky) observations and do my best to answer questions that students have. I also guide their discussion as they ask each other about how they handled certain parts of the speech and what they might do differently next time. I am not sure if this explains all of my decisions above so I will just add that the students are already extremely proficient at English and accustomed to scathing feedback from their other classes. They have a strong desire to be as close to perfect as possible and really want the pointed feedback they tend to get. Do you understand? By the way, the reason I ask this is because they tell me when they don’t and ask more specific questions when they want to know more. In terms of planning I find it hard to plan besides thinking about the topic or reading the English version of the speech (when available) and imagining possible problem areas.  The Twitter time might occur when students are giving each other feedback and I have prepared myself on what I’d like to say. Thanks for reading!

Update 1:

Class has been over for an hour and I am compiling/adding to my diligently collected notes from the class. (Note to potential employers: I am not lazy…please don’t misread the not planning thing). I didn’t do too much of #1. #2-6 were clearly done. #7 Happened a bit but it was pretty gentle and mostly in the form of questions rather than finger pointing.  I did some #8 but it was not directly related to what one student said. There was only one incidence of #9. I said I thought “cover dancing” was a pretty Konglishy expression but I wasn’t sure. #10 is standard, as is #11.  And #12,  we already knew about.

Update 2:

It was very interesting (and a bit surreal) for me to be in class today with that list already written out. As just one example, there were times when there was a chance to single out a particular student for something they said and I chose not to because it was something that anyone could have said so I just chose to address the group. Listing out these “bad” things I expected to do made me hyper aware of these possible choices and made my decisions (reflection in action?) all the more clear.


  1. livinglearning

    I love it, Mike! It felt like a Fanselow list, all the while challenging me to ask myself, when and where is there a place for these teacher taboos? And why do we (ok, I) take guidelines like this as rules?

    I learned during my last program that two of my students were linguistics majors and ALL of them could read IPA better than I could, which made pronunciation discussions a lot more interesting, but I would never have found this out if I had been afraid of going over their heads with explanations.

    Thanks for the thinks.

  2. mikecorea

    Hey wow…thanks for the comments! Much appreciated. As you were probably typing the comments I was wondering to myself if my post was clear enough…if my message about context was clear enough and all that. Thus, your comments came at the perfect time.

    The humble reward I offer you for such well timed and helpful comments is a story I think is funny.
    One of the students didn’t know the difference between simultaneous and spontaneous interpretation in the first week of the course. He is a good natured (and thick skinned) fellow and everyone had a laugh about what spontaneous interpretation might actually be. I suggested it might be like just randomly interpreting what strangers are saying on the subway or something. The interpreter version of spontaneous combustion. So now spontaneous is sort of a popular word in class.

    Back to the point, (I think there was one) I think it can be all too easy to demonize explanations but sometimes they have a place. I believe that the context I described above really lends itself to explanation. You mentioned how much you learned from not being afraid to go over Ss heads with explanations. Very interesting thought.

    Ohh, please feel free to ask me about lecturing when you see me next. 🙂

    Thanks again for the comments and take care!

  3. Rose Bard

    I read the list and I couldn’t figure out where you were going with the list until I managed to read between the “So” and “thanks for reading”, then it all made sense. I don’t know if for example in my own posts I make clear what my teaching context is like. I try to stress or give more info about it because I want the reader to understand or try to understand why I chose to do this or that. Like Anne said your list does make us think where this would possibly happen. And more often than not, we jump into conclusions without taking into the consideration the context.

    Thanks for another interesting post.

    • mikecorea

      Hi Rose!

      Thanks for reading and commenting! This was another one of those posts where I seriously wondered if I was making any sense! I am happy to know that you read it through and the “coded” part helped explain things. As you might guess, I think your point about context is a very important one! My thought at the moment is that by experiencing different contexts we can have a chance to consider our beliefs that underpin our decisions and where they come from. As for jumping to conclusions, I think this is a pretty typical thing to do, right? I think as teachers we are bombarded with ideas about “best practice” that might not always take context into consideration. And of course judging certain ideas might prevent us from considering ideas that might actually be helpful! Thanks for reading and commenting and thanks also for the support. It really helps when I am thinking of writing a different style post like this one! 🙂 Bom dia!

  4. Tom Randolph (@tomtesol)

    Very clever concept, if I may say so. My context is I read this on April 1 after Google Nose and Thornbury disowning Dogme… Still couldn’t figure out where you were going, but I was constructing meaning all the same.

    In the part that is the cover of the Beatles album I listened to yesterday, you described he reading/interpreting/feedback loop, and I noticed it’s identical to what we used to do here for practice teaching. We noticed that when we switched to recording and moved the feedback to online, after class, and then in the next class from peers in pairs mediated by the recordings, and withheld instructor feedback until later, we got much better quality feedback and subsequent development from our students. Doesn’t sound like you’re having the same cultural issues we had (face threat, only the master’s voice matters, etc), but I wondered anyway about what alternatives you might have.

    BTW is Thornbury really @ebelt? hadn’t noticed before, it is April 1, and I’m surprised he put such a kabosh on skimming and scanning a few days ago in that case 🙂

    • mikecorea

      Thanks for the comments, Tom!
      I have to admit I was pretty happy with the concept. 🙂
      It was actually something I was thinking about for a long time….especially when I found myself doing things I wouldn’t advocate on a teacher training course! As you have seen

      In terms of alternatives…. I suppose I **could have Ss share their recordings (mp3s or whatever) with each other but I also strongly feel that the immediate feedback (and the actual usage of the booths for both listening and interpreting) is pretty good (“gamelike conditions”) practice. To be very honest, though I don’t really know what i would or could do with 32 7-minute mp3 files a week either if I were to listen to them. I would also mention that giving the immediate feedback seems to be (and I have been told numerous times it is) helpful for the listeners (who are then feedback givers) because they were listening to the English and comparing to Korean version in front of them (on paper of whatever device) and stealing what is useful for them while generating questions on certain aspects of the Korean source text and/or the English version they hear or might say. I think I am making sense. I don’t think I would consider doing (m)any more sections of interpretation on the day (meaning removing or moving the peer feedback slot in order to create more time for another round of practice) as

      One thing I have seriously considered but not followed through on was to repeat an interpretation on a text we have already worked on. Students didn’t seem so keen on it so I didn’t push it.

      I think you hit the nail on the head regarding cultural issues (face threat, only the master’s voice matters). To be honest I was quite freaked out at first…Actually students asked/told/begged me to be more and more direct. It was quite a surprise at first! Especially perhaps after working pretty much exclusively with teachers for a few years. I don’t think I need to emphasize how important the context and expectations are.

      Thanks again for the comments. Very nice to meet you this past weekend and I am looking forward to the many things on the lsit to chat about.


      ps- I am not quite sure I follow the Beatles bit but I don’t think it impaired my understanding of the main points of the comments.

      pps- EBEFL is not Scott Thornbury. @EBEFL was having a laugh and impersonating @thornburyscott.

      ppps-I RTed EBEFLs first impersonation tweet thinking it was actually an April fools from Thornbush (as he is known in certain circles of Keltchat) but then realized it was actually EBEFL and un-retweeted. It is all very complicated at times as you can see. 🙂

      • Tom Randolph (@tomtesol

        Mike, Don’t tell my students 🙂 — but I rarely watch their videos… the value is in all the reflecting they can do with each other that is much more culturally appropriate as you can imagine. The few comments I note during the practice teaching are plenty from the MASTER. Your case does sound entirely different (37!!!!!).

        it’s The White Album…

        I’m glad EBEFL isn’t Thornbury – I would have thought ‘I’m not getting this whole SN thing after all…’

  5. Paul Read

    This is a great idea.. I should steal it 🙂 Sometimes, looking around these EFL blogs I feel a bit intimidated, like everyone else is doing great, Scott Thornbury-approved, things and so their students are obviously learning a great deal more than mine. My feelings veer between inferiority and slight irritation that people think they know what this effective method of teaching actually is. Little reality checks like this are very welcome 🙂

    • mikecorea

      Hi Paul!
      Thanks so much for the comments. I saw your comments on my new friend Swisssirja’s blog which led me to your blog. Very happy to have found it. I am happy my post struck a chord with you! Please feel free to borrow/steal the idea! I would love to your list of “bad” things you do/plan to do.

      I had an interesting discussion with a teacher who has been blogging for a while about how ELT bloggers can (quite reasonably I suppose) tend try to show off their better side (or maybe avoid sharing less positive images of themselves). I tend to prefer the more “warts and all” or at least “i am still thinking about this” type post.

      Looking forward to reading more on your blog and sharing insights and irritations!

  6. Pingback: Live-ish Lesson Planning | ELT Rants, Reviews, and Reflections

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