Tagged: EFL

Yeajin’s EFL World

I’d like to tell you about one student of mine, just #onestudent. She is a 22 year old first semester student in the Graduate School of International Studies at the university I am currently employed at in the modern capital of South Korea, Seoul.

The student, Yeajin, told me she is enjoying most of her classes and her life in graduate school. She said some classes are challenging but the workload is manageable. She is not really sure what she wants to do when she finishes grad school but is thinking about working in an NGO or government agency. From my observations she is a very polite and sweet young woman. She seems hardworking and curious. My impression is that she is bright and thoughtful.  She is not extremely outgoing or outspoken but will freely share her thoughts when asked. She is a pleasure to teach. I might be kidding myself but it seems to me that she looks more and more comfortable speaking at length in English every week I see her.

I am not about to take any of the credit for this, though. She is working hard and she has so much English around her and she uses English every day in her life and in other courses. She is taking courses like Global Economics and East Asian Security in English. In her coursework she has classmates from all over the world. She is enrolled in my course called International Discussion, which is a spoken fluency focused course talking about issues of concern to students like Yeajin and her classmates. As above, I think she is making great progress each week. I also think she started out in a good place for these improvements.

I am not an expert on such things but in terms of speaking I think she’d be in the 6.5-7.5 range on IELTS. I am pretty sure her TOEIC score will be above 900 soon if it is not already. I guess she’d have to be nearing in on C1. I think her TOEFL score is just on the verge of being high enough for her to able to study in US university without restrictions. I don’t mean to imply that these mean much of anything (or convey much of anything for that matter) but just want to give you, dear reader, an idea of this student’s level. She can handle complicated discussions and makes her points clearly. Her pace when speaking is not so fast but she is very good when she gets going.  It does not require “undue effort” from a listener to follow what she is saying. Mistakes are minor and outright errors are rare. In short, it is easy to understand what she is saying. She is a strong user of English.

I am not sure if anything I have said here sounds very much out of the ordinary or is very exciting. Maybe her English abilities sound right in line with expectations for a student in an English medium graduate program. You might even be wondering why I told you all this, and I am not 100% sure either.

I guess this is where I should mention that Yeajin has never left Korea and is from the most sparsely populated and rural province.

I would say she is higher than her average peer in the grad school in terms of communicative competence even though she is in her first semester. In the first few weeks I found myself wondering exactly why she was so strong at English. So, I asked her. I might have said something like, “Sorry for this strange and direct question but why are you so good at English?” She seemed a bit surprised but calmly answered that she has always liked English and that she reads in English a fair amount (outside and previously to grad school work) and watches lots of TV and movies from the US. She also said some of her high school classes (like science and history) were in English as her school was designated as an international/foreign language school (this not the type with mostly international students, as more than 85% of her high school classmates were Korean). Accordingly, she had more hours of English than the average high school student. Now, she has lots of non-Korean classmates and has weekly private lessons focused on TOEFL with a native (please note the lack of scare quotes here) English speaking teacher.

Another reason I shared this is because I am sick of people talking about how there is such a massive dearth of English in Korea apart from the occasional English class. I am, of course willing to admit that Yeajin is not a typical student but I am not sure if the experts realize that students like her exist. Please kindly note the lack of  scare quotes on the word experts. This is the result of a long and contentious internal monologue.

Where were we? Oh yes, EFL. Korea is an EFL situation. It seems to me so many people harp on about Korea being an EFL country or an outer circle situation they fail to see the whole nuanced picture. There is English out there. Just as an example, the young lady next to me in this coffee shop in Itaewon as I write this has just read more than half of a graded reader in the time it took me to aggressively but gently tap out these words. In past rants posts I have expressed my confusion about terms like ESL and EFL and have also offered up some newer categories that might be more accurate and telling. What is my point? Maybe something about relying on labels like EFL too much. Yeah, that and not assuming students need to go abroad to improve their English or to have access to English.

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English Teaching Knowledge

There are a good many ideas out there about what it takes to be a good English teacher and I’d like to share some of them here.
How can anyone just point out the important factors in teaching English in just a few hundred words?
I’m not sure if this can be done as I intended it to be but I will try.
Student-centered learning is key. Many T’s are all about the TTT (teacher talking time) which should be reduced. Aim for 20%.
I+1  is also an incredibly important factor. We need to make sure all our lessons are pitched at this level.
Students work better when their affective filters are reduced. This is something teachers need to be concerned with.
Teachers also need to be sure they are empowering students. Students work better and learn more when they are empowered.
Of course, just doing the above is not enough. Lessons need to be planned appropriately. Proper scaffolding at each stage!
The stages of the lesson need to follow the correct frameworks and have the interaction appropriately planned for each section.
All the above is important but doesn’t really mean anything if we are not eliciting creativity from students, which we should do.
Let’s be clear, in the 21st century it is the responsibility of teachers of all subjects to foster creativity in all students.
But we need to be sure to consider students’ different learning styles and multiple intelligences or it will all be for naught.
Unless we create lessons that match the unique needs of all our learners we will be wasting our time and theirs.
Learners are all different. Our lessons need to match their styles and intelligences plus wants and needs and moods and more.
Learner’s needs must be considered and we must also ensure that we are developing their critical thinking skills. This is a must.
Students need to be given tools to succeed in the modern era. We should remember most of our students are digital natives.
However we do it, as teachers we need to be sure that we do and remember everything listed above and make them a priority.
I hope and believe I have offered some useful ideas and starting points here. 
T
hough, if all the above fails you can just flip the classroom or employ gamification.

8 Stories about feedback

In response to a previous post of mine, “Stories about aims on the board,” a friend brought the LOLs when she suggested I state the aims at the start of my post. I thought about doing  so for this post but no “by the end of this post, readers will be able to” came to mind. I suppose my personal goal is simply for me to share the stories, which might, in turn, help readers sharpen their thinking on this topic. Or not. It was fun for me to think about these stories and how the have impacted my thoughts on getting and responding to feedback from students. In any case, I hope you enjoy the stories.

(I do apologize because I think some of these stories have been mentioned already on this blog or in various places around Asia)

  1. In a previous job the end of term evaluations were really a big deal.  As much of a big deal as Ron Burgundy. These evaluations were among the primary determiners of  teachers being able to stay employed at this particular institution. One term, I decided I would be sure to get a perfect score in the only question on the survey that was not subjective or based on the opinion of the students. Or so I thought. Question 5 dealt with the teacher being on time for the lessons and I endeavored to be in the classroom 5 minutes early and ready to start exactly on time. However, my score on Question 5 was not perfect. This results of my experiment were not exactly surprising to me or my peers but they were very interesting. It became even more interesting when a colleague who was, shall we say, not so concerned about starting on time got a higher average score on this question than I did. Very interesting indeed.
  2. Another classic feedback story for me in that particular institution was when I got nearly perfect scores (on every question) from one group. I knew that I hadn’t done my best and I was not very happy with my teaching or my attitude with this particular group. To my mind I deserved the poor scores which I felt certain I would get. I was shocked when I saw the very high numbers from this group because I felt I had failed them and myself. After I got over my surprise and tried to figure out what had happened, the most reasonable explanation for the high scores was that one student in the group, the oldest and most influential student, was in my class the previous term and we had a very good relationship. I remain convinced to this day that he persuaded his classmates to give me high scores. This was based on my relationship with him and my good work the previous term but not what I did with that particular group. What a strange way to evaluate teachers.
  3. I once killed a man with my disclosure about not reading end of term official feedback.
  4. In my first few months as a teacher trainer I was faced with a predicament. My colleague was a new trainer too, and he was also new to Korea and there was a learning curve about Korea and the teaching and learning environment and everything else. To make matters worse before we started the job we were told there would be a curriculum for us to follow. There was no such thing so we were pretty much making things up as we went along. The course was supposed to focus on a mix of English and Teaching skills and knowledge. My colleague decided to do a strand on pronunciation, which included learning the IPA including sounds that were particularly challenging for Korean students (and as it turned out Korean English teachers). There were some complaints about this strand. The complaints went to me and my colleague but mostly to the training center admin. We had a meeting with the director and she encouraged (read: demanded) him to stop the strand. I didn’t think it was proper to change in the middle based on “hallway feedback” from just a few participants. Regretfully, I was not assertive or convincing enough and he acquiesced to the encouragement.** When we got the final feedback for the course (which humility almost prevents me from mentioning won a national award)  the most frequent feedback was that we should have kept going with the pronunciation strand. Most noteworthy for me was a comment that went something like, “I didn’t even really like the pronunciation thing but I think you should have kept going. You are the trainers and if you decided it was needed then we should have respected your thinking and gone along with it. I was very disappointed we didn’t complete this strand.” Although it was not an ideal situation I felt like it was a very valuable learning experience in many ways.
  5. At the same training center six months later the training center director grabbed my arm in the hallway and said that there had been complaint about something or other. I asked her how many complaints had been received. She said 3 (of 33). I said with a smile, “Great, only 3 of 33! We need to keep on doing exactly what we are doing. We are collecting feedback weekly and hopefully these issues will come up at that time. Thank you very much for the concern. I think we can surely handle this as a group. Thanks!”
  6. In that same course my colleague and I collected feedback using different colored papers and we were very impressed with the level of detail the participants gave. I think this was based on the fact we had done it before and that participants knew we valued the feedback and were very willing to consider what they had written and possibly make changes. I also think our feedback on previous feedback was useful in helping participants see what sort of feedback was useful for us. I didn’t necessarily agree with all the feedback we received but it gave me a glimpse into the minds of the participants. It might be pure speculation at this point (quite a few years later) but during the course there were some questions about certain projects we asked participants to work on. Spending 20-30 minutes on the theoretical background for what we were doing  (and helping participants see that TBL wasn’t something we just made up) seemed to dramatically increase buy in. I was very pleased we got the feedback relating to their confusion and was very happy to have the chance to address it before it was too late.
  7. On that very same training course the most common comment in the end of course feedback  was about how impressive it was for the trainers to sit down and calmly discuss the feedback we had received and to make changes based on it but to also explain why we weren’t making changes and to share new ideas for participants to get the most out of the course. I think one example was about participants wanting us to correct their journals for grammar mistakes. This was very far from our intention with that component of the course and we said we wouldn’t do that. We did say that we’d be happy to correct 10 sentences a week from each participant on sentences they weren’t sure about. From reading the comments at the end of the course I got the impression the participants were happy to be heard and happy to have their requests dealt with in such a way. This fits in very well with my idea of such feedback as a starting point for a conversation. Some of the teachers remarked that they’d love to create such channels of communication with their students.**
  8. In my current place of employment they ask me if there are any students I’d like to prevent from completing the end the term official feedback. I can’t prevent any student, just the ones that didn’t come to class enough. I was fascinated by this question the first time I received it. I think I have actually only “banned” one student from completing the survey (he actually literally never came to class). This policy gave me something to think about but I think in principle I agree that it’s better to get feedback from the students that attend class.

Thanks for reading. I do hope it was mildly entertaining and/or gave you something to think about. These stories are sort of related to my upcoming presentation at JALT, which I mentioned in my most recent post. Any comments or stories welcome.

Extra Notes:

*I have always regretted not being more forceful day and it was a valuable learning experience which has caused me to be a bit more eager to speak up in such situations and a lot more eager to use whatever capital I have developed.

**This was like music to my ears but I realize it is not always easy or comfortable to do so. I think in some places requesting such feedback can be taken for weakness or as the teacher not knowing what she is doing. This is unfortunate but I don’t think it means it’s impossible. The example that always springs to mind is pairwork. There are many places where pairwork is outside of the norm but I think many teachers believe in it and work at it and implement pairwork in their classes. Surely this is not always 100% comfortable for those students unfamiliar with it but teachers push through. Why? And why can’t they when it comes to feedback? Is collecting feedback that much more uncomfortable for the students? Is there another reason at play here?  Maybe teachers don’t value feedback or don’t hold the belief that it can be beneficial to them and their students. If that is the case, I can’t really argue with the belief. What I can partially argue with is the cop out that collecting feedback will be uncomfortable and should then be avoided at all costs.  Well this note is turning into a mini-rant so I will stop there.

 

Beyond #ESL and #EFL: Newer Categories in English Teaching

In my teaching and training life, I have heard a lot of excuses here in Korea about why certain things can’t or must be done here because, you know, Korea is an EFL situation. I have  been known to be confused about what people really mean when they use terms like ESL and EFL. Additionally, I have been heard to mutter that EFL and ESL are outdated concepts at best. I’ve also talked about ELF (English as a Lingua Franca) with nearly anyone who has had the misfortune of talking about teaching English with me in the last 3-4 years. Alex “The Breathy Vowel” Grevett’s posts are a nice intro to the topic of ELF.

Back to ESL and EFL for a moment. Some folks seem pretty attached to the EFL/ESL dichotomy. Quite rightly, in my view, some of them point out that research in one area doesn’t mean a guarantee that it will carry over to the other. Having said that, I don’t think it gives us a lot of information about the students or their goals of the situation. Guys, (to my understanding) this distinction comes from ages ago when there were only 2 reasons to study English. The first was to live in an English speaking country (and thus to sound just like a “native speaker?) and the second was to be good at the grammar of English and to be able to read the classics. Things have changed. A lot. Now there are so many exceptions and that the expanding circles are expanding and changing shapes in ways that were unexpected making these terms not only potentially confusing but also less than meaningful.

After connecting with teachers of English all around the world via Twitter I have been trying to note similarities and differences in teaching contexts. I have found the handy ESL/EFL labels don’t really tell me much about someone else’s situation. Lately I have been thinking my teaching context has much more in common with English for Academic Purposes (EAP) programs in Canada (or anywhere, shoutout to Tyson anyway) than it does with General English Programs (GEPs) right down the street in Seoul. There must be distinctions that make more sense and give us more information and insight about the context than boring old ESL vs. EFL. Right? There must be other ways to think of contexts beyond ENSP and TENOR (“English for no Specific Purpose” and “Teaching English for No Obvious Reason”). Plus, as I always say, the thing this field needs is some more acronyms! So, I humbly offer the following ways to describe and distinguish between English teaching contexts. Apologies if I am just making up names for things that have already been named.

EILS and EIPS
English in Language Schools and English in Public Schools

To my eyes this distinction doesn’t seem to get enough coverage when considering teaching contexts or discussing teaching techniques. This distinction seems more important to me than the country in which the classes happen to be occurring.  I am thinking, for example, that language school classes in London have quite a bit in common with language school classes in Seoul and that public school classes in Brazil have a fair amount in common with public school classes in Daegu or Delhi.
[Of course one could say that English classes in the States are drastically different from those in Japan and I would have to concede that point but it doesn’t mean that the above is incorrect or that this is not a distinction we should consider.]

Please note that this distinction is closely related to the next 3.

EWMS and EFS and EVFS
English with Many Students and English with Few Students and  English with Very Few Students 

Class dynamics, suitable techniques, expectations and potential for individualized attention from the teacher are all related to this distinction. Why is this not mentioned so much? I think it should be one of the first considerations when defining contexts. The question is “How many is ‘many’?”

Some teachers might want to add something about multi-level classrooms here or to create an entirely new grouping but my feeling is that they are all multi-level classrooms.

E2PC and E2NPC
English to Paying Customers and English to Non Paying Customers

Think about all the related factors here! Especially motivation. I have worked in private language schools where some of the customers didn’t pay out of their own pocket but were instead reimbursed by their companies or universities. It almost always obvious on the first day who had paid their own money to be there and who had been sent. There was a dramatic difference. The idea that students might tend to be less motivated and goal oriented can be related to to EIPS and EP4BP (English Paid for by Parents) as well. When describing teaching situations I think it is important to consider if the students have paid for the classes with their own money.

GEC and  UGREC
Graded English Courses and Ungraded English Courses

Such a key aspect! This can be further split into GEC-WGAM (Graded English Courses Where the Grades Actually Matter) but the idea is the same. Having grades tends to change things. I don’t want to say that grades are neccesary or problematic. I just want to say that this is another dynamic to consider when describing and considering teaching contexts.

ESR
English for Status Reasons

Highly related to ENSP, this is very common in Korea. People of a certain socio-economic status seem to take English lessons because this is what people of their socio-economic status tend to do. They don’t seem to have goals other than being sure to tell their friends that they are taking English classes. This can be quite challenging for the teacher that is focused on progress.

ECS
English as a Compulsory Subject

As it says in the title, this is when English is a required course. This is obviously very common in  EIPS and GEC situations. Here in Korea it is also very common in universities, which means all students need to take and pass at least 1-2 English courses in order to graduate, regardless of their majors. As you might expect, the motivation and expectations from ECS can be quite low. Problems can also arise when students that are extremely motivated to learn are forced to take ECS courses with classmates who don’t share this level of motivation.

SEAL
Speaking English as an Alternative Language 

This is for situations where it is helpful culturally/socially/politically  to have English as an option. English provides another choice for students who might have reasons not to speak the dominant language of the particular region they find themselves in.

CGE and CDE and CFE
Coursebook  Dominated English and Coursebook Guided English and Coursebook Free English

Another continuum to ponder. How prevalent are coursebooks in the given context? Are they a resource? A requirement? Are students expected to touch every page or someone will get upset? Is the table of contents the syllabus? Can the teacher teach out of order if she so decides? Are all the assessments linked to the textbook? And so on.

FO-TOEIC and FO-TOEFL and FO-IELTS
Focused on TOEIC and  Focused on TOEFL and Focused on IELTS 

This is where the focus of a course is on students achieving a certain score in external demands. The scores on these exams are much more important than the other factors. Students need and want practice and language for the test but not for English improvement.
(See also: FO-CCs (English focused on Cambridge Certificates))

The following just apply to the teacher and teaching environment 

TUCS and TURS
Teaching Under Crazy Supervisors and Teaching Under Reasonable Supervisors 

While most of the other points are focused on the students this is another aspect that we need to consider when describing teaching situations. To many otherwise tolerable teaching jobs have been ruined by shoddy (and worse) management. There are surely more places along this continuum between and beyond crazy and reasonable but this is a start.

TACC and TARC
Teaching Along Crazy Colleagues and Teaching Along Reasonable Colleagues

As above with supervisors. For teachers, those with whom we work  is a very important factor in determining how well we maintain our sanity as well as how we perceive the context and our place in it.

TACT
Teaching as a Connected Teacher

This is for teachers connected to teachers around the world.  I have found it is quite different from teaching as a non-connected teacher.

WIFI-HELL
WIFI Hotspot Enabled Language Learning

Don’t let the “hell” fool you, this is about lessons where students and teachers have access to WiFi. Usually a good thing in my experience.

TL-TESOL
Tech-Laden TESOL 

This is used to describe teaching situations where ubiquitous tech is ubiquitous. This is not always a good thing. This is especially a bad thing when teachers are faced with random decrees from the management like, “You must use the SMART board at least once per lesson.”

Mike’s Questions: 

  1. What reasons are there (aside from the research point above) for continuing to think and talk in terms of EFL vs. ESL?
  2. To what do you attribute the staying power of the ESL/EFL dichotomy?
  3. What other distinctions/categories do you think are important?
  4. Are there other well-known categories out there?
  5. What did I miss in regards to the “old school” reasons for learning English?

Mike’s Notes:

  • Sometimes  Often my posts are a bit tongue in cheek. Sometimes people misunderstand how serious I am. The tongue-in-cheek ranking for this post is 6.5/10.
  • One thing that jumped out at me as I was thinking about these categories is how they can fit quite nicely with each other and we can use them together with other examples from the list in order to convey a great deal of information about a teaching situation.

Quiz: 

Explain the following acronyms to yourself or to a friend.

CDE
CFE
CGE
E2NPC
E2PC
EAP
ECS
EFL
EFS
EILS
EIPS
ENSP
ESL
ESL
ESP
ESP
ESR
EVFS
EWMS
FO-CCs
FO-IELTS
FO-TOEFL
FO-TOEIC
GE/GEP
GEC
SEAL
TACC
TACT
TARC
TENOR
TL-TESOL
UGREC
WIFI-HELL

Acknowledgements: 

I’d like to thank they witty, clever, knowledgeable, and kind Lord Andrew Pollard for graciously allow me to use his brainchild “ECS” above.
Actually I didn’t even ask for permission.

The deep, intelligent, and broody Michael Chesnut also provided the acronym and explanation for SEAL. For this I give my gratitude.

 

Related Links:
(What else should I add?)

Current Perspectives on Teaching World Englishes and English as a Lingua Franca (Jenkins 2006)

29 statements about lesson plans

The following are some statements about lesson planning I believe I have heard, read, thought and imagined in the past few years. I felt spending some time thinking about the statements might be interesting or useful so here I am typing them up. I also thought the list could be a nice start or part of a workshop related to lesson planning. If you’d like to read about my experiences and thoughts related to lesson planning from 2000-2010 you can find them here. 

I wonder if there are statements you strongly agree with or strongly disagree with or those you think are slightly BS, totally BS or totally legit. Any other additions to the list are welcome as well.

  1. I am too busy to plan regular lessons.
  2. There is no need to plan for most classes.
  3. There is no sense planning lessons if we are not paid extra to do so.
  4. The best lessons are those that are unplanned.
  5. Since we are just “covering” grammar points there’s no need for lesson plans.
  6. A lesson plan is essential for every class. 
  7. You can’t have a lesson plan if you don’t have target language. 
  8. We need to use the proper format when lesson planning. 
  9. The key to a successful lesson plan is following the correct frameworks appropriately. 
  10. Lesson plans are primarily for the teacher. 
  11. Lesson plans without objectives are useless. 
  12. Lesson plans need to have SMART objectives. 
  13. We need to use the right verbs when writing objectives so that we know what students will learn. 
  14. Lesson plans can be written in any format, including the back of a napkin. 
  15. We need to write out everything the teacher will say in class. 
  16. We need to write out everything the teacher will do in class. 
  17. We need to write out everything the students will do in class. 
  18. We need to write out everything the students will say in class. (Even if it takes 30 pages). 
  19. They key to lesson planning is finding the right Youtube video to start the lesson. 
  20. The best starting point to lesson planning is choosing fun activities.
  21. The hardest part to planning lessons is choosing objectives. 
  22. The hardest part to planning lessons is choosing appropriate activities for lessons. 
  23. Even if we don’t plan for regular lessons we need to be sure to do so for open classes. 
  24. Lesson plans for open classes need to show new activities. 
  25. Lesson plans for open classes need to be fancy and flashy.
  26. Lesson plans need to include some use of the latest technology. 
  27. Lesson plans (especially for open classes) need to include eye catching materials. 
  28. There is a strong correlation between lesson planning skills and teaching skills. 
  29. There is no correlation between lesson planning skills and teaching skills.

Glossary: 

open class = sort of a like an observed demo class. Probably with real students and probably already practiced a bit. It depends on the situation but the purpose might be for the teacher to get feedback on his/her lesson but it also might be for the teacher to introduce ideas/techniques/methods/memes/activities to those in attendance.

regular class = A normal class on a wet Tuesday in May.
(Or actually any day of the week with any weather. Just a normal class without observers)

cover = one of my least favorite words related to teaching. I don’t really know what it means but I do know that it doesn’t tell me much about what the students are doing or learning.

Updates and additions:  

Jonathan Sayers (@jo_sayers) over at ELT+Technology decided to follow a suggestion in the comments to put the list on Survey Monkey. And, here is the collection on a Likert scale. Check it out.

 

LINKS!

Some links were mentioned in the comments:

http://elt-resourceful.com/2012/08/29/whats-the-point-of-planning/ 
(From Rachael Roberts)

 

http://www.icaltefl.com/index.php/resources/tefl-tesol-teaching/24-lesson-plans/108-lesson-planning
(From @icaltefl)

 

and some links came to mind after I posted this:

 

6 iTDi posts on lesson planning:
http://itdi.pro/blog/category/topics/lesson-planning/

 

Is video inherently motivating?

Is the use of video in ESL/EFL classes inherently motivating?
You know what? I really have no idea.
(Half-hearted apologies for not defining “motivating” or “inherent” but I am using the lay-person meanings here)

As usual, (?) I have a few stories that I would like to share. Hopefully they will help me come to grips with this question while hopefully entertaining you a bit and giving you something to think about.

“Find the right clip”

It was a few years back and I was doing a day-long workshop on lesson planning for foreign teachers who had just completed the first half of a year-long contract teaching in public schools around Daegu, South Korea. As the workshop progressed I heard something I found quite interesting mentioned a few times.  This was the belief that an (the?) essential part of lesson planning was finding the right clip on youtube. I got the sense that the “right clip” should be vaguely related to the topic of the lesson and the funnier the better. I did not  hear anything about the clips relating to target language or specific tasks for students to do while watching the clips. I wondered what beliefs this idea that we *should start class with a clip rests on.

I suppose an argument could be made that funny and interesting clips lower affective filters. Fine. I also suppose that we could say that showing a clip related to the topic might activate schema. Sure. I guess we could also say that we can learn culture from videos. Ok. What else?

What I found most surprising was the notion (as I interpreted it) that the default mode for starting a class is to show a semi-related clip for motivation. Is video the only way to create interest in a lesson? Is it the best way? Is video inherently motivating?

“A model lesson”

Just yesterday, while “researching” a future blog post, I came across clip of a  demo (“open class”) lesson.  [Please email/DM/add a comment if you’d like the link] In the clip, which I gather is a model lesson for teachers to follow, the first 5 minutes of the lesson (after students read the objectives aloud) are spent watching a some scenes from Home Alone 2

After students watch the clip the teacher asks, “Did you enjoy the video?” My assumption here is that the video is offered as motivation for the lesson that is to come (along with perhaps schema activation as mentioned above). It is possible that I am reading too much into it but…since the teacher asks if the students enjoyed it I am guessing it is important and expected that they do so.

After students say that they did enjoy watching the clip the teacher asks some comprehension questions what they saw. I can’t be sure if they were given the questions before watching  but it doesn’t appear that way.2  My training and beliefs tell me that asking questions after watching such a clip can make it more of a memory challenge than a listening/understanding challenge. But if the point is motivation I am not sure how much this matters.  I also wondered if watching a clip for 5 minutes without a task might make it a bit difficult for students to focus their attention. I don’t have much proof of this being a problem because I couldn’t really see the students in the clip (I could just see lots of Macaulay Culkin).

“The video motivated me”

Two weeks ago, I was watching a teacher peer teach some fellow Korean English teachers. She introduced the topic and shared a video. I think her instructions were, “Please enjoy the video.” This caught my attention and somewhere in the back of my mind there was someone screaming, “That is not a task! ‘Enjoy’ is not a task!! What is the task?!” Anyway, after the session one of the “students” (who, again, is actually teacher by trade) said that the video really motivated him. He said that he wasn’t sure where the lesson was going and then when he saw the video his interested was piqued and he was motivated for the class.

So here was a student saying exactly what I didn’t expect to hear! It sounded like the act of watching video itself motivated him for the lesson. My only interpretation here is that for this student video is in fact inherently motivating. Do you have other interpretations to share?

Questions/conclusions 

I can’t help but think that I have been taking the “must have a task” thing a bit too far.  I wondering when/if “just enjoying” is ok?

I am also wondering if perhaps there is a cultural element at play here? Have Korean students come to “expect” a video and has this turned into making using video clips the “default mode” to start classes for both Korean and foreign English teachers?

Another thing that comes to mind is that Korean students are typically accustomed to teacher fronted classes (read: lectures) so perhaps videos are a great break from this which makes them seem motivating.

I am still wondering if videos are inherently motivating. What do you think? What am I missing?

Random notes 

Special thanks to my friend for arguing with me that one time about using such clips in training. If not for this I would have linked to the clip here. Our conversation gave me something to think about. Much appreciated.

Since this is an “open class” it is highly possible that the students were heavily prepped for the lesson. “Open classes” and the culture of such classes are  perhaps rants for another day.

If you have not seen the “Gangnam Style” music video yet I strongly recommend it. It might be motivating.

Reasons for (Korean) English Teachers to Join Twitter

Even though I am in the middle of a crazy two weeks of teacher training I was able to find some time to have a drink and a chat with some former course participants (and one more friend) last night because of today’s national holiday in Korea. It was great to see them and I thoroughly enjoyed it. They are all experienced Korean English teachers and it was great to talk to them and to catch up on what is going on with them and  English education in Korea.

One of the teachers is on Twitter (partially due to my recommendation it seems) so the topic of Twitter naturally came up. I am generally a bit leery about putting on the hard sell about Twitter even though I am a believer. Mostly I just don’t want to pressure people that are already busy enough to do something that might not work for them. Hmm, maybe this is a bit of foreshadowing for a future blog post. So, anyway, we were talking about Twitter and discussing how it works and how it is different than Facebook and a few other related topics. Somehow the idea to do a little experiment came up and I tweeted the following:

Why should Korean english teachers join twitter ? They are here with me now lets see what people say

About a minute later I added:

please somebody respond quickly they are demanding evidence
(they were/are a very tough crowd)

Then the responses started flowing in. We were all very impressed with the quality of the responses. The variety of responses and locations people were tweeting from were noteworthy too.  I also thought it was wonderful and amazing that people who I have never met (OK I’ve met one of them face-to-face) took the time to respond in order for complete strangers to see the power of Twitter. #Gratitude

What exactly did people say?

  • I’ve found many good resources through Twitter, and it was really a lifesaver last year.
  • Because it’s the best way to expand their PLN & learn about the latest developments in the world of TEFL!! …..& it’s fun!
  • isnt it more “who shouldn’t be on twitter?” at this point?
  • because you can connect to fellow teaching professionals throughout the world. A treasure trove of advice is there!
  • Because we get to meet and learn from cool people like @michaelegriffin here! 😉
    (At this point giggled a bit and my friends made some “wow” like sounds)
  • how about some of this?: http://bit.ly/Nwz5VC
  • You can meet other people an practice your English! You can ask other ppl q’s and share your ideas too.
  • if slang / idioms used to be a focus of “real english” isn’t microblogging now an awesome way to see how young folk “talk”?
    (At this point I added how lots of Korean stars/athletes tweet in English and this is a great model and quite interesting for Ss to see)
  • 18 months ago I would have agreed with them. How I have been proven wrong. Best decision I ever made was to join twitter. (When I demanded more details this same kind soul added what follows) I’ve discovered endless resources on PD, RP, Dogme, lexicology, Also #KELTChat 🙂 I’m part of a fantastic, supportive PLN. plus twitter is worth it simply for the links I see for access to free webinars with wonderful teachers eg #iTDi
    (And someone else added)
    not to mention the opportunity to create their own community of teachers and learners.
  • Twitter removes the barriers between people so we can learn together. Hello from Calgary, Canada!

After a few responses my friends seemed very impressed and two of them expressed real interest in joining up. The most skeptical commented that asking for responses like that was a very successful experiment. Thanks so much for the ideas and help. I really appreciate it.

I wonder what other thoughts/links/whatevers you might add?
Please feel free to include them in the comments.

Glossary/Links: 

PLN=Personal Learning Network. (Nice explanation here)
(Also explained as  Personal/Passionate/Professional/Public learning network)

PD= Professional Development

RP = Reflective Practice

#KELTchat = Korea ELT Chat (Click here for “About #KELTchat)

iTDi= International Teacher Development Institute
(The iTDi blog is worth a look as well..and this post in particular might interest my former participants.

Special thanks to:
@davidmearns
@leoselivan
@nathanghall
@AnneHendler
@purple_steph
@BarryJamesonELT
@eljeejavier
@yitzha_sarwono
@harrisonmike
@daniellynds
@worldteacher
@gotanda
@daylemajor

(I’d also recommend following these folks when/if you join twitter!)

Updates: 

I have decided to add related links as they fly by my screen.

I  rediscovered this post about Twitter for professional development by @sandymillin. I’d say it is well worth a look for those interested in Twitter.

Another new discovery is this post and I think it is helpful for those considering getting involved with Twitter.

For another perspective and reasons to join, read how joining Twitter is like suddenly discovering an extra room in your house. 

The ever prolific, insightful and readable Larry Ferlazzo on The best ways ESL/EFL/ELL Teachers Can Develop Personal Learning Networks.

Barry Jameson writes passionately and eloquently about Community and the impact of joining Twitter. 

Tom Whitby on  Building a professional learning network on Twitter.

Ava Fruin writes about why she loves Twitter.