Tuesday, November 28, 2006

Suggestions for next year

I had a November homework assignment for my third year class listed on the syllabus. It was titled 'Common Midterm Exam Errors" and in other classes it was a good way for me to remind students what they needed to review.

For my third year class, however, the midterm exam was oral and students did not recieve the same questions. Taking an oral question and repeating it as a written question also seemed contraindicated; spelling would suddenly be a factor while it had not been a testable, and the grammar of conversation is at least a little different than written grammar.

Suddenly needing a new assignment, I asked the students to write about their six semesters of English at my university and also to add a few sentences about my class in particular. I told them I wanted advice on how to teach classes next year.

Although I specifically said I did not want, "I love KwandongBrian's class because..." type statements, I recieved a few. Gratifying and not completely useless: enough of them seemed sincere and indicated my current style and content are satisfactory, at least.

1) I also recieved responses that were clearly done with babelfish or another online translator. Here is a sample:
First time studying, it enjoyed a game all togather and the study which participates listen to person But study listen to old the time look in class appears to be being exchanged not togather.

This was handwritten and I blame the grammar on the translator and the spelling and punctuation on the transcription.

I think the fact that the student used a translator (for the second time) tells me something about my teaching but the criticism I draw from the response itself is something like, "I enjoyed the group activities at the beginning of the semester but later in the semester we students were more distant, separated by major". Certainly, I did more group activities in the first few classes and the rest of the classes were mostly spent with the students staying in their seats. The students self-segregated- they chose to sit in groups and with some distance between groups.

Next semester, I will be sure to add more activity to my classes. I join the students in prefering those classes and it was my lazyness in planning that resulted in more sedentary classes.

2) More than one student wanted "man to man" teaching. I do speak to almost every individual, every class and try to spend extended periods with different students each class but after reviewing the grammar, vocabulary and conversation models, and saving time at the end for whole-class demonstrations, I only have a few minutes to share with individuals and small groups. Still, I am interested in Sook-myoung University's (the bloggin'est university in Korea since Masuro from my university closed up shop) individual tutoring program. I think its called 'The Write Spot' or something and students can voluntarily visit for assistance with english.

Perhaps I need to require students come to my office for chats ouside of class time. I was going to put 'chat' in quotes because required speaking will never be as spontaneous as chatting should be, but requiring "private office time"(quotes deliberate) already sounds, um, possibly icky -quotes would only accentuate that.

3) One student wanted more content beyond or outside the textbook. I wil try this and it fits with my ideas for #4. On the other hand, university students seem worse at holding on to loose pages given them than elementary school students and their note taking ability is not much better.

4) More movies, video and music in class (and improve classroom facilities). Two different suggestions but the latter allows the former. My second year students (second year is a listening class, in which they watch 'Connect with english', a PBS ESL series) are not thrilled with watching video every class. Most of my 'sleeping students' photos come from these classes.

Still, there is good video content available now. I will show and discuss these videos with discussion about how they relate to class on the first day and give Kiwi! and others as homework. I will also continue to create my own content.

5) "Korean professors and Foreigner professor's teaching is insufficiency of connection." - This is true and a big subject for me to improve on. For second and third year classes, I teach one hour and a Korean teacher teaches one hour. Although we use the same basic material, I typically only exchange pleasantries with my co-teacher during the semester and my grades after the semester. I clearly need to communicate more with my co-teachers. In my defence, my co-teachers make little effort to contact me, either.

Students also need to evaluate their professors before recieving their grades but the evaluation is in Korean and also contains items that are beyond the control of teachers. I do not control which text is used, nor the duration of class nor the credit value for my classes. I think I have recieved some useful feedback here and hope to work on these things next year.

Wednesday, November 22, 2006

Saving time

Its hard to judge ahead of time, when heaters will be needed. I don't really blame the maintanence staff for filling the heater's gas tank after a few days of uncomfortable coolness.

I guess, after recieving many complaints and requests for prompt service, they felt they needed to save time. Here are two men filling the heater's tank while the heater is currently on - the flame is very close to the nozzle of the gascan.

They did the same thing last year, but spilled gas on the floor. Only the foreigners seemed to notice- I have to admit being a little sheeplike; seeing the Korean staff ignore the spill and the smell, I stepped over it myself a few times, preparing for class and did not leave the room.

In both cases, there were no negative consequences but I remember a similar situation of gas fumes filling a room and being ignited in a small town next to my hometown.
A couple were removing carpeting from their basement. To soften the glue, they used gasoline. Later, the gas fumes were bothering them so they turned on a fan. The sparks naturally given off by any fan's armature ignited the gas and the couple were severely burned. I cannot remember if they died. I sincerely hope not but that would be a case of fan-death I would not be sceptical of.

Tuesday, November 21, 2006


Altruism, behavior that helps others to your detriment, has long been claimed as a refutation of evolution. It is claimed that evolution dictates or requires selfishness so if selfless behavior exists, there are problems with evolution.

Social animals, as I was taught, and have in some small part have observed, do indeed help each other sometimes for abstract or distant reward. Seagulls make an alarm cry when danger approaches, attracting attention to themselves. This behavior is advantageous because other gulls will perform the same activity at other times. Is this altruism?

On BBC4's "In Our Time" is another interesting podcast with academics discussing altruism. As the [in]famous Richard Dawkins is one of the speakers, I suspect altruism will be shown to, or at least claimed to, have evolution roots. The recording will be available starting this Thursday, for a week.

On an unrelated note, this week I start volunteering at a Sokcho church, teaching English.

Sunday, November 19, 2006

I'm fine, just bored and lazy

Its been a while since I last posted. In the last month or two, I haven't posted much, either.

I'm fine, mostly healthy, work is going well, the little guy is a joy (again, mostly) and all the rest.

Previous years, I blogged about travel. Nearly every week I had a cycling or hiking trip to tell you about, nearly as excited as a little boy.

There also seemed to be more news that seemed important to me. I discussed Gangwondo, Korean rice, farming, work, and more. These days, I feel as if my whole blog is about students that sleep in class, smokers lighting up in the 'no-smoking' area and people who can't park their cars properly. These are all interesting, briefly. To make a steady diet of these subjects is not what this blog is about.

I'm comfortable with who I am, I know what I am about, but the content areas this blog covers are changing and I don't know what to write about.

I've seen lots of fractured english signs and probably somewhere is a post having fun with one but I have resisted going wild on the subject.

I want the blog to be useful- to other residents of Korea, to new and experienced ESL teachers and others. This is not a baby blog, although I will continue to post occassional photos of the little guy.

I enjoy the Big Hominid's blog and find what he shares of his personal life to be interesting yet this is not exactly a diary of my life. I wouldn't be able to compartmentalize what should be public and private as well as he does and the result would be either creepy or bland.

After all this, I may find three new subjects tomorrow. I'm just saying I'm fine and don't stop visiting my site everyday.

Sunday, November 12, 2006

Red Jellyfish

I know the white or translucent ones I see are safe, or relatively safe, but this red one, found in Cheongcho Lake, just looks dangerous. Most of the jellyfish I see have been pounded by surf along shore and have probably already fired their cnematocysts (I am not sure about the spelling but I mean the poison darts carried in their tentacles); this one looks hale and ready for trouble.

Melissa asked about the jellyfish that Koreans eat and I have no idea what kind is eaten. I once bought Hae-pari mustard with bits of jellyfish in it, but again, I don't know what kind it was.

By the way, Pari can mean 'insect' in Korean. Is haepari (해파리) 'ocean insect'?

Click on the images to enlarge.

Thursday, November 09, 2006

Students showing their love for their school

Three buildings at a Gangneung university form a 'U' so I was able to look from one building into the windows of the next. In fact, this was almost rubbed in my face as it was the view coming down the stairs, where everyone passing by is facing.
What I feel makes this worse, is this is a club room, a room that a varsity club gets to use and set up as they see fit. They will be staring at their own handiwork.
-Yes, I undestand that if a group is truly allowed to decorate as they see fit, they then have the freedom to do this. Perhaps I should be impressed they chose to use an english word. If I return to that campus, I may report on the club's name.

If foul language upsets you, the post below should cheer you up.

Cruising across the linoleum in his box-boat

In case the above post upset you, here are some pics of KwandongAlex to set you right!

Tuesday, November 07, 2006

Kotesol Annual International Conference

Its been several days since I attended the conference but I've been a little busy. I've wanted to write about the conference but I guess I'm not as energetic as Nathan who posted his impressions each night (Saturday, Sunday).

In general, I can't say that I learned a lot of new information. However, many half-baked ideas that I had considered but not thought through had been thought through by others. As loyal readers have not doubt noticed, I am interested in using video and other web-based sources and materials in my classes. Colin Skeates, working in Japan, gave a great seminar on the subject as did Russel Huber, also working in Japan, and I'll go into more detail below.

Many of the seminars were more edutainment than educational. My own teaching techniques lean heavily toward entertaining my students but that is because my class is not an elective and many students are not internally motivated; I have to make the material interesting. Attendees to this conference had personally paid to be there and, in my case, had travelled for several hours. I feel we were eager for information and what we got was sometimes diluted.
Perhaps I am being crotchety. I certainly enjoyed the seminars and laughed heartily many times. Even the legendary Dr. Jack Richards gave a lecture full of humor.

First, I attended a seminar by Lee Jolie, who discussed Communicative Language Teaching. I am still not completely sure what CLT means but I'm interested in researching more myself.

Next, a terrible lecture by Lee Hyun-joo on the subject of Cultural Imperialism in ESL Textbooks. She made a good point that local cultural images and information, in English, should be used to some extent in class. As a counter image, she described a book from a well-known publishing company in which every chapter started with American-based example. The book had information on international subjects but any time there was a datum from outside of the US, it came after an American datum. She thought there was something wrong with this but I feel most ESL students specifically want cultural information from English-speaking countries.

Then, I attended the Seoul Hero's lecture on common errors made by Korean learners of English. It was interesting to see the catalog but I've been here a while, there wasn't anything new for me. The catalog would be of value to new teachers here and can be found here.

Jack Richards talked about listening to English in class requires two skill sets: listening for information and listening to learn English - these are two overlapping but different sets of goals.

I've spent several years here but still don't have TEFL qualifications. My teaching qualifications are real but for a different subject. This year, its time to decide how to improve myself as a teacher so I went to the University of Birmingham Distance MA programmes seminar. Since that time, I have also learned of a program called DELTA which also appears to be of value. We'll see.

Tim Thompson have a useful and amusing talk entitled, "Examining Korean University Students Expectations of Native Speaker English Teachers". The three most important things his subjects want in their NS teachers are: "Speaks to students in a friendly manner", "Plans every minute of class" and "Explains things clearly". The three things they cared least about were: "Wears a suit/dress", "Is handsome/pretty", and "doesn't hesitate or say 'ummm'". The last bothered Mr Thompson so he wanted to compare his own experiences with his student's. Students also wanted "an expert in his/her field" but ranked "Has a masters degree" and "Has a Ph.D" very low in the list. Thompson and his standing-room-only audience discusses this and suggested that perhaps 'Native Speaker' equals "expert" to the students.
Smile and look organised, don't worry about the suit or the Masters - I need to talk to my employer about the last two points.

I had dinner with the Gangwon Kotesol group at 'Oktoberfest', near Jonggak. I've always been a fan of dark beer and the microbrewed Duenkel was fantastic.

On Sunday, Skeates talked about video journaling. He has spent three years requiring the journals as homework and has worked out how to organise the projects to get valuable learning without going crazy. In his first year, he had seventy students each make 15 one-minute videos and exhausted himself commenting on them. By the third year, he required only eight videos per student but expected them to be of increasing length.

I attended a few other seminars and enjoyed the whole thing but I am tired so I'll finish by saying I missed my family and knew Kwandongwife would be exhausted after working all week and taking care of Kwandongson so I went home early.