Monday, June 4, 2012

I Spy - Week 14 (Final Reflection)

Compared to most ELT teachers I started my career late.  I arrived in Korea four years ago at the age of 31 with no language teaching experience to speak of.  While most of my friends from high school and university were 5 or 6 years into a career, getting married and having children I decided to reset my whole life.  As Johnston mentions, living and working in foreign countries is an inconvenient by product of a career in ELT.  Even though I like my new career and am enjoying the rare opportunity of learning a foreign language and culture I sometimes worry that by taking this lifestyle on I have sacrificed a potential wife and family.  I know many people who have married Koreans and started a life here but I'm not sure if I want to spend the rest of my life in Korea.  There are many opportunities for ELT teachers in other countries also; especially if you have a master's degree.  Also, if I were to have a family in Korea and move them back to Canada, I worry about the financial loss and lack of job opportunities.  I've decided that since I started this career later in life than most, I should focus on it for now so that I can elevate myself to a state of professionalism without the added stress of a family.  Hopefully by the time I'm ready I haven't missed the boat.

As a foreign teacher in a foreign land I definitely feel marginalized.  In my school I am the only teacher with his own classroom (the newest and best equipped in the school) and private office.  All of the other teachers, including the vice-principal, share offices but I have a quiet personal space with everything I need. Also, every week there is a teacher's meeting wherein a variety of issues are discussed.  I am not required to attend because it is assumed that I will not understand and that most things have nothing to do with me.  I have been told that if there is anything I need to know, I will be informed privately. 
With regard to these, I enjoy my marginalization.  I am not a lazy person but I can see that the Korean teachers have more on their plate than I do in terms of administrative duties.  I don't have such responsibilities so I have more free time to lesson plan and study.   In general I regard my marginalization as a good thing because it decreases my workload.  When it comes to teacher socializing like dinners and trips I am always included and made to feel as regular a member of the faculty.  Most native English teachers (professors excepted), if they decide to pursue a career in ELT move on or up after a year or two.  I have stayed at the same school as long as I have in part because of the level of comfort that my situation affords while I am busy pursuing graduate studies.

Thursday, May 31, 2012

I Spy - Week 13 (What I've learned from my students this semester)

In the past I only taught the freshmen in my high school.  I never had the opportunity to see the change (if any) in my student's English ability in the next year.  There was no way for me to know if my class made any impact on them.  However, this year things are different.  This year I teach all the freshmen classes of course, but also teach the sophomores; half the classes in first semester and the other half in the second. 

This has been an eye opening experience because I can now see the difference in the students maturity, confidence and English ability.  Also, since I've already known and taught the sophomores for one year, the classroom atmosphere is very comfortable and familiar.  This makes for an excellent classroom quality of life.  I look forward to my classes with my sophomores because they are outgoing and fun to teach. 

Also, the sophomore classes are the perfect situation for me to try new lesson plans and teaching strategies.  Every teacher knows that the first time you use a new lesson plan it is always a little unorganized.  You aren't sure how your Ss will react, if the timing is right, and if it will be too difficult or too easy.  When you add immature and unfamiliar Ss to the situation it makes things that much worse.  The sophomores have already seen all my lessons from last year so I have to make something new for them every week.  However,I don't worry about my lesson flopping because I know that they will do their best to help me have a good class.

It's still hard to be sure how much my Ss have learned from me, but from them I've learned that teacher and student familiarity goes a long way toward creating a good quality of classroom life.  It seems that when you have that, the teaching and the learning happens naturally.

Friday, May 25, 2012

I Spy - Week 12B

I just want to briefly mention that I used Tom's minimal pairs memory/matching game that he had us try last week.  I found the website, printed off six sets of cars, printed them in colour and even laminated them.  I used it for a lesson with my second year Ss.

I started by briefly explaining minimal pairs with a few examples on the WB.  I had them choral repeat everything several times so they could hear the difference.  I then presented a PPT with three examples from each deck of cards I prepared.  I nominated Ss one at a time, showed them one pair and then had them guess the other.  Then more choral repetition.  Awkward pronunciation was dealt with on the spot but in some cases some Ss just couldn't get it.  

After explaining the game I set the Ss up in groups of 5 and had them play.  They really enjoyed it.  There was lots of noise but it was noise that came from winning and losing so I didn't mind.  I instructed the Ss to say each word so they can practice the pronunciation but I found that when I wasn't standing there they would forget or not bother.  They just wanted to play.  Usually I have a co-teacher to help me police such things but she didn't bother to show that day.

One issue that came up was the Ss thought that minimal pairs were words with one letter that's different so when matchs like 'cop' and 'cough' for 'p vs f' they were a little confused.  As a reaction I just explained to each group separately as they were playing.  They easily understood me.  When I do this again next week I'll be sure to explain that point before the game starts.

I Spy - Week 12A

I created a Transformers themed lesson for my first grade Ss.  It was a pleasure for me because ever since I was a kid I've been a big fan of the animation and now the movies.  It's a great topic for the high school boys because they've all seen all the movies.  They knew almost as much as me.  hehe

I used the same formula I've used with previous output lessons.  Start with a brainstorm about the history of the transformers and a 5 minute video clip from one of the movies.  One new thing I started doing this week is comprehension check.  Before watching the video I told the students that they have to remember 3 things: transformer names, jobs and what they transform into.  I do this because it is the content of the presentation stage.  After telling the Ss this, I chose 2 or 3 Ss who didn't seem like they were listening and asked them '(name) What 3 things do you have to remember?'... usually those Ss didn't know even though I just told them.  But that was not a surprise because I nominated those Ss particularly because I didn't think they would. 

Instead of telling them the answer I chose another S who looked like they heard me and had him list the 3 things aloud.  I then went back to the first S and had him list what he just heard.  This strategy ate up 5mins of valuable time but it was effective because by then everyone was aware of what they were supposed to do.  I also found that once we got to the presentation stage the Ss were better prepared for filling in the gaps in the sentences with the info in the video.  It lead them to concentrate on what I deemed important while still enjoying the movie clip.

For then on the lesson went smoothly and most Ss were able to utter the presented sentence and info without reading or much cueing on my part.  I feel like this year's freshmen have really come to understand what is expected of them in my class.  This week even the usually behaviourly difficult classes were well behaved.  I feel like they are over the hump in terms of adjusting to high school life.

Thursday, May 17, 2012

I Spy - Week 11B (Pronunciation)

For the first time I attempted to create a lesson that focused on pronunciation.  It is loosely based on the lesson plan presented in Kelly that practices the past tense ending -ed.  My Ss are pretty good at that pronunciation so I decided to take it one step further and include a few irregular endings such as -ought, and -ew.  These days the 'Avengers' super hero movie is really popular with my Ss so I used that as a theme by having the Ss use the characters names in their sentences.

I previewed and activated schema by brainstorming about the meaning of 'avenge' and watching a 3 minute youtube trailer of the movie.  After the video, in their groups, I had the Ss list the members of the Avengers team and their corresponding weapon/power.  After a minute or two I chose Ss at random to give me names and powers that I listed on the board.  This was important because the Ss needed this information to use in the production phase later.

As a way of presenting I created a ppt that listed five examples of each past tense ending that we would be practicing.  At this point I did extensive drilling of the sounds both chorally and individually.  Once I felt confident that they could figure out the appropriate ending individually we moved on to slides that featured a picture of a member of the Avengers doing some sort of action.  After providing one example myself, I chose Ss at random to stand up and create a past tense sentence based on the pic in the slide. 
For example, one slide had a picture of Captain America throwing his shield.  The chosen S was expected to formulate the sentence 'Captain America threw his shield.'

For most of the slides the Ss had no problem but in a few cases I found that the Ss didn't know what to say.  This could be because the action in the picture was not obvious or they lacked the appropriate lexicon.  In those cases I used some eliciting and MIC techniques to scaffold the sentence I as looking for. 

For the production phase I created a handout where the Ss had to use pictures to guide them to a certain sentence.  For example a picture of Iron Man - mushroom cloud - tank
would lead them to create the sentence ' Iron Man blew up the tank' or 'Iron man bombed the tank'.  There were 7 different sentences they had to make.

I concluded the lesson by choosing Ss at random to  read their answers and I wrote them on the board as well as recited each one chorally.

For my first attempt at a pronunciation lesson I was pleased.  The Avengers theme really engaged the Ss and we moved through the stages rather smoothly.  The only downside is that when it came time to present their answers the Ss simply read their answers out loud.  I don't like them to do that these days but this lesson was more about pronunciation then grammar or conversation anyway.


Wednesday, May 9, 2012

I Spy - Week 10A (Vocab)

Due to an inconsistent schedule influenced by our upcoming sports day I continued with my lesson on Natural Disasters this week.  Since the reading topic this week was specifically vocab I'll concentrate on how I presented that.

The important vocab that I presented in this lesson was names of different natural disasters. For example: earthquake, tsunami, volcano, avalanche, drought.
I presented the vocab by using a PPT with pics of the different disasters.  I then nominated a student at random to name that disaster.  The Ss easily named three out of the five presented with 'avalanche' and 'drought' being the most difficult.  In the event that a S didn't know the answer I changed to an invitation to reply strategy wherein usually at least one S knew and shouted out the answer.  I then presented the spelling of the word and had the class repeat chorally.  After that, as a class, we produced a sentence that defined the word.  For example:  Drought -  There is no rain and the land is too dry to grow crops.

In the production phase the Ss had to first match the word with the definition and then create a sentence with a chosen disaster:  An avalanche is the most dangerous natural disaster because it is snow falling fast down a mountain.

I felt good about the lesson.  Some Ss even chose to use 'avalanche' or 'drought' in the production phase despite not being familiar with it before.  The definition matching required very little assistance from me.  One issue of note is that since 'tsunami' is a Japanese word, sometimes Ss were confused about how to say it in English.  I simply explained that in English we might say 'giant wave' but the Japanese word is acceptable too because we don't really have a single word for that in English.

Thursday, May 3, 2012

I Spy - Week 9B

With my second graders I decided to try the listening activity I presented in our Meth class.  The title was 'Witness'.

I started by brainstorming about the meaning of being a witness on the WB.  I asked a combination of open and closed questions and elicited responses through both invitation and nomination. 

Q:What does a witness do?
A: Listen, watch, remember...

Q: What does he need to remember?
A: clothing, speaking, background,..... details

Q: In what kind of situation is a witness important?
A: crime, accident, reporting, wedding

Not all of the answers came naturally.  I had to use a lot of MIC for 'details' and 'wedding' but we got there eventually.  The important thing is that I did not resort to Korean translations which was my habit in the past.

I made it into a game where the team that could answer the most questions correctly won some candy.  Also, when it came time to share answers I had the Ss ask someone at the next table.  This time I used your suggestion Tom, and had the S sitting beside the answering S ask the next Q.  This doubled the amount of Ss who had a chance to speak. 
We played two rounds. 

It turned out to be a very laid back class.  The Ss really enjoyed the video clips I chose and were happy to get some candy. 

However, I wonder if they were so relaxed particularly because there wasn't as much pressure to speak.   I suppose that's ok because it was a listening activity anyway.