Thursday, February 11, 2010

Reflections on Teacher Training

I have wanted to reflect on my experiences training teachers, and a recent post over at Brian in Jeollanam-do critiquing the teacher training, and English education in South Korea has rekindled this urge. In the institution from which I recently resigned there were two teacher training sessions a year. During those sessions I trained primary and secondary school teachers.

A few brief words describing the course. It is a two week program where teachers work with the instructors for about six hours a day. In all honesty I feel sheepish calling it teacher training, because in many ways it was a farce, a little dance that both the teachers and I knew was more for the benefit of the administrations of our institutions than really for the benefit of the students' educations. This was quite hard for me to tolerate, because many of them made it quite obvious that they were just going through the motions, yet some of them were sincere and showed genuine interest in reflecting on their teaching, and learning some new ideas or resources. The final thing that I think was detrimental to the program was the test at the end, something that is unavoidable in South Korea and in a great many other areas of the world, as well as all levels of education, I fear. Therefore the teachers were more concerned about "What's going to be on the test?" than they were about critically evaluating the resource I was trying to share with them and how they could apply it to their teaching contexts. In any case, I generally enjoyed these sessions, sharing our experiences in South Korea's classrooms, and seeking ways to improve our teaching.

But the question that was always in my mind at the end of each session, and I suppose is in the mind of every educator after a class, is will anything take effect, will it endure? I pity some of these South Korean teachers for they are up against seemingly insurmountable odds (or at least that is the picture they paint in their frequent lamentations in class). The main complaint that they referred to was in regard to our old foe the standardized test. They need to get their students' to achieve satisfactory marks on these tests to appease parents, in order to keep the admins happy, which only perpetuates the system. It doesn't look good for the lonely few classes I had in the last session trying to impart the benefits of extensive reading.

Admittedly our training session was probably not the most effective way to induce change, and there are other programs in the country that were described in the last KOTESOL conference, which include six months of training including one month abroad. But how much more effective are these? (Which is what Brian asks in the post mentioned above) I asked one of the presenters if he ever followed up, post training session, to see how many teachers had succumbed to the pressures inherent in the South Korean context upon returning to their classrooms, and he said he hadn't. This is also something that I haven't done either. Once, the training session is over, I rarely heard from the teachers again, unless by coincidence. I guess my questions are: Are these problems unique to South Korea? The South Korean government has repeatedly lamented their students poor English communicative competence, but what should I recommend to those teachers who are stuck in the system and repeatedly the focus of blame from their administration and the parents?

Thursday, February 4, 2010

Commenting Works!

Recently Shelly Terrell presented a series of posts at her blog called 30 Goals. The list of ideas and ways to reflect on your teaching, blogging, and role in your PLN was very inspiring, and I will have to continue to check back to these posts to remind myself to stay active and focused. I suppose my last post regarding my rather dismal blog activity could be a response to the 30th goal: "What are you putting off." Or the 27th: "Stay focused." But what I wanted to discuss today was her tenth goal: "Make a connection."

Late last year, I learned what a PLN was and how incredibly inspiring, helpful, and providing it can be, but I hadn't really established a strong connection. I had only been a silent observer. Looking through my RSS feeds at all the new blogs and adding new people to my Twitter following list daily. And until recently this had been enough. Frankly the content has been overwhelming, difficult if not impossible to process it all. I suppose I have progressed through the third stage of PLN adoption (see Darren Elliot's post Death by PLN).

So I wanted to contribute more regularly, through this blog, as well as commenting, and hopefully a guest blog appearance sometime in the future, and I wanted to share one recent experience that only further encouraged this sentiment. I am a member of a couple of Facebook groups, and I feel like some of us feel that Facebook is for your casual, friendly banter not your serious professional development. This is a shame because there are several groups that I am a member that have helped me immensely. Kalinago English, and Chuck and Curtis, especially. Check them out!

I recently posted a comment on Chuck and Curtis' discussion about how inexperienced teachers can become expert teachers. I recommended developing your PLN as it has definitely helped me improve as a teacher. They asked me to write a little more about it. So I wrote a note with a few quick steps and links to introduce how I developed my PLN. Chuck liked what I wrote, and suggested contributing to the journal they plan to develop in the near future. I found it such a motivating e-mail. I have gotten the mass e-mails from my MA-TESOL linking call for papers, but it was really exciting to have someone contact me directly. Which reminds me how important making a personal compliment to your students can be, as well as those who comment on your blog. Chuck has that innate ability, that I have witnessed on their group page, I feel he must be an excellent educator. I have also noticed this necessary skill in those on my blogroll and it is one that I hope to promote in my activities in the blogosphere.

Thank you.

Wednesday, February 3, 2010


I had grand ambitions to post more often, but as you can see there has been quite a long delay from my last post to this one. I can blame that on recent developments but really the absence of my posts lies in two areas: my impressive laziness, and my intimidation that I don't really feel like I have a lot more to add to the already impressive bloggers' content available.

My first excuse. Since my last post, I have had a lot on my plate. I accepted a new position as an English instructor at Yeungnam University in Daegu, South Korea. I have felt for some time that I am ready for a change. I won't go into as lengthy or as impressive an analysis as Tamas did, suffice to say that I was ready for a new challenge and I didn't see my professional development being encouraged or supported by my previous institution. There are promises from the new institution that professional development is encouraged and to an extent required, through in-house seminars, peer observation as well as a faculty journal. I am very excited by this and I feel it will help me gain the confidence I need to start presenting and hopefully publishing in the academic world. I will keep you posted as I get closer to participating in these programs.

My second excuse. Laziness. I suppose others might not call me lazy. I am a new father, I am a full time MA TESOL/TEFL student through the distance learning program with the University of Birmingham, as well as working full time (although now I am on vacation). But I repeatedly want to compare myself to others in my PLN, and I find it staggering the pace that they are able to produce content, maintain a steady rate of Tweets, and go about whatever regular work they pursue, excellent examples: Larry, Shelly, Karenne, or Jason, to name only a few. Comparing myself to them I feel like I am standing still, or in reality playing too much Doodlejump on my iPhone. Which brings me to my last excuse.

Intimidation. I suppose this is a concern for a great many of us new bloggers, and maybe even for some of the more experienced as well. However, it is a difficult emotion to master. So, the idea I was toying with is to start using video more to blog. It is definitely quicker to just speak, and personally I enjoy watching videos. However, some may think it more intimidating, that you are more exposed, and I may too, when I actually get around to doing one. Maybe I will start by blabberizing, and then move on to real video. I suppose I will have to get more comfortable editing the video, so that when I mention links (as I am fond to do) I will be able to put a pop-up on the screen. In any case I would like to hear your thoughts on Vlogging? What are the pros and cons as you understand them? Are there sites that you can recommend? Do you find it more or less intimidating, and more or less time-consuming?

Thank you.

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Bombay TV

I recently was reminded how very cool a tool, Bombay TV, is to use in your English classrooms. I forget who first mentioned it on their blog, but Ana Maria over at lifefeast reminded me recently how fun this tool can be. It allows you to dub, or write subtitles for old Bollywood movies. The clips are short, so its not too intimidating for my students as homework or in the class. Ana suggested having the students, in pairs, develop a dialogue for one clip and then vote to see whose was most interesting. The winning pair comes to the front of the class and records their dialogue. I tried this and it was a great success I thought. The students have to get the timing right, so the winning pair had to record their dialogue several times. I am sure someone somewhere said repetition is good for language learning. I then embedded it into my class blog. Finally, I asked the students to make their own Bombay TV clip using opinion, agreeing, and disagreeing gambits that we have been practicing in class, and upload it to the class site. I suggest giving it a try. It is very fun and motivating.

Here is the one we did in class:

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