Monday, December 20, 2010

Jonker Family Christmas Letter 2010

Column I
Dearest esteemed relations and associates,

Greetings in this season of our liberator’s nativity! We pray that things are as well with you as they are with us. We are so blissful that our laughter commonly awakens us from our deep slumber to greet the sunrise.

Our much-loved father best exemplifies this sentiment. He revels in the opportunities to serve as an elder at our church. In May he and our darling mother traversed the European continent with Rachel after she finished her semester in Spain. The jovial trio gleefully meandered through seven countries on a diet of crusty bread and spring water.

Mom wholeheartedly enjoyed the vacation to Europe, since she had been dreaming of the sojourn since she was a young lass. Another energizing highlight of her year was beginning a part-time job at Central Wisconsin Christian School after Luke, Laura and Elizabeth started there full time.

Rachel graced 13 countries with her presence this year, visiting Egypt, Europe, South Korea and the United States. She anticipates her graduation from Taylor in May with tender sorrow at the prospect of leaving home and excitement to be able to grace another (as-yet-known-only-to-God) country with her presence as she teaches English.

Anna, a sophomore at Gordon, basks each day in the glory of her glorious life. She decided that majoring in biology wasn’t difficult enough for her, so she is custom-designing one in nutrition. She spent her summer in the beautiful state of Wisconsin lovingly caring for aged individuals with her nursing assistant license.

Laura has arrived to her final year in high school. This year she is amassing wealth via summer and winter office jobs. She absolutely blew us out of the water with her astoundingly wonderful performance as the lead in the high school play—for the third year in a row. She has been too busy being wonderful to select one of the colleges in the Midwest which have earned a spot on her top-three list.

Luke, a freshman, is taking sophomore classes in high school. His voracious reading pace slowed slightly as he engaged in more adventurous pursuits such as an apprenticeship this summer at the EAA (Experimental Aircraft Association) and shooting his first deer in the first five minutes of his first hunt. His duties every Saturday morning as a dentist’s aide include wolfing-down Belgian waffles and other similarly strenuous activities. Since he completed the classroom portion of driver’s education the only thing standing between him and his temporary license is four months.

Fifth-grade Elizabeth will celebrate her joyous 11th birthday on holy Christmas Eve. Her fantastic performance in 4-H horseless-horse was recognized with the sportsmanship award. She also entered a darling little table runner and some fused glass jewelry. She welcomes the oh-so-busy Christmas season with youthful grace in spite of commitments to three programs in five days, a birthday on the horizon and the return of older sisters.

As you can tell we are very delighted and cheery with our lives. We pray that you are also…. happy.

Blessings and Best Wishes for a Blessed Wish-filled Holiday!

Column II
We have completed another year and will assume you have also unless you notify us otherwise.

That Icelandic
volcano with an unpronounceable name which cancelled Rachel’s trip to Morocco almost prevented Dad and Mom’s visit to her. They think they’re glad it didn’t. Rachel’s travel service was dubbed by Dad the “cheapest way to see as many things in the shortest amount of time possible with the added benefit of losing weight.” Book now for Summer 2011. While in Europe Rachel thinks she learned how to navigate public transportation, Dad learned how to say “gracias” and Mom rediscovered that she doesn’t walk as fast as Dad, who doesn’t walk as fast as Rachel.

We intended to go on a blissful familial camping outing in June to a secluded kayak-access-only camping site on Lake Michigan. The “blissful” part was lost somewhere between bucking three-foot waves in a tent-laden canoe, dragging a tent-toting sled through the pitch-black forest after midnight causing friction to abrade away its bottom, using hotdogs to grease the pancake skillets and a serving spoon to “flip” the “pancakes”, and pushing puddles of the torrential rain off the tarp above our picnic table. It was still camping though.

Rachel scares us sometimes. Besides weight loss disguised as tourism, she enjoys arguing (aka Ethics Bowl), traveling through third-world countries by herself and double majoring in Philosophy and Spanish (not to mention three minors). One weekend, while in Spain, she thought about making brownies, but decided to go to Portugal instead.

Anna decided that dealing with persnickety old people’s bodily excretions is less than an ideal summer job. Returning to books, papers, no sleep and friends at Gordon this fall was then very appealing. She usually thinks her new “design-your-own-major” idea is great, until she is asked over her potentially less than nutritious dinner about it.

Laura prefers acting to office jobs. (This may or may not have something to do with excessive paper cuts, paper clips and country music.) Unfortunately the office pays better. At least, so far. Plus acting can be an almost equally traumatic experience when casted as someone with electrocuted hair who has been raped and murdered her stepfather. The college search has been narrowed to Northwestern (a Dutch grain bin), Northwestern (a frozen pond), and Taylor (a windy cornfield)—which is last resort given the ill-repute of a related predecessor.

Luke decided to heed Dad’s advice and shoot the deer he saw. Dad just didn’t expect him to actually get it. (Especially since his father has yet to get one.) At EAA Luke was required to deliver promotional fliers and make over 100 candy salvation airplanes- the real reason he got in free. Safety Steve’s substitute in Driver’s Ed taught Luke how to hit a deer, but admits questionable teaching Luke still managed to get 100% on the final.

The last-minute switcheroo of her horseless-horse for another animal traumatized Elizabeth, but, as you know, one with her skills can manage these things. She braves the stressful Christmas season by making cookies, playing with American Girl dolls, and doing interpretative dances with pretzel cigars in the living room.

Merry Christmas!

Monday, December 6, 2010

Flourishing on Purpose

Last Thursday my professor reminded us of the Elie Wiesel Prize in Ethics Contest for undergraduate juniors and seniors which was due today. The first-place prize of $5,000 was enough to convince me that it was worth it to sacrifice the time I should be spending on preparing for exams to write an essay to submit. This is the result. I apologize for the length; perhaps it would be best read in parts.

Flourishing on Purpose
But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well. --Jesus, The Gospel of MatthewAlign Center
Most of what I remember from the college Spanish class which I took during my senior year of high school has little to do with the Spanish language. Conversational fluency developed as a means of grappling with the dapper young professor’s perspectives on issues in philosophy, sociology, sexuality, ethics and religion which were largely unfamiliar to my evangelical Christian upbringing. One day he asked us to suggest essential characteristics of a universal religion. Although bewildered at such a prospect, I was the first to raise my hand. “Religion should offer purpose to life,” I ventured. He rejected my suggestion with a wave of his hand, explaining that the lack of consensus on the issue deemed the question of purpose irrelevant to any guiding framework for humanity. Too dumbfounded to articulate my gut revulsion to his flippant dismissal of this core value, I sat back to listen as he directed the discussion toward universally acceptable ethical standards. His ideas were strangely compelling, and I began to wonder if he was right. Should we dismiss the question of purpose for human life from discussion of ethics?

My bewilderment about his ethical views continued throughout the semester. By the summer my interpretive framework was shaken enough that I began to doubt that I understood enough about the world to bring about the ethical change which I believed it so desperately needed. Were ethics possible without purpose? Did I even know how to make a meaningful difference? Yet college scholarship checks from civic clubs, philanthropists and a music teachers’ association affirmed my intentions and ability. Convinced that there was truth to be discovered and reassured of my potential to discover it, I set my sights on college.

My pastor called in the final hours before my departure. I stood in the kitchen with the phone cradled on my shoulder as she prayed over me a blessing inspired by words inscribed on St. Patrick’s breastplate: “God go with you, God before you, God behind you, God in you, God beneath you, God above you, God on your right, God on your left, God where you lie, God where you sit, God where you arise.” The moment of peace which enveloped me dissipated as the prayer ended. “Don’t be content to merely survive,” she encouraged me, “Go and thrive.” I thanked her. Her blessing calling for God to indwell and accompany me so that I would flourish was tightly interwoven with orientation in moral space. It was as if she knew that I would need purposeful direction.

As we drove the final few hours through the darkness between the life I knew and freshman orientation weekend, I realized that there were millions of other people my age in the exact same situation. I had never felt so much like one lost at sea. As a homeschooled student, I was accustomed to identifying myself against the masses, as one whose family’s choices set her apart as distinct. Now I was one of the crowd. The gravity of this identity shift began to sink in as I joined a university community populated by students who largely shared my values, ethics, and beliefs. Most of what had identified me as an individual was now either irrelevant, obsolete, or simply identified me as one of my peers.

The realization that I was no longer unique sent me scrambling for the turquoise Who Am I? devotional journal which my grandma had given me five years earlier to help me navigate the turbulence of an adolescent identity crisis. But as I flipped through its pages while home on break I found only superficial characterizations of my identity as a person ordained by God as a member of a particular family, with a particular ethnicity, in a particular religious tradition, engaged in particular relationships and endowed with particular talents. None of it felt personal, real, or fundamentally identified me. Another’s name could have been substituted for mine and the details remain essentially unchanged.

Charles Taylor’s thoughts on the frightful experience of identity crisis in his book Sources of the Self resonate with my experience. “What this brings to light is the essential link between identity and a kind of orientation. To know who you are is to be oriented in moral space, a space in which questions arise about what is good or bad, what is worth doing and what not, what has meaning and importance for you and what is trivial and secondary.” Losing my sense of identity made me feel like one lost at sea because I did not know how to orient my life around the meaningful and significant.

I reasoned that those who had gone before me could serve as guides in my search for meaning. So I became the overzealous freshman who took notes during the new student orientation class in which the other 499 students—including the upperclassmen leaders of our freshman group—distracted themselves with sleep, homework, the internet, or phones. Even though I had joined the masses, I did not have to identify with them. I determined to identify standards of achievement by which to distinguish myself. I listened intently to the panel of upperclassmen students as they dispensed wisdom from their college experience thus far. “Don’t try to do two things at once,” a charming brunette advised. “You’re much better off getting your work done first and then going to hang out with your friends or watch TV. Be fully engaged in whatever you’re doing and you’ll be much more efficient.”

Since I took it as a given that academic achievement was important, I assumed it to be the primary way to thrive in college. I determined to take her advice to heart. By distinguishing myself academically I would discover both my identity and purpose, and flourish according to my pastor’s blessing. By focusing first on academics I hoped to carve out time to thrive socially and spiritually. I took up residence in the Geek Room, the haven stocked with individual study desks and freest from distractions courtesy of the self-imposed vow of silence assumed by all who crossed its threshold. But the efficiency engendered by an environment free of distractions did not create time for rest and relationships. The pursuit of my identity in distinguished academic excellence squeezed the margins and flourishing out of my life. I clung to the fading hope that I would somehow, someday capture the elusive hours that I sought to gain by holing away in a room of geeks until my harried schedule developed into a routine with which I became obligingly and then willingly familiar.

Convinced that the pursuit of academic excellence deemed thriving unattainable, I resigned myself to be content with surviving. The glaring insufficiency of surviving became apparent one afternoon as I sat at my Geek Room desk and inadvertently tuned in to a series of frenzied conversations simultaneously occurring in my head. The words were insignificant compared to the breathless tone of voices desperate to be heard, even if just by me. It was as if my soul, so long starved for significant human interaction, had bolted from its confinement to run frantic circles around its dazed self. But since the pursuit of excellence left no time for such frivolities, I grabbed my temporarily liberated soul, shoved it back into the solitary confinement required of it by my pursuit of excellence, and barreled on.

When the semester finally ended I came up into Christmas break gasping for air, wondering how my disciplined pursuit of academic excellence had left me so dehydrated and dilapidated. Something was askew which even the achievement of the coveted 4.0 did not rectify. Following the brunette’s advice was supposed to enable me to thrive, not cause me to shrivel. I returned to prayer, reflective journaling and contemplation to nurse my battered soul back to health, and coax it out of its confinement and into full participation in my life. I knew that I was not thriving in my pursuit of academic excellence, but I also knew that I needed to pursue something. Aristotle affirms this necessity in Nichomachaen Ethics when he says that human actions are directed toward an end which motivates them. The final end, eudaimonia, sometimes translated as “happiness,” is better understood as human flourishing. Humans flourish by consciously exercising virtues, the means between vices of excess and deficiency in character traits, in pursuit of their final end.

But I was highly suspicious of talk of “means,” because they reminded me of “balance.” Every time my mom pulled out her sermon about the need for balance in life, but I dismissed it as dispassionately as I had done in high school when I told her that “Olympic champions don’t live balanced lives.” To navigate the high seas of my identity crisis, I had set my sights on excellence and worked like an Olympic champion in training. The result was all but excellent. Reflection on my first semester in college told me that I needed navigational guidance to help me aim for true excellence. Guidance requires direction toward a target of sorts by which to evaluate options and make choices.

Balance seemed a sorry target on which to set my compass because I had no desire to pursue mediocrity. I conceptualized balance as the act of keeping both the laziness and the diligence ends of my seesaw suspended in the air. I had no desire to spend my life in the tension of a balancing act, shifting my weight tentatively back and forth. Steven Curtis Chapman’s song “See the Glory” resonated with me: “I never did like the word mediocre / I never wanted it to be said of me, oh, no / Just point me to the job and I'd go over, over / Looking for the very best that could be.” I was convinced that balance was not the very best that I could be.

In pursuit of the best holistic excellence I joined the university Ethics Bowl team the following fall. I hoped to flourish by finding ethical orientation. But that was not exactly what I encountered. Ethics Bowl, I learned, was about preparing to present thoughtfully reasoned ethical arguments in response to questions posed about each of the fifteen hypothetical and real-life ethical dilemmas in the cases. The goal was not developing personal ethical orientation as much as it was to win. Winning an ethical argument required rhetorical skill to face the judges and convince them of the flaws in your opponents’ case, even if you agreed with it. Ethics became a game in which we wrestled with the best rhetorical application of Kantian, Utilitarian, Social Contract, and Virtue ethics rather than a holistic ethical orientation.

While my team’s discussions were framed by the understanding that ethics are informed by an ontological reality, this assumption was never articulated in competition. The same possibility of disagreement which scared my Spanish professor away from questions about the about the purpose of life kept us from addressing publicly the reasons for our fundamental ethical orientation. I did not recognize the importance of this unarticulated commonality until my teammate described it for the university’s news article about our team’s third-place finish and qualification for the National competition. He saw that the possibility of engaging in constructive ethical discussions was contingent upon the existence of an independent standard according to which we are responsible to orient ourselves.

I had only begun to contemplate this significant truth when, to my astonishment, I was among the half of our team members selected to represent our university at the national competition. I dismissed the question of how orientation according to ontological reality related to human flourishing with no more than a passing nod and moved into the limelight afforded me by professors, students, family, and friends. This certainly felt like thriving. The more they congratulated me, the more motivated I was to earn their praise by performing well at Nationals. I replayed their compliments in my mind until they ran coursing through my veins to warm my soul in the frigid darkness and awaken me from my sleep-deprived stupor as I trudged through the snow on my way to our 7:00 am meetings. Their approval was the standard by which I defined my identity and purpose.

When my teammates climbed into their hotel beds at midnight on the eve of the national competition, I relocated to the bathroom where I sat on the floor with stopwatch in hand and practiced my cases until 2:00 am when I was satisfied that they were perfect. I awoke four hours later with more butterflies in my stomach than there are monarchs in central Mexico in December. Our coach assured us that our opponents put their pants on one leg at a time just like we did. A teammate quipped that they probably jumped in with both at once. I was inclined to agree. As our coach led us in prayer my distracted mind flitted through the moral principles of my case outlines, unable to be still long enough to ask for God’s blessing. My reputation—and hence my identity—was on the line. I shuddered to think what would become of me if I did not distinguish myself in the competition.

The sound of my deep exhalation equaled that of my pounding heart when my cases were not called in either the first or second match. The mounting pressure within my chest intensified before our final match because I was convinced that I would be called upon to argue against our Ivy League competitors. I was not to be disappointed. Yet when I sat down at the table and heard my case called, my butterflies melted. I knew what I had to do and presented flawlessly. The opposing team’s rebuttal was weak and I responded to their objections with eloquent confidence. By the time they called my case as the second for the match, I was nearly giddy with excitement. If this wasn’t what it meant to thrive, what was? I pointed out as many of the multitude of holes in the opposing case as I could during the five-minute rebuttal period and sat back to wait for the results from the judges. The bursting smile which I exchanged briefly with our coach confirmed my suspicion that I had done extremely well.

But the judges missed the memo. According to their scoring I had done equally as well as the other team. To hear that we tied was like being hit over the head with a ton of bricks. When I masked my astonishment in order to shake hands with and congratulate our opponents I learned that the bricks had hit them too. “I wasn’t even sure how to keep up with you,” the student who had presented against me said, “Well done.” I smiled firmly and moved on. Outside the competition room, our polite congratulations erupted into a spirited critique of the other team’s presentations. My heart soared and my head grew as everyone described my performance as “unbelievable,” “flawless,” and “astounding.” My coach said it was the best presentation he had seen in the ten years he had been coaching Ethics Bowl and called me a “juggernaut.” I was so pleased that I had the courage to admit that I did not know what the word meant.

Our critiques turned into jibes as we moved from the hallway to our hotel room. I soaked in the glory, prompting my teammates to comment on aspects of the case presentation which had not yet been discussed. Everyone assured me that I had done as well as I possibly could, but I continued to question them because I wanted to hear them say it again. I felt fulfilled because I had achieved my purpose, even if the judges did not recognize it. By the time we had walked to Chipotle for lunch, the praise began to dry up as the conversation moved on to other topics. I panicked. What else was there to say which could keep the praise flowing? I suggested a peripheral issue which I hoped would lead to further conversation, but my teammate quickly dismissed my concern as unwarranted and returned to the group conversation.

As I sat down to eat my burrito the ephemerality of my glory overwhelmed me. Weeks of arduous preparation were reduced to a blip of glory and an hour’s worth of praise. I had earned my teammates’ approval. So what? It dawned on me that I did not want to reinforce an egotistic identity by sending praise sound bites coursing through my veins for the intervening months before the next opportunity to “prove” myself as an Ethics Bowl juggernaut. I had arrived at the destination toward which my purposeful decision to define myself directed me to find it vacuous. I began to feel again as one lost at sea.

The identity I found in Ethics Bowl was oriented around my thirst for approval by those whom I respected. Ernest Becker identifies our common search for “cosmic significance” in his book The Denial of Death. I looked to my work to provide that which it could not. Deifying my participation in Ethics Bowl was an attempt to justify my existence to myself in light of a desire to ground my identity in the ultimately significant. I was shaken when that ceased to be affirmed, explains Thomas Oden in his book Two Worlds, because my guilt is “neurotically intensified to the degree that I have idolized finite values.” I did not deny that this identity reflected an orientation toward a purpose which I presumed would help me flourish. I could only wonder why it took the crisis of fading applause for me to recognize that my identity would not be found in achievement or approval.

The following fall our coach read an anonymous letter from one of our teammates to open our first meeting of the Ethics Bowl season. Ethics, she reminded us, is about the life you live rather than the eloquence with which you debate cases. She challenged us to shed Pharisaical pride for lived humility at the weight of the ethical standard to which we would each one day be held accountable: “To what end, O Lord? To what purpose? For what reason? None, but Your Glory.” This was the depth of purpose for which I yearned. I began to conceive of the ethical life as the lived pursuit of the telos for which I was created. “What is the chief end of man?” asks the Westminster Catechism. “Man’s chief end is to glorify God, and to enjoy him forever.” Glorifying God meant honoring him by working as if for the Lord in whatever I did, including Ethics Bowl. But to pursue argumentative ethical excellence in order to define myself was to misconstrue a means as an end.

Purpose motivates action. But as my dapper Spanish professor argued, the multiplicity of ends makes it difficult to identify any universal purpose of human life. Hence the motivation to remove purpose of life considerations from ethics. Yet his point is ultimately epistemological rather than ontological. Our inability to identify a universal purpose for human life says nothing about the existence of that purpose. Simone Weil reminds us in Gravity and Grace that “Man always devotes himself to an order.” We necessarily orient our lives around the pursuit of something, whether or not we know what that something is or should be.

Rather, the ethical question is whether that which we pursue leads to vacuity or flourishing. This pursuit defines our lives. Quite simply, as Harold Best notes in Unceasing Worship, “Nobody does not worship.” When I pursue my identity in academic excellence, that is worship. And it causes my soul to shrivel because it is not rooted in the ultimate reality for which I was created. For St. Thomas of Aquinas, Aristotle’s eudaimonia becomes ultimate union with God: “man and other rational creatures attain to their last end by knowing and loving God.” Flourishing is found in union with Reality.

Simone Weil finds that idolatry is born of a thirst for absolute good which is attached to something other than God. “A life not centered on God leads to emptiness,” suggests Timothy Keller in The Reason for God. “Building our lives on something besides God not only hurts us if we don’t get the desires of our hearts, but also if we do.” It hurt even when I earned the unofficial designation as Ethics Bowl MVP at Nationals because when the applause faded I was left with nothing. An identity can last only as long as that around which it is built.

And yet I still struggle to live by that truth. As I looked toward my senior year of college this past summer I determined that I needed to identify a mantra by which to define my purpose and orient my priorities to keep me from falling into the trap of defining myself by my academic achievements. Ethical living requires meaningful orientation. All those that I tried on for size were unsatisfactory until I settled on a single word: “Jesus.” I wanted Jesus to my center, my source, my light because I knew that any other purpose left me empty. But as the semester progressed and assignments intensified, my life devolved into a hectic schedule which reflected little of my summer’s mantra. I deceived myself into thinking that my mental depletion, emotional numbness and spiritual drought were temporarily necessary conditions which I would rectify as soon as I had the time. That time, of course, never presented itself.

The week before the Regional Ethics Bowl competition was among the busiest of the semester. When my computer died three days before the competition, taking my case briefs with it, I reasoned that I might as well die too. Sleep-deprived and overwhelmed, I worked furiously to reconstruct my cases while keeping up with all my other assignments. When I staggered out of an exam on Friday morning I was convinced that I had done more poorly than I had ever done on any exam, ever. As I walked toward the library I began to reprimand myself for failing to live up to my own identity. But the rebuke was replaced by a wave of profound humility which washed over me as I realized the gravity of my disorientation. Wisdom from Kierkegaard’s The Sickness Unto Death washed over me: “The standard for the self is always: that directly in the face of which it is a self. But this in turn is the definition of ‘standard’. Just as it is only possible to add together items of one kind, so everything is qualitatively whatever it is measured by; and what is qualitatively its standard of measurement is ethically its goal.” To define myself by anything less than the ontological reality of God was sin. Confession liberated my soul, overwhelming me with a profound appreciation for the grace by which God allowed me to try again.

I took fewer butterflies than usual with me to the regional competition the following day because I finally grasped that my identity was rooted in a reality deeper than my performance. The nervous jokes with which we distracted ourselves changed into tentative excitement after we performed well in both the first and second rounds. When we entered the third round with the knowledge that we stood in first place I refused to let myself rejoice prematurely. Even after we tied the round against an excellent team, I dared not assume anything. It wasn’t until the final results were announced and I walked to the front to accept the first prize trophy as the captain of the winning team that I realized what had happened. When I gave up that which had constituted my identity, God gave it back.

I did not notice the applause fade as I returned to my seat.

Saturday, August 14, 2010

Reflection #5

Rachel Jonker
August 5-6 & 9, 2010
August 12, 2010
Journal #5
10.5 hours teaching, 15 hours preparing
Yum Kwang Church

Part 1: Summary of your recent time in the classroom (one-two paragraphs)

As we near the end of the YumKwang English Camp, my classes have begun to wrap things up. Thursday, August 5 was the final day for a Fruit of the Spirit verse. After that, I decided to use six of Jesus’ “I am” statements for the final daily Bible verses. These have provided the basis for each day’s Bible lesson in an engaging way as we have discussed what it means for Jesus to say that he is “bread” and “light.”

With the Brown Camels (my upper elementary school class) we have been working toward the students writing their own book report about a children’s book which I gave them to read outside of class. Every day I incorporate an activity which prepares them to complete another section of the report, such as character and setting description. The closest equivalent to this in my Blue Elephants class is the TeenInk essays which the students selected (on their own) and wrote two questions about and then summarized and exchanged with another student so they could read the essay that that person had selected and answer the questions. In the mother’s class which I co-teach with Molly and Rose during the kindergarten class, we have mainly focused on reading and discussing the Bible story which the kindergarteners learn each day so as to equip the mothers to be able to discuss the story with their children.

Part 2: Reflection on TESOL Themes
1. Discuss one approach you used or observed which you felt worked well and received positive response from both students and teacher. Support your observations with references from your TESOL texts.

On Monday, August 9 the daily verse was John 8:12 “When Jesus spoke again to the people, he said, ‘I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.” In order to create a memorable experience which would help both of my classes think about what this statement means, I decided to talk about light and darkness.

In my Brown Camels class I used scarves to blindfold each of the students at the beginning of class, while in my Blue Elephants class I simply turned off the classroom lights. Then, when the students were in the dark, I asked them to explain what it was like. After they had done so, I asked the key question: Which is stronger, light or darkness? At first there were diverse opinions, but after I asked them to consider which one overpowers the other when both are in the same room, they all understood that light will always beat darkness.

I also distributed several Bible verses about light and darkness. The Brown Camels each had one verse to explain while the Blue Elephants were given a complete sheet with all of the verses, but we only looked at a few of them. I asked the students when most robberies take place, and why this is the case. From this point we talked about how since Jesus is the light of the world he will still be able to see anything which is done in the darkness and a little about what it means to be children of light.

I think that this approach was effective because it gave the students a tangible experience which helped them understand an important concept. In terms of language learning, this gave them clarity which made the discussion more profitable. The students enjoyed the activity because it was unusual—the say the least— to have the teacher blindfold them and turn off all the lights. Harmer comments on this very thing when he discusses the importance of variety in classroom activities and topics. He notes that even the best activity “will be less motivating the sixth time we ask the students to take part in it than it was when they first came across it. Much of the value of an activity, in other words, resides in its freshness” (29). I think that I was especially attune to this because I have adopted a fairly consistent class structure which needed to be “broken-up.”

2. Discuss one approach you used or observed which you felt did not work well and received negative response from either students or teacher. Support your observations with references from your TESOL texts.

I am very intentional about treating my middle/high school students according to the maturity which I expect them to display in the classroom. I do this in the hope that if I treat them as responsible, capable students, they will perform accordingly. While this generally works, recently I have begun to question its effectiveness. I have struggled throughout my time teaching here to get my students to complete their blog homework. While I am still not completely sure why it has been so difficult to get them to do it, I suspect that it may be because the students are not accustomed to accessing the internet every day, are occupied with other homework, academies and activities and the blog homework was often not incorporated into the classroom time, so thus they were not reminded of it.

However, during these few days I discovered that the single biggest factor may simply be a lack of consequences. After discussing it with my fellow Taylor students, I decided that it was not too late to change my standards by requiring the students to write sentences every time that they did not complete their blog homework. I used this approach in my Brown Camels class: on Thursday, August 5 the three students who had not completed their blog homework had to write “I will do my blog homework before I come to class” five times and hand it in to me before they left class. On Friday the sentences increased to ten and on Monday there were 15. The combination of public humiliation and inconvenience that this created for the students proved to be more effective than I anticipated: since Monday, all of the students have been completing their blog homework. The whole experience makes me wonder why I didn’t think of this sooner!
Since I haven’t instituted the sentence punishment in my Blue Elephants class, student completion of blog homework has—understandably—stayed about the same. I chose not to make the students write sentences because it felt too “elementary” and because I had not instituted it from the beginning of class. I wanted them to feel that they were respected in the hope that they would return that respect. I have also recognized that this decision was motivated by my first language learning experience, in which the teacher used no consequences or tests at all, but rather simply presented us with “Desafios” for each subject area which we completed when we felt ready and through which we would earn the “honor” of having our names written on a posterboard.

But such is not adequate for these students. I also struggled against a lack of consequences to motivate the Blue Elephants to complete their “My Motivation” essays and select, ask and answer questions about, and summarize an essay from the TeenInk website. Harmer addresses my dilemma directly in his “What if students don’t do homework?” section of the “What If?” chapter (179-180). While none of his suggestions provide insight into how to create the intrinsic motivation which I would love to see my students develop so that homework completion was not an issue to begin with, they may have been helpful given the lack of such. I can see how a homework diary, variety, greater teacher involvement in reminders, reciprocation, and post-homework activities may have been helpful in motivating my students to complete their homework without belittling them. I can only lament that I did not institute such strategies earlier in the class.

3. Discuss a cultural dynamic that you saw playing out in the classroom. How did you respond to this dynamic? What resources could you consult to gain deeper insight into this?

On Monday, August 9 I decided to use a unit from Small Group Discussion Topics for Korean Students, a book which the YumKwang Church owns, for discussion in my Blue Elephants class. This book by Jack Martire presents a political, economic, environmental, or social issue facing Korea in the early 21st century in a three part essay complete with explanations of unfamiliar phrases and 8-10 discussion questions. The first topic that I chose was “Suicides.” Looking back on it I wonder whether it was appropriate for a middle school summer camp, but at the time I thought that the topic was sufficiently relevant and would be engaging to the students.

Our discussion was profitable; the essay gave the students a reason to communicate their opinions. However, the questions were not all relevant. This became humorously apparent when we came to the third: “What is your reaction to the suicide rate, as explained in Reading 3—a clash between traditional Confucist thinking and modern Korean society?” After a spell of awkward silence, it came out that the students did not know who Confucius was. I directed one of them to look up his Korean name in his dictionary, in hopes that this would “turn on the light bulb” which would enable them to answer the question. But even after they knew who he was, they were unable to answer the question. The students told me that while they had heard of him, they didn’t know anything about what he taught. Thus, I adapted the question and we went on to talk about how Korean media has changed. From that point on I realized that it worked better when I fed directly off of our discussion to create new questions rather than systematically addressing each written question in turn.

This situation shouldn’t have surprised me as much as it did. Throughout the course I have come to realize that much of what is marketed as “traditional culture” is not known as such by my Korean students themselves. Most of this is due to modernization and the students Christian backgrounds; much of what once defined a typical Korean experience is no longer present in their lives.

However, the fact that the students did not know anything about what Confucius taught does not mean that his teachings have ceased to have an effect on Korean culture. For example, it is still customary to bow to others—particularly elders—when greeting them. In addition, Korean society still awards a relatively high respect to the elderly. I have never before been in an environment in which the eldest is consistently served food first, and in which people routinely give up their subway seats for the elderly. However, I think that I am sensitive to this issue for that very reason: I have never before lived in this environment. For my students, in contrast, this is the only culture which they have known. As such, they are less likely to recognize such as overt evidence of Confucist influence. What I recognize as a cultural phenomenon appears to be simply normal to them. This phenomenon of which aspects of culture one can self-identify as such is fascinating to me. I would like to research it further via similar discussions with my students, the Korean language assistants, others who have lived in Korea as well as another culture, and via published material about evolution in traditional Korean culture.

Friday, August 6, 2010

Reflection #4

Rachel Jonker

July 29-30, August 2-4, 2010

August 6, 2010

Journal #4

8 hours teaching, 12 hours preparing

10 hours and 40 minutes teaching, 18 hours preparing

Yum Kwang Church

Part 1: Summary of your recent time in the classroom (one-two paragraphs)

On July 29 and 30 YumKwang Church’s middle schoolers attended their summer camp at the church’s retreat center, so we did not have class. That gave me more time to focus on my younger class, the Brown Camels. I incorporated a few themes—such as cultural festivals, the Bible story from each day, and the Fruit of the Spirit verse into other classroom activities so as to create a continuity which I hoped would help the students understand the flow of the class while motivating them to engage more with these stories. This tactic worked best when I introduced the topic and then gave the students an activity in which they could respond to what I had taught them with their own creative thinking.

Since the middle school retreat, the middle school student who had been giving me trouble has not returned to class. While I am disappointed to see him go rather than working through the challenge of teaching him effectively, I would be lying if I did not admit that this has significantly improved my perspective on the success of this class. It is so much more pleasant to work with students who are willing to follow directions and participate in class. With two-four students attending each day, the class has evolved into a more discussion oriented structure which gives me more time to interact with each student individually. I find this to be the most rewarding aspect of teaching here.

Part 2: Reflection on TESOL Themes

1. Discuss one approach you used or observed which you felt worked well and received positive response from both students and teacher. Support your observations with references from your TESOL texts.

My favorite activity which I did during these classes was a discussion of Korean Rites of Passage which I had with my middle schoolers on Tuesday, August 3. I located descriptions of traditional Korean coming-of-age ceremonies (gwanhonsangje), weddings, funerals, and ancestor veneration in a guide to Korean culture which I downloaded from the internet before I came to Korea. I proofread these descriptions, making note of words which I assumed would be new to my students and locating their definitions so that I could explain them to the students in class. I then gave each student a copy of a description of one of these traditions along with several questions which I wrote to prompt a discussion:

1) Were you familiar with the traditional way that these rites of passage were celebrated? If so where did you hear about them?

2) Do you know of anyone who still celebrates this way? What do these traditions have in common with the way that your family celebrates these rites of passage? How are they different?

3) What are the advantages of discontinuing celebrating these rites of passage in the traditional way? What are the disadvantages?

After each student had read his or her paragraph, I asked him or her to summarize its contents for the rest of the class and we then worked loosely through the discussion questions. I directed these questions to other students when it felt appropriate, making the judgment call based on their knowledge of and interest in the topic. This activity worked very well because it gave the students a real reason to communicate to me about something with which they were more familiar than I was. It was also helpful to provide them with the descriptions, because the students do not practice most of the traditional customs and thus are not very familiar with them. Most of their knowledge came from books, relatives, or grandparents.

I think a significant part of why I feel that this activity went well is that it was genuinely interesting to me to hear the students explain why they think it is perfectly acceptable to leave behind old cultural traditions and move onto more “westernized” celebrations. Since I am fascinated by this aspect of cultural evolution, I was genuinely interested in hearing the students’ perspectives and reasons. This made me prod them on with further questions, which gave them the opportunity to develop more thorough reasons for their opinions. I have determined that I enjoyed this activity because it gave the students more agency than I typically incorporate into my lesson plans and put me in the role of prompter and resource provider for language information (Harmer, 25). I enjoyed learning alongside my students.

2. Discuss one approach you used or observed which you felt did not work well and received negative response from either students or teacher. Support your observations with references from your TESOL texts.

I am generally satisfied with my students’ participation in classroom activities, although I still struggle to get some of them to complete their homework. I experienced this acutely with the book reports that I am trying to get my elementary school students to write. I gave them each a children’s book on Monday, July 26 and instructed them to read it on their own before class that Friday. On Friday I gave them a character summary sheet to fill out which walked them through several steps to describe one of the characters of their book. When they brought the descriptions back on Monday, I was very disappointed with the poor quality of their work. Their descriptions of the characters’ physical appearance were very limited, and the extent of their character’s personality description was that everyone said that his or her character was “kind.”

But then I realized that the students had completed the assignments in this way because I had not given them adequate preparatory support. I merely gave them the sheet, expecting them to figure out on their own how to accurately describe the character. At the time this seemed best to me because I wanted the students to take more ownership of the assignment, rather than merely regurgitating adjectives with which I provided them. However, in this instance it was unrealistic of me to expect the students to have skills which I did not teach them. At times I think that I forget that they are not able to be as independent as I am expected to be in my college courses. Upon reflection, it seems that I imposed learner autonomy rather than providing the support by which my students could gradually extend their involvement and responsibility in their learning (Harmer, 21). For this reason, I revisited character description in class on Wednesday, August 4 with a worksheet which detailed various ways to describe people and gave the students a few opportunities to practice doing so in class before I asked them to rewrite their descriptions.

3. Discuss a cultural dynamic that you saw playing out in the classroom. How did you respond to this dynamic? What resources could you consult to gain deeper insight into this?

The Bible character for Monday, August 2 was Mary Jesus’ mother, so I decided to tell the story of Jesus’ birth via the Brick Testament, a resource which I found online which illustrates Bible stories with Legos. I like this because each page displays a verse and clearly depicts it with the Lego people. The disadvantage of this illustration and simplified version of the story is that it makes some aspects of the story clearer than is typically done for children’s Bible stories. For this reason the creator marks each story for its nudity, violence, and sexual content. (The Bible isn’t exactly G-rated.) I decided to use an abridged version of the story for my elementary school students so as to avoid having to explain “circumcision” and show them images of the baby boys of Bethlehem being slaughtered.

I didn’t avoid Luke 1:34, however, which the author rendered “Mary said to the angel, ‘How can this happen if I had not had sex with a man?’” My fellow teachers cautioned me against using the text in class, advising me to soften the language. I considered it, but chose not to because I have a heightened sensitivity to unnecessary censorship and simplification of the Bible. I am convinced that this is done too effectively in most Sunday School classes, such that after children grow up they only associate the stories with kindergarten felt boards and primary school puppet shows rather than recognizing the characters as real people who lived lives very much like ours and those of the people by whom we are surrounded. Besides being a misrepresentation of the truth, this leads to the impression that the Bible is childish and irrelevant, a false stereotype which I will not condone.

So I copied these verses for my students, and directed them to read them in turn as I advanced the images so that they could follow along. I watched them carefully as I handed out the papers, waiting to see how they would react. One of them spotted the “s-word” almost immediately and giggled behind his hand as he pointed it out to his friend. I remained silent and waited to see how they would react when it came time to read it. As luck would have it, the verse fell to the quietest boy in class. I felt a twinge of pity for him, but only because of how his friends might tease him afterwards. But when it was time to read the verse, he skipped right over it and read the verse immediately after it. I caught my correction half-way up my throat and swallowed it again before it escaped my mouth. I knew exactly why he had done so, and decided to let it go.

It was definitely the wisest way to react to the situation, but the way that it turned out made me doubt my decision to include the “uncensored” version for these sixth graders. In retrospect, I realize that it might have been wiser of me to consult one of the Korean assistants to ask his or her opinion about what would be considered appropriate for students of this age. Perhaps that would have helped me make a more informed decision.

Reflection #3

Rachel Jonker
July 26-28, 2010
August 1, 2010
Journal #3
8 hours teaching, 12 hours preparing
Yum Kwang Church

Part 1: Summary of your recent time in the classroom (one-two paragraphs)

I have settled into the rhythm of things in my classes. I combined activities from my expanding repertoire with some new ideas. While I am glad that my younger class has become quite comfortable together, this made them more difficult to control and less responsive to my reminders that “This is English, not Korean, class” and attempts to get them to work quickly through in class activities. The atmosphere in my older class is generally very pleasant, but can be quite difficult when one student refuses to cooperate. I can tell that this directly influences my ease in the leadership role, making it more difficult for me to feel confident in my teaching abilities.

Sometimes I forget that since the students are more skilled in reading and writing than they are in listening and speaking, the fact that they easily perform a reading or writing activity does not mean that they have attained fluency in the oral and aural use of that skill. I need to guard against reducing the number of speaking activities that I use in class simply because they are more difficult for the students to perform. Although it is important to organize the class in a way which gives the students an opportunity to succeed, that does not mean that I should exclusively teach that which students are already good at. The purpose of these classes is to increase spoken fluency. Thus, even though it is more difficult to give the students significant individual “air time” in a way which keeps the rest of the class’s attention, I need to be more intentional about incorporating speaking practice.

Part 2: Reflection on TESOL Themes
1. Discuss one approach you used or observed which you felt worked well and received positive response from both students and teacher. Support your observations with references from your TESOL texts.

This week I used an authentic information gap activity to tell the story of Elijah. I printed the story of his confrontation with the prophets of Baal on Mt. Carmel (from 1 Kings 18:18-40) in Korean and divided the story into as many parts as there were students in the class (seven for the younger and four for the older). I distributed these in class and instructed the students to read their verses and prepare to tell me the story in English. After a few minutes I solicited the story from each of them in turn as we watched an illustrated PowerPoint version of it which I found online. This helped to remind the students of parts of it which they may have forgotten and effectively maintained other students’ interest. The activity was successful because it created a genuine information gap which motivated students to communicate while at the same time giving them the material to communicate. This was more effective than other information gap activities which I have used because it eliminated the additional step of requiring students to produce information to communicate by forming an opinion or answering a question. I think this is because it provided the additional support needed to get less vocal students to talk, as Harmer talks about in How to Teach English. He advocates getting students “to speak in a more controlled way at first” as a means of building their psychological confidence so as to answer follow-up questions, etc.

2. Discuss one approach you used or observed which you felt did not work well and received negative response from either students or teacher. Support your observations with references from your TESOL texts.

One of my bittersweet surprises this week was that my students knew more than I anticipated. Based on their classroom and written performance, I determined that it would be helpful to teach how to form a complete sentence, capitalization rules, the more technical rules of apostrophe use, and some idioms. However, based on their adeptness with the questions that I asked in class to test their ability with the material, I concluded that my students already knew everything that I had intended to teach them. Harmer notes that it “is the mark of a good teacher to know when and how to deal with unplanned events, and how to balance a proposal for action with appropriate flexibility” (157).Several times I was able to alter my lesson plan accordingly so as to make the lesson more challenging, but that was not always an option. That’s what made me feel like a poor teacher through this experience.
For example, in order to teach idioms I selected five short texts from an idiom textbook and asked students to each read and explain a paragraph. Even though they were able to correctly define almost all without any assistance, I continued with the activity because I did not have anything else to fill the class time. After we finished reading, I had the students each fill their own Bingo card with the idioms. I then called out the idioms by their definitions, which required the students to know what they meant before they could mark off the square. In the least, I hope that it was a beneficial review activity for them, rather than simply a means to fill class time.

3. Discuss a cultural dynamic that you saw playing out in the classroom. How did you respond to this dynamic? What resources could you consult to gain deeper insight into this?

My most exasperating experience this week happened on Tuesday in my older class when one of my students refused to participate in an activity. He has given me considerable problems in the past, from pretending to fall asleep in class to aggravating his fellow classmates to swearing under his breath and refusing to follow instructions. On this day I did not have a helper in class, which is generally fine with this level because the students are sufficiently advanced to be able to communicate everything to me. However, it turned into a problem when he got frustrated and started speaking angrily to me in Korean. I reprimanded him sternly, telling him that it was not acceptable and that he needed to speak in English. When he refused to do so, I took to asking my other students what he was saying. The first several times it was simply his frustration, so I chose to ignore it rather than give him more attention and fuel for his feeling of “superiority” by calling attention to the fact that he can speak a language which I do not understand.

Ignoring him did not diffuse the situation, however. The next time that I told him to participate, he erupted into a stream of Korean which another student told me afterward had been “very rude” and an “insult.” Thankfully the class ended shortly thereafter, but before it did I reprimanded him again and threatened to take further measures if his behavior did not improve. After class my teaching assistant (who had been there for his final eruption) explained that he had addressed me in the informal form rather than the formal one which was required for his elders. I was about to dismiss it since this was more palatable to me than the type of insult that I had been envisioning, but she told me that it was still significant and that she would have been very upset if he had addressed her in that way. So, we explained the situation to the English Camp’s coordinator and asked him what should be done. He offered to come to my class the following day to confront him, since he needed to tell him that he had still not paid for the class.

I was very nervous before the next day’s class, envisioning a somewhat horrific confrontation. At the same time, I rested in the thought that the coordinator would take care of it and looked forward to a much better classroom atmosphere. But nothing of the sort occurred. My student arrived to class 45 minutes late the following day. I chose to let him fall into place rather than make a big deal of it so that he would have further reason to erupt. When the coordinator came in a few minutes later to speak to him he merely told him that he needed to pay for the class and left. I was tempted to say something to him, but since the conversation took place in Korean and I was in the middle of teaching, I chose not to.

I was very disappointed that the coordinator had not followed through with his promise to confront the student. It made me wonder if it had been culturally appropriate to ask him to do so in the first place, since I understand that confrontation may be less acceptable in this culture. I wonder if he felt obligated to tell me that he was going to confront him. That may be the case, since earlier he began to translate a letter to this same student’s parents (which explained the difficulties that I have had with him in class) which he promised to deliver to my classroom the same day, but never did. When I asked him about it he told me that he decided that it would be better to call the parents. He later told me that he had done so, but said nothing about telling them about their son’s behavior issues in class. Since I also dislike confrontation, it is tempting for me to take his behavior as an indicator that I should leave the issue in his hands rather than attempt to make further headway. However, that is not a favorable option because it will be interpreted by my student as a lack of consequences, which simply gives him further leave to act out in class.

Monday, July 26, 2010

Reflection #2

Rachel Jonker
July 19-23, 2010
July 27, 2010
Journal 2
13.3 hours teaching, 20 hours preparation
Yum Kwang Summer English Camp in Seoul, South Korea

Part 1: Summary of your recent time in the classroom (one-two paragraphs)

This, my second week of teaching at the Yum Kwang Summer English Camp, was generally better than my first. With one week "under my belt" I was better able to manage my classes and meet their educational needs. The main way in which I did this was by incorporating more interactive activities and games into my class, which worked to engage students more than the discussions which I had used the previous week. I also experienced the benefits of using genuine information gap activities to get students to speak in class.

That said, this week was not without its struggles. I have yet to master a way to channel my elementary students' enthusiasm into learning so that their antics do not distract from speaking activities. I would like to find a better way to motivate students to complete their homework and to give them all more speaking time. I still struggle to meet all my students' needs in my mixed-ability middle school class. I have yet to find a way to teach all students effectively simultaneously. I would also like to give my students more ownership in their learning experience so as to motivate them to continue to learn after this course finishes.

Part 2: Reflection on TESOL Themes
1. Discuss one approach you used or observed which you felt worked well and received positive response from both students and teacher. Support your observations with references from your TESOL texts.

This week I incorporated several games into my classes, which helped significantly to lighten the classroom atmosphere and increase student motivation and participation. One game which worked particularly well was Tic-Tac-Toe. For this game, I draw a Tic-Tac-Toe board on the whiteboard and tape small pieces of paper in each square. In this way, I make effective use of the whiteboard as Harmer suggests in his book How to Teach English. Rather than simply scrawling vocabulary words on it, I use board space neatly and for multiple purposes--such as "writing, drawing, sticking things on," etc.--in this learning activity.

On their board-side, these papers contain a vocabulary word picture, English proverb/saying, sentence with a grammar mistake for students to identify, or a sentence with a blank for which students have to guess the missing word. I divide the class into two teams, flip a coin to select the team which starts, and ask them to answer the question which is taped to the square they select before they can draw their mark there.

I enjoy using this game because students respond well to the competition, which motivates them to answer questions which they might not otherwise find as interesting. It's also a more interesting way to teach vocabulary than simply the basic flashcards which Harmer says are only appropriate for the most basic levels (93). This game also creates a good opportunity for the students to practice teamwork and individual speaking (as I select individual students to select squares and answer questions). The game can be used for review or to introduce smaller subject areas which might otherwise be "forgotten." My only concern now is that I will use the game so much that it will no longer be effective!

2. Discuss one approach you used or observed which you felt worked did not work well and received negative response from either students or teacher. Support your observations with references from your TESOL texts.

This week I instructed my middle school students to draw the layout of their dream house. I then followed their individual instructions in order to draw it on the board. This activity was intended to give the students time to practice giving directions and describing. While it accomplished those goals, it did not work well because it was more difficult than I anticipated and thus took far too much time. It was frustrating for the students because they were unable to explain their layouts well enough for me to reproduce them exactly and they were unwilling to settle for less than that.

The activity was also unsuccessful because it did not force them to use new or challenging vocabulary. I concluded that it would have been equally challenging for native English speakers. I chose not to have the students describe their layouts to each other (as I had done with my elementary students) because I thought that they would do an incomplete job if I was not directly involved to check their work, and since there were only three of them I thought it would be a relatively fast exercise. Instead, it took nearly twenty minutes, during two-thirds of which each student simply sat there doing nothing. Once I realized how horribly it was going I was very tempted to quit, but since one student had already fully explained his layout to me, I did not want to short the others of the opportunity to do so. Harmer comments on the difficulty of accurately estimating the duration of classroom activities and advises teachers to be flexible in the midst of the lesson to "veer away from the plan if we see that we have taken too much time over one particular element of it" (159). In hindsight, I recognize that it would have been wiser for me to do this and quit the activity once I realized how poorly it was working rather than stubbornly plodding through it.

3. Discuss a cultural dynamic that you saw playing out in the classroom. How did you respond to this dynamic? What resources could you consult to gain deeper insight into this?

One of the more fascinating cultural dynamics that I have encountered during my teaching experience here is this church’s hospitality. When I spend time with Christians internationally, it is often difficult for me to determine whether their hospitality is an accurate representation of the culture or is more a product of their Christian belief. In this instance, I have not had any contact with non-Christian Koreans, which makes it more difficult for me to determine. Nevertheless, I have been impressed by their willingness to meet all of our needs and make us as comfortable as possible.

However, this “willingness” does not always translate into action. As soon as I heard that there were video projectors available for us to use in the classroom, I requested one. When it did not materialize after two days, I spoke with our supervisor and asked her again. She told me to speak to my teaching assistants. When I did so, they told me they had to speak to the program coordinator, who told me that he had to speak with our supervisor. At the end of the week, I was told again that the video projectors were available for our use, as if no one had ever asked about them. I reiterated my request and one week later was told that if I wanted to use a video projector I could move to another, larger classroom, where there was one permanently installed. The pastor who told me this planned to move my class to this room so that I could use the projector for every class period. While I appreciated his action-oriented attitude, I told him that I would rather stay in my current classroom and have the projector at my disposal when I choose to use it.

Through this experience I realized that I should have been more assertive in my request and clear about how I wanted to use the projector. I did not consider that to be necessary at the beginning, because everyone appeared very accommodating and eager to help. I have concluded that the expression of a willingness to help is highly valued by our hosts’ culture, so much so that they will offer even when they are unable to immediately deliver. As such, I would do well to be more intentional about maintaining communication when I request something rather than assuming that it is being handled. The best way that I can think of to do this is to remind our program coordinators of the things that they said they would do for us rather than wait for them to simply happen on their own.

Monday, July 19, 2010

Wisdom from Oswald

The Mystery of Believing

“He said, “Who are you, Lord?” (Acts 9:5)

Through the miracle of redemption, Saul of Tarsus was instantly changed from a strong-willed and forceful Pharisee into a humble and devoted bondservant of the Lord Jesus.

There is nothing miraculous or mysterious about the things we can explain. We control what we are able to explain, consequently it is only natural to seek an explanation for everything. It is not natural to obey, yet it is not necessarily sinful to disobey. There can be no real disobedience, nor any moral virtue in obedience, unless a person recognizes the higher authority of the one giving the orders. If this recognition does not exist, even the one giving the orders may view the other person’s disobedience as freedom. If one rules another by saying, “You must do this,” and, “You will do that,” he breaks the human spirit, making it unfit for God. A person is simply a slave for obeying, unless behind his obedience is the recognition of a holy God.

Many people begin coming to God once they stop being religious, because there is only one master of the human heart—Jesus Christ, not religion. But “Woe is me” if after seeing Him I still will not obey (Isaiah 6:5, also see verse 1). Jesus will never insist that I obey, but if I don’t, I have already begun to sign the death certificate of the Son of God in my soul. When I stand face to face with Jesus Christ and say, “I will not obey,” He will never insist. But when I do this, I am backing away from the recreating power of his redemption. It makes no difference to God’s grace what an abomination I am, if I will only come to the light. But “Woe is me” if I refuse the light (see John 3:19-21).

Saturday, July 17, 2010

Reflection #1

Rachel Jonker
July 12-16, 2010
July 18, 2010
Journal #1
13.3 hours teaching, 20 hours preparing
Yum Kwang Church

Part 1: Summary of your recent time in the classroom (one-two paragraphs)
As this was my first week teaching EFL in Korea, a significant portion of my experience was figuring out the ropes of the program. We spent several hours on Saturday, July 10 in preparatory informational meetings in which we learned about the structure of the YK Summer English Camp, divided classroom responsibilities, and designed student pre-assessments. These level-tests were employed on Monday to place our students into the level-appropriate classes. I was surprised by how readily we were able to determine students’ English proficiency via such brief reading, writing, listening and speaking activities.
On Tuesday classes officially began and I assumed the role of ‘Teacher Rachel’, instructor of seven upper elementary student “Brown Camels” and five high school/middle school student “Blue Elephants”. As both of my classes are the highest level for their age group, I have several students who are essentially fluent in English. This pleasant surprise has turned out to be the source of my most significant classroom challenges, as I learn to work with the dynamics of a mixed-ability level classroom. Throughout this week I sought to incorporate topics and activities which engaged my advanced students while still meeting the language needs of my lower-level students. While I assuredly improved in this endeavor throughout the course of the week, I still recognize room for the most significant improvement in this area.

Part 2: Reflection on TESOL Themes
1. Discuss one approach you used or observed which you felt worked well and received positive response from both students and teacher. Support your observations with references from your TESOL texts.
After class on Tuesday my teaching assistant told me that the class had been “asleep” throughout the lesson, referring to the drowsy environment in which student participation was minimal. I recognized my responsibility in the creation of this phenomenon by creating a very teacher-centered class in an attempt to keep the class moving.
For this reason on Wednesday I devoted a significant portion of the class to student discussion and interaction with several texts related to the topic “How do We Love the Poor?” While this fostered much better discussion than the day before, I recognized a deficiency in that some of my students’ inhibitions and lower-language skills limited their participation in the discussion. Harmer aptly describes my classroom experience: “Whole-class teaching is less effective if we want to encourage individual contributions and discussion, since speaking out in front of a whole class is often more demanding—and therefore more inhibiting—than speaking in smaller groups (43).”
Based on my experience with this class on Tuesday and Wednesday, I determined that whole-class discussions were not effectively giving every student an opportunity to practice their speaking skills. So, on Thursday I divided the class into pairs, each of which read two paragraphs written by teenagers seeking advice for personal life problems. In pairs the students discussed the issue in response to six questions which I provided, and then reported their conclusions to the whole class. The structure of this activity worked particularly well because the students were motivated to communicate in pairs in order to give advice to the teenager who wrote the paragraph and subsequently to the whole class in response to the natural information gap regarding the information in their paragraphs. Through this experience I experienced Harmer’s observation that in pairwork “students tend to participate more actively, and they also have more chance to experiment with the language than is possible in a whole-class arrangement (43).” This arrangement also gave me the opportunity to work directly with the students with lower-language levels without “boring” my more advanced students, who continued working during the time that I was offering this additional support (44).

2. Discuss one approach you used or observed which you felt did not work well and received negative response from either students or teacher. Support your observations with references from your TESOL texts.
One of my most frustrating experiences this week was with the lack of student cooperativeness in completing assigned homework. This occurred with several assignments, most frequently with the blogs which I set up for each of my classes. I set up these blogs to be used for additional listening and written response practice via daily YouTube clips related to the Bible story or discussion topic of the day. As of Friday, one of my twelve students had completed the assignments—and she only responded to two of the three movie clips.
This experience has exasperated me on several counts. First, I invested several hours in researching, designing and organizing the blog before the week began. Last Sunday I learned how to structure such a classroom blog from an American EFL teacher who used it effectively during the past 5 weeks while he taught here in Korea. Before I decided to use the blog I asked several of the Korean teaching assistants if it was reasonable to expect my students to have the internet access necessary to complete the assignments, and was repeatedly assured that I could assume that every student would have access to the internet. In addition, I spent several hours selecting topic and level appropriate movie clips which I hoped would effectively complement my classroom learning activities. Throughout the week I repeatedly reminded the students of the blog address and assignments, asking them to check the page before the next day’s class.
But since then, none of it has gone as well as I anticipated. On Tuesday I was confronted with the problem of a student who claimed not to have access to the internet at home, school, or the library. I was unsure what to do, since I did not want to tell him that it was fine if he skipped the assignment. In the end I told him to find a way to access it via some other venue, even though I do not know if it is practical to expect him to do so. When none of the students had completed the assignment on Wednesday, I realized that I had told the students that the blog address began with www when it actually was just http://. I communicated my mistake to them, but it did not make a difference. I gave students my email address and instructed them to contact me if they had any problems completing the assignment, but the only student who did so was the one who completed the assignments. Each day I have asked the students why they have not completed the blog assignments. I have heard several excuses, ranging from a lack of time to forgetfulness, an unsuccessful attempt and a simple “I didn’t try.”
Thus I am convinced that even though my mistake had the potential to prohibit students from completing the assignment, the deeper issue is a lack of student initiative. Harmer comments on this in his discussion of intrinsic and extrinsic motivation (20). I recognize that the majority of my students are extrinsically motivated by parents, etc. to enroll in this English Camp. As a result, I think that that their negligence with the blog homework is the result of a lack of personal motivation to succeed in English. For this reason it is likely that my attempt to persuade the students to do their homework because it will help them improve their English skills will continue to be ineffective, and that I should look for other ways (such as giving candy to those who complete their assignment) to motivate my students. Harmer insightfully notes that in order for students to succeed with homework assignments, is important for teachers to “choose the right kind of task” (21). I am beginning to doubt that this blog is such an assignment.
My biggest source of frustration with this issue is that I am unsure how I should proceed. I do not want to invest more time in a project which will not be effective for student learning. However, I do not want to communicate to my students’ that they have the power to force me to lower my expectations if they refuse to cooperate. Most importantly, I have limited resources by which to motivate my students. As these courses do not include grades, I am unable to “hold that over my students’ heads.” I am uncomfortable using the physical punishment suggested to me by our Korean teaching assistants, and do not want to call their parents because I do not consider this to be an issue worthy of such a measure. In the end, I need to determine if this issue is sufficiently important to me to warrant further measures.

3. Discuss a cultural dynamic that you saw playing out in the classroom. How did you respond to this dynamic? What resources could you consult to gain deeper insight into this?

Perhaps the most interesting cultural dynamic which I observed this week in my classrooms was my students’ inclination to speak to each other in Korean at every opportunity. This has occurred in both classes, but is more prevalent with my younger students, the “Brown Camels.” I consistently respond to this by asking the students to repeat what they said in English and reminding them that this is an English classroom in which we speak English whenever possible. I do not want to proscribe Korean in the classroom, because I recognize from working with my older class—the Blue Elephants—that the inclusion of the students’ L1 can be beneficial for language learning.
While the tendency of ELLs to use a common L1 in the EFL classroom is by no means an exclusively Korean phenomenon, I am inclined to label it as a cultural dynamic because of the experiences I have had with the Korean language assistants throughout this week. On every occasion, these assistants speak to each other in Korean, even though they all know English as well. On Thursday I went shopping with two of them, and they continued to speak Korean when speaking to each other, using English only when speaking to me. I understand that this is easier and more comfortable for those students with low English proficiency, but these Koreans have high-level English proficiencies. When I asked someone about it later, he told me that they did this because there might be someone around who would not understand if they spoke in English. When I explained my shopping situation in which this was not the case, he simply shrugged his shoulders and admitted that it was likely done simply because it was easier.
I am attune to this issue because my most fruitful language learning experience occurred this spring while living in Spain and intentionally speaking Spanish in every possible situation. I am convinced that this is the best way to improve one’s fluency in an L2. However, I also want to make effective and respectful use of my Korean teaching assistants. Thus far the majority of their involvement has been through translation. As I proceed in this situation, I desire to find other ways to incorporate my teaching assistants into meaningful classroom interaction so as to minimize the possibility that they will feel ignored or unappreciated. In order to do so, I plan to ask for their input in evaluating the success of classroom activities, soliciting their help in classroom management and incorporating them into teaching activities whenever possible. I will also look for opportunities to discuss effective use of teaching assistants with the other Taylor students who may be having similar experiences. By seeking input from the teaching assistants themselves, I hope to clarify my position and learn from their personal experience with this cultural issue.