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.

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Swishy Shorts


I lost my shorts.

This morning I woke up before 6:00 am,—the lingering effects of jet lag are slowly wearing off—but was able to sleep again until 7:15. I got the emergency cell phone from Ji Sung, the coordinator of the Yum Kwang Summer English School, the one who stayed with us last night in the conference center where we’re living, which is about a 20-minute drive from the Yum Kwang church.

After descending the five flights of stairs, crossing the parking lot, and walking down the hill-so-steep-that-I-didn’t-want-to-attempt-to-run-down-it, I started my 30 minute morning run. The road travels with the river which ribbons through the cresting tree-covered hills. I lost track of how many times I jogged over a bridge crossing it. The roadside was dotted with touristy attractions: motels, hotels, beverage and snack shops, restaurants, and some type of an amusement park. There was even some international influence: I saw an establishment with the European Union’s flag on its sign, and a signpost which listed the distance to what I assume were prominent European cities. I can only guess, because they were written in Korean.

I am frustrated with how little I know of Korean. I have no legitimate reason to expect that I would know more, but that doesn’t stop me from lamenting that I can barely remember our teaching assistants’ names, the name of the neighborhood in which the Yum Kwang church is located and the place where we’re staying. It has taken me until today to remember how to say: “Hello” and “Thank you”. I don’t know how much more I can reasonably expect my brain to retain. I want to be fluent in the language, and I haven’t invested any time in learning it. The fact that I don’t know it discourages me from studying it because I like to think that I have the potential to learn it. If I were to put that thought to the test, I know that I’d be disappointed. And so thus far I’m letting the idealistic, unrealistic part of me triumph.

I returned from my run at 8:00. After my shower I rinsed out my swishy soccer/pajama/swimming/painting/exercise shorts in the sink and hung them on the balcony to dry. When I came back this evening, they were gone. I went back down the five flights of stairs and got on my hands and knees in the dark parking lot to look under the two vehicles parked beneath our balcony, but there’s nothing in sight. Thus my “Phooey.” I brought along too much of just about every article of clothing, but these were my only swishy shorts. In fact, they’re the only pair of swishy shorts that I own(ed).

Two weeks ago I wore them when I painted the gable on the front of our house, and acquired another strange tan line—this one on the back of my legs—from the sun beating on my calves as I primed and painted in purple. By the time I finished, their navy blue was splotched with lavender. Laura wrinkled her forehead and bit her tongue when I finished cleaning the paint brushes and changed to go to Green Lake that Saturday evening and the shorts morphed from painting to swim attire. I raised my eyebrows and gave a teasing smile in response. Yes, I was going to go swimming in my painting shorts. To be fair, she didn’t make any further comment. Some things are better left unsaid. So rest assured Laura: you made your point without speaking it. The shorts are gone, which means that this Saturday I’ll likely have to purchase new ones when we go into Seoul and spend the day shopping. Until then, I’ll be sleeping in rather than taking a morning jog.

Friday, July 9, 2010

Safe in Seoul

Hello from Seoul!

It's 11:53 pm and after figuring out how to manuever through my Taylor email--the buttons of which are now in Korean--in order to send an email to my family, I decided to turn it into a blogpost. It's nothing fancy, but after blog-burnout from sending 7 hours on 9-page single-spaced documents, my motto for blogposting needs to err on the side of "Anything is better than Nothing."

The 12 hour flight from Chicago to Tokyo was interminable. We shared it with several military personnel in street clothes only identifiable by their camoflage backpacks--although the tatoos would have given it away for some of them. I had very little sense of time or progress since I didn't have a window seat or a map by which to guage our progress. I read 6 chapters of David Block's book More than a Native Speaker, which is excellent. It made me very glad that I brought it along, a bit perturbed that I didn't look at it sooner, and intimidated by the prospect of putting all of his good advice into practice.

We had a 3 hour lay-over in Tokyo. I spent about 2 hours of it reading the most recent Time magazine in a duty-free shop. It was a good way to observe people, re-recognize how little I know about what's going on in international politics in this world of ours, and note "cultural specialties" such as green powdered tea, baby sardines, dried plums, dried octopus, vacuum sealed squid, and green tea Kit Kat bars which were for sale there. I purchased a keychain mainly so that I could get some change in Yen to add to the bowl of international coins that Anna and I have in our room. I got back more coins than I exected for the 40 cents change I needed. All of them are very lightweight.

Our flight out of Tokyo was actually early--they moved it up by 15 minutes, which is something I've never experienced before. Of the 9 Taylor students traveling together, I was the only one who was sent into the immigration office to have a security officer inspect my passport and documents since they were concerned that I was coming into the country for a long-term paying job as an English teacher without the proper visa. I'm fairly convinced that what we're doing is legal, but I didn't ask too many questions. My general rule of thumb is not to provide additional information or the opportunity for government officials to request it. Especially when I am entirely at the mercy of their proficiency in English.(Which was quite good, by the way.)

We waited a little while in the Incheon airport in Seoul before four students and the pastor came to pick us up and drive us about an hour to the church. I don't know how large this church is, but Dr. Chang (who drove me down to Indianapolis on Wednesday afternoon) said that the Yom Kwang church at which we will be teaching has 10,000 members. And that's an average sized church. According to him, five of the world's largest churches are in South Korea. Any guesses? Alright, since I know you're curious, I'll tell you: he said the largest has 500,000 mebers. I hope to exerience it. In some ways this one more like a compound/small apartment building with a gym in which a summer camp of elementary school students were chasing each other around with pillows at 11 pm.We've learned that this will be our home for the time we're here: two to a dorm room. I'm a bit disappointed that we won't be living with host families, since I hoped that would at least give me some inroad into getting to know the culture a bit more. But now I don't feel as bad for forgetting to purchase a gift for my host family.

Tomorrow morning at 10:00 we're leaving here to go to the church where we'll be teaching. I anticipate a day of meetings and orientation, and hopefully as little jet lag as possible. As I'm currently in the state beyond sensing exhaustion or hunger, my primary goal is to convince my body to "feel" enough to be able to sleep shortly after I find my pajamas, take a shower, and set up my Egyptian alarm clock to go off at 9:00 am.

Please continue to pray for me:
-A positive attitude toward team bonding as balanced with cultural integration
-The ability to plan lessons effectively rather than allowing myself to be paralyzed by the terror that comes from inexperience, the desire to be perfect, and a discumbobulated mind which hasn't really been taught how to systematically teach English.
-Discipline to blog and communicate with family more consistently than I did in Spain.
-Growth in my view of God and what he's doing around the world