Friday, August 6, 2010

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.

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