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.

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