Monthly Archives: November 2012

Making some new rules

What makes a “good” rule?

I began thinking about rules a few weeks ago while I was watching the film Matilda (based on the Roald Dahl book).

Miss Trunchbull is famous for saying, “If you are having fun, you are not learning.” Her class rules look very similar to the picture on the left. I asked my students about these rules. Unanimously, they claimed to dislike the rules. There are too many. They all start with “No”. They are not fair. This is the feedback I received from my students on these rules.

Then again rules came up in The Giver by Lois Lowry, where Jonas receives a list of rules for his new job.

1.) Go immediately at the end of school hours each day to the Annex entrance behind the House of the Old and present yourself to the attendant.
 2.) Go immediately to your dwelling at the conclusion of Training Hours each day.
 3.) From this moment you are exempt to the rules governing rudeness. You may ask any question of any citizen and you will receive answers.
 4.) Do not discuss your training with any members of the community, including parents and Elders.
 5.) From this moment you are prohibited from dream-telling.
 6.) Except for illness and injury unrelated to your training, do not apply for medication.
 7.) You are not permitted to apply for release.
 8.) You may lie.

These rules prompted a lot of discussion because Jonas lives in a world full of rules and some of these rules seem to contradict the rules he normally has to live by. Lying, for example, is forbidden. Rudeness requires an apology. Dream-telling is a normal part of every day. Medication is a right, as is applying for release. Can rules be different for different people who live together in the same society? Or, in our case, in the same classroom? What happens when people are following different rules?

And now I’m in taking the Breaking Rules webinar with Professor John Fanselow. I have been reflecting on the rules I subconsciously follow in my own classes …

Lately I have let my students make the rules for the class. I did this because I learned that it would make them more amenable to following rules and accepting consequences. In theory, they would even remind each other of the rules and enforce them themselves and I could keep my hands nice and sparkly clean.

Let the kids do all the dirty work.

Clearly I was expecting magic. What actually happened brought me back to reality. First of all, they made lists as long as the one in the picture and every rule started with “No”. No running. No Korean speaking. No eating. No drinking. No chewing gum. No sleeping. No fighting. No arguing. No cheating. Don’t be rude. The list went on and on. What could I do?

I started by recasting the rules in a positive light – “No running” became “Walk” and “No Korean speaking” because “Speak English”. Some of the rules were way less clear that way, though. “Do your own work” had to be explained, and “Agree with everyone” was impossible. “Don’t be rude” got changed to the equally vague “Be respectful”.

Then I asked them to justify the rules. If they couldn’t, we threw it out. What we ended up with was a list of rules that everyone agreed on and mostly understood. We never did have time to talk about consequences.

The students did not police each other. Since consequences were not clear, even to me, students did not always find them fair. One day I tried asking a student what his consequence should be. He became so frustrated that he yelled at me “Just tell me.” He didn’t want choice. This was my wake-up call.

Something is not right!

New classes start again soon, and I am going to break my rule of learner autonomy in rule-making. I’m going to make the rules for them. I’m going to make specific rules and clear consequences. I will make only one concession: they can make changes if they can successfully explain the reasons for their changes.

Here is the list I have so far. What would you change? What would you add?

1. Speak English in class. However, seeking clarification and planning projects need not be done entirely in English.

2. Keep the classroom clean. Please clear off your desk and put all garbage in the bin before you leave the classroom. Push in your chair and clean around your desk.

3. Complete all homework on time in the manner requested (electronically, on paper, etc). 

4. Attend all scheduled classes. If you cannot attend a class, please let me know by email or text message before the class begins.


Update (January 7, 2013): Today is the first day of an elementary school English camp (252 hours of English in three weeks – that’ll larn ’em).
Making the rules did not turn out quite the way I had planned (nothing ever does), but here’s what we ended up with:


This class is very low level and ranging in age from 8 to 11. We started with the school’s pre-made rules poster. Then I asked them, one by one, whether they wanted to follow each rule. One of the girls was pretty insistent on “be quiet” but was literally shouted down by the “be noisy” camp (with whom I tend to agree anyway). That’s the rule I’m most uncomfortable with, to tell the truth. I can’t imagine enforcing it. By the end of the class, we had to add “Don’t try to kill your classmates” but otherwise, the rest of the rules held. I suspect by the end of the week there will be new rules about throwing things and staying up all night.

Adventures of the #RovingReporter – part 1

It was a chilly evening in November. My backpack contained the essentials for the weekend, including sandwiches, fruit, veggies and water. I had a bike repair kit and a sturdy lock. I slipped on my gloves and helmet and kicked the stand up. Ready to go.

Just getting started.

The week before, I had heard about a cross-country trail. It’s part of the Four Rivers Bicycle Path and follows the Nakdong River between Busan in the south and Andong in the center. Daegu is about halfway, where Nakdong-gang meets Geumho-gang. From that point, the trail stretches around 200 kms in each direction. Knowing I needed to go to Busan the following weekend anyway, and expecting a flat river trail (after all, rivers are flat), I decided to try it out.

Reflections in the Geumho River.

The first part of the trip was an easy evening ride to western Daegu. I rode along the river on a lovely, flat, well-marked and well-cared-for bicycle and walking path. It was around 35 kms to my destination and it was getting dark, so I took it fast. I arrived in about two hours, dark and cold. After dinner with a friend, I found a motel room, set the alarm for 4:30am and settled in for the night. There were stars in the sky and frost on the fallen leaves when I began day two of my adventure.

The sun not quite up yet over the Nakdong-gang.

The path was even and well-marked. There were trail maps periodically with explanations of how far to the next bike station and how long it was expected to take. The first surprise: the trail was much longer than I expected: 210 kilometers. My dreams of arriving by dinner time were dashed.

The sun is rising along Nakdong-gang.

The road goes ever, ever on.

The sun rose and I rode on until I reached Hyeonpung, a small city south of Daegu and the last stop on the bus line before you reach Biseul Mountain, well known for its Azalea Festival in the spring and Ice Festival in the winter. I rode through the city and out again along the marked trail. I was following signs to a Confucian Academy when I got my second surprise: I found myself climbing a steep hill. Tired, I got off my bike and pushed it to the top, where I had breakfast and stretched.

The view from the first hill.

Bike path below

Little did I know, that hill was just the first of many. Some of the hills were along a road, with cars driving beside me. Others were up mountains on hiking paths where cars cannot go. There were only one or two that I could ride up. Moreover, the expected times shown on the trail maps did not reflect the hills: 57kms of flat was expected to take the same amount of time as 54kms of mountains. I would love to meet the rider who can do that.

A warning I did not heed.

Shoulda listened to the scary statues below.

I made a brief stop for lunch around 1:30pm and I finally stopped for dinner at a trail station at 7pm. The station was closed and the man who ran it badgered me with questions about where I had come from and how much further I wanted to go. He brought me a cup of coffee and I inspected the trail maps, thoroughly disheartened to learn that I had only traveled 110kms so far. The station man offered to open the station for me to sleep there, but I resolved to ride another 40kms before I slept.

Darkness falls in Miryang

So after the short dinner break, I set off again in the dark. Determined. The first 18kms seemed to go through a park. It was blessedly flat. I arrived at a bridge that marked my next decision point. Crossing the bridge, I left the city of Miryang behind me. The trail continued along the river, through farmlands and parks. Then it started to rain.

Entering Busan in the dark.

The rest of the trail was completely flat. In spite of the rain and the time, I decided to go on until I couldn’t anymore. I finally arrived in Busan and found a trail exit. Following the neon lights led me to a subway line and motels. I booked a room and took out my phone to inspect the damage: It was 2am. Finally warm, dry, tired and proud I fell asleep on a round bed.

Yep. A round bed. Classy.

Stay tuned for part 2 – coming next week.

Protected: not quite what I had planned

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