Monthly Archives: January 2013

“Like a icebreaking”

This is a record of a conversation I had tonight with my friend, and what I learned from it, and the thoughts that sprang up.

Anne ~ are you sleeping now?
Can I ask you something?
When you are free, please tell me.

I am free now.

Someone wrote down this to me on facebook~
But I can not know that exactly
can you help me ~ ? 

Sure.

“Monday back to school for me thinking of you much love”
(Curious emoticon)

This took me about five minutes to sort out, mostly spent on deciding how to present the information manageably to him. He’s my friend, so I gave it to him straight* – broken into four chunks: Monday/ back to school for me/ thinking of you/ much love. I typed each chunk and reworded it to make sure he understood.

My friend was able to understand the comment after that and said that the explanation was very helpful, like a icebreaking”. I guess that is what I did for him: break up the text into manageable chunks and put in the punctuation that the original writer left out.

The things that struck me were the authenticity of the situation, the importance of chunking (and the fact that no one ever taught it to my friend), and the role of punctuation in informal writing.

Authenticity:

We spend a lot of time talking about authentic texts and how to “bring the world” to our students, if I might borrow the phrase. If I were to bring the above message into the classroom to have my students use for chunking and determining the meaning (and deciding how to respond), it would be an exercise for them, no matter how authentic it was for my friend. Authenticity comes in those teaching moments like the one I just had – where the student brings the “text” – a living (present) situation (or moment). How then do I recreate this in the classroom?

Chunking:

Chunking is important for understanding meaning. Perhaps there are other ways I could have explained, but chunking models something my friend can do for himself next time. What surprises me is that he has been studying English most of his life, has lived overseas, has a lot of English L1 friends, and no one ever taught him this. Then again, how often have I brought this into my own classroom? This is something I will try to teach explicitly in the future.

Punctuation:

When people write informally – in tweets, on Facebook, in notes and chats to friends – we tend to write the way we would speak (well, I do at least). I think speech contains punctuation. When writing lacks punctuation where it would be necessary in speech (as in the message my friend received), there could be several reasons. One might be to convey speed and breathlessness, as if to say “I’m writing this to you in a hurry.” Or perhaps the writer thought it would be more dramatic without punctuation. Or perhaps the writer was being lazy. Whatever the reason, it is clear that the writer was not keeping his audience in mind. An interesting question (for me) is To what extent is punctuation in informal writing necessary for comprehension of the text by the L2 English user?

The end of the story:

My friend and I decided it was a very sweet and positive message that was left on his Facebook page. There was just one question left – in my friend’s words: “but problem is I do not know who he is!”

Notes: 
*If he were a student, I would have made him try to break it into chunks and guess at the meanings first. Note to self: present this authentic** text as an exercise to a class.
**Counter-arguments on my opinion of “authenticity” are of course welcome.

I am grateful for my friend’s question, the teaching moment, and the chance to share my thoughts on it here. I am interested in your thoughts as well! Thanks for stopping by and reading.

Open for business

Welcome to Gyeongju English Village. We are now open for business.

I have been teaching the same tired camp, every summer and every winter, year after year after year. The next one begins Monday. I do not feel any joy at all. I feel bored. I don’t want to do another airport role play. I don’t want to make another set of restaurants with artificial ingredients making artificial food using artificial language. I don’t want to “motivate” another group of kids to love what I want them to love.

I’m stagnant. I’m stuck. And it has raised some questions for me:

What does it mean to teach “English”? What do I want to teach? and How can I instill some energy into this tired camp with its tired head teacher and tired role plays and tired target language?

I don’t really have answers to these questions, but I want to share some thoughts (and perhaps more questions).

 

What does it mean to teach “English”? is a question I had never thought of before. It seems like “teaching English” really means teaching a lot of other things. There are the ubiquitous four skills: reading, writing, speaking, listening. Even within those, what does it mean to teach one? I know what you’re asking: Didn’t Anne take a TESOL class? Did she learn anything in it? Maybe I failed to learn these things, but that isn’t the point.

I know how to teach writing skills and reading skills. I know how to teach pronunciation and grammar. I know how to teach about genres and audiences. I even know how to teach some cultural differences. But I don’t know what it means to teach “English” – especially “speaking”. And more importantly, I don’t know how to make my students learn any of these things. (In my experience, my students learn what they want to learn – through English, if I can swing it.)

 

What do I want to teach? I was having real trouble with this question until I realized it was the wrong one. The question assumes it is all about me, whereas of course it is not. I want to teach students, humans. I want to teach anyone who wants to learn. And I want to teach them what they want to learn. And if they can learn some English in the process, that’s awesome. And if what they learn is something totally unexpected, that’s awesome too. If life was perfect, if education was perfect, if people were perfect, I would have my wish.

But that is not what I have. I have a class full of kids who are grouped together based on how well they “speak English” and who are in class against their will. They have come to “improve their English ability”. They don’t know what they want to learn. They have never thought about it. They have never been asked before. But on Monday I will ask them: who are you? and what do you love?

 

How can I instill some energy into this tired camp with its tired head teacher and tired role plays and tired target language? I saved my most immediate problem for last and I still don’t have much of an answer. I need to set some goals. I need to challenge myself to read, teach, reflect and write.

This is the beginning. This is the end. Will they leave as they arrived?

This is the beginning. This is the end. Will they leave as they arrived?

 

How do you rejuvenate your classes when you get stuck in a rut, especially if there is a schedule you must follow and activities you must do? Although I have to say, I’m feeling awfully rebellious…

(Who wrote the schedule? you ask. Pardon me while I hang my head in shame. I took the lazy way. I did not fight against expectations. I am not proud of myself. I don’t know how much it can be changed now, though.)

Adventures of the #RovingReporter – part 2

Months beyond the promised update, the adventures of the roving reporter continue.

In case you missed part 1, you can see the post and pictures here. A brief summary: at the tail end of last fall, I decided to try my hand at a bike ride from Daegu to Busan to see my friend John Pfordresher give his first presentation at Busan’s KOTESOL workshop. The ride was 203 kilometers long and took about 20 hours, largely due to my state of (lack of) fitness, unexpected mountains, rain, heavy backpack and poor preparation. It might be argued that the only reason I made it at all is pure stubbornness 😀 . The presentation was well worth the ride and the roving reporter wisely decided to leave the bicycle and take the train home.

A week later, on Saturday night, I took the train back again to get my bike. That’s how I found myself in the same room of the same motel where I ended my journey the week before.

Same classy motel, same classy room, same classy bed

Same classy motel, same classy room, same classy bed

 

Day 1: Just because you can….

From the previous trip, I learned a few important things: lose the heavy backpack, break the journey into two days, and prepare for the unexpected. I found my bike again where I had parked it. I knew the first 90kms would be relatively easy. Nevertheless, there was a long way to go.

This is where i took the trail. I have 203 kilometers in front of me and two days to do it.

This is where i took the trail. I have 203 kilometers in front of me and two days to do it.

The first part of the ride had been in the dark the week before. It turned out to be the most beautiful part. It was sunny and the river shone.

The sun shining on the Nakdong River in Busan, South Korea.

The sun shining on the Nakdong River in Busan, South Korea.

 

I met a rider on the bridge at Miryang, at a trail station, the first person I spoke to the whole trip.

Where are you going?
To Daegu.
Today? It’s far.
No, tomorrow. I’ll stay in a motel tonight.
You’re going all the way on 
that??
YES… 
(through gritted teeth – I was defensive of my bike. After all, it had gotten me to Busan the week before without any problem. It was a good bike.)

I let him cycle on his way to Yangsan and didn’t bother to tell him it was in the opposite direction.

The bridge to Miryang, one of many crossings of the river.

The bridge to Miryang, one of many crossings of the river.

Korea is full of these tiny little villages hidden away in the mountains. They are mainly farming villages, that grow different crops depending on the time of year. This place was just finishing harvesting their cabbage in preparation for making kimchi. The farmers were putting up plastic enclosures over the fields. I wonder what they will grow this winter?

Korean countryside

Korean countryside

There it is: the end of the first 90 kilometers. I got lost twice – once for nearly an hour – and around 5pm found myself staring at the trail station that marked the beginning of the difficult stuff. There were 110kms of difficult riding in front of me and I had a choice: I could ride a few more hours and put some of them behind me or I could stop there and find a motel.

... but I have promises to keep and miles to go before I sleep ...

… but I have promises to keep and miles to go before I sleep …

You probably already guessed what I did. I rode on until 1opm. I climbed two of the mountains in the dark. And, because the world can be ironic and painfully funny, it started to rain. Finally a lone motel appeared and the owner had a shed for bicycles to keep them out of the rain and a warm room waiting for me. When I logged onto the internet, I realized I was lucky: my rain was snow in Daegu. I slept well.

Day 2: …doesn’t mean you should.

My motel in the morning light - the trail has been rain-washed and I'm ready for the next part of the adventure.

My motel in the morning light – the trail has been rain-washed and I’m ready for the next part of the adventure.

Not far from the motel was the next trail station. I had breakfast there and prepared myself: I had two mountains to go (plus one more that I had forgotten about) and wanted to get to Daegu before dark.

This wier is beside a trail station and is at the bottom of one of the two remaining mountains.

This wier is beside a trail station and is at the bottom of one of the two remaining mountains.

The first of the two mountains was behind a Buddhist temple. I rode up and over, my early morning energy at its peak. The view was stunning.

Looking down on MuShimSa from the top of the mountain

Looking down on MuShimSa from the top of the mountain

This was followed by the mountain I had forgotten, a small one that was fun to ride with the energy I had. And then I saw a sign that is true anodyne for tired eyes: Dalseong gun – I was entering wider Daegu; I was almost back.

Dalseonggun - the edge of wider Daegu.

Dalseonggun – the edge of wider Daegu.

Through fields and over hills I traveled with new energy, following signs for Dodong Sawon. Suddenly there it was, at the bottom of the last mountain. There was a dog in the yard and not a human in sight. I was grateful to know that I would be home before dark. It was getting cold.

Dodong Sawon - a Confucian academy

Dodong Sawon – a Confucian academy

 

Arresting beauty

Arresting beauty

Finally as the sun set behind me and the moon rose before me, I saw the sight I was waiting for: the ARC. This is where Nakdong meets Geumho and where my day ended.

SAMSUNG

An apology:

And so my bicycle came to a stop at Keimyung University in western Daegu while my body rested. Then on a warm, sunny afternoon three weeks later, the time was right. I went back for it to try to get it to the starting place in eastern Daegu and complete the adventure.

Keimyung stays beautiful long after all the leaves have fallen all over the city.

Keimyung stays beautiful long after all the leaves have fallen all over the city.

Within an hour, my whole body was in so much pain I had to get off the bike and park it. Defeated. And there it stayed for another three weeks while I went to a doctor.

I squished a nerve - ouch!

I squished a nerve – ouch!

Under no circumstances, the doctor said, should you put pressure on the palm of your hand. He eyed me sternly. Don’t even think about doing anything remotely like this:

"Yes, that is what you should not do. Now let that be a lesson to you."

“Yes, that is what you should not do. Now let that be a lesson to you.”

So I apologize to readers of the Adventures for making you wait so long for the return journey. I come back to you defeated by the trail and by my own body. The bicycle made it home in the back of a car and the adventures of the #rovingreporter have come to an end.

What an adventure!

What an adventure!

 

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