Monthly Archives: February 2013

happy new year from livinglearning

It’s that time of year again – an old year ending and a new year beginning. Time for cataloging what I have been learning. Time for divulging plans for the coming year. What? I’m two months late? No, my friends. I’m right on time. Happy new year!

This year has been a year for getting involved, and with the exception of this blog I mostly just let it happen, trusting in the yes.
Everything that follows is new to last year. Before that, I was trudging along without really thinking about what I was doing professionally. My life has changed a lot.

1) This blog was born last March as lizzieserene and eventually renamed itself livinglearning. The first post was about labels and identity. I’m not sure how I feel about it now, but there it is. Writing this blog, I discovered that there are things I feel strongly about and things that I want to learn. I have been learning confidence and trust in my own voice.
(I have two favorite posts and neither are very ELT-related but they’re both important to me: the Laughing Diary and Things I Learned from my Father)

2) #KELTchat was also born around this time a year ago and is the reason I have an active Twitter account under my own name. I made it to the second official chat and I was hooked.  Twitter is an amazing forum for professional development and I am humbled and honored to be part of a wonderful community there. Words are insufficient to express the gratitude I feel for the friendships that have developed online and off as a result of the Twitter community. I have been learning to accept these gifts.

3) Through #KELTchat, and with four amazing people, I participated in my first presentation. It was a novel experience for me, and one I learned a lot from. I’ve also attended presentations given by other #KELTchatters and I’m continually amazed by how much we all learn from each other. I have been learning about successful lessons, observation, feedback and assessment. I have been learning more about teaching pronunciation – a fascinating topic – than I ever thought to ask. I have been learning about Korea, testing, “authentic” materials. And I have been learning that everyone has something to offer and every experience is valuable.

4) This carries over into Reflective Practice. Every lesson that is shared, whether or not the lesson objectives were met, has something to offer. Every observation can stimulate thought and learning. We are stronger together. Through/ from/ with others, I am learning how to observe, how to focus, how to ask questions, and how to clarify my thoughts.

5) All these things have made a difference in my classroom as well. Growing confidence in my uncertainty has changed the way I speak to my students. I no longer need to be an expert. Reflection has changed how I manage my teachers and plan my lessons. I have been learning the value of feedback going both ways, and also the limitations. #KELTchats and -chatters have given me new ideas to try in class and new ways to reflect. I have been learning to be a thinking teacher.

This March 1st begins my 34th year. (As a leap year baby, I take the prerogative of making up my own holidays so I’ll always have something to celebrate.)

Looking forward:

This coming year I plan to finish my MA. I have two more classes (currently enrolled in both) and a thesis to write.

I want to practice reflecting on my learning as well as on my teaching.

I hope to improve my Korean skills and contribute to my community by translating the stories in the Teseum next door, completing the Rosetta Stone program, and stepping out of my shell to practice.

I hope to design a complete program for my school (and for myself).

I also want to open up and share more – through papers or presentations, maybe – of what I think and what I do. Maybe I can contribute to the ELT world in some way.

This is my last year in Korea. With luck 😉 one year from now will see me in Ireland (to start) and then LOOK OUT WORLD!

*** I write this post in deep gratitude to the people who have walked into my life just in time as well as the ones who have always been there. You are my role models, my inspiration, my help, my nudgers and my shakers. You are my cheerleaders, my questioners, my connectors. But most of all, you are my friends. ***

Meeting students’ ever-changing, never-ending needs

The more I teach, the more I learn. Right now I seem to be learning (in the only way that I know how) that students have no idea what they really want.

This month I was assigned to teach a Business English conversation course to university students. The course is three weeks long and intensive: the students study TOEIC listening and reading for three hours and Business English for three hours. They live on campus and use English all day long. Week two ends tomorrow.

The other teacher and I got together before the program began in order to make a preliminary schedule. We decided to plan lessons as we went along, since we knew nothing about the students. We chose a business English book from a stack of options and decided to limit the content to one module per week. We added a group project for every Friday that the students could spend the week preparing.

Then the students arrived and everything changed.
We used the first hour of each class to give a needs assessment.

And thank god we did.

The initial placement interview did not give us an accurate picture of their abilities, but that was not the worst of it: As it turned out, only some of them were interested in business English. Others had been told that the conversation part would focus on TOEIC speaking. Most of them said they wanted homework and a final test at the end of the program, things we were not anticipating.

Our meeting that night focused on how to meet those needs. We re-made the schedule so that we devoted an hour to TOEIC speaking and an hour to BE, adjusting on the spot as necessary.

The first week went smoothly. The students responded well to the book and the added test prep. We kept it pretty easy for them. They loved the first group project. On Friday, we asked for feedback from all the students and were surprised by some of the responses. They told us that they wanted more TOEIC speaking and less book work. They said they don’t want homework. They said they wanted free conversation.

We went back to the drawing board again to meet those needs. We kept the book, knowing they would complain about having to buy it if we didn’t use it. We focused more on TOEIC speaking. We added conversation topics. We added an office hour every day to meet the needs of the students who were still not satisfied. We agreed to go over the feedback with the students to clarify those needs.

The next week was a disaster. The students who did not want homework suddenly wanted individualized and specific feedback on their half-a$$ed assignments from last week. This led to mini-lessons focusing on pronunciation, taking more time away from the book. Meanwhile, the students who’d wanted to study TOEIC more decided it was too hard and the book was more fun. The students who’d wanted conversation sat in silence. And I scrambled to create or borrow materials to help them find their voices.

To make matters worse, students from the other teacher’s class began appearing in my office hour to complain about him. Their complaints appeared to be legitimate (He’s not prepared for the class. He’s not giving any feedback on the homework. He’s not explaining why the information he gives about the test is different from what they’ve heard from previous teachers), but they didn’t want me to tell him.

Tomorrow we will ask the students for feedback again, even though they have been giving it informally every day. Perhaps we are gluttons for punishment. On the other hand, I really believe that I am here to teach the students, not the book. I can do that a lot better with their feedback, in whatever form. Then again, am I giving them too much freedom? Should they really be allowed to change their minds infinitely? What would you do?

Why make a good class better?

“We got an assignment to take a good class and make it better. That’s stupid. Why not take a bad class and make it better?”

I’ve been thinking about this statement a lot since I heard it. I have a sneaking suspicion that the reason the assignment wasn’t “take a bad class and make it better” is that whoever was giving the assignment assumed the teachers already do that. In this post I want to respond to the first part: why make a good class better?

Digging right in, then…
What is a ‘good class’?

I have to say, I don’t really know what a good class is.
Maybe it’s one where the time flies,  I’m engaged in the material and I leave feeling excited to use the things I’ve learned right away (I know: I’m the teacher and that’s sort of a selfish definition).
Maybe a good class is one in which the students are actively participating, I’m “in the zone”, the students leave tired from all the challenging but useful practice and they say thank you (don’t laugh – it could happen).
Maybe it’s one where the students are concentrating and interested and willing and I’m able to complete the lesson plan for once (an unfulfilled dream).
When I was a kindergarten teacher, sometimes a good class was one where the kids left the classroom speaking English to each other (not even necessarily things we’d learned that day) or singing or repeating a phrase that had captured them, but other times a good class was simply one in which no one cried.
My point is that whatever a “good class” is, it’s a personal evaluation based on feelings and observations.


Suppose, at any rate, that I have something I evaluate as a good class. This is where reflection comes in (and why it might be useful to either record your class or be observed by another teacher). Why was it good? What specific things happened that caused me to evaluate the class as good? I might come up with a variety of responses. Then I have to ask a new question: why did those things happen? One goal of these questions is to arrive at the things that are within my control.

Take, for example, my kindergarten class in which no one cried. The things that I could control were the activities (songs, stories, movements, repetition, review) and to some extent the atmosphere (smiles, laughs, energy, calm). Suppose I learned from the reflection that no one cried because the material was not new and unfamiliar and I was in a good mood that day. I might decide that next time I will notice the way I balance new and familiar material and pay more attention to how my own mood affects the atmosphere of the class.

An Answer

Reflection, I think, is not about improvement so much as awareness. Knowing why a class is good in the first place can lead to greater awareness of myself as a teacher and my students’ learning. This awareness can affect the way I plan my lessons and interact with my students. It may even reduce the number of “bad classes” and the need to make them better.

So far I’ve answered “Why reflect on a good class?” but what about the original question: “Why make a good class better?” I’m afraid I can only answer for myself:

Because I can.

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