Monthly Archives: February 2014

Happy New Year from livinglearning 2014

As I explained last year around this time, I usually abstain from the New Year blog posts. I prefer to start my personal new year today instead. 

A look back:

  1. I was awarded a master’s degree in applied linguistics. This was the culmination of two years of hard (and less hard) work and studying and limited free time. The classes that interested me most were about morphology and syntax and intercultural communication. I found myself engaged in debates about language change, prescriptivism, and the native-speaker standard. 
  2. I ended my long-term and long-distance relationship. A choice made with sadness, but not regret.
  3. I quit my job. My job was perfect for one working on an MA – long stretches of free time, free housing, beautiful scenery, isolation. For someone who has completed a degree, however, it spelled insane boredom interspersed with high-intensity work, and very little actual teaching.
  4. I moved cities. Twitter followers have stopped seeing #KELTchatWeather updates from #BeautifulGyeongju, but Facebook friends are now seeing #ThingsIsawToday from #PineCityGangneung. Some of the advantages of Gangneung: less isolated, very bike-able, friendly, cool. Disadvantage: snow. 
  5. I started teaching elementary and middle school students a wide variety of levels, topics, skills, and challenges. This has been an incredible learning experience for me. Teaching mixed levels and adapting outdated course books and brainstorming ways to help students reach their learning goals and motivating unwilling students (just a few can bring down a whole class). Finding ways to teach pronunciation and to get students to have conversations about topics in their readers. Managing time for a 50 minute class (when I used to teach for three hour stretches). It’s a continuous learning process (i.e. I still suck at it).
  6. I gave my first workshop (on feedback).
  7. I built a website for my classes. It’s still a work in progress and the students don’t have the link yet. 
  8. I started a book blog for my 52 books self-challenge. As you can see, I’m already behind.
  9. I traveled with a group from our school to London and Paris. That was something.
  10. I joined the #RPPLN and met a lot of incredible people I look forward to continue reflecting with online.

March 1 begins my 35th year. Here’s a look at what might be ahead for me! 

 What’s coming up:

 Who knows what the future will hold, but there are a few things on the horizon.

  1. #KELTchat! Join us live and unplugged in Seoul this month – and watch the website, Facebook or Twitter for future online chats.
  2. The RP SIG in Korea back from winter vacation. I love me some face-to-face reflection. #NotAJunkie
  3. More #RPPLN challenges, questions, feedback and support. The latest challenge is here: a challenge to describe. #OKMaybeAJunkie
  4. Experiments with small changes in the Breaking Rules community. The first two breaking rules courses have come and gone, but the legacy of rule breakers lives on in the iTDi forum.
  5. iTDi courses and other webinars and opportunities to learn online. I intend to take advantage of as many as possible.
  6. Experiments with ER, chants, and technology in my classes. These are my pet projects for the year.
  7. More bike rides
  8. A trip home. I haven’t been home in two years I think. A visit is long overdue.

This post is dedicated to the people who make me feel special every day of the year. I look forward to another year of amazing learning and sharing together.

A colorful lesson

This post is in part inspired by the Rhyme and Rhythm in ELT course with Jason Levine going on at iTDi right now. Jase, also known as Fluency MC, has a theory that acquisition of language has less to do with learning and use and more to do with repetition and relaxation.

I have a class of young learners who are learning colors this week. This is a review unit for them and they already know most of the basic colors. Their textbook introduces brown, black, and white and uses a chant to review the colors.

First the students listened and repeated the chant very slowly. Then I handed them each a colored marker. I asked them to stand up when their color came up in the chant. It took some ironing out, but they were good sports.

What I expected to happen was the whole class would chant while individual colors would stand and sit.

What actually happened was the students said only their own color and only repeated me. I figured enough repeating had happened, so I crossed my fingers and said, “one, two, three, go!” and held my breath. And they went: “purple, yellow, green and blue. Green and blue.” and then they stopped. And then they negotiated whether “and” went with green or with blue.

With that sorted out, they looked to me, and so I repeated, “One, two, three, go!”

Purple, Yellow, Green and Blue. Green and Blue.
Purple, Yellow, Green and Blue. Green and Blue.
Black, White, Brown, Red, Orange, too.
Purple, Yellow, Green and Blue. Green and Blue.

At the end they burst into applause and asked to do it again. So I collected the markers and redistributed them so that everyone had a different color (and different people had the four main colors) and we did it again. This time they re-negotiated “green and blue” during the chant and tried it a different way. And again at the end they applauded themselves.

We did it one more time (“green and” beat out “and blue“) before I let them use the markers to color. I think the activity was successful because each student got to be an integral part of the whole. It was an activity where every student could be involved in a positive way and I saw them supporting each other and paying attention and engaged in a way that other activities don’t usually inspire.

I also think using a chant and having a color to hold in their hand helped them speak without worrying about remembering the words or where their part is.

The students then provided more language as we moved on to “What’s your favorite color?” and they reported on their partners.

Next week  we can follow up by making a new chant that involves their favorite colors and test this “relax, repeat, remember” theory in my own class.

RP2- the ice-breaker

Mr. John Pfordresher posted a new challenge for anyone who wants to participate in the reflective practice challenge. Feel free to jump in at challenge 2 and leave challenge 1 for another time!

I think this second challenge will give us a lot of opportunities to learn about each other’s teaching environments, beliefs and methods.

I look forward to comments and especially questions that will help me reflect more on why I believe as I do. I also look forward to contributing my own questions to John’s and others’ challenge responses to keep the reflective conversation going.

And so, without further ado, these are the statements and my own responses.


strongly disagree               disagree                      agree                   strongly agree

1) Teachers must teach grammar explicitly if learners are to acquire language effectively.

I strongly disagree that teachers must teach grammar explicitly if learners are to acquire language effectively. I think there is a lot more to this statement that I need to know:   What is the context? Do the teacher and students share an L1? Why are the learners learning? (to pass a test? what kind of test? to study abroad? to travel? because their moms think it’s a good idea but they’d really rather be playing outside in the snow?) Who are the learners? Doesn’t research show that teaching grammar explicitly to young learners is ineffective (at best)? What does research show about explicit grammar teaching to older (non-linguist) learners? Does it make a difference what level they are at? What does it mean to acquire language effectively? Is there an end point to acquisition? (I don’t think there is.) How is effectiveness measured? 

An answer for myself: My students are young learners and teens. We do not share an L1. The vast majority of them would rather be outside having snowball fights and when I asked them why they are learning English, the ones who didn’t say because of their mothers said it was to travel or to pass the TOEIC test or “because English is global language”. I think not sharing an L1 is the biggest barrier to teaching grammar explicitly (although I’m not sure if they’re taught Korean grammar explicitly at their age either). I usually teach grammar implicitly by pointing out patterns and letting them practice. I am uncertain whether this is effective. I have a game I play with all of my classes (I just adjust the level depending on the class) called Pass the Bomb. It’s a vocabulary game and I require simple sentences. All but the most advanced students forget the grammar patterns when put under time pressure. I think this game mimics the time pressure they might experience in a test or a conversation situation (granted those are vastly different from each other). So have they acquired the patterns? Perhaps only in a controlled environment.

2) Teachers who don’t utilize technology in class are doing a disservice to their students.

(n.b. You  can read John Pfordresher’s post on #edtech here. #jumpingthegun ^^)

Now let’s talk about this. What is meant by technology? Utilized how? How often? For what purpose? To achieve what goals? What are the learning objectives? Can they be achieved in other ways?

I don’t feel strongly about this statement at all, but I guess my answer will put me on the side of mildly disagree. I think there are a lot of benefits and drawbacks to using technology, but I also think that “using technology” shouldn’t be a thing. Learning is the thing. I think the question I need to ask myself (and my students) is what do they need to learn? And then I can try to find a variety of ways to help them achieve those goals. Now, if what they need to learn involves writing a professional letter, I might choose to teach them how to do that through e-mail (which kids their age don’t use anymore). If they need to learn how to communicate with other L2 English speakers, the best way might be through web applications. If they primarily use English in gaming, then I might (but haven’t yet) used online games to help them. Then again, I might not. I might just trust them to figure out how to apply what they learn in our tech-free classroom to their tech-full lives. 

As a side note: I asked my students in two different classes what they want to study and they gave me a list of all the things they think are fun and interesting, including videos, music, and computer games. After some reflection on their list, I realized that what they had actually told me was how they want to study. 

3) Teachers have to understand the correlation between student feelings and student needs to be effective.

Following are my thoughts on this statement, but I still don’t really know what I believe. So please don’t take these thoughts as definitive and please help me reflect further here.

Hm. I still don’t know what “effective” means. Does a teacher who fails to understand that a student who is feeling confused might need clarity fail in his job? The answer might seem obvious. But the feelings and needs* that seem to be intended in this statement may also fall outside classroom life.

Nevertheless I am once again going to fall on the disagree side of this statement. I think a teacher needs to be aware that students have feelings and corresponding needs – possibly completely unrelated to the classroom context – in order to adjust their reactions to, for instance, what might look like unwillingness to learn. But I think understanding the correlation between a students’ feelings and needs might involve a lot of guesswork that the student might be unable or unwilling to verify. I think as a teacher I would like to know how my students are doing and whether or not their needs are being met. I don’t know whether my knowing that has anything to do with my students’ learning.

*When I think of needs in this context, two things come to mind: Maslow’s pyramid (although most of my students would add wifi to the bottom tier) and NVC needs: “Needs are more than the things we can’t live without.  They represent our values, wants, desires and preferences for a happier and/or more meaningful experience as a human.  Although we have different needs in differing amounts at different times, they are universal in all of us.  When they are unmet, we experience feelings… when they are met, we experience feelings.”

 That’s it. I welcome comments or posts of your own on the topic. Join the challenge! #onamission to reflect online!

Reflective Practice Mission Statement

I have no idea what this is. However, I have been inspired by Mr. John Pfordresher and Ms. Ann Loseva to enter this conversation and so I will try. 

Wikipedia’s help:

These are the components of a mission statement:

  1. Key market – who is your target client/customer? (generalize if needed)
  2. Contribution – what product or service do you provide to that client?
  3. Distinction – what makes your product or service unique, so that the client would choose you?

These are what it should do:

  • Define what the company is
  • Be limited to exclude some ventures
  • Be broad enough to allow for creative growth
  • Distinguish the company from all others
  • Serve as framework to evaluate current activities
  • Be stated clearly so that it is understood by all

Step by step, then:

1. Who is my key market? For whom do I reflect? Well, I guess my target customer is me. My students (and friends?) might experience occasional benefits, but those are side effects.

2. What product or service do I provide? Why do I reflect? I reflect in order to increase my awareness of what is happening in my class (or in my life, as John reminded me). Life is full of emotion but I want to view each situation objectively and see what is really there. However, I don’t want to (and probably can’t) divorce myself of emotion so I want to see my heart’s realities alongside the objective realities. I want to invite others to join me in this process so that I maintain a balance.

3. What makes my product unique? I do. And so does every contribution and question and strategy offered by anyone who is interested. The combination of our efforts will produce a unique result every time. That is worth remembering – since the reflective spiral is never complete and there are always more angles (or lenses) and more questions to be asked.

Have I fulfilled the criteria? You get to decide.

Traveling with teenagers

Last night I returned from a school trip. We took a small group of (17) students to London and Paris for a week. These students were between 14 and 17 years old. They were divided into two sections, and then within those sections into smaller groups of two, three, or four. 

Messing up

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The four youngest girls are a group. They were asked to lead the way on the second excursion. Two are bent over the subway map trying to determine the lines, directions and transfers. The other two are synching that information with what they see inside the station. After a few minutes of debate they proceed – in exactly the wrong direction. We all follow and take the subway one stop. By then they’ve noticed and tell everyone to get off. They lead us to the other side of the tracks and we start again. This time one of them asks someone waiting for a train whether this is the right train. It is. We get to our destination without further incident. Skimming, scanning and asking for information skills turned out to be very important. And messing up is an important part of learning.



Knowing the script

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At first most of the kids ate their meals at fast food restaurants like McDonalds. Then the kids (and the Korean teachers as well) mostly chose cafes to eat their meals. In part because these were cheaper than restaurants, but I think it mostly had to do with knowing what to do. Three of our students entered a Chinese take-out ahead of us and looked at the food laid out behind the glass. They chose the items they wanted by pointing and reading the labels and stood around waiting for their order until the staff told them to sit down three times. They got their food on trays, shared and ate it up, and left. It wasn’t until later in the trip that many of the students were comfortable enough to try restaurants. I, on the other hand, am way more familiar with the script in restaurants and that’s where I chose to go when I was on my own.



Communication where it matters

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When we arrived in Paris, the kids quickly discovered that we couldn’t log onto wifi without a password. I shrugged and resigned myself to use my phone as a camera. The kids were not so easily satisfied. Coming back from an outing with the other adults, we found TG (incidentally, the weakest English speaker of the group) at the front desk talking to the receptionist. When we asked what was going on, he told us he was getting a wifi password. I didn’t hear the conversation, but he did get his password. And after he did it, the other kids were braver to go and ask as well.





On the last day in Paris, I decided to wander around by myself. I didn’t realize until that morning when my coworker told me how nervous she was to take the metro without me that I had been a leader. They got around and survived the day, even riding a double decker train. Even adults need the freedom to find out that we can do it by ourselves. 

2014-01-31 09.01.57

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