Monthly Archives: February 2015

Happy New Year from livinglearning

As I have mentioned in the past, I celebrate my new year on March 1st every year. It’s also pretty close to the anniversary of this blog. Three years. Sometimes it seems like just a few months ago I took this turn in my life. Sometimes it seems like I’ve been doing this for thirty years. Be that as it may, it is time to take a quick look back and a glance ahead from where I stand.

Looking back

I recently had a chance to take a look at my professional life over the past few years through an application form for a Trinity Diploma.* I had never updated my CV with articles or talks, so it was really pretty stunning to me to see everything together in one place – it provided a kind of map of some of what I learned this year.

Highlights of the year: 

traveling to Japan with Michael Griffin to surprise Kevin Stein (spoiler: he is not easy to surprise). I also got to meet Chuck Sandy and quite a few other people.

Highlight of the year.

Highlight of the year.

presenting with the #KELTchat team at the Seoul K0TESOL chapter conference and the English EXPO.

Team #KELTchat. Rock on.

Team #KELTchat. Rock on.

seeing my family for the first time in three years.

Cousins for life. (Before you ask, it's a tutu.)

Cousins for life. (Before you ask, it’s a tutu.)

meeting Anna Loseva and  introducing her to my students.

making and reflecting on teaching videos for the Seoul reflective practice SIG (note to self: update website!) and attending RP meetings in three cities.

participating in several #iTDi courses, especially the summer school MOOC, and learning to be myself.

writing for the iTDi blog, becoming a mentor, and realizing I was already a mentor.

writing for ETAS.

the reflective practice blog challenge (it all began here).

my first guest post from a blogger who is also my best friend.

flirting with the world of materials development through proofreading and then writing.

helping to organize a reflective practice workshop with Tom Farrell.

fulfilling some of my own new year’s resolutions and doing a lot of biking.

*I was accepted into the program, but my boss nixed it right away because they just can’t see any way to give me time off without burning everyone else out.

Looking ahead

Welcome, 2015. My 13th year as a teacher in Korea and my 36th year of life (closer to 50 than 15 as someone kindly pointed out). I have some new goals for this year: spend time outdoors every day, give up some of my social media addiction, shop local, save money, read books, and ride my bike. I’m trying to cure myself of laziness and my tendency to be stuck to a computer screen instead of enjoying the day.

This year will see my first mini-conference type thing as an organizer. The Korea reflective practice SIG is having a ‘Day of Reflection’ this August. (Note to self: seriously. Update the website.)

This year will see a bike trip across the country (east to west). There are mountains. But I can do it.

This year I will learn a new language.

And with any luck, this year I will finally leave Korea. I know I say that every year, but this year I might really happen. I’m focusing my intention in that direction (learning a new language, saving money in another currency). I’m going to need help, but I’m going to give it my best try.


To my family, who I finally got to see this year after nearly three years away: thank you for making so much time for me.

To my coworkers, who work with me, reflect with me, play with me, and listen to me vent: thank you.

To my friends, who encourage me, support me, and never say a mean word: thank you.

Spiderman: a snapshot

His name is Peter Parker. He arrived as “Albert”, a name presumably chosen by his mother. Within the first week, he had changed it to Peter Parker and has asked to change it to at least six different superheroes since then. He brings their action figures in to show me and to play with during the class. He has never stepped into the classroom without a toy of some sort. He creates stories with his toys and acts them out on his desk or in his drawings. When we learned about family, he turned his family into superheroes and drew them kicking a$$ while using target language. He tells stories and jokes and shares his experiences. But open a textbook in front of him and this exuberant boy who dreams of saving the world and wiping out all the bad guys suddenly starts to fall asleep. His head is on the desk within five minutes. My coworker despairs because he can’t finish a vocabulary test – not because he doesn’t know the words (we don’t know whether he does or not), but because he loses his focus and literally turns away mid-test. (This is pretty much blasphemy in Korea.)

Now, I will admit that as a teacher I am ridiculously easy to side-track. Sometimes I suddenly get to the end of the class and wonder how it is that we didn’t get past the second item on my lesson plan sketch. During class last week, one of these side-tracks happened. We had opened the book and were looking at the cover photo for the unit we were going to be working on (promisingly titled ‘Toys’). I was just getting them to tell me what they could identify in the pictures (or #elicitingvocabulary, if you prefer), when Peter Parker asked for the word for cliff. I always keep a piece of paper nearby for this class because it makes more sense to draw or write there for them than to run back and forth to the board breaking the circle each time. So I wrote the word cliff and drew a picture. I drew a guy tottering on the edge of it, but gave him some water to fall into. And that could have been the end of the story… but it wasn’t.

Peter took a look at my picture and said, but there’s a shark in the water (he probably actually said something closer to water in… shark). And he drew it. His classmate Jack said, no way it’s just a friend pretending to be a shark and drew the person holding a shark’s fin. Peter retaliated with a real shark ready to eat the fake one and Jack drew a whale, which Peter insisted by driven by another stick figure. I added the steering wheel. Soon there was a man-eating dragon and an underwater volcano and a time bomb and a tank all interconnecting in this impromptu draw-and-describe collaborative activity that accomplished the goals of the lesson far better than I could have done with a two-page color photo spread in a textbook. Peter ended it by drawing Tarzan who has certainly come to save the day.

Picture Play by Peter, Jack, and Anne

Picture Play by Peter, Jack, and Anne

Ever since that day, I have desperately wished that I could provide what students like Peter need – space to play in English in a relaxed way, with stories, songs, games, and their own toys, and without any textbook at all.

Group work: a snapshot

Lately I’ve started doing a lot more group work with my teens, specifically the thirteen year olds. They’re starting to get that teenager stare that’s accompanied with a hefty dose of silence. So I’m thinking, “Okay. They won’t talk to me any more. Maybe they’ll still talk to each other.”

So I put them in groups. The first thing they do in groups is ask each other how they’re doing.

The second thing they do is check their homework. They check it together first, taking turns reading out the answers (or their writing, depending on what was assigned) and giving each other suggestions or negotiating correct answers when there are differences. They can ask me if they can’t agree.

Yesterday they worked with a listening text. They had to listen to a conversation between a boy and a girl about their weekends and fill in the answers to questions on their workbooks. To be honest, I was curious how it would go. The text included vocabulary from several units before that hadn’t really been recycled much (because how often do you find opportunities to say ‘costume’ and ‘parade’).

Most of the students started out uncertain, so I played the audio again in the class and they tried to figure it out in their groups. They compared answers and the strongest personalities won.

“Okay, group. What did Felipe do last weekend?”
“He dressed up in a car studio.”
“A car studio?”
*giggles* “Car studio!”
“Do you think you could draw that for me?”
*laughter* “Play again. It is car studio!”

So I played it again and one of the other students finally heard ‘costume’. The ‘car studio’ girl insisted I write both on the board, so I did (because teenagers). But I made sure they wrote ‘costume’ in their books.

Teaching teens can be pretty tricky, but this group of them at least is still making progress. One of the most valuable lessons I learned about teaching teens is that just because they won’t talk to me, doesn’t mean they won’t talk.

A car studio

A car studio. Image from wiki commons. 

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