Category Archives: Reflection

Stories from #EdYOUfest 2016

In the midst of my year off, and through a rather unexpected turn of events, I found myself in Italy in the middle of August 2016, on the hottest days of summer. One of the reasons I was there was to attend #EdYOUfest in Sicily. I had heard about EdYOUfest online and also from Chuck Sandy while I was in Japan, and after a great deal of thought, I decided to change my travel plans and take a leap of faith. I booked a flight to Europe.

There are many, many good things about EdYOUfest – many, many things that I truly enjoyed. I tried to sample everything. I woke up early and went to yoga every morning. Dora was a patient yoga instructor, and I was a complete newbie who kept falling over, and it was totally worth giving up an hour of sleep for. One of the sessions I learned the most from was Julie’s “zero resource” classroom. I learned how much you can make from nothing, and how to look at nothing and see resources galore. I learned how to turn any space into a learning space. Sasha’s session on brains and memory left me thoughtful, and I am still thinking of it to this day. Philip’s NVC sessions awakened a part of me that I was soon to need. In short, everything was amazing.

But what was most valuable for me were the friends I met and the discussions we had outside the classrooms. In the company of these other teachers from all over the world, everything seemed possible. Ideas came to life and creativity flowed. And I needed to write. So I began asking for story prompts. Here are a few of the stories that resulted. I wrote them just for fun.

me-at-edyoufest

Writing my stories at EdYOUfest. (Photo by Jayne de Sesa)

 

Dying from Eating Cannoli (Roberta’s prompt)

Micky sat at the table, in the same seat he sat in every meal, every day, every year for the past 73 years. Today was special. He felt his toes tingle with excitement. His butler came in with a covered platter.

As you requested, sir.

Thank you. Please take the night off.

Yes, sir.

The butler disappeared.

Micky uncovered the silver platter to reveal three perfect cannoli. Each side was overflowing with sweet ricotta, one with chocolate pieces, one with orange rind, one plain. Micky took a small jar from his inside jacket pocket. Removing the lid, he sprinkled the contents on the plain cannolo. Replacing the jar, he straightened his tie. He brushed off his cuffs.

It’s time, he said to the empty room.

Slowly he ate the cannoli one by one, saving the special one for last. Then he closed his eyes and smiled and waited.

And waited.

His butler peered through the keyhole smiling as Micky fell asleep. He had replaced his boss’s “secret” jar with cinnamon the day before, dumping the original contents out the garden window. The only one who’d be dying from eating cannoli today was the chicken.

 

The Suitcase was Full and Heavy (Dora’s Prompt – original story)

I’m bored and hungry, said Fili. He was standing in the corner in his usual place. In the closet around him were a variety of forgotten things: coats with pockets filled with tissue, worn-out hats, umbrellas with missing spines. Fili was old, too, but at least he was whole – he had wheels that rolled smoothly, a hard shell, and a cavernous belly. Now that belly was empty, and it had been for far too long – but the seed of thought had been planted and a new trip was in store.The closet door opened.

That old suitcase should be in the corner, Sasha instructed. Hands grabbed Fili and tugged him out of the closet. Excitement made his wheels tingle.

What’s the combination, Mom? Asked Mike.

Your birthday, Sasha smiled.

Fili lay open, exposed to the warm sunlight filling the room.

We’ll need these clothes and your sneakers, Sasha began. And sunblock and toothpaste.

Slowly Fili was filled with things to begin a trip. He wondered where they were going. To the beach? Camping? A resort by the lake? Maybe a 5-star hotel in Prague! Fili dreamed about new places until his lid was slammed shut. Mike sat on him until the latch caught and then snapped the buckles in place and twisted the numbers on the metal lock.

All ready! Sasha said and Mike lifted Fili upright. Let’s go to the airport. Our flight to Greece leaves at 4:30. Greece! Fili was so excited. He was full and heavy, and as happy as he had ever been.

 

The Happiest Goldfish (I don’t remember where this prompt came from)

Valerie was the happiest goldfish in the world. She lived in a small pond behind the Baker house. Tommy Baker had filled the pond with brightly colored stones, and Marie Baker came out every morning to drop food in. Valerie loved her colorful home.

One day, Marie did not come. Valerie didn’t mind. She wasn’t that hungry. Marie missed the next day as well. Valerie ate moss from the rocks. The following day, Valerie began to worry. She ate moss and bugs, but she missed her fish flakes. What would happen when the moss was gone? But Marie still did not come.

Valerie grew tired of bugs. The moss grew back, but Valerie was tired of that, too. She swam more and more slowly, noticing how dull her colorful stones had become. She found she didn’t care. Letting herself go, she turned onto her back and floated to the top of the pond. The dark clouds gathering above her were the last things she saw.

 

“Life is a strange thing; just when you think you’ve learned how to use it, it’s gone.” (Sasha’s prompt)

I’ve attempted to write this story four or five times already. I don’t know what it means to “use life”. Some of the themes I have tried for this are:

  • The old man who has finally turned his life around only to discover he has some fast-acting disease and about a week to live.
  • An elderly couple at the end of their lives who reminisce about the things they’ve learned.
  • A young drug addict who is trying to get clean, but gets caught up in a gang fight.
  • A mom in an underground shelter who is struggling to let go of the anger and hatred she feels toward the fighters when the bombs begin to fall.
  • A middle-aged repressed woman who has finally decided to step out of her shell, say to hell with everything, and travel the world. The first flight crashes. No survivors.

The trouble is, I don’t know enough about these people to write their stories.

 

That’s all for now, but if you have a story prompt for me, please leave a comment. Other comments are also welcome, of course.

And to be a future EdYOUfester, you can sign up here: http://edyoufest.com/

Writer’s World: How I learned to use AntWordProfiler

Last year I was very lucky to be invited to try out ELT writing. I was extremely grateful for the opportunity, and for the people who believed in me enough to give me the chance. I marvel at how lucky I am (and what amazing friends I have!).

 

So anyway, I joined a project writing reading texts for a middle school book. I started learning immediately.

 

I was given an excel file with a vocabulary list. Words in white were level 1. Words in green were level zero. Words in yellow were level two. I was asked to use 70% of the headwords from the white list. I was also given a grammar point to include, and specified a format, topic, and word count.

 

Now I’m a bit of a tech-dunce, but not a technophobe, and I saw a couple problems.

 

Dunce cap flickr kmakice

Image by kmakice on flickr (CC)

 

1) The words were all mixed together (arranged alphabetically and not separated by color). How on earth was I going to compare a 200 word text with the vocabulary list without painfully going through it word by word? Particularly since words like ‘I’, ‘a/an’, and ‘the’ are on the green list!

 

2) They weren’t all lemmas! Multiple forms of some words were on the list, but not others. But ‘headwords’, they said, so I assumed inflection would be okay.

 

What I needed was a way to compare the texts with the word lists. And before I could do that, I needed distinct word lists.

Did you know Excel can sort by color? That’s the first thing I learned. This website explains how to do it very well. But because of the way the excel file was set up, I had to do it column by column. Each column was a letter of the alphabet, so that meant 26 times of sorting and then grabbing words from each level and putting them into new pages.

I already knew about some vocabulary tools. Lextutor, for instance, can compare a passage with the general service list and tell you how difficult it is (by telling you which words appear in the first 1000 or 2000 high frequency words). I needed something that work a little differently. I needed to compare against the lists I’d been given and not the GSL. Was there something that could do that?

To find the answer, I took to Twitter. Costas Gabrielatos came to my aid right away. He is a corpus linguistics expert and really helpful person. He introduced me to AntConc and showed me how to make a corpus out of the texts I have and compare the texts to the excel file to find out how many times the words appeared in which text.

 

I may have mentioned that I’m a bit of a tech dunce. Even with the screenshots of how this would look and what it could do, I couldn’t really understand how it would solve my problem. Reading his suggestions again, I see now that he was solving my problem very neatly. But at the time, I didn’t get it.

 

Luckily, there was a simpler way. Mura Nava came to my rescue with a patient, dunce level explanation. have you tried antwordprofiler? that’s exactly what it does. So off I went to the antwordprofiler website to watch the helpful video tutorials. This was exactly what I needed.

 

Now, antwordprofiler comes with GSL 1 and 2 and AWL already installed. I had my own word lists to compare against, though, and needed to replace them. Fortunately, Mura solved that problem for me, too. He directed me to his Google+ Community on Corpus Linguistics, and to a post about how to deal with specialized or technical vocabulary. His post showed how to extract the off-list words into an excel file and from there use them to make a txt file to add to the GSL files. I already had excel files, so I just used the latter part of the process. Once my wordlists were uploaded, I deleted the GSL files.

 

 

Finally, I put my reading passages into txt files and ran the program. It worked.

 

 

I made adjustments to make my texts closer to 70% on the second list, and felt very techy indeed. Problem solved. I proudly sent in my first five passages and waited for feedback.

 

And anyone who has worked in this field can probably predict what happened next.

 

Please consider the difficulty of the passages. I was told. They should be easier than level 2.

I wish I could say that that’s when I figured out that ‘headwords’ to them meant the 7~10 vocabulary items they will highlight and pull out of the text, but I actually only just figured that out now reflecting back 8 months later. So they meant 70% of those 7~10 words, not 70% of the whole text. The antwordprofiler tool would still be useful, but maybe I should have stuck with the GSL.

 

On the plus side, now I know how to sort in Excel by color, how to use antwordprofiler, and I can start to learn antconc. And I think that’s pretty cool. 🙂

weakness

This is a post about burnout. 

I almost didn’t post it. It was a google doc all month, and maybe some of you saw it attached to my last post about the CELTA. I’ve added the missing piece now that I was afraid to write about then. I post it now in order to share my experience and in hopes that it might help teachers who have gone through similar. 

Burnout happens. Everyone has limits. Our job pushes the limits. We push them ourselves. What stopped me from sharing the experience? For a long time it was the inability to articulate what was happening/ had happened. I was just tired and couldn’t stand the thought of doing any more work. And everything I used to love doing and would have done without a paycheck at times now looked like work

Stress-vs-Burnout

Burnout and stress are not quite the same. Photo taken from http://www.whydev.org/burnout-and-its-causes/ (Creative Commons)

So here it is. I wrote it during the last week of my CELTA course, when I was given the gift of validation of my feelings and something opened up so I could write again. I left out the part about my coworker. I add it now.

“I’m weak,” I kept telling myself. “I’m just not trying hard enough.” “Maybe I’m getting old, and my energy is not what it was.” “What’s wrong with me?” My memory was failing. My brain felt fuzzy. I couldn’t get enough sleep.

Every day I wondered what was wrong with me. “My best” was less and less effective. Weekends seemed shorter and shorter. “That’s it,” I thought. “I just have to quit.” “I’m not a good teacher anymore.” “Maybe I never was.”

I should have known. I was hired for this job in August of 2013 and I knew then that my bosses were burnt out. They needed help, and I was looking for a job where I could feel useful. Their foreign teacher of 12 years had come back from vacation with a virus attacking his brain. He was very, very ill and it was uncertain if he would completely recover. I took the job and he came back on my first day of work. I had the pleasure of working with him, chatting with him, and sharing ideas with him for eight months. We talked about work, but also about life. One day he helped me make a piggy bank out of an old coffee can. He was good with his hands, good with the students, and good at communicating. Once he came to me and thanked me for coming to chat with him. It had been a lonely workplace where people didn’t talk to each other. Then one day, he didn’t turn up to work. He had collapsed and was back in hospital. Brain cancer.

I was happy to pick up the slack. It was what I was there for and it was the least I could do. Beginning in April of 2014, I began teaching 30~32 hours a week. That was comprised of 18 different groups of students. Some of those groups had textbooks and some didn’t. No classes were repeated in the week. Some classes met two or three times a week and some only once.

The curriculum had been presented to me as a set of textbooks we expect the students to be able to complete in each year. It was not boiled down to handy ‘can do’ statements, and I never had time to read through 8 sets of textbooks and figure it out. I was busy trying to plan 6 or 7 fifty minute classes a day.

The school was a good place, but modest. There was no dedicated room for teachers to work or go during breaks. Students demanded our attention at all hours. There was no time at work to prepare for classes before or after. The doors opened 30 minutes before the first class and closed immediately after the last. Going to work every day was like taking a deep breath and plunging into the ocean, to come up for air six hours later. If students learned anything at all by the end, it was purely by accident. 

Emotionally it was difficult as well. The previous teacher got worse and worse. He couldn’t read any more. Soon he couldn’t walk, talk, or feed himself. One day my boss asked me if I wanted to go visit him. “Should I?” Yes. It’s time. It was not an easy visit. I had nightmares after. He died three weeks later. The school decided not to tell the students. I don’t think they knew that the students asked me every day, “When is he coming back?” I disagreed with the decision, but I toed the line. Every day became a struggle and I threw myself into more work to avoid the emotional pain.

So on top of the teaching job, I was proofreading and writing for a publishing company, participating in professional development organizations, co-ordinating a reflective practice group, and taking classes online. I was sleeping about 20 hours a week. I was struggling to take care of myself. I wasn’t loving my work anymore.

Something had to give. And in the end, everything did. I quit my job and left that life behind, believing that something was wrong with me. I thought I had been tricked into thinking I was a good teacher, when really people were just trying to keep me happy. I wasn’t even an average teacher, I told myself. I probably never have been. So I did what any rational teacher-creature would do – I signed up for a CELTA to find out if I could become at least an average teacher. I gave myself a month of vacation first, though. A month of rest should be enough, I thought. I really didn’t realize.

I’ve been off for two months. The first month I traveled and relaxed. And I started to improve. I lost weight, felt my smile come back, and felt my brain begin to recover – my memory and ability to focus improved. I was getting better.

And then CELTA. The month in Chiang Mai was incredibly rewarding in so many ways. But the intensive CELTA is not made for people in my state. I gained in confidence and creativity, but the fuzzy feeling in my brain came back. Stress made me lose my appetite, and insomnia crept back in.

Now it’s several weeks later – and a year since my coworker’s death – and I know I’ll survive. One gift CELTA has given me, besides skills and feedback, is the friendship of so many wonderful, supportive people and the objectivity to see that my work environment was not normal, and perhaps my response to it is understandable. 

#CELTAsurvivor

schwa

Image retrieved from http://pronunciation-paraaula.blogspot.com (Creative Commons)

Last month I took a CELTA course. I had grand ideas before I began that I’d blog about it every weekend to share my reflections (and get this site back up and running). If you’ve ever taken a CELTA you’ll know how silly a thought that was. Luckily I was saved by Matthew Noble’s suggestion: a series of interviews regarding my CELTA experiences. With Matthew’s guidance I was able to keep up with my reflections, read his comments and those of a few other readers, and not have to deal with the arranging and photo-selecting and editing that comes with blogging. He is an incredible superstar for keeping up with all this while running a CELTA of his own.

By some interesting fluke of wordpress today, I couldn’t reblog the posts. But I really would like to share them and so I’m linking them below for your enjoyment or commiseration.

Part 1

Part 2

Part 3

Part 4

Part 5

Thank you for reading. Comments are very welcome, of course. And follow Matthew’s (newish) blog if you don’t already.

My students with flying handkerchiefs

Things that fly.

Things that fly.

Due to circumstances I chose not to control, this week has been a bit chaotic in my classroom. On the plus side, that has given me an opportunity to play around, which means I got to use Juan Alberto Lopez Uribe​’s flying handkerchieves for the first time.

My 9 and 10 year olds have been learning to describe family members and I wanted to review with them. This seemed like a golden opportunity. I let them choose their own color of handkerchief and we wrote the colors down on the board (red, orange, yellow/gold, blue, purple, beige*, white)

They chose a descriptive word to go with each color (tall, short, young, old, smart**, small, big). Then when I called out a family member, they each made a different sentence and threw the handkerchief up. (Imagine 12 kids yelling “My mother is ___.” at the same time!) After practicing this, they all stood up. Then I called out a different family member and they threw the handkerchiefs into the middle of the room. Three by three (so they don’t attack each other) they went to get a new color and play again.

Then I varied the activity and called them to the middle pile of handkerchiefs one by one. I gave them a family member and they found the color they wanted and made a sentence: “My grandfather is old.” They enjoyed the activities, and even the quiet ones participated.

What I liked about it was the movement and the variation. They got a lot of practice, thought they were playing, and I felt confident that they could all describe family members confidently by the end.

Total time: about 15 minutes.

Ideas for next time: have student work in pairs and describe their partner’s family members (“His father is tall.”); assign family members to each color and let students group themselves into families and describe each other (“Jason is the brother. He’s young.”); put students in teams and see who can create the most fun activity using handkerchiefs with target words/language.

Letter to my #youngerteacherself (admissions essay)

Last winter, when life was a little simpler and a little less busy, I considered starting to study again. I applied for a Trinity Diploma and was asked to write a timed (30 minute) and supervised (by my boss) essay.

The topic: “You have been a teacher of English as a Foreign or Second Language for at least two years now. What are some of the most important things you have learned about teaching? What advice would you give to a colleague who had just completed his/her Certificate and was beginning to teach? (500-600 words).”

The essay started out with several paragraphs about things that I learned, but soon turned into a letter to my younger teacher self – the only one I legitimately felt at the time that I had any right to advise. After all, I knew who she was and where she was going and what challenges she was going to face.

What follows here are photos of the two and a half pages I wrote. The disclaimer: I was writing for an audience (the admissions people of the Trinity Diploma), with a time limit, by hand, in full knowledge that my boss (who was supervising) would probably read it after. It’s not brilliant writing, but I ran across it again, so I thought I’d share anyway.

Page 1

Page 1

Page 2

Page 2

Page 3

Page 3

The follow-up: I was admitted to the program, but then life got really complicated and I was not able to participate.

Korea Reflective Practice Special Interest Group (Korea RPSIG) Day of Reflection, August 22 2015.

Inspired by Dr. Thomas S.C. Farrell, the Korea reflective practice SIG held its first Day of Reflection on Saturday, August 22. Presenters and participants from all over Korea came to Sookmyoung Women’s University in Seoul for the event.
This post was originally going to be an article about the event, but now it’s not so here it is.

Making some omelets with Shannon Tanghe

Making some omelets with Shannon Tanghe

To kick off the event, Shannon Tanghe, a teacher educator of Danguk University in Incheon, gave a workshop titled, “Reflective Teacher Collaboration”. Dan Lortie (75) called teaching an egg-crate profession – teachers tend to be separate from each other and work alone in their classrooms –  and Shannon suggested we start making omelets through collaboration with other teachers. Shannon took us on her own journey exploring collaboration and recommended a lot of tools teachers can use to collaborate together, including collaborative journaling, collaborative lesson plan reviewing, peer observation. She challenged us to identify who we would like to collaborate with and make a plan. Shannon ended by reminding us that reflection does not stop here: having events like a Day of Reflection are great, but they are not enough if we don’t continue to reflect.

"Teachers need to practice to improve their own reflective skills."

“Teachers need to practice to improve their own reflective skills.”

The second presenter was Kim Mikyoung, a high school teacher and teacher trainer from Daegu. Mikyoung graciously shared a program she and her colleagues ran with a group of high school students that centered on teaching students to reflect on their learning. Mikyoung showed videos of student reflections and shared the materials she used in her program. Mikyoung’s presentation reminded us all that students need to reflect to learn, and so do we. She said, “Teachers need to practice to improve their own reflective skills.” According to Mikyoung, it takes reflective teachers to instill those skills in their students.

Charting our professional paths with Jocelyn Wright.

Charting our professional paths with Jocelyn Wright.

Jocelyn Wright came all the way from Mokpo to honor us with a highly interactive third workshop on the day. She began by asking us to use a prompt to tell the story of our own journey to becoming a teacher. This is how she introduced the concept of “revelatory incidents.” By using participants’ own experiences, Jocelyn led us to reflect on the specific incidents in our teaching careers that changed us as teachers. One of the things I realized learning from other teachers in my small group during this presentation is that “revelatory incidents” might feel uncomfortable, but it is just such an experience that helps a teacher to grow. Jocelyn also emphasized that teachers change and evolve all the time and our reflective path does not stop with one Day of Reflection but must continue in the future.

Chris Miller guides a reflection on critical incidents.

Chris Miller guides a reflection on critical incidents.

The fourth workshop of the day was titled “Using Critical Incidents to Further Professional Development.” Christopher Miller, a teacher at Daeil Foreign Language High School, shared a framework for reflecting on critical incidents. The framework included four questions: What happened? Why did it happen? What might it mean? and What are the implications for practice? Chris began by giving examples from his own experience and encouraged us to do the same: to share our critical incidents in groups and hear each other’s perspectives. Chris also provided materials to use on our own for teachers’ and students’ reflections on critical incidents.

Reflecting on the reflections on reflection. Meta-meta.

Reflecting on the reflections on reflection. Meta-meta.

The day ended with a final reflection session in small groups facilitated by Michael Griffin. Michael provided participants with some questions to help them reflect on the four previous sessions and asked groups to discuss the most interesting questions. The group I was in was most interested in teaching learners to reflect and spent our time discussing ways that learners can be motivated to care about their learning. This led into a final question and answer period in which presenters answered participants’ questions regarding their workshops. A common thread throughout all the workshops was that reflection does not stop here — it is a continuous process to develop as teachers. Michael ended the evening by reminding us of this again.

This day of reflection was valuable for me as a teacher, and I hope it was also valuable for other participants. I am eternally grateful to the presenters for donating their time and expertise and to the participants for coming to learn together. I would also like to thank Sookmyoung University Injaegwan for the space for this event. I hope we can have other events like it in the future.

The reflective practice special interest group has regular meetings in Seoul, Daegu, and Gwangju. For more information, search the Korea Reflective Practice Special Interest Group on Facebook.

Bonus photo:

Post-workshop awesomeness

Post-workshop awesomeness

A quick reflection on activities

Daegu’s reflective practice SIG meeting yesterday turned out really interesting. One person brought a couple of activities she wanted to try with her students and we played them together and considered their uses, benefits, drawbacks, and applications and adaptations.

I guess in a sense it was sort of a pre-flection (c Matthew Noble). The focus was on an activity that has not yet been tried in class to see how it might turn out. Doing this really helps to be more flexible in the classroom because when something isn’t working for a group of students then we have ways to change or adapt it on the spot, already thought out.

Anyway, as a follow-up for myself, I took both of the games and tried them in some of my classes today.

The first game was a memory game. The students put the vocabulary cards (two matching sets) face down on the desk and the first student picked up a card. He made a sentence with the word on the card and then picked up a second to try and find its match. If they matched, he kept both cards for two points. If they didn’t, he put them back and the next person got a turn. When we played in the meeting, we realized that the person who went last had the advantage when a large group plays, so I made teams of three. In the meeting the game took about 10 minutes, but my class didn’t finish it before the class time was over.

The students policed each other about their sentences, but I monitored the weaker groups. The words were quite hard for them and at the end only one student had a pair. I wonder if I should focus more on vocabulary in that class. Another thing I noticed is that the students focused more on finding pairs than on using the words. They wanted the matches to win and the language suffered from it. That could be a potential drawback to this game with some learners. On the other hand, they said they enjoyed the game and wouldn’t mind playing again.

The game was pretty low prep – I made it out of the vocabulary from their reading book and printed the cards, copied a few sheets, and cut them out. It took about 15 minutes to prepare.

Tic-tac-toe, noughts and crosses photo by Matthew Paul Argall retrieved from https://www.flickr.com/photos/79157069@N03/14080255255

Tic-tac-toe, noughts and crosses photo by Matthew Paul Argall retrieved from https://www.flickr.com/photos/79157069@N03/14080255255

The second game was a version of tic-tac-toe. I tried a few variations of this. In a class of young learners, I created the tic-tac-toe (noughts and crosses to some of you) squares on the white board and filled them with vocabulary. Then I wrote the target language next to it  and divided the class into two teams. They got really into it – every student participated and were eager to help each other. Then I gave them paper to make their own game and play against their partner while I walked around keeping an eye on things. This only worked for the more highly motivated students, but eventually everyone had played twice.

With a higher level class, I gave them a theme to play with (an idea that came out of our experimentation at the RP meeting) and used vocabulary from their reading text. We played on the board first and the combination of vocabulary and theme proved too difficult. I gave them pre-made games to play in small groups and didn’t force a theme, but it was still too difficult for some of them. They didn’t have positive feedback about the game and left the class looking frustrated. Perhaps part of the problem was the time of day (just before dinner for them), or their age (sixth graders), or that it’s Monday, or that the words were still too unfamiliar for them to use naturally. I need to find a way to support them more to play this with words from their book.

Anyway, that’s my follow-up reflection from these activities. I appreciate any feedback you might have, gentle readers.

The silent class

Week after week and class after class, they sit silent.
When they are called on, they sit silent.
When they don’t understand something, they sit silent.
When they understand perfectly, they sit silent.
When they have no specific task, they sit silent.
When they want to say something to their friend, they whisper in the friend’s ear.

What on earth is going on with them? I wondered. I was tottering between frustration and anger. I asked their classmates in another class who are more talkative.

Ahh, they said. Jung-i byeong.

Jung-i byeong. It’s a thing. It’s “second grade of middle school disease.” Also known as puberty.

I try everything from easier tasks to pep talks. They sit silent.
They will read. They will write. They will listen. But they will not speak.

Is it the topics?

Okay guys, here’s a scrap of paper. Write down the topics you want to talk about in this class.

No, you don’t have to write your name.

No, you shouldn’t all write the same thing. I promise I will use everything.

I make a syllabus based on their topic requests. I let them think and write before they share. They sit silent. One shares. I ask another to paraphrase or ask a question. They sit silent.

Okay, it isn’t the topics. What is it?

And then two things happened.
First, one student told me she didn’t understand how she was to prepare for the topic that week so she didn’t do her homework. Ah, I thought. Good question. I wrote my number on the board. If you have trouble understanding, contact me. Ask me.
AND SHE DID.

Then in the next class I did something a little immature. I decided not to talk to them either. So I wrote the first discussion question on the board: “Do you get enough sleep? Ask two people.”
AND THEY DID.

I asked for a show of hands – they all said they didn’t get enough sleep. I asked them to clear their desks. I set the timer for five minutes. They all went to sleep. Five minutes later, I woke them up and wrote on the board, “How do you feel? Ask three people.”
AND THEY DID.

I wrote on the board again, “Can you fall asleep quickly? Ask three people.” They talked. And the reasons came out naturally.
I asked for a show of hands afterwards and wrote the reasons on the board.
I tried a few more of the discussion questions – sometimes they answered very briefly and went back to whispering to each other, but other times some pockets of them talked for quite a while in English.

I ended with “What helps you go to sleep? Ask 2 people.” By the time I called out for ideas to put on the board, they were all chiming in: a dark room, silence, a teddy bear, singing to herself, studying, taking a shower, sleeping with a cat or dog, taking a walk, listening to music, a soft bed, a soft pillow, thinking, reading, doing something I don’t want to do, exercise, medicine, sleeping alone.
I asked them then to choose three of those ideas to try themselves and tell two people.
AND THEY DID.

Then I asked them to write their ideas down. Next time I’m going to ask how it went.

The last thing I did was ask them to look through their homework and see if there is anything we didn’t discuss in class. If there is, tell it to one person.

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I was absolutely amazed at how well this class went compared to all their previous weeks. My (somewhat embarrassing) moment of childishness “Fine. if you’re not talking to me, I won’t talk to you either!” turned out to be the best thing I could have done. As a result, I discovered that they want to talk, even in English, just not in front of everyone and not TO ME. It’s the best result I could possibly have asked for.

The choose-your-own-projects Project

 

At the end of each unit of their book, my students do a group project. I find that projects are a great way for them to collaborate, create, and show off what they have learned from the unit. Their unit 2 project was a bit of a disaster. They focused on one topic and copied a lot of information for their posters straight from the book without more than a sentence or two of their own analysis. Furthermore, they did most of their planning in Korean and didn’t present anything in English. I think the instructions were not very clear to the students and the purpose of the project was also unclear. They might not have had enough time to work on it as well. Also, I assigned the groups rather than letting them choose and that might have affected group dynamics (a dangerous thing to mess with when your students are 13). So for unit 3 I we made some tweaks.

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MY ideas

I wrote down the names of the lessons in the unit to refresh their memories and matched them to suggestions I had for projects that might suit them – role plays, comics, an acrostic, stuff like that. I set out some rules, too – planning has to be done mostly in English. They have to use the vocabulary from their book but they can’t lift whole sentences. They have to work as a group as well as individually and each student has to create something. They have to present their projects as a group and they can’t just read what they have written on their papers.

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THEIR ideas

Students divided into two groups. The groups divided naturally because the first day of the project only five students were present. The rest (all from the same school) were on a field trip. On the second day of the project I asked the first group to explain the project to the second group and write the ideas and rules on the board. And then something unexpected happened: the members of the second group put their heads together and decided to come up with their own projects rather than use what I had suggested.

And they proved to me yet again the value of giving students room to be creative.

"Anne, can I say it like this?" Language feedback request.

“Anne, can I say it like this?” Language feedback request.

The project lasted four sessions, including the presentations. Much of their art work they did at home. I helped by giving language feedback and pointing out errors when they asked me to look at their writing. They helped each other by choosing roles and responsibilities. One a student in group two was lagging behind, her whole group came together to help her finish up. When a boy in group one couldn’t figure out the last line of his acrostic, his group scoured the book for ideas and helped him finish it. During the presentations, group members helped each other by taking on roles to role play and applauding after each member did their bit.

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Helping each other

Helping each other

I think our tweaks to the group project idea worked well. I am really proud of my kids and happy with how this turned out, so I wanted to share it with you.

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Final products

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Final products

If you would like to see the presentations, you can find them here and here.

 

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