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The Treasure: working with short stories in middle school classes

From the drafts folder.

I want to share some of the activities my classes did last fall around a short story called ‘The Treasure’. 

This is the gist of the story:

Isaac is an elderly Eastern European man. He is poor and doesn’t always get enough to eat. He has a dream which prompts him to travel – to the capital city – in order to find his treasure. In the capital city, Isaac meets his foil – a captain of the guard with a comfortable life, who also had a dream. The captain dreamed that he would find treasure under the stove in the house of a man called ‘Isaac’.

This is the background of the classes who used the story:

I shared this story with two classes of 16 year olds. Their levels are elementary, they don’t interact with any English at all (including homework) outside of class, and they are not super motivated. I’d been working with them for two years and slowly they have made progress. It is always challenging to find things that will motivate them and give them reasons to use English. This story kept both groups engaged enough to build a whole unit around it.

The two classes were very different in their make-up. One was a group of 6 boys who loved sports and video games, and didn’t see the value of  English at all. The other was a mixed group of 4 girls and 7 boys who had more varied interests and were sometimes responsive to activities within their ability level. I chose The Treasure because it was easy and repetitive but not childish, and it didn’t need any adaptation. (And I have to admit, I was hoping to make only one set of lesson plans for these two groups.)

Listening Dictations:

Group 1: I introduced the story at first as a listening exercise. I showed them the cover and told them about the story, and then I read it to them. I didn’t let them see the pictures. I read it a second time and the first class took dictation. They compared their notes, corrected each other, and finally asked me questions they still had.

Group 2: I divided them into teams and each team took dictation on a different part of the story while they all listened. The teams compared notes, corrected each other, and asked me their remaining questions. That took us to the end of the class period.

Reflection: I changed the activity for group 2 because group 1 had found it frustrating to take dictation on such a long story. The second way worked better, but in the future I’d give groups that are not writing a different task – like to draw or take notes.

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Listen (or read) and draw:

Group 1:  I divided the first class into pairs. I gave them each a segment of the story and asked them to draw it as a comic strip. They completed their comic strips and presented them to the class as a way to retell their part of the story and put it all back together.

Group 2: I asked each team to draw a picture of their own segment of the story without reading it to them again.  They drew pictures and explained them to their classmates. Then I asked them to write three questions about their own part of the story to quiz their classmates. They exchanged questions with their classmates and answered them.

Reflection: I read the story again to the first group, but decided not to with the second. I wish I had had both groups read the story themselves. The comic strips took longer, but worked better as a review of parts of the story than the individual images. But I liked the time left over for questions that the students asked each other.

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Golden Bell review game and character interviews:

Group 1: We used the questions the second class wrote in the previous week to play Golden Bell (A game show where students write their answers on mini white boards. Correct answers win points.) with the first class.  Then they wrote five questions for the other class to answer in a similar game.

Group 2: The second group started with the Golden Bell review game. In the remaining class time, I divided them into new teams. They chose roles, brainstormed questions, and recorded interviews with the characters in the story.

Reflection: Both groups enjoyed playing Golden Bell with questions another class had made for them. Telling group 1 how their questions would be used made them focus a lot more on accuracy, and their questions provided a good review of the story (for both groups). The extension activity for group 2 ended up being pretty surface level. I wish I had encouraged them to go deeper.

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Some more thoughts:

The two classes both liked the story and liked working with it, but their level and pace turned out to be quite different and I still had to plan separately for them in the end.

The groups made a lot of the materials for the classes themselves. I had to do it that way because I didn’t have time or energy to do it all for them. I think it was good for them, though.

Giving them a purpose and audience for their activities made the first group focus more on accuracy.

The drawing is something I wish I had included more in lessons with both these groups. They have a lot interest in drawing and showing off their art and I could have exploited that more. I’d had a belief about art in English class that stopped me.

This unit made me realize that I had been confusing ‘willingness’ with ‘ability’ in both of these classes. It raised my standards for them.

Some post-CELTA thoughts:

I taught this class last year when I was too tired to plan much and before I had taken the CELTA course. Looking at this through post-CELTA eyes, I can see that I would now order the activities differently. I would also structure the classes a little differently. I kept too much information from the students, forgetting the aims of the lessons. I didn’t always even have explicit aims for the classes. Activities that might work well next time with this text: a jigsaw reading activity; a dictagloss; write/draw/present a new page of the story; discuss/ present your thoughts on the deeper meaning of the story.

when they’re just not feeling it (a thing that happened today)

Photo by Emiichann. Taken from wikicommons: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Hand_whit_I%27m_bored.jpg

Photo by Emiichann. Taken from wikicommons: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Hand_whit_I%27m_bored.jpg

It’s the midsummer heat. The air conditioner is only just keeping up.
It’s summer vacation from school. But not from academy.
It’s the last five minutes of their last class before dinner time.
It’s routine that has long since lost its novelty. 

“Repeat the reading after the cd.”
Line by line, they repeat. Their eyes getting deader and deader.
Suddenly I start to laugh. I can’t help it. They notice and look curious.
“What?”
“You guys. These are your faces. Look around.”
They grin a bit.
“Okay,” I say. “Read the next part like you’re really angry.” I put my hands on my hips and narrow my eyes to demonstrate. Some copy me.
“Okay that’s good. Now do the next one like you’re sleepy.” I put my head to the side and speak slowly. They’re getting into it.
“Nice work. Can you do the next one like you’re robots?” I snap my arms and legs together and some of them do too.
“Good. Do this one like you’re excited.” I raise my arms up. They don’t.
“Not quite. Excited has wider eyes. Say it with your eyes wide open.”
By now they’re all smiling.
“Do the last line like you’re happy.” I smile with them.
“Remember to smile!”

And it’s kind of amazing how the reading aloud (which I use to check pronunciation and intonation) turned from drudgery into tomfoolery with just a tiny change. It also helped them practice a variety of intonations and make the reading more interesting. 

Another Friday, another tidbit

(And another white board, just for fun)

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The setting: The students are 15 and 16 years old. They are in the third grade of middle school. They are highest level of their age group. Some of them are very independent learners, who take every opportunity presented them to use English outside of class and in the community as well as in the classroom. Others are less motivated, but equally hard-working. They just want to pass and focus only on the classes that help them prepare for exams. With me, they study debate. Today we were analyzing opinion paragraphs.

Some things I said today:

  • “Please don’t copy another student’s homework. The purpose of this work is to help you analyze an opinion essay. If you copy from another student, you don’t get that benefit. It is better to turn it in late if you didn’t have time to finish it.”
  • “You three need to buy notebooks. When I see those torn-off pieces of paper that I know you will lose, I think you don’t care about anything you learn in my class.”
  • “Do you think this sentence is positive or negative? Why?”
    “That’s a good analysis. You are right.”

A conversation between two very different students that I overheard in English:

“What’s your opinion about question number one?”
silence
uncomfortable laughter
“I think the main idea is (answer).” 

The first student leaned in to the second student when she asked her question. She spoke clearly and very slowly, respecting the second student’s level. She didn’t show impatience at the shyness, but gently guided and made a comfortable space for an answer.

I can learn from this: she got a result I wouldn’t have been able to get because she has a sense of what students her age need from their surroundings. She waited through the laughter with patience and persistence. And the answer came and it helped the whole group.

Just a tidbit from school today

A completely unrelated photo of my board after my first class of little sillyheads today.

A completely unrelated photo of my board after my first class of little sillyheads today.

Little Charlotte walks up to me in the hallway. She’s eleven and she’s the happiest kid I know. She bounces rather than walks sometimes.

Today she was getting a drink of water, and on her way she stopped to chat.
“How are you today, Anne?” she begins the regular routine.
We always give honest answers. “I’m a little tired today.”
“Why?”
“I don’t know. Maybe just because it’s Friday.”
I know.”
“You know why I’m tired?” This was a new twist in the conversation.
“I think.”
“Okay, why do you think I’m tired?”
“Because you speak English all day, and English is really hard. So you’re tired.”
I look at her satisfied expression and have another glimpse into the depths of the lives of my students.
“Maybe you’re right,” I say.

She smiles and bounces away, but her comment stays with me through the whole day. I hope one day she finds her L2 less tiring to use.

Far, Far Away: An interview

Recently, the iTDi blog issue “From the Teacher’s Family” came out. I highly recommend you read the posts in the issue. They show very clearly that teaching is not just about the teacher and the classroom, but affects those close to the teacher as well, especially the family.

I was especially inspired by Rose Bard’s honest and moving post in which she shows what her family has both gained and sacrificed from her being a teacher, the price she paid for those gains, and how they feel about it. And it made me wonder how my family feels about me being a teacher on the other side of the world, away from home for 13 years with visits no longer than a couple weeks every couple years. For me it’s sometimes very hard, and I miss them a lot. I feel guilty on important days when I’m not at home. But teaching overseas is a choice I made that my family have had to live with. It is time to ask them how they feel.

The interview occurred over Skype and I recorded and took notes. I used the questions that guided the iTDi posts.

1) What are three good things about having a daughter/sister who is a teacher?

My brother said it’s one of the most important jobs. He said he’s proud of me. He also said he enjoys traveling to visit me. My mom’s answers were a little different. She likes that it makes me happy. She can see that I like what I do. She also said, “I like the fact that you’re teaching kids because I know you care about them.”

2) Were there ever a moment in your life when you wished I wasn’t a teacher?  Please tell me about it.

At Christmas, when you’re far, far away.”

I’m so glad for Skype, you know.”

Are you going to visit this year?”

3) Was there ever a moment when you were very proud of something I did as a teacher? Please tell me about it.

This was a difficult question for them. I don’t share a lot of day to day stuff, I guess. My mom said that she is proud of the textbook proofreading work that I do because, in her words, “You went beyond what they asked you to do just to make sure it was done right.” (She is referring to pointing out social issues that come up in the CBs I proofread.)

4) How do you think me being a teacher has made life more complicated for you?

This question made my mom laugh. She thought immediately of mailing stuff. Postage costs more than what’s being posted. My younger brother had a different perspective: “You being a teacher makes my job seem less important.”

5) Do you think I am well suited to be a teacher?  Why?

My mom and brother were unanimous on this: YES. You like what you do. You have patience with kids. You establish rapport.

6) What other jobs do you think I could have done or should have done?

I can’t picture you doing anything else.”

Maybe a writer?”

7) Why do you think I became a teacher?

Because you wanted to go far, far away and travel.”

Because it’s an important job.”

Originally it was a good way to meet other people and gather experience traveling, but it because more than that. Because you stayed. You wouldn’t have stayed if it had been just that.”

8) Why do you think I am a teacher now?

Because you are good at it.”

Because you have a commitment to teaching EFL so that they are able to be proficient. You know your teaching isn’t half-assed.”

9) How would our lives change is I stopped being a teacher tomorrow?

I think you’d be sad.”

Our family collectively would not make as positive a contribution to society.”

10) Do you have a message you would like to give to teachers throughout the world?

From my brother: “You have the most important job. You probably should be the highest paid and most respected.”

From my mom: “Learn how to handle job-related stress so that you don’t stop teaching. Because we need quality teaching and it seems like the ones who have the higher stress are the ones who are the better teachers. Set boundaries for yourself because your employers are not going to do it for you.”

11) Do you have a message that you would like to give to other families in which a member is a teacher?

From my brother: “Appreciate the importance of that person and their role.”

From my mom: “Communicate, communicate, communicate!”

I learned some new things from this interview: I learned that my younger brother holds teachers in a very high regard, and considers me among them. I had no idea he felt that way. I learned that my family supports my choice to become an EFL teacher and wants me to be happy. I also learned that it has been difficult for them to have me so far away. Some of their answers stung because they were on point (“you wanted to go far, far away”) and touched my own guilt (“are you coming home this year?”). I so grateful for their continued support and love, grateful to be a source of pride for them, and grateful that they took the time to share their thoughts on these questions.

Thank you for reading.

A month of ‘Things That Happened Today’ – a cup of milk

Every month the Daegu Reflective Practice Group makes reflective goals for the month. And nearly every month, I fail to complete mine (or even remember what it was most of the time). Last month, we all committed to bring an incident to reflect on so there would be plenty of material for the workshop (which is tomorrow and is being facilitated by a guest: Mr. Bryan Hale). I realized upon making this commitment that I almost never remember a thing that happened at school without a lot of effort. By the end of a school day, I normally just want to crawl in bed and try again tomorrow. But I didn’t want to come empty-handed, so I made the rather ambitious goal of keeping a running log of at least one of the myriad things that happen each day… for each day. 

What follows is four weeks of things that happened, with edits for clarity where possible and a few pretty pictures that might be related.

Things that happened today:

3/23

What are students made of? What are teachers made of?

I took a picture of what happened when we talked about this in Esther’s class.

What is anybody made of, really?

What is anybody made of, really?

3/24

Sera’s story of Trevor’s stick up the dog’s butt joke. She also said he gave the finger to a teacher and ran away. And a lot of other bad boy things. She thought it was all hilarious. I asked him what he was playing at, and he said it was a comic he’d drawn and it didn’t really happen. I think I was most bothered by fact that they all found it so funny. Except the violent kid – he thought animal cruelty is horrible.

*Editor’s note: this came up again today in a conversation with another teacher about how Trevor tells stories.

3/25

I don’t remember.

*Editor’s note: I don’t remember what happened in class this day, but I have a very clear memory of why not.

3/26

Today I gave the M2s their new free writing notebooks and pencils to go with. Then we did free-writing in class to begin the notebooks and I took them away again. I wonder if that was the right thing to do.

*Editor’s note: they were very excited when I gave back their notebooks with comments for each of them.

3/27

I was reading a story about trolls who came and stole a sleeping baby while her sister wasn’t watching. While I was reading, Paul and Sera got into an argument. I stopped to see if they would resolve it. They didn’t. So I put the book away. Some of the other students were annoyed because they wanted to hear more of the story.

3/30

‘Tom’ walks in the classroom to the usual chorus of groans. I don’t know how to stop them from ostracizing him. I don’t know how to teach him acceptable classroom behaviour. Julie, who wasn’t paying attention anyway, interrupts the class to tell me that Tom has been sticking his tongue out at her. Tom says she started it. She says he started it. I wish they would stop it.

3/31

Ellen just flat out refused to work today. No idea why. She put her head down and wouldn’t participate. She wouldn’t speak during the group speaking task, even when her group members tried to engage her and I backed off. She wouldn’t read during the reading task. When I asked her if she had some reason, she said “no.”

Another thing that happened was I realized that kids don’t know how to look at pictures in a story book.

Editor’s note: since I discovered that, I started teaching them to notice the pictures (which are really where the story is).

4/1

April Fools’ Day

4/2

The Thoughts and Notions class Kakao Group. (I blogged this one because it was such an interesting experience)

4/3

Today I changed the seats in NP5 by lottery (pick a card and line up alphabetically according to your card). Ellie was so angry about it, she moped for the rest of the class. Her mood seemed to affect her group, who look to her as a leader (as most of the class does).

Editor’s note: I also remember that when the class ended that day, she came up to me to tell me that she wouldn’t do my homework. I told her to give it a try.

4/6

M3 debates: The first group worked out really well. The timing was almost perfect and their arguments were clear, concise, and well-prepared. They also used their survey tools. That was fantastic. The second class was not a train wreck, but not nearly as good. They spoke in Korean a lot, used their phones and dictionaries during the debate, and had a really hard time understanding not only their opponents’ arguments, but their own as well. Their topic was too hard, I think.

4/7

Total lack of clarity about homework in the M1 classes and I didn’t really remember either what had been assigned. One new kakao group made.

4/8

The mind maps from Junho’s class and Michelle’s class. Peter and Ben had a tiff but Ben didn’t know why.

They haven't generated this much language ever. Now, to get them to use it!

They haven’t generated this much language ever. Now, to get them to use it!

4/9

The kakaotalk group class. All but one did their homework. Seriously. And so since they’d done it we were able to make questions about the text and play Golden Bell. Max and Mike won the game – the two weakest students. Their next teacher reported that they came to class smiling and seemed more confident and happy and cohesive as a group than before.

4/10

Ellie refused to do the reading: “I skimmed it and I think it’s not interesting to me.” But she was clearly in an awful mood for whatever reason, so I asked her to read it again on Sunday and see if it was interesting then. Later I found out that she was in a bad mood because she had mistakenly told the other students in her class wrong information and half the class came unprepared and it was “her fault” in a sense. No wonder she was in a bad mood.

4/13

Katie and Heather’s compliments in other cultures. The difference between singular and plural compliments: Good job! I liked that song. Vs Good job! I like that song. Katie’s response: Oh, no. It was not good. It was just so so. Which led to a mini-discussion on how different cultures respond to compliments (In Korea brush it off; In the USA acknowledge it – we’d all love to know how you respond to compliments!).

*Editor’s note: This conversation might be related to the upcoming #KELTchat.

4/14

The M1 debate disaster – only three students talked and as it turned out, they didn’t understand their topic well enough or the information they had found well enough to explain it to the other team (or me). Six silent students, and in the end everyone had the same opinion anyway. What a fail. I wish I’d recorded it. But I think what happened is that they didn’t have clear enough tasks while they were preparing and I rushed them because they’re going to be off for two weeks. Next time I’ll remember this.

4/15

Somehow nothing at all got done in OW1 except a spelling test about the months and a memory game using “I want/ He/She wants”. And suddenly the time was over. I don’t know how that happened.

4/16

Homework charts finished. Most of the kids get gifts. And I’m the fool who lets them choose. Anyway, so little Paul says he wants o-gamja, the blue one. It’s a potato chips brand. So I went shopping and there were orange, green, and a sky-blue at the store. I got the one that was not orange or green, but was a little surprised because it said it was onion flavored. As soon as I pull it out of the bag, he starts complaining that it’s all wrong. And I overreacted. I just tied up the bag again and said, we’ll just do this later. And I was too angry to talk so I wrote a note on the board for him that said, ‘It’s a gift. Next time, just smile and say thanks.’ But then I changed my mind and gave everyone their gifts anyway. Now I realize that I had failed to leave my baggage at my classroom door and little Paul is in no way to blame (although he was, by my standards, a little rude – he had every right to express that he hadn’t got what he wanted).

4/17

I made amends with little Paul and got him the right snack. He said thank you.

I played pictionary with the phonics kids. I didn’t let them draw, though.

I found more mystery puzzles for the M3s because they love those.

Oh, and I took a picture of my graffiti wall. Three weeks of student art. One group asked for a new paper. I said no.

20150417_212137-1

What I learned from the process – lots of things happen every day and it is really hard to decide what is important and what isn’t. Also, writing stuff down isn’t enough. It’s important to go back and read it. Some of the things that seemed important at the time seem pretty trivial now. I wonder what that means. I wonder what I should have remembered about those days. For example, I remember now yelling at a student about his racist comment. How did I not write that down? What did I write instead on that day? I notice I wrote a lot about individual students and their feelings or attitudes, and less about lessons and successes and failures and challenges. This is just the beginning and maybe it would be more useful to focus on a single class each day next month and see how the posts develop. 

TL;DR – stuff happened. I wrote it down. Pretty pictures.

how can i help you remember? (a snapshot)

Here is a thing that happened today:

I have a few middle school classes that only meet once a week. In one of the classes, the students almost never do their homework at home. They find themselves doing it or trying to do it frantically in the first five minutes of class. The result is a waste of time, terrible quality, and incomplete work. And of course an angry teacher.

Today was no different in terms of homework completion. But it was different in terms of response. I was midway to shouting when I realized that maybe the problem was that they couldn’t remember it. I mean, I have a hard time remembering the beginning of a day at the end of it. It would be no wonder if the homework got lost in the sea of other assignments. While I know that it’s their responsibility to record and recall their assignments, it is possible that they need some support.

So instead of shouting, I asked them: How can I help you to remember your homework?

I really actually expected them to just look at their desks and not answer me. But they picked up that my anger had drained and I was asking a real question.

And they answered.

One girl said, “we can make a Kakao group and you can remind us the homework one or two days before the class.” Heads nodded. Other students agreed. They looked around at each other. I confirmed that they all use Kakao Talk and I passed my phone around. They input their phone numbers and names. I put my phone number on the board and gave out their phones. They added me, too. One of the students helped me find them all and create the group.

Our Kakao Group

Our Kakao Group

At the end of the class, I wrote the homework on the board. I also posted it in the chat room. I also took a picture of the board and posted that as well. The ‘thank you’s started streaming in (which was a good reminder to turn off notifications!), along with banter and friendliness. I promised to repost the homework a couple days before class next week as well.

Hopefully it works.

sometimes i need a turtle: outside influences post

I wanted to write this post because I love the idea of celebrating the people who have guided me in my life towards where I am today and taught me – in their own ways and by their own examples – lessons that have stuck with me. The hardest part is deciding who to write about.

Should I tell you about Mrs. B, the librarian at the public library who told me I was not allowed to read Clifford books to fulfill reading challenges because I should be reading books that engaged me? She taught me that reading goals are just numbers, but books deserve my time and love.

Or should I tell you about Mr. S., who only survived a year at our high school (I think he got into trouble for being too handsome), but lent me books from his personal collection and taught me meaningful ways to have conversation about books even though he wasn’t one of my teachers?

Or should I tell you about my mom, who reads every free moment she has, and always has? Whenever my brothers or I complained about being bored, her advice alternated between “play outside” and “go to the library.” Family trips to the library always ended in stacks of books, as many as the librarian would let us go away with, piled high in my arms. Those experiences gave me a good repertoire of books to recommend to my current teenage students who ask me what they should read in English.

Maybe I’ll tell you about Lalla. Lalla ran the office in the department of physics. She had that busy place full of vastly different personalities of everyone from Nobel prize-winning professors to graduate students to us lowly part-timers down to an art. There was always a lot of work to do – some of it seemed menial, like preparing for coffee hour every day, and some of it was really important, like organizing the applications for incoming grad students. No matter what it was, she asked rather than ordered us to help. I particularly loved running errands. I loved the trust placed in me. After I graduated, we stayed in touch for a while until she retired. We had lunch together (always with wine) and she told me about her recent trips to Venezia and I always brought her a turtle. I noticed early on that she collected turtles – figurines, charms, and jewelry. She said they were a reminder to go slow. It seemed impossible that anyone would be able to go slow in the kind of environment she worked in, but she made time for wine, for conversation, for compassion. She got everything done without hurrying and always had time for people. And now I find myself working in a fast-paced and responsible environment where I need that reminder. That there is always time for people – for the people who my students are – and there is always time to listen to their stories. I don’t always remember. Sometimes I need a turtle, too.

This turtle is brought to you under a creative commons license by mattoid-26 on deviantart: http://mattoid-26.deviantart.com/art/Enamoured-turtle-43275397

This turtle is brought to you under a creative commons license by mattoid-26 on deviantart: http://mattoid-26.deviantart.com/art/Enamoured-turtle-43275397

[This post is my contribution to the #iTDi not officially a blog challenge blog: Outside Influences. Because learning can be found in many places. Please visit the blog to read those wonderful posts.]

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.

Gratitude

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.

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