Tag Archives: english

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

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.

Tales of a Classroom Bully

This post is about a thing that happened last week.

Actually, I guess you could say this started several weeks ago, but came to a head last week. I’m going to change all these kids’ names to tell this story.

Around six months ago, Sam and Terry, two 15 year old boys, were moved into my class in an effort to change the class atmosphere of both the M2 classes – our most challenging group. Terry and Sam seemed to integrate well with the other boys in the class: John, Harry, and Tim. About a month later, Simon and Pete joined us. That was around the time I noticed that the boys used Sam for all their vocabulary examples. “Sam’s face is dangerous.” or “An example of hurricane is Sam.” whether it fit or not. Sometimes they used ‘John’. Sam never participated and always just smiled and sighed.

I got worried about it and decided to put a stop to it. I told them “You can’t use people in the class for your example.” I also let my boss know. It abated somewhat, but I might have just made the problem less visible. In any case, about three weeks ago Sam went home. A couple hours later his mother called – he doesn’t ever want to come back. He’s crying from being bullied one too many times by these boys, especially Terry. Sam didn’t come back, and he asked us not to tell the other boys why he quit. Terry still mentions him in jest, for an example, sometimes. Or he mentions John as an example and John replies, “What? Am I Sam now?”

And that conversation is what started last week’s issue.

Terry: “John is a danger.”
John: “Am I Sam? Why do you say my name?”
Terry: “Okay okay. Sam is a danger.”
Me: Hey. This isn’t okay. When you do that, it’s bullying. 
Terry: “What is bullying?”
Students get out dictionaries. We translate the word.
Terry: “No way. I’m not bullying!”
Me: Why do you always use Sam’s name or John’s name in your example? How do you think they feel?

He didn’t say anything and I let it go.

10 minutes later I passed out a crossword puzzle for vocabulary review. Terry threw it down on his desk and said, “I’m not doing it.” I pointed at the door. “Goodbye.” “No no sorry sorry.” And he completed it and helped the other boys do it, too. I thought he was just acting big for his peers.

10 minutes after that I gave them their homework assignment. As the other students wrote it down and prepared to go, Terry said loudly, “We don’t have to do that homework.” I was irritated and gave him a look. Then they were gone.

I told my boss about the class afterwards and about Terry’s nagging at Sam and John as well as his attitude about classwork and homework that day. She said she’d talk to his mother.

My boss called me an hour later. Terry’s mother was shocked! Not my perfect son. He’s never had a problem with a teacher ever. She talked to him about it. He cried. He admitted about refusing to do classwork and homework. And he told her that everyone is like him in that class but I pick on him especially.

This set me thinking. Do I? What really happened that day? I wish I had recorded the class. 

Yeah, all those boys are pretty rude in general. This is the class that calls me “the foreigner”. 
Yeah, I probably call on  Terry more often than the other boys – he’s bright and is usually the best model for a good sentence. (And more likely to be partially paying attention.)
Yeah, on other days other boys (particularly John and Harry) also refuse to do work or homework. Their moms don’t get phone calls.
So why did Terry’s mom get a phone call? The bullying. That constant poke poke poke that forced Sam to quit and he was now turning on John. What did Terry tell his mom about that?

As it turns out, nothing. He failed to mention it. She called back in the middle of the night and spoke to my boss again. They had had a serious talk about it and now she understood what was up.

And now I have a lot of questions.

How do I tell whether I’m treating my students unfairly?

What do I do when a student thinks he is behaving normally but is actually bullying, especially in a class of teenaged boys who aren’t willing to look weak in each other’s eyes?

How do I teach or structure the class in a way that this can’t happen as frequently?

How do I turn this class around and improve the atmosphere and motivation?

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. 

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Cinquain Poems for mixed levels

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I did a lesson today that turned out a lot better than I expected. I’m blogging about it because my reflective goal for this month was to start paying attention to the things that go well in class, not just the things that go oh so wrong.

Some background on the class:

Once a week, I have a class where we can do mini-projects to fill some of the gaps in their coursebooks. There are 12 students in this class and they are in the first grade of middle school (around 13 years old). They have been studying English for varying lengths of time, from six or seven years to just a couple years. In my class, they are using the newest edition of Teen Talk, a book which has (in my opinion) a lot more text than a conversation book needs, complete with questions that guide students’ opinions to the “right” answers. And so I try, each week, to introduce opportunities for creative thinking and expression.

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Today’s class:

This is the last class of the day on Thursdays, from 8:30 p.m. to 9:20 p.m. The students have already been in the academy for two hours (Teen Talk at 6:30 and CNN at 7:30). Last Thursday they asked me if we could do something related to Christmas during this week’s class.

Some background on the project:

I learned about cinquain poetry about two years ago. Asked to submit “something creative” for a final class project, I was completely at a loss and made a note to myself never to do that to my students (promptly forgotten). Luckily someone in a different course had mentioned cinquain poetry in passing and I decided to look it up. Not only was it perfect for the “creative” project, it was adaptable enough to use in my classes as well.

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Today’s class: 

I started by writing the word “cinquain” on the board and letting them guess the pronunciation (following from the pronunciation work we’d been doing in the Teen Talk class).

Then I asked them to guess the meaning. One student noticed that the origin looked like French. Another student (the shyest in the class) said that she’d learned a little Spanish when she lived in California. One of them asked for a hint and I told them it is a number. The Spanish-learner started counting on her fingers and her face lit up when she got to five, which she said aloud.*

Cinquain poems have five lines each and look a little like a diamond (although to me they look more like Christmas trees). They are written on a single topic and usually tell a story.

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I explained the three ways of writing cinquain poems:

  • 1) with individual words (1 word, 2 words, 3 words, 4 words, 1 word)
  • 2) with syllables (2 syllables, 4 syllables, 6 syllables, 8 syllables, 2 syllables)
  • 3) with parts of speech (1 noun, 2 adjectives, 3 -ing words, a phrase, a synonym to the original noun)

I explained the rules for the poetry:

  • 1) Write about just one topic.
  • 2) Tell a story.
  • 3) Include an action.
  • 4) Include a feeling.

Someone asked me how to do syllables and we went around the room counting syllables in their English names. This was a great moment, because they (and I) discovered that some of them were much better at this than others.

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I told them that they could choose any of the three styles of poem they want, but that the first one was probably the easiest, but might have a boring result.

The results were telling:

The weaker students in the class all chose the first style. Some of them were able to tell stories and others just wrote words on a Christmas-y topic.

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The mid-level students nearly all went for the syllables style. I was surprised, but maybe they wanted to challenge themselves or maybe they were daunted by parts of speech but wanted to show that they were above isolated words.

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The higher level students used a mix of syllables and parts of speech styles, except one – who asked if she could adapt the words style to 2-4-6-8-2 so she could tell the story she wanted. Another thing I saw in the higher level students was a greater emphasis on the story they wanted to tell. 

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What really fascinated me about the project…

Was how each student took it and made it their own. They adapted it to their own levels and helped each other or asked for help when they ran into difficulties. They practiced until they got it the way they wanted it, then wrote it on colored paper and decorated it.

As a follow-up, I asked them to each come to the front, read their poem, and show the pictures they’d made. And I learned another new thing: none of them know how to read poetry aloud.

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A lesson for another time.



*I can just imagine what her brain did to count to five in Spanish, take a look at how many fingers she’d counted out in Korean and then translate that to the required English that matched the French on the board, all in a split second. Humans are amazing.

what does a test measure?

A few months ago I saw a notice for a Korean class offered by Daegu’s YMCA. Attached was an email address to send off for an application and level test. I had a few free months in front of me and thought I might try to learn Korean again, so I sent off for the test.

I completed the test and sent it in. Until this point, all correspondence had been conducted in English. The following day this email arrived:

Hello , Anne

Thanks for the mail.

한국어를 잘 하네요. 지금 아침 화요일 , 금요일 인텐시브 반에는 높은 레벨 반이 없어요.

하지만 지금 높은 레벨 수준의 학생이 없어요.

개인 수업은 어때요 ? 개인 수업으로 토픽이나 말하기 수업을 할 수 있어요.


감사합니다 ^^

Followed soon after by this one: 

아 그리고 한국어 테스트는 모두 맞았어요!

 말하기 테스트가 필요해요.

 혹시 이번주 토요일에 와서 말하기 테스트를 할 수 있어요?


To summarize: You’re good at Korean, and we don’t have a class for your level. Would you consider private lessons? You can take speaking or TOPIK as private lessons. You answered every question correctly on the level test. You need a speaking test. Could you come in on Saturday morning? Let us know.

The experience made me think a lot about book tests. The YMCA’s level test was based on the Sogang Intermediate book. I recognized the characters, situations, and questions. I’d “done” the book before and so I had no problem answering the questions. The problem was that I couldn’t answer the e-mail. I knew every page of Sogang’s Intermediate Korean book and could not string together a response in real life if it didn’t use structures from the book.

I’ve made my share of tests, taking sentence structures and vocabulary from the books my students have been using without any thought to how they’d use language in real life.

Now I wonder….

Is it fair to test students on material that goes beyond the scope of the book? 
…When the test results affect their grades?
…When the test results affect them emotionally?
…When they are learning English just to pass tests?

Is it fair not to? 
…When they may need to use real English in real communication in real life?
…When they need the confidence to answer an email or respond to a request?
…When they the book does not supply the randomness and unpredictability of a conversation?

What do you think?

Open for business

Welcome to Gyeongju English Village. We are now open for business.

I have been teaching the same tired camp, every summer and every winter, year after year after year. The next one begins Monday. I do not feel any joy at all. I feel bored. I don’t want to do another airport role play. I don’t want to make another set of restaurants with artificial ingredients making artificial food using artificial language. I don’t want to “motivate” another group of kids to love what I want them to love.

I’m stagnant. I’m stuck. And it has raised some questions for me:

What does it mean to teach “English”? What do I want to teach? and How can I instill some energy into this tired camp with its tired head teacher and tired role plays and tired target language?

I don’t really have answers to these questions, but I want to share some thoughts (and perhaps more questions).


What does it mean to teach “English”? is a question I had never thought of before. It seems like “teaching English” really means teaching a lot of other things. There are the ubiquitous four skills: reading, writing, speaking, listening. Even within those, what does it mean to teach one? I know what you’re asking: Didn’t Anne take a TESOL class? Did she learn anything in it? Maybe I failed to learn these things, but that isn’t the point.

I know how to teach writing skills and reading skills. I know how to teach pronunciation and grammar. I know how to teach about genres and audiences. I even know how to teach some cultural differences. But I don’t know what it means to teach “English” – especially “speaking”. And more importantly, I don’t know how to make my students learn any of these things. (In my experience, my students learn what they want to learn – through English, if I can swing it.)


What do I want to teach? I was having real trouble with this question until I realized it was the wrong one. The question assumes it is all about me, whereas of course it is not. I want to teach students, humans. I want to teach anyone who wants to learn. And I want to teach them what they want to learn. And if they can learn some English in the process, that’s awesome. And if what they learn is something totally unexpected, that’s awesome too. If life was perfect, if education was perfect, if people were perfect, I would have my wish.

But that is not what I have. I have a class full of kids who are grouped together based on how well they “speak English” and who are in class against their will. They have come to “improve their English ability”. They don’t know what they want to learn. They have never thought about it. They have never been asked before. But on Monday I will ask them: who are you? and what do you love?


How can I instill some energy into this tired camp with its tired head teacher and tired role plays and tired target language? I saved my most immediate problem for last and I still don’t have much of an answer. I need to set some goals. I need to challenge myself to read, teach, reflect and write.

This is the beginning. This is the end. Will they leave as they arrived?

This is the beginning. This is the end. Will they leave as they arrived?


How do you rejuvenate your classes when you get stuck in a rut, especially if there is a schedule you must follow and activities you must do? Although I have to say, I’m feeling awfully rebellious…

(Who wrote the schedule? you ask. Pardon me while I hang my head in shame. I took the lazy way. I did not fight against expectations. I am not proud of myself. I don’t know how much it can be changed now, though.)

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