I don’t think that it’s unfair to say that South Korean education is, in general, not the most reflective learning environment. For a variety of reasons like educational culture and teacher-centred classes, time pressure to cover an unfeasible amount of content, or simply that Minsu is trying to better his high score on Anipang under the desk, students here may be focused (or otherwise) more on the whats of learning, rather than the whys and wherefores.
In my little corner of Korean education, I’m doing my best to counteract this. I’m working on communicating goals for each lesson, and each activity so the students have an idea of why they are doing what they are. More important than that however, is trying to get the students to wake up to what they themselves are learning, and how it might be able to help them improve their English. In academic terms, I’m trying to get them to destabilize their interlanguages, in order to rebuild them incorporating new knowledge and skills.
One way that I have tried to do this is through getting students to submit very short reflections on their learning, the class atmosphere, a new teaching style or their personal goals. My method was very simple. Take a piece of coloured card and some stacks of different coloured post-its, and have students write a very short reflection to a question/topic that I gave them. This has two advantages. The first is that it adds a lot of colour to a dull classroom wall (see picture below); the second is that it only takes five minutes, leaving plenty of time to root around in the textbook for something, nay anything useful to teach.
Over the course of this semester I tried to do one of these each week, though inevitably they ended up getting pushed aside towards the end of course to cover enough stuff to shoehorn into a written four skills exam for a “conversation” course. I will try to maintain a bit better next semester. The questions/topics that I used were:
- How should we behave in class?
- How can we help ourselves to learn English?
- How can Alex help us to learn English?
- What are our goals for this semester?
Weeks 3 & 4
- What were the important things that we learned? (Categorized into grammar, vocab etc.)
- What was the most important thing that you learned? (Uncategorized)
- Write a question that everyone in the class should be able to answer after this week’s classes.
- Complete this sentence: Compared to other weeks, this week’s English classes were…
- What is your personal goal for this week?
I don’t think I’m stretching student privacy too far if I share the results with you, so if you’re interested take a look at the results in the word document below. The white boxes are my level 1 false beginners’ responses, and the slightly shaded boxes are from my two level 3 classes who would be around intermediate level.
What did I learn from this?
The first thing that strikes me is that reading these this morning (10 days after classes finished) was like reading them for the first time. This tells me that I was perhaps not paying enough attention the first time around. I was certainly guilty of sticking these on the wall and forgetting about them sometimes. Also, while I wanted them on the wall to remind students, I wonder whether this actually had the opposite effect. It was impossible to read the post-its unless you were very close, and so they were possibly reduced to very pretty coloured decorations.
Another point was perhaps that I didn’t really engage with these reflections enough. For example, many of the suggestions in the pre-course reflections were things that I put on my participation/behaviour rubric for the year, but before I asked the students. Perhaps next semester I could use this kind of thing to build the participation rubric, which might include student ideas a little more.
Despite all this, the students actually responded to this quite positively, and I think they enjoyed the opportunity to review (not often given in class in Korea) what they had done. In terms of reviewing their learning, they tended to focus on the details of what we had talked about in the lesson, such as the difference between words and the accuracy of phrases. These are things that I tried to focus on in class, so there may be an element of telling me what I want to hear here, especially as performance on the exam wasn’t especially good. Again, encouraging some deeper reflection here (demonstrating knowledge rather than declaring it?) might lead to deeper learning.
Finally, one interesting and unexpected result of asking for feedback through this kind of approach is that it can alert you to things that you were completely unaware of as a teacher. Having taught for a week using some of the things I had studied about the Lexical Approach, I asked the students if they had noticed a difference in the week’s classes. I felt like classes had gone OK that week, but almost all the students said they were bored or unfocused. Did this mean that my Lexical class had bored them to tears? Actually no, it was just that the school festival was going on outside, and they would all have rather been there. It served as a healthy reminder that as teachers we can’t control everything outside (or even inside) the classroom. I’ll leave the final word to one of my student reflectors:
“It’s not professors fault!“
If you have any ideas for making this exercise more effective, I’d love it if you would leave me a comment below.