Tag Archives: Korea

Thinking big, making small changes

My bedtime reading for the past couple of weeks has been Parallel Worlds by Michio Kaku. In between revealing to me that people have actually teleported stuff,  the book is a reasonably easy introduction to quantum mechanics. To my rather squishy brain, these steely-minded scientists attempt to figure out the very small (subatomic particles) and the very large (the universe(s)) and the connections between them. Not much room for the inbetweeners (us humans) in there you might think, but actually the role of consciousness is an important factor in quantum theory, and provides one resolution for Schrödinger’s cat.

To draw a heavy-handed parallel between stuff that I don’t really understand (quantum physics), and stuff that I like to think I understand (teaching), recently I’ve been able to change some of the small things that I do by consciously examining the much bigger picture. I mentioned in my moan a few weeks ago that I was studying curriculum design for my previous module and that it had helped me a lot to see approaches and methods in terms of the bigger picture of a course. I’ve realized now it’s also made me think on a wider scale about where a course might fit into a person’s language learning over a lifetime, and so what small changes a teacher/course designer (often the same person) can make at the micro level in order to best influence this.

For a lot of Korean learners English will be a lifelong pursuit, and not always one that that they desire to undertake, beginning in elementary school or even before and extending well into their career where proficiency test scores mean better career opportunities. At the moment at least, most of the high-stakes achievement testing (and therefore the teaching) is based on reading and vocabulary memorization, well past the tertiary education stage. All of this is not news to people working here. It does however mean that we can make some useful generalizations about our learners in the process of designing courses, like they will probably be incredibly sick of memorizing lists of vocabulary.

A question that I have asked myself as a less experienced teacher is “How can I teach this student English?” In asking this question I was making a few assumptions. Firstly that students learning path was linear and straight. Secondly, that my job was to teach English as a whole, with no thought to the interaction of the content with past learning or current learning in other situations. Thirdly, I naively assumed that I could teach students’ English this way when a lot of other teachers had already tried with not great results. Writing that third point was incredibly uncomfortable, as it really highlights the arrogance of that viewpoint. Hopefully I have learned a little since then, and I have adjusted my question so that it is now more like “How can I best make a contribution to the learners’ overall English development?”

It was not just an inexperienced I that made these assumptions though. The same assumptions seem to underpin most coursebooks, most of which are attempting to be the sole source of language learning for learners, and whose courses assume a fairly linear progression in every area of language learning, from vocabulary to speaking. This seems a necessary assumption in order to try to meet the needs of a world of paying customers, but also one based on an outmoded paradigm where the book and the teacher actually were the only access to the language. In the internet age this is no longer really valid, as the language learning world is much smaller in terms of accessing the language, and much larger in terms of the amount that there is to access. I also feel like this assumption rather devalues the role of school education, especially of the kind found in Asian cultures. It is this kind of assumption that leads to Long’s (2005:3) claim that “general English courses almost always try to teach too much”.

In Language Curriculum Design, Nation and Macalister (2009) provide a useful suggestion for making sure that a course is providing a good balance of activities. They call this the “four stands” of curriculum design, and suggest that learners should have an equal balance of meaning-focused input, meaning-focused output,  language-based instruction and fluency development. I think this is a nice way to impose some checks and balances if you’re designing a complete language course from beginner to advanced, but not of much use to me in deciding what to teach in about 40 hours of contact time.

Where it is useful, however, is applied to the learning lives of students as a whole, and when I examine them I find that there has been a surfeit of language-based instruction and a fair bit of meaning-focused input (mostly as a vehicle for more language instruction). It’s no surprise that most of the level one students that pitch up in my classes struggle to put a spoken sentence together but readily identify almost any word that I write on the board. In Widdowsonian/Hymesian terms, there’s a lot of knowledge about use and not a whole lot of ability for use.

While these insights are not exactly revelatory for anyone with experience of Korea, studying curriculum design has allowed me to develop them into a much clearer framework in my own mind, and has given me the confidence to make some small (and not so small) changes to what I do. This semester I’m attempting not to teach too much in the way of new language, giving one day out of three entirely over to meaning and fluency based work (with almost no teacher interference), and where I am focusing on language it will mostly be in the form of trying to automaticize some chunks, do some rudimentary pronunciation work, and do a lot more text-level work like dictogloss and reconstructing texts. I’m hoping that the students will learn a bit more implicitly and not so much explicitly, and I’m working on some tricks to try to encourage this.

I’m calling these small changes as they are things that I have been trying to do before, but the key factor this semester is that I feel a bit like I am working with my institution rather than against it. Having been uncharacteristically vocal at a few of our planning meetings this year, and finding that my similarly quiet colleagues felt mostly the same way, we successfully lobbied for a change to the exams. We now have a 50% speaking examination, and the written section is a free choice of questions. No longer will I have to write disastrous grammar questions that all the students get wrong, nor include reading passages well below their level that they all get right.

All in all then, I’m feeling pretty cosmic about this semester. I’m a lot more secure in what I’m doing, and where I fit with my students and my institution. This has made me feel a lot more confident in the classroom too. While I recognize that institutions need a degree of control, giving teachers their head is important. Those small changes that they make might just lead to big differences.

Cheers,

Alex

References

Long, M. H. (2005) Second Language Needs Analysis. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Nation, I. S. P. & Macalister, J. (2009) Language Curriculum Design. New York: Routledge.

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Student Micro-reflections & What I Learned From Them

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.

Micro-reflections

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:

Pre-course

  • 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)

Week 6

  • Write a question that everyone in the class should be able to answer after this week’s classes.

Week 9

  • Complete this sentence: Compared to other weeks, this week’s English classes were…

Week 10

  • 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.

Student Reflections Fall 2012

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.

Cheers,

Alex

My Podcast Debut!

A couple of weeks ago I sat down in front of my computer to be interviewed by Brad West (@bradonomics) for the englishinasia.com podcast. We talked about the path that led me from Guatemala to Korea, what it’s like working in a tiny mountain town, and how to make the jump to teaching university. We also touched on what it’s like to study a distance MA in TESOL, and how to be a social media entrepreneur that doesn’t make any money!

If this sounds like your kind of thing, I strongly advise you to head to the link below and have a listen:

http://englishinasia.com/teaching-english-in-korea-with-alex-grevett/ 

Cheers,

Alex

Guest post: A crash course in Korean Culture (please) by Sophia Khan

Today I think this little corner of the internet has pulled off something of a coup, a guest post by the blogless ELT person who I would most like to hear from™. That person is of course, the wonderful Sophia Khan (@sophiakhan4), who has been very generous with her comments here and on many other people’s blogs, and an always entertaining and enlightening presence on my Twitter feed. For those of to who are not familiar with Sophia, she describes herself as:

Half-Bengali Brit in Australia via France with 2 wonderful half-Canadian kids. Teacher, trainer, editor, mother, nerd, interested in stuff.

To that I would add ELT thinker, regional PLN guru, international webinar presenter and all round font of knowledge and discussion. In summary, you are strongly advised to read what she has to say here, which is…

Hi all, this is @sophiakhan4 doing a guest post for @breathyvowel…Alex kindly invited me to do a guest post on his blog a while back, and after a short but heartfelt exchange of tweets recently on “Korean conundrums” (with my fellow #AusELTer @trylingual too), he suggested that this might be a good topic.  So here we are. Thanks for inviting me, Alex 🙂

Well, I don’t know who said this but I’m sure somebody did: we don’t teach courses – we teach students. So why do I feel like I’ve been a million in-house PD sessions that focus on teachers teaching courses, without ever attending a session simply on who my students are? Of course, from an individual perspective this wouldn’t make sense – every class would be different – but from a cultural perspective, there’s definitely something to be learned. What do students of a particular culture expect? What do they respond to? What don’t they like? What’s ok to say and what isn’t? In short – how can we best reach them?

I’m based in Australia, and over here South Korean students have always been one of the dominant groups*  in my classes – sometimes even the only group. As a result, I’ve often wished fervently for a bit more understanding of Korean culture. It often seems to me that (in a multilingual context) the students’ own culture is swept under the carpet with a blasé “Well they’re here now”. But surely a better understanding of where our students are coming from leads to better teaching and learning.

So if a new teacher were to ask me for some pointers on Korean students, this is what I would say (I know it’s very generalised, and I don’t mean to stereotype, just to try and touch on some things that I wish I hadn’t had to learn the hard way – please let me know if I’m off track!):

1. Korean students have often been rigorously educated and may find it hard to accept a more “relaxed”, communicative teaching style. They are also used to a more teacher-centred, authoritarian style in class. This means it can be hard to get a true grasp of how they’re feeling about your course. They may sound very positive when they talk to you, and they may seem to be enjoying classes – but in their exit evaluations you suddenly discover that they wanted a “more strict” or “serious” teacher and “didn’t learn anything”. Some suggestions:

  • Make sure they are clear on the pedagogical value of what you are doing (e.g. by habitually outlining your aims and writing them on the board)
  • Take the time to explain why you are doing things in a certain way – for example, why you are using a task-based approach to grammar rather than a deductive, presentation-based one (this came up in a recent KELTchat on TBL).

2. If students do a placement test to determine their level and class, you can probably expect a few Korean students to complain that they need to be in a higher level than they are. Sometimes this is a genuine concern on their part (e.g., if there’s one thing many Korean students feel they “know”, it’s grammar, and 9 times out of 10 you’ll be teaching from a grammar-based coursebook). Sometimes their actual level seems irrelevant; all they want is a higher level on their certificate (this type of student may think persistence will win the day. One manager I knew had a Korean student in her office ALL AFTERNOON trying to negotiate a change of level. She left her office in the end; he stayed). Some suggestions: 

  • Acknowledge the student’s strengths but point out the reasons why they are not ready for the next level yet. Remember the idea that language classes aren’t just about grammar may be new, so explain in terms of the 4 macro skills and show the CEFR or similar descriptors if you need to (this also lends face validity to what you’re saying).
  • Ask what the learner would like to do in and out of class to help work on those areas.
  • Close the discussion firmly. Say something like “Great, we can definitely do some work on XYZ, I’m really looking forward to working on this with you. Let’s see how we go this week and talk again on Friday.” Then hope they don’t rematerialise on Friday, but if they do, rinse and repeat 🙂 

3. Korean students sometimes complain about lack of correction – some even say they want their teacher to correct everything. Some suggestions:

  • Make your correction policy clear – explain what you will correct and why (e.g., in freer speaking activities you won’t correct anything on the spot but you will take note of errors for correction later – this was touched on in a recent #AusELT chat on speaking).
  • Make sure there is a regular correction focus in your class, and explore varied ways of doing this. 

4. In your multilingual class, you might feel that your Korean students are being quite insular – living together, sticking together at school, using L1 in class, eating only Korean food and generally not taking advantage of the rich multicultural environment around them. My only suggestion:

  • Let it go. You can encourage use of English in class, encourage getting to know the local culture as way to better learn English, try to demonstrate this, but otherwise…let adults make their own choices. They’ll get there in their own time and their own way. (When I go and live in Korea, I’m sure I’ll be doing a fair amount of hanging out with other anglophones, eating sandwiches and speaking in my L1 too.) 

5. Young adult Korean students may not have experienced of the type of academic skills valued in a Western context (e.g., critical thinking, articulating and arguing your viewpoint, evaluating, etc.). Plagiarism can be an issue. Some suggestions: 

  • Sit down and talk to the student concerned – even the whole class – and make sure the issue is understood.
  • Provide strategies for proper citation and avoiding plagiarism.
  • Give them a bit of leeway at first, e.g. a ‘do-over’ rather than a formal ‘resubmit’.
  • Remember this is a process, and your job is to give practical help, not be angry.

And that’s about it. But before I go just a few general things I’ve learned:

  • I had no idea just how ‘rigorous’ Korean education could be until I read this post by @alexswalsh. I’ve since learned that South Korea has one of the highest suicide rates in the world**.
  • Be a little wary when you have Korean and Japanese students together. There’s a complicated history there. I’m ashamed to say I don’t know much about it (if anyone has a link to a non-Wikipedia potted history I’d appreciate it) but there have been tears in my class (again) on this count.
  • Maybe it’s something to do with that beautiful alien-heiroglyphic script of theirs, but I’ve found most Korean students can draw really well and make beautiful charts and posters. Exploit this!
  • Make sure you have been to a “Korean BBQ” and that you know at least what kimchi and bulgogi is. Plus you will like it and (in a multilingual context) it’s a great option for an end of course meal.
  • Don’t ever do a foreign language lesson that involves drilling the word ‘cheval’ (French for ‘horse’). I kept saying it, wondering why everyone was giggling and looking shocked instead of repeating. I suspect it is male-appendage-related in Korean. Please enlighten me 🙂

And that really is it. I’d be interested in knowing what you guys think. Have I missed something important? What do you think teachers need to know about their Korean students? How can we understand our Korean students better?

Australian Education International

** http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Suicide_in_South_Korea

A (Brief) Tale of Two Answers

Vaguely School/Exam related (awesome) song

It’s exam week here, and I’ve had a couple of days off. Sadly, I’ve had to fill them completely with MA studies, as I had got a bit behind owing to making exams and, far more excitingly, presenting at the KOTESOL International Conference with the #KELTChat team. I wish I had more time to write about this, but I’m not sure that I do.

Anyway, I’ve already finished my grading my exams, but in doing so came across a couple of slightly problematic and troubling answers. I thought I’d share them with the class, and I’d be interested to hear what anybody else thinks about this, particularly if you’d have acted differently.

Both the answers were to the same question, a writing question on my level 1 exam which asked students to describe themselves, using certain words as prompts. Two of these words were ‘skin’ and ‘body’.

The first problematic answer came to the ‘skin’ prompt, in which one answer was “I have yellow skin”. This raises certain difficulties for the marker. Clearly if I uttered this, it could (would?) be taken as a fairly racist epithet, but what of a Asian student with limited linguistic resources? Is this an appropriate self-description? Is it influenced by Western racist language? Could it cause offence to other people if used in public by the student (about himself or others)?

In the end I marked it as wrong, as we had discussed skin colour in class, and how it may well be a sensitive issue for both Koreans (generally pale skin is seen as the ideal here) and other races. I had suggested using darker or lighter as slightly softer terms for describing people’s skin. Given that the exam was designed to test what we had talked about in class, I felt I was justified in marking this as wrong, but what would you have done?

My other troubling answer followed the ‘body’ prompt. The only girl in the class described herself as ‘heavyset’. This is a girl who, while fairly short, cannot possibly weigh more than 50kg. She’s certainly not anywhere near fat, or even remotely unhealthy looking. Again, the beauty ideal here tends towards the very slim, and she obviously considers herself bigger than that. I would strongly question her use of ‘heavyset’ though. However, given that this issue didn’t arise in class, I didn’t feel right taxing her a mark for it. If I get a chance to talk to her about the exam though, I would really like to mention it to her quietly. Again, would you have done the same?

Thanks for reading and I’d love to hear your thoughts on this.

Cheers,

Alex

Microagressions and Difference

Chopsticks

“You use chopsticks so well!” by Joe Schlabotnik on Flickr

There was much debate in Korea this week about Debito Arudou’s article in the Japan Times last Tuesday.  The headline alone, “Yes, I can use chopsticks” will resonate with almost everyone who has spent some time in Korea. The article is an application of Dr. Derald Wing Sue Ph.D’s research into what are called “Racial Microagressions” to the context of “non-Japanese” (to use the article’s term) living in Japan. I found both articles a fascinating read, but felt a slight unease at the Japan Times piece. This piece is an attempt to figure out exactly why, so please excuse the slightly rambling style.

The author’s experience with Japanese/non-Japanese conversations can be translated almost word for word to the Korean context.  Even before I could speak Korean well enough to really converse with people, I could trot out the “England”, “Thank You”, “Two years”, “I like it”, “I like it too”, “No, I don’t find it spicy”, “I’m an English teacher”, “No, I’m not married” routine with my eyes closed. As a beginner language learner, this makes you feel awesome for the first two minutes of any conversation, before the inevitable descent into umm-ing, ahh-ing and head scratching begins. This conversation is still repeated in more taxi journeys than not more than two years after I came here.

Is this a racial microaggression though? Dr Sue’s research breaks microaggressions down as follows:

• Microassaults: Conscious and intentional discriminatory actions: using racial epithets, displaying White supremacist symbols – swastikas, or preventing one’s son or daughter from dating outside of their race.

• Microinsults: Verbal, nonverbal, and environmental communications that subtly convey rudeness and insensitivity that demean a person’s racial heritage or identity. An example is an employee who asks a co-worker of color how he/she got his/her job, implying he/she may have landed it through an affirmative action or quota system.

• Microinvalidations: Communications that subtly exclude negate or nullify the thoughts, feelings or experiential reality of a person of color. For instance, White people often ask Latinos where they were born, conveying the message that they are perpetual foreigners in their own land.

I’m not sure that a fairly inoffensive conversation in a taxi really fits into any of these categories. I think that at a push some of the interaction could be seen as microinvalidation (“How long have you been in Korea?”), suggesting that I was not born here. However, the “Westerners in Korea” discourse is still one of recent immigration and temporary stays, and so this seems a more reasonable question when put to me than when put to a Latino in America (however, I am not quite sure about the differences in foreigner discourse between Korea and Japan). Furthermore, I’m not even sure that commenting on my chopstick use is suggesting that “manual dexterity is linked to phenotype”; I prefer (arrogantly) to see it as simply expressing admiration for a skill that I have most likely learnt since my immigration.

It is the claim that this kind of interaction is a microagression that bothers me. It’s clear that microagressions do exist, and are damaging, but how far should we go in claiming that conversations that transpire from a difference in race are microaggressions? Where does recognizing difference end and microagression begin? Debito Arudou suggests that the kind of interactions are microagressions, in which people are being put “in their place”, namely that of Japanese/Korean host (dominant) and non-Japanese/Korean guest (submissive). My problem with this is the labelling of guest and host dominant and submissive, which I don’t believe follow naturally from one or another (and countless episodes of Come Dine With Me seem to support me on this).  Is it not possible to see the roles (in my case) as simply Korean and non-Korean, and therefore different, but equal?

I believe that recognizing difference is natural. Look at the terms that populate this article and the two referenced: Korean, Westerner, non-Japanese, Latino, Asian-American.  Everyone, myself included, is putting themselves, and others, into a place based on race. The flight attendant in Dr. Sue’s article who claims she does not see color is a liar. We all see color, just as we all see age, sex, nationality, sexual orientation and a million other things that make each person unique, and because of those things, we treat people differently. Having probably just outed myself as racist, sexist and generally bigoted, I feel I ought to clarify a little: I don’t speak to Korean people in the same way that I speak to Westerners. I don’t speak to my university students in the same way I speak to elementary age students. I don’t speak to my female friends in the same way I speak to my male friends. And neither, in all probability, do you. We recognize a difference and we behave accordingly.

This is because when we use language we are not just saying something, but doing something. We are “who’s doing what’s” (Gee 2011:44). Therefore, as well as being put in our place, we are putting ourselves in our place whenever we say anything. For example, when talking to my students, I am a “professor ” (in title at least) doing “teaching”. Similarly, when talking to my Korean friends, I am  a “non-Korean” doing “talking to Koreans”. Even when the subject is not our differences, there are still many factors that change because of my non-Korean-ness.  This is an unavoidable factor in the conversation, and affects utterances on both sides, and so I change my rate of speech; I change the vocabulary that I use; I change my cultural references. Our race, and our situation are performed in what we say and do whether we like it or not, and so to expect them not to have an influence on conversation is, I believe, unrealistic. Moreover, our race is part of our identity. Being a non-Korean in Korea is part of who I am – no matter how long I stay here, and that won’t change, nor do I particularly want it to.

To move this towards a conclusion, I personally don’t mind being treated differently (nor treating others differently) on account of my non-Koreanness. What I do mind is being treated unfairly, unequally, demeaningly, or being discriminated against because of it, and this does happen in Korean society both through racial microagressions (such as speaking 반말, or informal language to me) and overt racism (such as anti-foreigner articles on the internet and in the press). However, I don’t think we can extend the definition of microagression into the sphere of phatic conversations with curious people, especially when the intention is the exact opposite of racism and social control, an attempt to reach out and cross cultural and racial boundaries.

Furthermore, criticizing this kind of phatic communication for being boring or repetitive seems a little strange, because boring and repetitive is exactly what phatic communication should be. It’s the little practised routines that allow us to break down barriers between each other, and move on to more personal and interesting topics. It’s at least in the same realm as criticizing saying “How are you?” in English for being dull.

I think the above is why I feel uneasy about the article’s stance. Debito Arudou implies that any kind of discourse that is prompted by a difference in race attempt at establishing dominance or social control. I don’t believe this is the case. We have to recognize our differences, and deal with their implications. Otherwise, the world either becomes a boring, homogenous sludge, or one in which real predjudices go untackled. Personally, I look forward to my next boring conversation with a taxi driver, as it may just be a small step to bring us closer together, rather than an attempt to drive us apart.

Cheers,

Alex

Reference

Gee, J.P. (2011)  An Introduction to Discourse Analysis (3rd Ed.). Oxford: Routledge.

The Tech Diaries #1: Ask and you shall receive

Any excuse to post this

“Techno techno techno techno,” said 2unlimited back in 1993. I’m not sure that they intended it as a comment on ELT in 2011, but it’s pretty accurate. Every other blog post (whether pro or anti) is about technology, as well as an ever-increasing number of conference presentations. All of this can leave the techless teacher feeling rather left out. Throughout my time in Korea I’ve been fairly low-tech, I go to different classrooms around the school armed with a laptop (which is usually a different one every week as I’m not allowed to use my own) and pray that the beam-projector and the speakers work. One computer to 25 kids is not really a favourable ratio for tech work in the classroom, and few students (though the number is increasing) have a smart phone.  Thus I have been rather restricted in what I can do – my lessons usually feature video, music and powerpoints, but don’t go much further than that. However, all that is about to change.

Over the summer holidays I volunteered to help teach a debate and essay writing class at the school. When my co-teacher revealed that we’d be teaching in the newly constructed dormitory, I was a little confused, having been under the impression that it was just for sleeping. Suddenly, I found myself in a beautiful, shiny new classroom complete with ten computers and an interactive whiteboard. “Who uses this?” I asked. “The students use the computers in the evening, but no-one uses it during the day,” she replied. Sadly, this seems to be a theme in Korea – it seems to be enough to have the stuff, even if it’s not being used. I saw my opportunity and one polite request to the principal later, I had my classroom.

It’s still not ideal, but now I have a room where students can use computers (even though in some cases it’s three to a computer) and so we can integrate a lot more technology into our learning. I’m planning on working on three main principles:

1. Introduce technology in the classroom that will allow and encourage students to communicate and learn with me outside it.

2. To bring the “real” world into the classroom and allow the students to interact with it.

3. To use technology to save, share, evaluate and display student created content.

I’m hoping that this will help to motivate my students by showing them that there is a real reason to study English (out here in the mountains of Korea the English speaking world can seem very far away). I’m going to use this mini-series to recount what happens as I go about making my classroom a more technological place. I’ll try to detail what I did, how it worked, the successes and problems I encountered, and hopefully what the students thought.

I hope you’ll stay with us.

Alex