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The following perception of success, which I consider flawed, is not something that is unique to Korea. But since I’m a teacher here in Korea and not in the United States, I’m noticing it more here than when I was back home. Also, working at a private school, it becomes pretty obvious where some parents’ and students’ priorities are when it come to academic success. Again, this isn’t every Korean student or parent, but I’ve noticed a lot of them do have this attitude.
The best way that I’ve been able to condense their approach to success is that success for these Koreas is quantitative, not qualitative. On the TOEFL exam that they must pass to show their English proficiency, parents care about their reading and listening scores because, since they are scored based on multiple choice answers with only 1 “correct” answer, they are quantitative. For the writing and speaking sections, even though there is a strict formula that students should follow (which has become even more formulaic recently, perhaps because of this issue I’m about to mention) there is still a lot of room for variations in student answers so results are much more difficult to compare against other students. These results are qualitative, and therefore either less worthy or even worthless.
I’m not saying quantitative success is not important. It has its place. ITS PLACE, next to qualitative results rather than over top of and overshadowing qualitative results. Too much stake is put into the value of test scores, and then if you have a bad day or just aren’t a good test taker, oh well! That’s starting to change in the United States. I hope it starts to change in Korea too.
Here are some of my observations of this pro-quantitative phenomenon in CDI Yeongtong.
Exhibit A: Emphasis in classrooms for more levels are on tests scores, which are reading and listening questions, not their writing or speaking work which is mostly homework (however, Yeongtong branch recently added a writing and speaking section to our lessons, so we’ve got that at least).
Exhibit B: I had to add a test to my winter newspaper intensive class so that parents could see that their students were actually learning (or some justification like that). Because going from writing only one copied paragraph to being able to write several paragraphs in mostly your own words does not demonstrate learning. (And yes bitterness. Those tests were a pain to make for 36 separate lessons). Also, I’m extremely proud of the progress by students made and I don’t like the idea that it’s belittled.
Exhibit C: Most of the time for iBT class (where students learn how to take the TOEFL exam) goes toward reviewing reading and writing answer, not improving their speaking and writing ability. Which means you get an awful lot of iBT students who can’t speak or write well enough to save their life or pass that section of the test.
Exhibit D: My student Helena (who is by no means alone in her thinking. I just had the most enlightening conversation with her.)
Helena was my student last term in Birdie Listening. She lived in the US for some time and actually started CDI at Dongtan. However, she moved to Yeongtong because she heard the teachers were better (Sorry Dongtan). During level up test time, she talked to me a lot about how she better level up to Eagle this term. I asked her questions to try and get at the bottom of this desire because it wasn’t like she was saying that she wanted her English to get better and finally being in Eagle (which is the first of the upper level classes) would show this. She just wanted to level up.
As it turns out, when she first came back to Korea from the US, she tested into Eagle but for some reason they put her in Par, which is just below Birdie. Odd. Not sure why they did that. My guess is she didn’t have the test taking skills she needed and they wanted her to learn them in Par and level up, rather than get stuck in Eagle, where the focus is less on test taking skills. And she said that in the three (ish) terms since then, her scores on the level up have actually gotten worse. Then she told me that if she doesn’t level up this term she’s moving to Dongtan because it’s easier to level up there since the other students aren’t as skilled. (As in she’ll level up quickly because her scores will seem good compared to the other students in her classes.) Then she told me, she’ll stay in Dongtan until she gets to Masters level, which is when she’ll come back to Yeongtong so she can have a good teacher.
As the Masters Reading teacher (and soon to be Master Listening teacher for the last two or three weeks of this term), I kind of laughed and pretty bluntly asked her, “Helena, if you level up with easy students in Dongtan, what will happen when you come back to Yeongtong and are in a class with students who’s skills were better than yours were to begin with?” As in, if she doesn’t challenge herself by being in classes with students who are better than her, how will she improve? She had no answer for this and deflected it by saying that her mom wants her to level up and thinks she needs higher test scores, which is the argument she had been using to defend her level up arguments from the beginning.
Helena’s in Dongtan now, which is a shame. And she did level up last term (Of course she did. She was my student.) Most students associate leveling up with better English skills, which makes sense but isn’t true. I’ve had Birdie and Eagle students who were better and more capable than my Albatross/Albatross+ students, who are also more capable than some of the Master students I’ve taught. In the end, I think it’s very heavily dependent on the classroom culture and the attitude and drive of the individual student.
But those are qualitative factors.
In November, in addition to doing many, many other things (hence minimal posts) I hosted my dad on his first visit to South Korea and then in January I had a visit from my friend, who’s teaching English for JET in Japan (and hence has way more vacation time than me and can go visiting her friends teaching in other countries). In hindsight, these were actually pretty bad times. When my dad came, it was the end of a term, and therefore I, as an HI, had many meetings and other odds and ends to do before the new term in addition to making those NIE classes I posted about. And then when my friend visited it was the first week of Intensive classes.
So now, especially because CDI Yeongtong has three new teachers who will be seeing Suwon and work through fresh eyes, I would like to reflect on how its interesting to see things through other people’s eyes. With my Dad, I went to a lot of places that I had already been too, including Hwaseong Fortress. We also went to Gyeongbuk Palace in Seoul. Most people say that after they’ve been to the Palaces, Hwaseong Fortress isn’t really worth seeing but my dad said he like the fortress better, that it was architecturally more impressive (… or something like that. He said this several months ago.) Personally, I like the Fortress. You can’t do archery at any of the Palaces (to my knowledge).
My dad was also struck by the complete disregard for stoplights that some driver’s here in Korea exhibit. That once bothered me too, but I’ve been here too long to still be concerned with it. Now I just make sure to get out of the way of those motorcycle delivery guys ‘cuz they don’t stop for nothing.
Of course, seeing the world through others’ eyes doesn’t mean I have to limit myself to just newbies to Korea. Recently I’ve been showing my students videos of sitcoms that are relevant to the lessons we’re learning (they really are, I promise!). For my intensive class, I showed them the clips from the Colbert Report where he sings in Korean (previously posted). This time around they found it HILARIOUS (although it was kind of funny since they understood it based on reading the subtitles, not by listening to Colbert’s Korean) and asked me to play it every class. Which I did because they were enjoying it so much that I couldn’t help but not get sick of it.
In my Master’s reading class last term, we read several books that I read in school, including The Giver. One of my students loved it so much, he bought the sequels and read Lois Lowry’s book, Number the the Stars (and blogs about both books, although I am not supposed to know that but that’s what happens when you log onto your blog from Teacher’s computer). He was really passionate about the injustices in both books. It’s always nice to have a student that really gets into the stories we read. It helps you teach better, but also helps you appreciate them even more. Inspiring kids to write blogs and read more books is what teachers and children’s book authors are all about.
So in January, I was teaching NIE3, the newspaper writing class, for the second time. But of course, it would have made too much sense for the files from the first time I taught it to have been saved… and the vast majority of them weren’t. Out of three levels, what I still had from the level 3 class I designed and a few of the files the level 1 teacher kept were all we had going into the Winter Intensives… Not good. It basically meant I spent December designing not one but three classes. And that is why my blog has been dead for a while.
However that did allow me to go back and make them fit together nicely. Before, the three teachers kind of did their own thing but this time around, the classes followed a much more similar structure. The material was at different levels of difficulty though.
And I will not allow these files to be lost again. That’s two months of hard work (although if you count the other teachers and my triple-time work – that’s six months of hard work). I’m not planning on being here to teach the class a third time but I’m definitely planning on updating these files for a new term and making some kind of quick handbook so it can continue to be taught. I don’t want this class to die. Not just because I’ve worked hard on it but also because the students really have fun reading articles and writing their own and it’s clearly helpful for them to get that extra practical practice instead of reading canned articles that are written with a certain skill set in mind (not that canned articles don’t have their place…).
Teaching this class a second time has made me realize one thing though – the internet is wonderful! There are a lot of resources on the web for designing projects like this. The first time around us teachers were having a hard time finding level appropriate articles and about halfway through December I found a whole bunch of websites that not only have articles for kids (and sometimes written by kids) but also there are actually resources out there to teach kids how to read and write newspaper articles.
Serious, this kind of class is so much cooler for kids than a standard English/language arts class. I really think more schools should adopt programs where kids can actually apply the skills they are learning in a way that mimics the more ‘adult world’. Science Fairs are basically awesome. Why not have a fair for other subjects too, not just the ones that are inherently awesome like Science. Try-Math-A-Lons are okay too.
I guess what I’m trying to say is let’s have a culture of innovation and exploration, rolling up your sleeves and getting your hands dirty, learning by doing. Take chances, make mistakes, get messy! The United States kind of has that. Korea… not so much. But that is for another post.
As a final thought for this post, after teaching the class, I worked my butt off again to get the newspaper ready. Last time around, a “marketing guy” (as he was called) designed the newspaper and it… was okay. But there were lots of stupid errors that shouldn’t have been there. And the newspaper was honestly nothing amazing in the design department considering it was made by a “market guy”. This time around, I was determined to make it awesome. Or as close to awesome as I could. Unfortunately, the original template was not saved so again I had to make it from scratch. After being told the dimensions of the newspaper AFTER I designed it (and having to go back and expand everything), I was also told I could only have one sheet of paper instead of the three that I needed (the last newspaper was only one sheet). Which was ridiculous because I had more students than last time and they wrote much longer articles. I was able to negotiate up to two sheets… although even that was still too little. But I had to work with what I got.
And when it’s finally printed, I’ll post it.
* Editing Note After The Fact: YAY! MY 100th POST!*
It’s time to play catch-up with my blog posts and I find myself in a good opportunity to do that… because I’ve been locked out of my apartment.
This term, four teachers are leaving. Unfortunately for them, they were told they needed to be out of their apartments by 1pm on Saturday when in reality they needed to be out on Friday so their apartments could be speed cleaned and the new teachers who were coming in could move into their places. Which meant lots of last minute scrambling. Kevin is one of the teachers leaving and he asked me to keep his dog, Maika, yesterday and over night so she didn’t get freaked out by the cleaners.
Today, I had to go into work at 11am to train the new teachers and since Kevin was in the middle of moving his stuff, I let him borrow my key so he could pick Maika up when he finished. Which is how I got locked out of my apartment. Because he came to pick up the last of his things at work… and did not leave my key behind. Sadly, my only remaining spare key has somehow gotten warped and no longer works.
But now I’m 100% ready for the next term, which is going to be interesting. On the one hand, I’m teaching 27 hours but only three different class. Also, I’ve already taught 2 of them, so only one class to prep (as opposed to this term, which some weeks I had to prep up to 6 lessons per week). On the other hand, with Kevin and Ruth – who were the Listening and Memory Head Instructors respectively – gone, that has left only two HIs to head instruct the programs. Next term, I’ll be the one watching the CCTVs for both reading and listening classes. Yay?
On the bright side, waaaaaaay fewer meetings this term. Honestly, that was more time consuming that the CCTV watching anyway so I don’t mind taking on the duties of another program.
Anyway, here’s my schedule for this term:
CDI has a lot of new changes this term (which is another thing that will make this term interesting) and one of them is that Bridge classes are merged. Basically that means instead of one teacher teaching the reading class and one teacher teaching the listening class, the students will have the same teacher in their reading and listening class. Which, honestly, I think is a great idea for Bridge students. It’s a hard level for them so having that consistency is helpful. Also, this term I teach all the Albatross+ students for reading and listening so those classes should have a certain amount of consistency too.
It’s that time of year again, when teachers recycle their old papers, clean off their desks and stock up on new white board markets. Monday is the start of Winter Term, which means I’m close approaching my first full year in another country. I came to Korea during week 4 of the 2009 Winter Term. The past two terms have gone by incredibly fast, especially this fall.
This term, my schedule is as follows:
Overall, I have a pretty good schedule. I’m kicking my self a little because I taught Par Reading for this track (there are two tracks, A and B. Winter Term is B track) last winter but I’ve misplaced my books. Which means I’ll have to prep my lessons all over again.
But I’m excited to be teaching Master Reading again. After teaching it one term, then working as the Reading HI (and supervising that class) last term, I’m pretty confident that I’ll teach this class awesomely. The books aren’t as exciting as last time I taught, but they are still interesting. And I’ve read them before which will give me the advantage.
We’ll be reading:
- The Most Dangerous Game (short story)
- The Lottery (short story)
- Lord of the Flies
- Of Mice and Men
- The Giver
- Balzac and the Little Seamstress
The theme for this term is the Individual and Society. This will be fun.
A lot of people here (myself included) were surprised by how much Korea seems to celebrate Halloween. Now, I’ll have to wait until Sunday to see if they ACTUALLY celebrate Halloween… although I don’t know how I’ll know since I live in a teacher/college student neighborhood and not a family neighborhood and thus probably won’t get trick-or-treaters. I know the bars around here (for which Suwon is known) are celebrating Halloween.
CDI Yeongtong decided to use the CTP time to have the elementary students make Halloween bags and we gave the students candy. We did not plan on doing it with the middle schoolers, since most of them were likely to not get behind it. But I asked my middle school class if they wanted to make bags today, because I had left-over bags from 4pm. And as it turned out, they were very enthusiastic about wanting to make them. But these middle schoolers (two of them are actually elementary schoolers) are not your average middle school group. They were the ones I did MadLibs with last week.
So we made bags. And with the remaining time, I had them write Halloween poems/song and we made more MadLibs. Here’s a sampling of what they wrote:
August 31st! Oh, it’s October 31st!
Lollipops you get,
Or being a
Witch! (If you’re a girl)
Eh? It’s over?
Eh? I have to wait 1 year again?
And now the MadLibs. Because our lesson today was about ecotourism, I told them to write ecotourism and Halloween-themed ones.
On Halloween, Jake was going to camp in Europe. He got a woman from Hell-shaped bag, jack-o-lantern-flavored chocolate and $4444. He took an eco-friendly jet to Europe. For the rest of camp, he took an eco-friendly car. He vanished in England. He met Ten (a student in class) in France.
Note: I don’t know how the jet was eco-friendly or how Jake met Ten after vanishing, but I guess that’s why it’s a MadLib.
Jack-o-lantern was a stinky mad scientist who used methane gas to cook spaghetti. One day, he wanted to save the planet so he made a team of firefighters and flew to an abandoned hut riding a shoe quickly. They became business men there. They lived rapidly every after.
Note: Business men was supposed to be a “clean” (read: eco-friendly) job.
Trick or Suicide!
A crazy bat named We wanted to escape the cave. He came out and dug to the toilet. There were many mummies living in the toilet. The bat ate the mummies’ blood. His stomach was so dirty. The blood of the mummies was so delicious because it was an eco-punky place. However, he vomited and finally head locked.
Note: Not sure what he meant by punky… Unless he’s a Punky Brewster fan…
It was 2030.4.4. A vampire named Alisa ate Chung Yak-Yong. The vampire was chased by police. The vampire said “Witch!” and the police cars screamed. The vampire rode on a bike and had an accident and died. 99,765 years later, the vampire became a zombie and ate King Sejong. The zombie was crazy. He ran around everywhere he wanted to. Finally he was hit by a pumpkin and exploded.
Note: The last word, pumpkin, ended up being pretty funny because the student only asked for a generic noun but earlier in the class we had been talking about hunting animals with weapons other than guns and one student had suggested ‘watermelon’. If only he had said pumpkin…
There was a vampire who wanted to suicide the earth’s environment. He came to the earth and did many things. He told people to use cats. He made a dog about saving the environment. He shouted in Jupiter’s red spot to people to make a cheesy environment. Afterwards, he flew. He went back to Andromeda.
Note: The students bring up suicide quite a bit. It’s a little disturbing… And not in a Halloween sort of way.
And now, in honor of next month being NaNoWriMo, and since I’ve been sharing my students creative works, I’ll share some of mine. The past week my students were taking practice tests in reading classes, during which I have very little to do. So, while proctoring them, I came up with some limericks. Here are my two favorites:
The Power of Grapes!
In the morning I rise from my bed,
And pour grape juice all over my head.
It’s not strange, you see,
‘Cuz if you were me,
You’d know grapes fill my head lice with dread!
Note: That one came to me way to easily.
Through the wall I hear voices so clear-
Ly. I look but find no one is near
Me. Senses don’t a-
Gree. Truth’s my ene-
My. Because there’s no sane person here.
Note: This one was inspired by being able to here another teacher’s voice through our shared wall, teaching a class while my students were silent, taking their test.
Week 9 and 10 could not be coming fast enough. As the weeks roll on, teachers become increasingly jaded with their students. No matter how good your classes are, eventually all the work starts to catch up. Luckily, I’ve been pretty good at staving off any kind of negative feelings towards teaching, but other teachers are very noticeably looking forward to the next few weeks when our work loads decrease, because now is when the students start getting ready for the level-up tests. And in one short month, we get to start all over with fresh classes and fresh students.
And teachers aren’t the only ones that start to get a little unenthusiastic about classes. You see it in the students too. Last week, a college student from Ewha Women’s University came to speak to our students as a way to motivated them to keep studying (and I would assume fulfill some kind of college credit thing). My Friday ILA+ was assigned to attend during the Critical Thinking Project (when they get into groups and work on a project and short presentation together) time, which was a little disappointing because that’s the most fun part of class. It took up 30 mins so I didn’t have enough time to realistically do a proper CTP with them.
Instead, I prepared a MadLib for them. I forgot to save the powerpoint of it that they filled in. Such a shame because it turned out hilarious. I basically put holes into a recipe for baking a cake. The best madlib came when one of the students, who’s obsessed with Britney Spears, created the direction “Put all ingredients into a Britney Spears and place into the oven. Cook at 350 degrees celsius”. The class hysterical and I’m sure his screams of “Teacher, you killed Britney Spears!” could be heard far and wide.
After I showed them how to do a MadLib with mine, they worked on their own. The lesson we were working on was about glocalization, so I had them write ones on the history of a product. There are only 6 students in the class, so two groups of three came up with two funny MadLibs.
MadLib #1: The History of Cheese
Cheese was made by King Sejong using Hoontin Junggum (???) and Jang Yeong-Sil. They liked cheesy things. Junghoon (a student in the class) was the first person to eat it and vomit. He or she started to invent and spread it to North America. It cost $7777 per ton. To make this, mix, stupid Geojungi with milk and butter. Cheese is broken!
They really liked this one. Unfortunately, there’s a little too much Korean culture here for me to really appreciate it.
MadLib #2: The History of Dirty Chocolate
Chocolate was discovered in Atlantis by Michelle Obama. When it was discovered, she murdered. It was such a cheesy discovery because people mixed it. This fluffy chocolate was used as Michael Jackson. We also gave it to aliens. Because idiotic chocolate was discovered, we are now living in a crazy world.
Cheese was clearly a theme in this class that day. Not sure why…
Another term ushers in a new set of students and a new set of duties. Fall term started on Monday.
This term also brought I promotion for me. I’m now the new head reading instructor. As head instructor, I have to watch the classes of the reading teachers and make sure they’re teaching them correctly. And I have to keep a set of teachers, who are my ‘small group’ up-to-date on weekly changes and announcements.
It comes with a raise. But I’m doing it for the experience, not the money. And that’s what I’ll have to keep telling myself as the work piles up.
Thursday (July 22) marked the second day (or first, for me) of Summer Intensive Classes. What are summer intensive classes, you might ask? Extra classes for students to take from 10am to 1pm while they’re on summer break. What could be more fun! YAY!
I don’t know about other classes but mine actually is (or going to be) fairly fun. I’m teaching the newspaper workshop class, where the kids get to write their own newspaper articles and as a final project we make a newspaper. I’m teaching the highest level newspaper workshop so my kids are pretty skilled and we can talk about stuff that’s really in the news. Thursday we talked about the BP oil spill and the Cheonan sinking.
My class is small, 9 students, and most of them I’ve taught before (… it’s funny that I’ve been here long enough that I can say that now…). Also, this is the first time the class has been taught and it’s not a 100% official ChungDahm course which means… We get to design the class ourselves! Yay!
Actually that yay was not in sarcasm. It’s extra work; I have to spend my free period on Friday (7-10pm) designing the upcoming classes. But it’s fun. We get to plan the topics we’ll talk about and the articles we’ll use. There’s a lot more control, which is something that sometimes gets lost in the other classes.
Thursday’s class was pretty good, although the students were younger than we anticipated – so future classes are going to have to push the ‘fun factor’, as it were. Here are some highlights of the class:
Student-written World Cup article headline (aka How it should have ended):
Spain tragically FAILS in World Cup Finale:
South Korea murders Torres
Quotes of sarcasm in a student-written article on the Cheonan:
[North Korea denies involvement in the attack]. They say it was a “rock” [that Cheonan hit ].
PS I have a post for MudFest in the draft stage, but it’s taking me a while to finishing writing it. It should be up by this weekend.
Clearly I’m behind with my posts. For now, let me just catch up by introducing my summer term schedule. It is as follows:
On Monday, I split two Memory Tera classes with other teachers. On Tuesday, in addition to teaching Albatross reading, I also teach Day 1 of my Memory Tera class. Day 2 is on Thursday. Wednesday is my Memory Giga and Albatross reading day. On Thursday, I also teach Masters reading. Day 2 of Memory Giga is on Friday.
This is my first term teaching Memory. It’s grown on me in the past 5 weeks but… I still prefer the upper levels. This is also my first term teaching Masters, which is the level above Albatross+.
Masters is pretty fun to prep, since we read actual books in the class but the class has been… less than thrilling. But mostly because it keeps getting cancelled due to middle school exams. But this/next week should return things to normal.
This term’s Masters class is about “social animals” so we’re reading Mrs. Frisby and the Rats of NIMH, Empire of the Ants, Life of Pi and Watership Downs. None of which I have read before. We’re halfway through Empire of the Ants right now, and it’s pretty interesting. Rats of NIMH was good too and hopefully the last two won’t be disappointing.