Private tutoring, leads to references

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Private tutoring is an entirely different sort of language teaching altogether. You actually have to plan something to discuss with the student. Quite recently, I’ve found that some of them will demand to have homework. I tend to associate the word, homework with younger students and the rote method of learning. I do agree that repetition has it’s place, but the view that the student wants something to take away from the lesson is, I think is teacher lead, but laudable.

Speaking of one of my soon to be former students, she is about sixty years old. Being from a former Soviet bloc countries, she can be a little on the outgoing side. I would define a difficult student to teach is one that needs a lot of input, as in talking. However, encouraging your student to talk more than you do is a matter of luck, and also I think, experience. Far from being difficult to extract language from her, she has turned out to be very fluent, albeit in German and a multiple of other continental languages such as Russian, Italian amongst others. However, in dialogues with her, I have felt that she is most able to talk about anything. But, in listening to her, it was sort of like an out of focus picture. The gross detail is there while the finer detail is blurry or missing. Having lived in a foreign culture for so long, certainly refines your predictive language ability.

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Reducing Teacher talk time. Wait, I’m not a teacher!

Teacher Talk Time CREDIT: Macmillian education

Teacher talk time or TTT for short, is an all important aspect of communicative teaching. The opposite for this is Student talk time or STT, and, since CLT is based on mostly pair work and group work, the teacher/ instructor should by rightly, say his or her piece in as precise manner as possible and then simply let them get on with it.

Once I was aware of this, I made an effort to not only to do just that, but also to create tasks for the students so that they will be talking more. Easier said than done as there are lots of facts in student motivation. Intrinsic and extrinsic factors all play a part.  Skill base is one while, things like their affective filter might be sky-high for lots of other reasons.

I remember when I was reviewing some videos of my classroom teaching (some moments are truely cringe worthy) that some of my classmates at the time noted that I had an excess of ‘discourse markers‘. This trait wasn’t unusual and in the past my female high school students at the time told me that I’d said ‘okay’ over 20 times in one lesson. Thinking back, it’s not a word of confirmation, but a rather wet attempt to get the class to be quiet, which they didn’t. Now days, while negotiating for meaning with a student I would have my fingers over my mouth just to signify to the student they are to speak without interruption from me. It’s just a matter of holding your bottle and letting them just spit out their sentence.

The take home message is, MIC(key) mouse

Seeing Professor Stephen Krashen yesterday was quite enlightening to say the least. Fun, entertaining and still very much young at heart, he went on to spin a talk (you could hardly call it a lecture, could you?) for just over an hour.

Pretty good, I had no problems taking in the talk as it was a talk I’d seen on Youtube. Still, for something that he’s spoken about for a little over thirty years. Have things moved and progressed that slowly in the realm of language acquisition theory? Well, for such a contemporary message, he’s gotten good mileage from it. Nice work if you can get it, but I’m not sure if I could get it, no matter how hard I tried.

Comprehensible input this definitely was, and all credit to Professor Krashen for making the message so easy to digest. Nothing MICkey Mouse about it, but the one thing that I found the most pertinent was Comprehensible input. For me the analogy is that it’d could turn out to be a useful tool in my arsenal of teaching methods. If I can make myself clearer to young, Elementary students, then that would be a major step towards better teaching.

Aside from starting up my own Los Alamos laboratory, I’m going to have to read about it. For now, Krashen is going to have to be the Einstein or even, the Oppenheimer.

Adventures in CI, atomic fission was the key

Think of the above as a S<>S interaction, with the neutrons, the TL

I had just finished my 4th grade classes, and I tried out my new interaction patterns on the class.

These were essentially changing a weakly dialogic class to something that was more student to student. Drawing on my knowledge of chemistry, I played the role of catalyst. Initiating the reaction but remained unchanged by it throughout. The task in this case was simply asking and answering a question, this going down the line of desks to the end. I had initially envisaged mad scientist style, one row of students asking the target language (how’s the weather?) with the row behind them giving them an open answer (It’s sunny) but it was hijacked by my KET, she made it by column, not row. It still worked either way. Not a bad start, but the experimentation continues. The students in pairs again, ask about the target language, as seen in the short film seen in class. Again, I initiated it, but had no part in the saying of the target language, all the input was from the video.

What was the yield? Most of the students spoke, a few did not. Those that didn’t felt it too embarrassing, but obviously their affective filter. Clearly something is needed to penetrate their ‘lead sheilding’. But the net effect was it was initiated by me, but the speaking was done on the whole, by the students. An experiment in sound if you will.

Hold out your hand, a half eight missive

“Close you eyes and hold out your hand” the student said to me. Reluctantly I did, and I was pleasantly surprised. In my left hand was a lapel sized carnation with an accompanying cluster of greenery and white drosophilla  flowers. It smelt nice, a little bit brusied, but otherwise a nice thought. I thanked the student, at least I think I did. Can’t remember if I did, I was a little weary at the time having gotten a broken nights sleep the night before. Will see to it to thank her again when I teach her next. The other little surprise was a green note, delivered on green (origami) paper, folded into a half figure eight. It took me and my colleague a couple of minutes to decipher the message written in Korean. The substance was essentially, my name is Jason. Thanks for teaching me, and making our lessons fun. Keep on doing the same thing. Bye. Simple and in the style that a Korean elementary student would write for teachers’ day. Thank god she wasn’t older. In the past I’d received messages from students (good-byes that time) and they were bordering on romantic. Still, being a private girls middle school, what other sentiments could you expect? They were honest, and sometimes humourous. I felt touched.

Maximising STT, failure within earshot

IMG_20120217_155054While I was in Shenyang, I got to spend a lot of time in one of the local Starbucks. To paint the scene, the first thing you hit after you’ve gone through the revolving doors is the counter. You’re greeted (in Chinese of course) by the staff. I stroll up to the counter and order my usual hot chocolate, grande’ size. The shop is normally crowded but I’m usually able to find a seat. Coffee shops tend to be places where all sorts of people meet. Not uncommon that I’ve seen foreigners congregate here for whatever reasons. I’ve seen a bible club run, meetings occur (locals and foreigners alike) and of course the 1 to 1 English lesson. I have to say that this guy was talking way too much. When I took my CELTA training, the specific teaching footnote was to maximise student talk time (STT). They are afterall, there to practise their English, not to sit and hear someone preach. Having to sit in close proximity to the ‘1 to 1’ couple, was annoying. CELTA, I think, had turned me into a stern critic of English teaching. This way or nothing. To be fair, the student did look on the shy side, or heaven forbid was seeking advice, but there’s always room for improvement, on both sides of the fence.

Colourful panoramas, bad for your health

A teacher’s outing, hiking up a mountain no less. It was a breath-taking vista for sure, and not because the sun was going down. Usually a man of smiles and understanding, the vice-principal commenting on the photo I just took; “it’s not because of the rain”. He then pointed to his face mask. Yellow dust. Initially it took me as being rather cynical and inwardly funny, but he was right. The dust, made of silicon (and other goodies such as heavy metals), when breathed into your lungs, doesn’t breakdown. This wasn’t the only immediate peril facing me that night. So-ju, seafood on many levels of cooked and uncooked. Followed by the coach ride back, the teachers decided to make use of the karaoke that came part of the bus P.A system. I sang my two songs, and then plugged my ears with tissue paper. You gotta die of something.