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.


Student tests, teacher down time


Korean students, in general, do too many tests. From my perspective as a ‘non-teacher’ they don’t really learn. Rote learn but they simply have no time to assimilate what they’ve taken in. “Do they really understand what they’ve learnt?” In terms of spoken English I’d have to give a ‘no’. The speaking tests I’ve just had with them were a case in point.The question sheet, which I gave them in advance, was so that they could learn the form. What got in response from the students was a canned answer. Some of the students, but the others didn’t fair any better in terms of understanding the form.

I found that I could get the students to ask each other the test questions. In that instant, it become a communicative test question and not simply a closed question asked by me. I say this because in the past it was just me and a student going through the questions. Even then there would other students in the room, whispering in de-sotto voices the answers. I don’t exactly discourage this for two reasons: The learning doesn’t stop even when I’m testing; and, even student deserves a fighting chance. Can you speak (English)? Can you speak along the lines of the questions? Suffice to say my goal isn’t really to generate grades or marks, which my supervisor would really have me do, but it’s a test of competence. Even when I hand my supervisor the grades, it’s doesn’t really contribute in any major way. The proportion is too small. It’s like adding a grain of sand to a pile of sand. From an activity point of view, speaking tests are easy to administer, giving me lots of spare time to make lesson plans and the like.

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.

New comments, more comments!

Studentfeedback_zps4392d42d.jpgFinishing the contractual English camp this year was more of a chore than anything else. It’s all in the mind, and I must say that the students I taught were top flight. I did have the best and oldest students at camp. The oldest student was 15, Korean age I’m told.

In the cause of reflective teaching, I wanted to get some feedback from my students. “Write down one good thing and one bad thing about my class and teaching.”  I then disappeared from view, the sheets (bodged A4 photocopies cut into quarters, that were only used on one side.) were then annotated by the students, collected by the teaching assistant later.  Reading the comments later, with a bit of trepidation I might add, was surprising, heartening and enlightening all at the same time. I’d been in a bit of a mood at the beginning of week one. Very unprofessional of me since I was taught to leave all your problems at the door. So, the surprise was that most of the comments were positive in nature, heartening because they expressed that they wanted to come back and have me teach them again, and, enlightening because of the only two negative comments were that they couldn’t understand my pronunciation.  One could rebut that their listening skills weren’t good enough, and that any English speaker doesn’t speak at a moderato tempo. Only in the artificial environment of the language classroom would this tempo be done. What use is classroom instruction if you can’t be understood?

Highlights aside, I know I’m doing the right thing. One student stated that he enjoyed doing grammar. Its the first time I’ve heard that! Grammar for me is what is only necessary to do the productive tasks later on in class.  But, what I have confirmation of is the gamification of the productive task as a vehicle for providing motivation for competitive students. One last note is that Korean students don’t like ICC (intercultural communication). Not just these students I taught, but all ages. The answer to this might be to be more subtle in teaching it. Sort of like slipping a medicine tablet amongst a sweet biscuit.

A change of tack, untested and potentially tacky

Currently I’m teaching two streams of students. The new first graders and the second grade students who I had taught last year. Still at high school, I’ve got the ‘problem’ of creating a set of lesson plans for teaching my old first graders; the new second graders. After some thought I’ve decided instead of creating more material (which I think has been exhausted anyway) I’ve decided to use a different teaching style. I’m still leading my students to the context, but I’m also using the lexical approach. Throw chunks of new vocabulary at the students and have them use it. A while ago I had struck upon the idea of using collocations for the students to discover and learn. A number of problems to solve swim out of the murk for this tack to work. How to introduce new lexical items? How do I have the students notice and connect collocates without boring them to death?

The current teaching framework I’m using (PPP) works like a charm. But my friend commented and berated me on teaching a vocabulary lesson as this is something that a KET would do. The reply to that is, that it’s a lesson of two parts. Input of vocabulary in the first hour, the second part is that of production and practice using the new vocabulary. The extra layering that’s needed for young learners is the need to communicate. Easily solved, this equates to putting it in the form of a game. So, this leaves the problem of how do you get the student’s to take notice of collocates?

Oppenheimer, along for a show and tell

RobertOppenheimer_zps9c2769ca.jpgMention the name Robert Oppenheimer to someone who’s English is their L1, and you’ll get a multiplicity of responses. Getting a comparable response from a student where English is their L2 or even L3 then it would take some priming to do, if at all. The boys (at a boys high school, of course!) knew some of what he did, and took sometime to think of an answer.

The planners of the English room or ‘어l학실’ had the good foresight to project the screen onto the whiteboard. This suited me just fine. Putting the picture up, I asked them the question, “What did he help make?”. Silence.


Atomic bomb falling towards Hiroshima should be sans ‘briefcase’.

Beside the picture of Robert Oppenheimer, I drew a crude rendering of the Fat man atomic bomb, the one that was dropped on Japan. To add to the drawing I also drew an airplane and under the now falling A-bomb I wrote HIROSHIMA*. Plain enough, and this was sufficient to elicit the right answer. Easy when you know how.

To add to the name, I also stated that the dropping of the A-bomb had lead to the ending of  World war two. The responses in some classes was “He’s a hero”. I hesitated to add that because of his extra-curricular activities with the Communist groups at university, he was accused of being a Communist and his security level access revoked by the American government. An odd turn of events for an apparent ‘hero’.

* Edit: Mistakes in research are made at times; the atomic bomb that is depicted in the sketch was in fact dropped on Nagasaki and not Hiroshima, but point made and TL elicited.

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.