Tag Archives: Education

Teaching from the Bottom of the Totem Pole #5: Story Time

27 Apr

At the begining of the semester my school (along with almost all other Korean public elementary schools) received new English textbooks. Most of the material remained the same from last semester (aside from the characters receiving much needed make-overs), but for the fifth and sixth graders more material was added to each chapter to accommodate for a third English lesson per week (last semester students attended only two lessons per week). Instead of the usual four sections per chapter, there is now six.

One of the new sections is “Story Time”–short and simple tales that are in no way related to the topic of the chapter, but somehow contain ESL value.

Even though I hadn’t actually looked at the stories in each chapter I figured Story Time would be a worthwhile addition to the lessons. My thinking was that it could provide the students with more opportunities to work with the language in a textbook that, like it’s predecessor, has its fair share of grammatical errors, awkward dialogs and chants that–while sometimes catchy–often contain little more than inordinate sounds mixed in with key sentences from the chapter (the first verse of a chant we sang last week literally contained the “words” “wah doo warry warry wah, wah, wah”).

Unfortunately, Story Time has ultimately failed to impress as an addition to the curriculum.

Why?

Let’s take a look at the Story Time from the fifth grade text. It’s entitled “Who Am I.”

Chapter 1:

So we have Hamin and her happy family enjoying some quality time. Fair enough. As is the normal routine, I ask questions to the students about what they see in the picture  before finally reading it to them and asking follow-up questions to check for comprehension. Obviously in this case one of the follow up questions would involve having the students guess what (or “who”) the particular object is. Not a bad framework, but why not make the clues a little less vague?”Hamin likes me very much… I am with her family all the time.” Hell, that could be anything. One of my students guessed it was the stuffed bunny on the shelf (SPOILER ALERT: it’s the TV).

Maybe some additional clues are needed in the story. If nothing else, it would at least make it more interesting. The vagueness of it all made me think more in depth about Hamin’s family which raised several questions related to the Hamin’s family, assuming she’s Korean. Bear with me.

First of all, why is Hamin and her family spending all their time with the damn television? Shouldn’t they be out enjoying all the community has to offer; visiting on of Korea’s many festivals. Does this story take place on the weekend? Shouldn’t Hamin being doing homework or attending one of several Hagwons? Instead of watching TV, shouldn’t Hamin’s parents be teaching her the value of studying hard so she can become an important figure in Korean society, like a doctor or a foreign diplomat? I wonder how good her English is.

But Maybe I’m over thinking this a bit. While my students weren’t extremely interested in the story, they were eventually able to guess what the object was, which provided a minimal sense of achievement on my part, and even though it was boring, it still managed to eat up a reasonable amount of time. It’s not perfect, but I’m still willing to give Story Time another shot.

Chapter 2:

Here, we have Hamin watching television with her dad. They are so entrenched in the show they’re watching they can’t even stop to use the bathroom or even notice Hamin’s mom standing in the corner.

Before I can begin with preliminary questions about the what the students see in the picture, a boy in the second row raises his hand a frustratingly tells me “It’s TV again!” Shit. It’s only the second installment of Story Time and they’re already bored with it. I don’t blame them. Why the the hell should they care about anything else in the story when they’ve already solved the riddle? It’s not like the story contains a lot of depth, and it’s not even realistic.

I refuse to believe that at eight o’clock Hamin and her dad are already dressed for bed in their pajamas. Again, assuming this story takes place during the week (and really, even if it doesn’t), Hamin’s dad would be out eating kalbi and pounding soju with his work buddies and Hamin would be slaving away at some after school academy.

The story leads us to believe Hamin’s mother is concerned about the health of her eyes (and apparently her English language ability) and this is why she doesn’t want her watching too much television, but then we pan to the bottom of the page and see that she only wants Hamin away from the tube so she can indulge in her soap operas. She assumes Hamin is in her room preparing for mid-term exams, but really Hamin has cast her textbooks aside and is instead kicking ass in game of Starcraft on her computer.

During the lesson I try to remain enthusiastic and stretch to stretch the time by asking redundant questions:

“What does Hamin’s Mom do a lot of?”
“What is she doing while she drinks her tea?”
“What does Hamin and her dad do all the time.”

Sadly, I think the kids sense the feebleness of my efforts and completely shut down. This time the Story Time segment barely lasts 10 minutes.

My co-teacher and I discuss plans for the next Story Time and decide we should use different stories of our choosing and scrap the ones from the book. Or at least I thought she wanted to scrap the ones from the book.

When the  Story Time for chapter three rolls around it is decided that I will still teach the story from the book, but my co-teacher will teach a different story.  I’m nervous because I don’t want my students to turn on me for dragging them through another account of a day in the life of Hamin, but am pleased that I don’t have to make it last more than a five or six minutes. As I ask my student to open their book to the Story Time page, I met groans of disgust. Again, I don’t blame them.

Chapter 3:

At this point My Kids couldn’t care less about Hamin or any of her family members. They don’t give a a shit about her stupid music shows, or why her mom is crying or what the hell that round thing is near the leg of the coffee table. The story doesn’t provide any information in the form of a hint or clue about “Who” the object is, but this doesn’t matter because they figured out a long time ago that it’s the fucking television. They hate me for putting them through another Story Time and I hate myself for having to do it. Even worse, after I finish the story my teacher swoops in brandishing a colorful Eric Carl story book put to video.  I quickly try to make some funny dance motions to go along with the story (and in turn reclaim my title of “fun teacher”), but it’s too late. I’ve lost them. I cower in the corner and wait for lunch time.

We haven’t made it to the Story Time for chapter four yet, but I’m praying my co-teacher will have mercy on the students and I and not put us through it. In the fourth and final installment of “Who am I” the “who” is formally revealed using sub par grammar and all is right in Hamin’s house:

I’d like to think it could be worse, but I doubt it.

Ciao,

Kimchi Dreadlocks

Rewards

18 Jan

For the past week and a half I have been entrenched in Winter English camp. To say the least, it hasn’t been quite what I expected. True, I only have nine students (a godsend considering I have upwards of 3o in my normal classes) and most of them are fairly high level, but thus far during winter camp I have noticed something that seems to have slipped under my annoyance radar until now.

My winter camp students are extremely obsessed with receiving rewards for every tiny task they perform–almost to the point where I can’t get them to do anything without promising payment in the form of candy, or some type of token that can eventually be redeemed for a prize.

I’m not a complete rube.  I understand very well that for many teachers, offering rewards is an easy way to get students to participate in classroom activities, but when when it gets to the point where students are throwing tantrums  because they didn’t get a Chupa Chups sucker after answering a simple question, the system needs to be re-worked.

Earlier this week I had a student disrupt the entire class because I wouldn’t give him a paper dollar bill (used by my co-teacher and I during games and vocab drills) after he correctly guessed the topic of the day’s lesson.

He stands up, holds his hand out and says “Teacher, give me dollar! I right!” I tell him to have a seat and continue the lesson when he stomps his foot on the ground and again demands payment for his classroom efforts.  I almost slip and tell him “tough shit” before I decide to ignore him. Truthfully, I couldn’t give in to his demands even f I wanted to. I haven’t been teaching with my normal co-teacher this week and don’t have the keys to the stash drawer. Still, I’m not about to explain that to a third-grader. Is “good job” not sufficient enough?

Maybe I’m just bitter.

I remember when the only reward a kid got in school was a lousy gold star on some chart posted in the back of the classroom, a system I still feel is was rigged from the get go. For a full week of homework assignments handed in on time and perfect classroom compliance, you would get half of a star. After accumulating 30 or so stars, you’d get a “prize.”  Now, the prize might be anything from a  fancy eraser cut out in the shape of a heart to extra free time after lunch, but it didn’t matter. The stars could just as easily be taken away for misbehavior, which happened to me on a regular basis.

Here in Korea elementary students get rewards for everything short of breathing. Show up to class? You’ve earned a new pencil. Finished your homework? Have a piece of candy. Good job class. You all remembered to bring your notebooks to school! Ice cream for everyone! I’m beginning to feel like we’re just passing out treats to little puppies who have learned how to sit, lay down and stop pissing on the carpet.

I’m not at all against bestowing prizes when we’re playing classroom games or fostering healthy competition in some other way, but I can’t accept  the feeling that I’m somehow buying my students’ participation with goodies purchased at the local 1,000 Won store. These kids are going home with pockets full of candy and other treasures, speaking whole sentences of perfect English, without a clue of what they’re saying.

Maybe I’m exaggerating. and I’m sure not if all waygook English teachers employ bribe tactics, but it does seem like a popular trend and I remember several lecturers at the EPIK orientation mentioning how useful it is to offer treats to students who participate during lessons. I still have yet to see how this is more useful than encouragement and praise.

The way I see it, “teaching” and “training” are two totally different concepts. If you want to teach put in the effort don’t rely on candy currency. If you want to train, head to your nearest pet store and buy a parrot.

Ciao,

Kimchi Dreadlocks

English Camp Advice: This Might Hurt a Bit

29 Dec

Before my students took of for winter vacation I had little time to do anything besides planning my three-week winter English Camp.

It doesn’t officially begin until January third, so I’m forced to desk warm until then. As I write this post, I am one of maybe four staff members in the building, in addition to a handful of construction workers who seem to be doing little more than walking around speaking into walkie-talkies.

My instructions for the week?

Show up bright and early at my normal time, hang out at my desk for the day, and leave at four thirty. That’s it. It didn’t seem too bad at first, but then I realized there will also be no school lunch served, and the few staff members who do show up only come in for half the day, usually around noon.

Clearly I’m complaining but life’s not all bad. I found a space heater in the closet behind my desk and every couple of hours I go into the teachers lounge and grab some instant coffee. Because there’s almost no one else around I decide to take two packages instead of the customary single I usually slurp down after lunch.

When you’re  forced to warm a desk for eight hours, however, there is only so much Facebook and internet television one can take. I decide to spend some time fine tuning the lesson plans for my upcoming winter camp.

Anyone planning to teach in Korea through EPIK will almost surely have to at least two english camps during their contract; one in the winter and one in the summer. There are several ways this could play out. You may be lucky enough to have a co-teacher who not only teaches the entire camp with you, but plans it out as well (not likely). You may have to teach the camp by yourself with ready made lessons provided by your school. Or–as is my situation–you may be faced with the task of planning and teaching the lesson completely on your own with little notice in advance.

I’m responsible for about 40 hours worth of content over the course of two weeks, with a third week being planned by the conversation teacher. The topics to be covered are completely up to me so at first glance I was quite excited about the possiblilities: start out with a lesson on popular dance moves, spend a couple of days talking about the intricacies of American football, throw in some fancy coloring sheets and board games and finish up with a pizza party. Unfortunately this doesn’t quite cut it.

Naturally I freaked out and went back to the drawing board. With some helpful tips from other teachers in the area and the ESL savior that is waygook.org, I was able to piece together some good shit for my mixed class of 3rd and fourth graders. I’d be lying if I said it was a quick process. Even with working on it during my afternoon down-time, I still ended up putting together a lot of material at home, and I hated almost every second of it, but the finished product turned out alright. True, my students may end up completely hating it, but if it comes down to it, I know more than enough Michael Jackson songs by heart to keep the day at least halfway interesting.

What’s my point with all of this?

Simply that if you’re here to teach and given an English camp to plan out, suck it up and do your job. We’re already given ample opportunity to slack off and be lazy throughout the contract. Indeed, I’m no teaching expert and I’m as lazy as the next man when it comes to churning out real work, but even I can come up with better material than the crap we readily serve up from the textbooks each semester. Plus, this may be one of our last chances to showcase our skills before we’re forced out of a job by English teaching robots (a topic which I will rant about shortly) and faced with returning to our employment deprived home countries.

Think about it.

Ciao,

Kimchi Dreadlocks

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