Category: Stories from class

Always nice to see a former student

Some of my previous students have lept in touch which is great, but of course most haven’t. So it was a pleasant surprise when in the middle of interviewing applicant to the SMU-TESOL program, a former student from Catholic University walked in. We didn’t ahve a chance to catch up or anything but it wass till nice to see a familiar face and who knows, she may be my student with SMU-TESOL next year.

My most memorable teaching experience in Korea

When I wrote about teaching culture in an EFL class, I mentioned toward the bottom that I had a problem with students giving me too many compliments.

Then recently, a researcher asked me for my most memorable experience teaching English in Korea. I thought for a moment. There really is one experience that sticks out because it made me so uncomfortable. It was related to the being called handsome problem.

During a midterm or final oral exam a few years back, a group of students had chosen their 10 year reunion for their roleplay topic. I thought it was a fine idea until I learned that in the future, I had divorced my wife in order to marry one of the students.

Honestly, I was shocked that they had chosen such an inappropriate topic. I tried to laugh, but what I really wanted to do was fail them. Looking back, I think I should have stopped them, explained that the topic was inappropriate, and told them to start over.

Interestingly, I thought I had left all that behind me when I left Catholic University for Sookmyung Women’s University TESOL program. In my teacher training position, I deal with students who have earned undergrad degrees. Many have teaching positions or other jobs. Plus I’m losing my hair!

For 8 weeks or so I was right. No compliments on my eyes or being handsome, just the occasional compliment on a suit or necktie or shirt. Anyway, then in one practicum class students were microteaching a lesson on comparisons. One model sentence they used was “Mr. Trotta is more handsome than Mr. xyz” (Mr. xyz is another teacher in the program). Again, I was struck by how entirely inappropriate Korean students sometimes are.

To quote what I posted here on June 15, 2004, “I honestly don’t know if Korean teachers receive compliments about their physical appearance. Do learners do it because it is acceptable in their culture? Or do they do it because they think it is acceptable in my culture?”

Passed my midterm evaluations

I didn’t expect too much from evaluations, but I was looking forward to some useful comments since most of my students are teachers. I really didn’t get too many useful ones, but one has stuck in my mind: “Don’t orget about the low-level students like me”.

It’s always an issue with a group that has mixed proficiencies (as most groups do). We have to remember to teach to the weaker students since they need our help more than the stronger students (and the stronger students might get something out of the class as we teach to the weaker students anyway).

Correcting SLA midterms

Well it may be a few more days before I’m back on schedule as I still have about half of my 110 SLA midterms to correct. I know I won’t be winning any awards for most updated blog here (although possibly on my travel blog which I do update daily or more) The 15 objective questions don’t take much time, but the 3 essays are another story.

Anyway, it’s always nice to read good work and I jsut awarded a 99 to a good student who performed really well. Interestingly, her quiz score was in the A- or B+ range so you wouldn’t normally expect a near-perfect midterm. Reading her essays made my day. Hopefully that will give me the motivation I need to do the 50 or so I have left…

Coursebook evaluation and students discovering learning styles

As a warm-up for a lesson on coursebook evaluation today we were reviewing 6 principles of CLT, one of them being “Students discover their own learning styles and strategies.” Seemed pretty standard so I didn’t give any special consideration on how to explain that one. This was supposed to be a review.

In one class, it was. But another class had no idea what this meant. I explained, “Think about MI and right brain activation. A book should encourage students to reflect on how they learn best.” I checked.

A student said, “So a book has to activate multiple intelligences?”.

I answered, “That’s only half of it. Students also have to think about which intelligences work best for them.”

They had trouble getting this concept. I tried giving a few examples but I could see I wasn’t getting anywhere. Giving exmaples is especially hard since so few books do this well. I agve the example of students taking a MI quiz or discussiong learning styles.

We still didn’t seem to be getting anywhere. We worked through the entire ten minute break but no luck. So I’ll probably try again later. Any advice? How would you explain this concept of CLT and relate it to coursebook evaluation?

Copying from SLA journals

A Korean student recently emailed me after receiving a very poor grade on a homework assignment. The grade was due to answers being copied out of journals. The student asked: is reading journals and paraphrasing the ideas a good way to answer homework questions?

When you quote a journal you have to use “quotation marks” and then explain the quote in your own words. To be honest, I didn’t see many paraphrases or explantions in your homework. I saw mostly quotes.

As you know, in a graduate level program quotes are not enough. You need to contribute your own ideas. So my best advice is to share your ideas whan writing about a subject.

Funny analogies and metaphors

Actual analogies and metaphors found in high school essays:

1. Her face was a perfect oval, like a circle that had its two sides gently compressed by a Thigh Master.

2. His thoughts tumbled in his head, making and breaking alliances like underpants in a dryer without Cling Free.

3. He spoke with the wisdom that can only come from experience, like a guy who went blind because he looked at a solar eclipse without one of those boxes with a pinhole in it and now goes around the country speaking at high schools about the dangers of looking at a solar eclipse without one of those boxes with a pinhole in it.

4. She grew on him like she was a colony of E. coli and he was room temperature Canadian beef.

5. She had a deep, throaty, genuine laugh, like that sound a dog makes just before it throws up.

6. Her vocabulary was as bad as, like, whatever.

7. He was as tall as a six-foot-three-inch tree.

8. The revelation that his marriage of 30 years had disintegrated because of his wife’s infidelity came as a rude shock, like a surcharge at a formerly surcharge free ATM.

9. The little boat gently drifted across the pond exactly the way a bowling ball wouldn’t.

10. McBride fell 12 stories, hitting the pavement like a Hefty bag filled with vegetable soup.

11. From the attic came an unearthly howl. The whole scene had an eerie, surreal quality, like when you’re on vacation in another city and Jeopardy comes on at 7:00 p.m. instead of 7:30.

12. Her hair glistened in the rain like a nose hair after a sneeze.

13. The hailstones leaped from the pavement, just like maggots when you fry them in hot grease.

14. Long separated by cruel fate, the star-crossed lovers raced across the grassy field toward each other like two freight trains, one having left Cleveland at 6:36 p.m. traveling at 55 mph, the other from Topeka at 4:19 p.m. at a speed of 35 mph.

15 They lived in a typical suburban neighborhood with picket fences that resembled Nancy Kerrigan’s teeth.

16. John and Mary had never met. They were like two hummingbirds who had also never met.

17. He fell for her like his heart was a mob informant and she was the East River.

18. Even in his last years, Grandpappy had a mind like a steel trap, only one that had been left out so long, it had rusted shut.

20. The plan was simple, like my brother-in-law Phil. But unlike Phil, this plan just might work.

21. The young fighter had a hungry look, the kind you get from not eating for a while.

22. He was as lame as a duck. Not the metaphorical lame duck, either, but a real duck that was actually lame, maybe from stepping on a land mine or something.

23. The ballerina rose gracefully en pointe and extended one slender leg behind her, like a dog at a fire hydrant.

24. It was an American tradition, like fathers chasing kids around with power tools.

25. He was deeply in love. When she spoke, he thought he heard bells, as if she were a garbage truck backing up.

26. Her eyes were like limpid pools, only they had forgotten to put in any pH cleanser.

27. She walked into my office like a centipede with 98 missing legs.

28. It hurt the way your tongue hurts after you accidentally staple it to the wall.

I wish I knew where these came from, but all I know is they were emailed to someone on a football messageboard I frequent…

Get your students practice with native speakers

So on my English Grammar forum, I have native speakers interacting with language learners. Anyway, you’re invited to send students from anywhere in the world to register for the forums and begin talking with the native speakers and the other students. Here’s a good example of a learner pushing his/her language to the limit while trying to explain Korean age.

The best part is that the grammar forums like the verb tense & voice are there and students sometimes take advantage of these on their own. Give learners a chance to be independent and some will take it…

Reciprocal teaching at SMU TESOL

One of the things I love about my new teacher trainer position at SMU-TESOL is that there is a system in place. Every teacher uses it and the idea (like it always is with content based instruction) is to help students improve English proficiency as they study course content.

I’ve had lots of expereince with CBI, but never in a program that puts as much emphasis on getting individual students to take turns and error correction as SMU-TESOL.

I’ll try to go into more detail later, but here’s a quick example. I introduce the outline for todays’s lesson. I ask a student to be the teacher and intorduce today’s lesson (I probbaly write an outline on the board with a few key words to help). If the student makes a mistake I correct it (since I’ve already modeled the language).

It certainly puts more emphasis on accuracy than classes I’m used to teaching which focus largely on fuency. I’m sure people have had different experiences, but when I did task-based CBI classes in the past, I didn’t do a lot of specific error correction when students spoke (I did on written work and I tried to prepare worksheets based on errors I overheard in class) because correcting one student in front of the class seemed too harsh (it might raise the affective filter).

Bad grades

I’ve just finished marking two of my six classes today. I’ve already gotten my first complaint (a double complaint via email and text message).

The student has a reason to complain (just not to me). His girlfriend received similar marks but she got a B+ while he got a C+. Why?

My response (via email since I don’t know how to text message): There’s only one reason: the grading curve. As you know I have to add up students’ points and rank them. There were only 5 points separating you and XXXX and only two more points would have put you in the B+ range. Naturally I would like to raise your grade, but I can not do this unless the university drops the curve for our class.