Saturday, October 27, 2012


The above is from walking under a bridge along the stream near my neighborhood, and below is graffiti seen on the walls around Hongdae.

Drama Festival Fever

For the past several weeks I have been teaching my students a scene from the play, "The Blind Men and the Elephant." It's an adapted version for EFL students and includes several songs which they dance to. For the most part I have been having fun teaching my students to sing, dance, speak loudly and act. However, doing it this time as a team leader adds on more challenges. There is pressure for the students to perform well, and it comes from the Korean side of the school. As foreign teacher's we know that we can do our best, but the students will decide in the end how to perform.

However, I keep my chin up, work hard and hope that it will piece itself together in a functional way. Last year, when I was in the first grade, things turned out not so well. I blame this on that each foreign teacher was responsible for 2 groups to teach them the whole play. This was a daunting task as these little kids couldn't get through the whole thing each time we practiced. Plus our play was way more complicated with props they had to pick up, and standing positions that changed for nearly every scene. Needless to say not all the groups performed well last year. The Korean teacher's seemed to let that mishap slide, even though they frowned quite profusely.

This year, since I am in charge of organizing it, I decided to give each foreign teacher on the team a scene or two, to teach the students. There are six scenes and I divided them up into equal parts and what made sense in the story. That made 3 of the teacher's doing scenes and one designated as the "director" who will teach them everything (focusing on parts needing the most help). So far I find this scheme to be working well. I can focus on just my scene with the students, as they rotate from class to class. On Friday, nearly every group had their lines down memorized and the song movements in coordination. There were a few groups still lagging behind, but I blame it on their inability to focus. Certainly, I've gotten a work out every day by standing in front of a group of kids dancing and waving my arms around gesturing to them!

Next Monday and Tuesday will be our final days of practice, then Wednesday we will have a dress rehearsal all day. Thursday and Friday will be performance days.

If one were to look at the benefit of doing this on their English skills, I would say it is helping the low levels out a lot. They are getting actual quality time with the teacher on pronunciation and speech, then I think they would normally get in the regular classes. Also we have blended the high and low levels together, which I feel has helped the low's gain confidence and understand where their English could go.

For the most part I just want this to be over and to go back to my routine of teaching Math. Sure this is fun, but also quite repetitive and stressful. Ah well....that's life!

Thursday, October 25, 2012

Fresh air with the kiddos: Field trip to the Korea National Arboretum

Some wonderful Fall foliage pics here to share with you as I talk about my final field trip for this semester. The kiddos were sent to the Korea National Arboretum up in Pocheon, which is slightly north of Seoul.

Our day was blessed with little cloud cover, warm air and wonderful colors along the way.

You might be asking yourself, "What is an arboretum, that sounds familiar?" Well this is likened to a collection of trees, so in essence this park was a tree-park. What does every tree park need? A museum to enlighten you on the varieties of wood out there and it's many uses, of course!

In one exhibit they reminded viewers the destruction that Japanese occupiers left on the forests here, which was kind of sad. However, the organization of the museum was quite nice and it also had a lovely lingering smell of fresh cut wood.

Also in the museum was a gallery space with shadow boxes full of hand crafted sceneries made from wooden items.

After our stint around the museum we headed over to a greenhouse for some humid air and to take a look at some greenery.

The most of this trip was spent wandering through the many paths admiring the changing colors in the leaves, and mostly for me taking in the fresh forest smell.

In fact the fresh air and Fall foliage reminded me of my small-town home back in California, so I became a bit homesick and nostalgic at the same time. But the kids constantly kicked me into remembering where I was, and Fall in Korea is certainly a special time.

We enjoyed lunch in a opening under the trees, where unfortunately bees also had a good time checking out what we brought.

For the final leg of our trip we walked up a trail admiring the forest once more, before heading back to the busses.

Now is the peak time for fall foliage it seems, as the trees are in full bursts of color. I can't help but think by the end of next week the trees might look like sticks, and winter will be around the corner. Time surely does fly!

Sunday, October 21, 2012

A Day of Professional Development: KOTESOL International Conference 2012

On October 20th and 21st Sookmyung Women's University held the 20th KOTESOL International Conference. During this time teacher's and ESOL enthusiasts gathered to see presentations ranging from topics such as mobile language learning to gaining more participation from students. Yet most importantly it felt like a time to celebrate the profession of teaching English as a second or foreign language.

I for one enjoyed the presentations I attended and especially found the conference well organized and entertaining.

The opening ceremony (seen above) showcased key speakers and introductory speeches by the University's President and other figures.

A hot topic in the ESOL profession must be how new technology can be used by the teacher and students. Certainly the plenary presentation touched on this in their "Mobile Language Learning: Turning Challenges into Opportunities" by Mike Levy and Glenn Stockwell. Although, I am somewhat conflicted on being told how mobile devices can be used for education because I think for most of us this comes naturally. I would have liked instead to see actual lessons presented where the use of these devices pan out. Instead of a hodgepodge of how it all could work.

Yet the presentations I attended offered more focus on subject areas, which I was keen to gain more knowledge on.

The first presentation I went to was in the morning and was called, "Reading Fluency: Rationale, Measurements, and Interventions" by Elton LaClare. I found his presentation simple and to the point with no real fancy flare to it. Yet that was good as the subject he talked about is important to think about when teaching. How do we assess our students reading skills in a way that will be accurate but also useful to the student? He showed several ways one can do this and web tools that can help. Overall, a good presentation.

After lunch I stepped into the presentation, "The M & M's of Teaching English to Young Learner: Using Music, Movement, and Multiple Intelligence" by Kathleen Kampa. Now I should have known before heading in that this would feel more like an ad campaign for Oxford books, but it didn't hit me till later on.

Her presentation was very lively, useful and on point with getting kids up and moving in class. Certainly I agree that young learners need movement, music and lots of action to help them learn English. I would say I teach young learners but I feel there is a distinct difference between a 9 year old vs. a 6 year old. For one I couldn't really get my sometimes bitter students to get up and sing and clap. But don't get me wrong I do find physical ways to get them involved.

Kathleen's presentation was to show us how these interactive attributes can be executed in the classroom. However, I think she had everyone doing the exercises a little too much. I would have rather liked to hear more about the effectiveness of these devices, then swinging my arms around and touching my toes. It also made me feel like a horrible teacher for not teaching my kids this way. And I really wanted to ask her, "Do you think someone could teach in this style for 8 hours a day?" It reminded me of my hagwon days, and how they (parents and supervisors) expect you to be this active, cheerful person for every class, and the unrealistic nature this creates.

So I didn't quite swing my arms enthusiastically or shout out "triangle" as loudly as other folks. But if I am ever to be a room with 6 year olds again, I'll know what to do. Just turn every task into a chant, smile and swing my arms a lot.

Thankfully the next presentation I went to hit the nail on the head for what I was looking for. Jackie Bolen of the blog, "My Life! Teaching in a Korean University" gave an excellent presentation called, "Teaching: the Small Stuff that Actually Matters".

She outlined 10 useful items that teacher's can use to focus on when developing their career in the classroom. Although this presentation was set for University teacher's her general point can be transferred to other levels. I particularly agreed with her point, "Don't hide" as I for one think it is best to be out and about in your classroom. Not sitting or standing behind your desk, but up and around the room. Sure teacher's need to take a rest at some point, and this could be done during work time. But generally one should show they are in command of their classroom and let students know they are there to be involved with them.

After taking part in presentations one could wander through the hallways checking out materials and booths with sponsors of the program. However, this became quite dizzying and it kind of made me late to a few presentations.

Outside there were tents up with coffee and snacks for lunch. I enjoyed a pastrami sandwich from Suji's.

If you are interested in developing yourself further as a teacher, or would like to start understanding this profession more, than I highly recommend attending these functions. You can start by joining the KOTESOL organization, which will later give you discounted entry into these events. If anything attending workshops or conferences is a great way to network and meet other people interested in going beyond griping, to talking about how to improve the results in their students. For one of the key speakers said it best, "...we are here because we aren't just satisfied that our students are quiet and parents have stopped complaining ...", we are here to go beyond what is asked of us. 

Friday, October 19, 2012

When a student leaves

It came without notice today, one of our students is leaving the school. What makes this more special than other times is that this students was let's say a star. But not in a great and brilliant shining way, more like he was the constant trouble maker. Indeed, last year he would use his physical self to hurt other students without much regret. This year he used words and threats more, which I guess was an improvement. But despite him being a bully, rude and just hard to manage I actually became fond of this kid. I think what happened was finding a way to manage him in class and also be his friend at the same time. Also when he was behaving well and giving constructive output in the class I enjoyed his participation.

So I was a bit sad getting the news today, which was delivered in a kind of awkward way. His father entered my room and asked me where were his books and told me about it. He thanked me for teaching him too. When he left I stood in my classroom a bit flustered knowing that the boy would be leaving and I didn't get to say goodbye. So I went and found him in his after-school class. I asked him, "I heard you are leaving our school?" He said yes and it's because his father is changing jobs and moving. I don't know what the truth is but I gave him a hug and said I will miss him, and goodbye. He seemed a little confused but he's just a boy anyways. He's the kind of student that needs a mentor in his life or adult figure who understands him and at the same time councils him on making right decisions.

It all makes me realize what can happen to you when you teach young students for an extended period of time. A part of your heart opens up to them and at some point they move on. I guess that's that.

**He just came in here to say goodbye. He looked a bit sad too. Oh man...the tears are behind my eyes. Well I tried my best for the boy.

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Bikes in front of Cafes

The bike in front of the cafe must be a charming way to get customers inside. "Oh, look at me! I'm a cafe with a trendy bike in front of it. Come in, and enjoy your Americano on ice in this comfy place!"

Or maybe the two just naturally go together...

And now for a random red and green wall...

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