The following is a little story of why the power of meaningful motivation is one of my top 5 learnings for 2010:
The book Man’s Search for Meaning by Viktor E. Frankl came to me in three curious ways. Listening to a podcast on a trip home to Canada, I heard the speakers discussing Frankl’s work on the topic of living a meaningful life. As a teacher trainer, a language instructor, and an enthusiast of purposeful human connections, I often consider how meaning functions in our lives.
Then during one of my cherished trips to the used clothing and bookstore, Guy’s Frenchys, the bright blue title Man’s Search for Meaning popped up from the wooden bin of books for a loonie. Snatching it up from between the forgotten detective and romance novels, Frankl’s book followed me to South Korea where it lay on my shelf until three days ago.
During my daily walk on the mountain path behind my house, I listened to Daniel Pink‘s audio book, A Whole New Mind: Why Right-Brainers Will Rule the Future, which my good friend Hailey Tallman, an art therapist in the making, had recommended years ago. In addition to explaining how right-brain features such as inventiveness and empathy will direct the future, he also writes about how meaning is developing a greater presence in the lives of people today. It is at this stage of the audio book that he mentioned Viktor Frankl. Frankl had found me once again, and this is when I realized that this book, waiting for me on my shelf, connected to my experiences as a teacher.
I had an inkling that training teachers might be rewarding, but so far reality is exceeding my expectations. I’m currently teaching an intensive TESOL (TEFL) teacher training course. Here we teach Korean EFL teachers skills and methods so that they will be able to teach using English-only and also so that they will be able to teach for communicative competence. The enrolled teachers come from all over this province, Gyeong-sang-buk-do. They have taken a month away from their children, husbands, wives and lives in order to improve their teaching and English language skills . Their desire to improve, despite their perceived shortcomings, has been motivating to say the least.
Although the teachers have a deep need to learn, they are also facing personal and professional obstacles. Many of the teachers arrive to the program with low self-confidence when it comes to teaching English; even if some of them have been teaching the subject for over fifteen years. Their lack of confidence arises from their limited practical training in teaching English for communicative purposes. The Korean education system encourages teachers to teach for the test, which is limited to grammar translation and reading decontextualized texts. In this kind of system there is no need for teaching communication skills. Another obstacle is that some of these teachers haven’t often used English to communicate. They themselves have only had to use English in order to pass the grade and achieve their goal of becoming a teacher. Once a teacher, the need or the chance to use English to communicate has almost been null. With such an education system and experiences against them, it is hard to understand how the light of communication still shines within them.
Regardless of the limitations, the desire to communicate exists. I feel their desire when they are all ears during my lessons and when I have to ask them to stop their discussions in order to move on to the next task. It is a language teacher’s dream to have a class of students who talk too much in the target language. I also see the desire when at the end of my lessons they thank me for all the work I put into preparing. When my students are motivated, I’m inspired to plan a great lesson. Their gratitude and determination has helped me realize that motivation is contagious. It also makes for a substantial teaching bonus.
First intermediate class of the week – Mixed years (Freshmen, sophomores, juniors and seniors); Mixed majors; mixed levels; mixed feeling; Unit 3 – Interests, Breakthrough
Every time I enter this class I feel like I just need to dive in head-first and not worry about the water. I have students in here who have spent years studying abroad, and I have some who barely know the present tense. Luckily the majority is in between these levels. I also feel lucky that it’s a mixed aged class. You see, in Korea the older students tend to take a leader/support role with the younger ones. At least that’s how it’s working out in this class. I’m also lucky that those older students have the most advanced English abilities, so they can quickly explain what I am talking about.
The fluency activity I had planned was Alibi. To set up the context I told the students that someone broke into my house last night between 8pm and 9pm. They took all my things and broke the window. Someone in the class did it and I need to find out. I group students into groups of five according to their ability/fluency level. Two are cops and three are suspects. I hand out example cop questions to all the students. This is intended to guide the police officers in their questioning, and help the suspects create their alibi. I tell the suspects that one of them is the criminal and they decide amongst themselves. The cops are in another room thinking of questions they can ask. After a few minutes they come in and start interrogating. For three of the four groups, the suspects are sitting next to each other. One group decides to break up the suspects and question them separately. They think this will help them catch the suspects in a lie. One group of cops seems to be doing a good job of catching the suspects in a lie. They think they know who did it. I ask them to keep going to make sure they’re right. The two other groups aren’t successful. They have no idea who may have stolen my things. This continues for the rest of the activity. At the end the group that split up the suspects was wrong about the criminal. The group who thought they guessed, guessed correctly. The other groups felt that maybe they hadn’t played the game correctly. We discovered that those groups hadn’t tried to catch the suspects in a lie. They hadn’t planned their questions as traps as the other groups had. For example, the group who guessed correctly asked one suspect where he was between 8 and 9. He said he was watching TV. Then the cop asked another suspect what they watched. He said “1 Night 2 Days (1박2일)”. Then they asked the last suspect, “On what floor was the movie theater?” He said, “The 5th floor.” Obviously there was a liar.
This activity took about 40 minutes. I think I could have shortened it so that they took turns being suspect and cops.
To set up this activity as a past tense lesson, I used the vocabulary/lexical chunk section in Unit 3. Together we went through the past tense verbs and practiced using the dialogue activity. I told the advanced students that they could create their own dialogues if they wanted. These students just need time to practice their speaking skills. They are already fluent with the material we covered today. After this activity I handed them a pictured list of irregular past tense verbs. I told them that they could use these verbs in the alibi activity. That was it for the list.
I feel like I didn’t know how to handle the list because of the different levels. I know most students knew the words, but I gave the list for the ones who were less advanced. For those students I feel like I didn’t help them learn the verbs. I think next time I would go through an activity that helps them identify with some of the verbs. For example I might do a chain story activity, “it was a dark and stormy night…” where the students need to keep the story going by using one verb on the list. By doing this the other students listening at least notice the verb meaning. I think I would do this in small groups since there are 20 students in class.
I was happy to see the less advanced students interacted in the activity. Even though they didn’t talk much, they listened to the more advanced and tried to participate. The more advanced students included them in the activity by translating. I feel that at least this promoted noticing.
Luckily I taught two more intermediate classes the following week. So after reflecting on what could be improved for the Alibi activity, I made a few changes. In relation to helping students get a grasp on how to question and catch the suspect, this is what I did:
I thought that it would be helpful to help the suspects create an alibi. So before I separated the suspects and the cops, I asked them to analyze the vocabulary/lexical chunk pictures in the textbook and think of some activities that go with the picture. For example, one picture had the lexical chunk “watch a concert”. In their groups of five, students had to think of what can happen at a concert, and they had to make sure it was in the past tense. I felt that this would help them create an alibi.
Then I told the cops that they should use the question sheet I gave them only as a guide. Some of the questions on there did not work for the context they were facing. For example, if the suspects’ alibi was that they were at a concert, they couldn’t ask the question “was the waiter handsome?”
By creating this new flow to the alibi activity, the suspects were better prepared to answer questions, and the cops had a better idea of what kind of questions to ask. All in all, this was a successful activity, because it encouraged students to create their own questions, and answer accordingly. There was a lot of smiling, which is great when you’re trying to battle low motivation :)