What convinced me to take part in this challenge was this excerpt from the 2013 30 Goals cycle:
“Each goal will focus on getting educators to believe their plans of action now will lead to positive change in their environments and inspire their learners to be the kind of people who try to make every moment of their lives meaningful and inspirational. Too many individuals are not seizing the moments in their lives to inspire or live their passions. (…) As educators, we have the ability to influence students and we start by being the example of individuals who make meaningful moments.”
There comes a time when each of us has an idea or opportunity that challenges our comfort zone and differs so much from the rituals we develop. We need to be able to seize those opportunities and go forth with new ideas. We need to be able to take risks so we grow as educators and also help our learners grow.
Here is my risk: I am going to ask the teachers in our program to write for at least 10 minutes once a week without any structure. The aim is to help them enjoy the writing process and also to help them connect to their inner lives. I want them to express themselves without a sense of consequence.
In order for you to understand how I’m stepping out of my comfort zone, I need to admit something: I have been a rigid writing teacher. I rely on structured composition patterns (paragraph, essays), and common codes of conduct (formal letters, informal emails…) as the content of my classroom. I teach the rules and help the teacher-trainees stick to them. Sure once in a while I introduce simple poetry (diamantes, acrostic poems), or creative writing (storybooks for kids, writing based on images). But most of the time writing was about topic sentences, thesis statements, and creating cohesion. Of course there is a creative element here as well, but there just wasn’t the free flow writing that I personally enjoy on almost a daily basis.
I wanted to bring the same joy of writing to my teacher-trainees, and see what changes might occur in their approach to writing. Most of these teachers have never taken a writing class and feel very apprehensive about their writing abilities. They come to the course feeling nervous, but also eager to see what they can do. Although my approach has yielded positive results, I have often felt I was letting them down in a way. I found my solution to this when I started reading Natalie Goldberg’s, The True Secret of Writing: Connecting Life with Language (a must read for all people curious about the power of writing).
To begin this journey, I asked the teachers to think of one or two words that came to mind when they thought about the word Writing. The answers within the heart are some of these words.
Then I asked them to respond to the quote below. I asked them why they thought Natalie had written this. The answers outside the heart are some of their answers.
With all this in mind, the following day, I introduced Natalie’s writing practice.
We discussed these ideas and once everyone felt satisfied and had their pen and paper ready, I set up my timer (see i-Qi app) for 10 minutes.
i-Qi Meditation Timer
I wrote along with them. I wrote about how worried I was about how they might react to this. I wrote about how I thought they thought this might be silly. I watched the timer and was worried the time was too long. I had a hard time keeping my pen on the paper. How could ask them to do the same?
And then the chimes rang.
A few teachers looked up and said, “Already?”
A little sigh of relief went off in my head.
We talked about how they felt. They said they liked it. Some were amazed at how much they had written. They couldn’t believe they could do it, and there it was.
And so we did it again the next week. This time some of the teachers said they would like to do the writing practice everyday. I am going to try my best to provide that space. But since I am stepping out of my comfort zone, I’ll aim for at least once a week.
Some of the teachers have started doing this practice during their own time. I am so thrilled that this risk is turning out to be the type of change that I was hoping for. Now my goal is to stick with it.
This was the question that was on my colleague’s mind. Bradley Smock (check out his blog Bradley’s English Blog) teaches English composition to 3rd and 4th year English Literature students at Keimyung University. As the semester went on, he started noticing that his students were coming to class looking lethargic and lifeless: like zombies. In an attempt to understand them, he posed the question:
What is causing the low motivation of many students at Keimyung?
As part of their next essay assignment, his students wrote responses, and I will be posting* their responses here. I hope this offers insight into what life is like for many Korean students.
Today’s theme revolves around student competition, and not having personal goals and dreams.
When professor asking how are you, usually students say tired. Despite there was nothing happen last night, they always feel tired and gloomy. To foreign students or teachers maybe do not understand this normal happen in Korea. Also this happen arise to most of Koreans. Most students are zombie at the class because they are not doing exercise, they just follow Korea’s competitive atmosphere and they do not know what they want to be or like it.
Most students are not doing exercise. Few of students are exercise themselves but exercise is not familiar to Korean students. when they were young about elementary school students they started to go to academy(Hakwon) after school. So exercise was second to them. Even they learned exercise at the hakwon such as Teakgundo or Judo. Maybe people understand these exercise should learn at the hakwon however they have less time to hang out with other friends. Most highschool do not have PE class because of study. Even if students have a PE class, it was time for sleep not a exercise to students. Therefore all Korean students need exercise for their physical strength.
Most Koreans are just follow and attend on Korean’s education system. This is kind of psychological problem. Korea society make a competitive atmosphere which means playing is wasting time and not studying is considered becoming loser. I always feel, Korea society said “you must be a winner at the competition to live comfortable. There is no friend in this society.” I’m sure every Koreans are feeling this. This kind of feeling make them anxious even when they are hanging out with their friends. Thus, Korea’s society make a competitive atmosphere and people are tired to following this.
Last reason is related above paragraph. Most Koreans ,age 17 to 24, do not know what they want to be, what they like it. This is happened because of blind education system. Every highschool teachers or parents said “Do it whatever you want when you become University student. But now is for study.” I also listen this sentence when I was middle and highschool student. Theoretically, middle school and high school age is looking for their interesting and what they are good at. In Korea, it’s opposite. Most students study with short knowledge about them and just attend on university with their highschool score and Korea SAP score. Shortly most students attend on university do not have exactly what they want to be and like it.
Do not excercise, competitive atmosphere in Korea and Do not know what they like or want to be, make spiritless to students in the class. It’s kind of sad thing in Korea. This reason, happiness index is the lowest in the world. Although Korea education system make Koreans smarter than other countries, they have less happiness and creativity.
The students at Keimyung are being zombies in class these days. They seem to have no enthusiasm for what they learn and what the teachers say in class. They also have no emotion on their faces and do not respond to the teacher. Due to this fact, teachers are having really hard time teaching in most of their classes. The reasons that many students at Keimyung are low motivated are because of the pressure on the grade, getting no immediate benefit, and not knowing what they like or want.
Most students are under pressure to have good grades. Since the beginning of the semester, they start to fight with assignments and exams. It is likely to be released from the pressure when the midterm is over, but assignments go on and on. They consider the grades very important because they believe that the grades affect their future when they try to have a job. That is why they are so stressed on assignments and exams to get good grades in class, but they do not, so that makes students less motivated.
Since students study to prepare for their future, they do not see immediate benefit ahead of them, so they are low motivated in class. What they study in class seems useless in daily life, so they might think that these studies are useless overall. They, however, do not know what they study in class now will be used when or where in the future. Not knowing all of this, students do not see a point of studying in class and keeps complaining that they do not want to study. They lose interest in studying while they do not see the future.
Whether they think the study now will be helpful in the future or not, the worst problem they have is that they do not know what they really like or what they really want.
In my case, I am majoring in English language and literature and taking classes to complete a course in teaching training. I like English, but frankly, I do not know exactly why I am trying to complete a course in teaching training. I am not even sure if I want to be a teacher. I actually more interested in planning performances or exhibitions. This is the problem. Like me, most students do not know what they like and want, and they keep studying what they are not interested in.
Students at Keimyung are not much enthusiasm in class, and the teachers know and have difficulties in getting the students’ attention and the class going smoothly. What are being the problems in this situation are that they are so pressured, that they do not see what is ahead of them, and they do not find their own interest. The most important thing among what they can do now is to find what’s their interests are sooner rather than later. Finding it, it will give them more motivation in studying and help them to be more active in class.
*My intention was to post more essays and create a series, but I decided against it. I think this post was enough to create a valuable discussion.
Have you ever written a short story for a language class you taught? Maybe you wanted your students to read about a particular topic, or maybe you wanted to focus on a specific grammar point but you couldn’t find any text out there to meet these needs. Like me (and the reason I’m writing this post), you felt the need to write something that would match that criteria. If you have written such a story, please join this Facebook group, Your Voice: Short stories by teachers for learners, and contact Kevin Stein. He’s got a great idea he’d love to share with you.
This is how the story, Yoon Seo’s Wealth (scroll down to read), came to me. Here’s a little background on its creation.
Why did I write it?
During class last Wednesday, we got to talking about quantifiers, and countable and uncountable nouns. As usual, there was a debate on the difference between much and many. Then we got wrapped up in all the different ways we could quantify the noun information. Could we use a variety, various, plenty of, tons of, abundant…? I didn’t feel prepared to go through all the different nuances, so I told the teacher-trainees I would create a lesson focused on this. At the time I wasn’t sure how I was going to approach this lesson, but the grand scheme came to me that night.
My initial plan was to start our storybook creation class on Friday. This is a collaborative project I’ve been presenting for few years now (see Storybooks Written by English Teachers). It takes quite a while for the teachers to complete their books, and as a matter of scheduling, I really didn’t want to put the project off in order to do a grammar lesson on quantifiers. Then I realized I could blend the two. To introduce the project, I usually give them an example of a children’s story to analyze for character, setting, and plot creation. Then I realized if they could analyze a story which also used quantifiers, it would be the perfect blend. I put out a request on Facebook for children’s stories which focused heavily on quantifiers (a big thank you to Lee Lalka, Rose Bard and Joseph Bengivenni for the help and suggestions), but deep down, I knew I’d have to write it myself.
How did I write it?
To get started, I did some research on quantifiers with my trusty Grammar for English Language Teachers. Mr. Parrott has a handy table in his book that gives a great visual of what quantifiers work with singular, plural or uncountable nouns. I decided to borrow this idea and create my own.
With this table and the children’s story genre to guide me, I spent some time brainstorming the story I wanted to tell. As a practitioner of daily gratitude (see my iTDi post, Learning Lightness Through Photography and Gratitude), I knew I could work with this topic fairly easily. So I took out my trusty notebook and started drafting some ideas.
These ideas weren’t fully formed until I got back from day trip (Thursday) with the teacher-trainees to a beautiful place called Sori-gil (Sori Road) in Hapcheon. We spent the day walking along a mountain path with the magical autumn scenery to guide our way. This was the inspiration I needed for the setting of my story (and the pictures to accompany it). After a delicious bulgogi meal, I came home and put the finishing touches to the story.
How did I use it in class and how did the teacher-trainees react?
The next morning (Friday), I walked into class and told the teachers about my writing journey. I gave them each a copy of the story. I told them that it came to me after our last two days together. There were a few looks of surprise. I asked them if they recognized the pictures. There was a lot of smiling and nodding. Then I sat down at the front of the class as if I were a kindergarten teacher and they were my young students. It was storytelling time. I read. They listened and followed. When it was done. They clapped and smiled. I’m sure this clapping was connected to the fact that the story related to experiences we shared together: our day on Sori-gil, and our experience as writers.
I told them this was my first children’s story – not a lie. Since I had written this in two days, I told them that there might be errors — not likely to be errors with quantifiers, but perhaps with the content — and that they could act as my peer review group. (In the end, I got two pertinent pieces of advice that helped me change my original story for the better). Their next task would be to find all the quantifiers I had used and find out what kind of nouns they could use them with. They would do this in groups and then fill out this table.
And this is what they did. At the end I asked them what they learned. They said that they had not realized that there were so many ways to quantify nouns. I wish I could have gathered more feedback, but that will have to be left for another time. I’m curious to know if this helped or hindered their understanding of quantifiers. I encouraged them to pay attention to how quantifiers are used when they read from now on. I am also encouraging them to use a few in the stories they will write as a way of helping them internalize their use.
Finally, I asked them to analyze the content of the story (characters, setting, problem, solution) using a story map, and left them with the thought that they will be writing their own stories in the weeks to come, starting this Monday.
This has definitely been one of my highlights of the semester. It is wrapped up in creativity, sharing, learning and community. I look forward to seeing where this story goes from here.
Feel free to use this lesson, and also make sure to let me know how it goes.
Now, please enjoy the story. :)
Yoon Seo’s Wealth
There once was a girl named *Yoon Seo. She lived in the mountains of Hapcheon along Sori Road. She lived in a very humble house with her parents and siblings. The house was small with only one room for the five of them to sleep in. In the backyard, they had a small garden and a few chickens. Yoon Seo thought they didn’t have much. She wished they had more.
Ever since Yoon Seo started going to school, she always came home with sullen face. At school she realized that her family had much less money than her friends. Her friends had many more luxuries than she did. They had the best clothes and shoes money could buy. They had the best toys.
What did Yoon Seo have? Yoon Seo thought she had many more problems than her friends. She felt like the unluckiest girl in Hapcheon. She felt like she had a ton of bricks on her shoulders.
One day, Yoon Seo couldn’t take it anymore. She was sick and tired of the sadness she felt. She began walking up Sori Road towards Gaya Mountain. As she walked, she came upon a herd of cows. The herd looked very content as they ate the green grass.
She wondered out loud, “How can you be happy? You have nothing.”
With a mouth full of grass, the cow with the black spot on its forehead turned to her and asked, “How much food do you have at home?”
“We have plenty of food. We have a variety of vegetables. We have plenty of apples, and persimmons. We also have a lot of rice. Actually, we have a great deal of kimchi in my mother’s pots,” Yoon Seo replied with a little surprise in her heart. She had never thought of all the food she had. She felt very lucky for all the food.
The cow replied, still munching its grass, “We are content because we are grateful for the food we have. This food keeps us healthy and happy.”
Yoon Seo said goodbye to the cows and felt a little lighter than she did before.
Continuing up the road, she arrived at the first bridge. Looking down on the river, she saw a school of golden fish. They looked so joyous swimming together.
“How can you be so happy? You don’t have anything” she wondered out loud.
“How many friends do you have?” replied the fish with the shiniest golden scales.
“Hmm, I have tons of friends. Everyone in my class is my friend,” Yoon Seo answered with a little smile. She had forgotten that even though her friends had many more toys than her, they always made her feel happy. They shared everything they had. She felt lucky at that moment.
With a smile, the golden fish explained, “We are so grateful for our friendship. That is why we are happy.”
Yoon Seo said goodbye to the fish and felt even lighter than she did before.
Finally at the end of Sori Road, Yoon Seo looked up towards the mountain and saw a flock of blue birds flying beautifully together. They looked full of love for each other and for the sky they flew in.
“Where does this happiness come from? You have nothing but the sky.”
“How much love do you have in your life?” asked a dozen of the blue birds.
“I never thought of that before. Wow, I have a huge amount of love in my life. My parents love me. My brothers and sisters love me. My friends love me. And my teachers love me,” and at that moment Yoon Seo realized what all these animals were telling her.
“Your love comes from the gratitude you feel. The cows were grateful for their food. The fish were grateful for their friendship. And you are grateful for the love that you have! Gratitude is how I will ease my sadness!”
The birds nodded their heads and Yoon Seo swore she saw a smile at their beaks. Then they flew off. When Yoon Seo looked up again, she saw a heart shape in the sky.
Yoon Seo finally saw that maybe she didn’t have much money but she did have plenty of food, a lot of friends, and a great deal of love. On that day the animals helped her realize that a little gratitude creates a large amount of wealth. Not wealth in the form of money; wealth in the form of happiness.
It’s that time again. The time when I help the teacher-trainees in our program get more comfortable with the concept of writing. One of the ways I do this is by doing a session on the benefits of combing a dictionary with a thesaurus (Lesson Planning Flow – Thesaurus Poetry; How Do You Create Smoother Transitions?). I’m often fascinated by the fact that many of my teacher-traineess have barely used a thesaurus. I thought maybe they weren’t alone, and that the email I just sent them could be of use to someone else out there.
Dear KIETT Writers,
Tomorrow we’ll be writing our narratives. I thought this would be a great opportunity to introduce you to some online resources.
As we get deeper into our writing practice, I’ll be introducing tools that I think are valuable to writers. There are two resources that all writers have by their side when writing: a dictionary and a thesaurus. As we talked about before, if you are interested in developing your vocabulary knowledge, it’s helpful to use English dictionaries that are specially developed for language learners. The one I recommended to you is http://www.ldoceonline.com.
I also recommend using a thesaurus http://thesaurus.com/ with your dictionary. When you find a synonym in the thesaurus, but aren’t sure if the word is appropriate for the sentence you are writing, check the definition in the Longman online dictionary. The combination of the thesaurus and the English learner’s dictionary will help you catch the subtle differences between words that a Korean-English dictionary might not be able to do.
When you are writing, I suggest keeping these websites open and available as a writing reference.
As you can see from the results below, a great deal of creativity, love and work has gone into these books. This space is to celebrate this. It is also to show my gratitude for all that they have shared with me this semester.
Happy holidays KIETT participants! May your new year be as creative and inspiring as the four months we’ve spent together so far.
* When viewing the books in Slideshare, click on the expand icon to enlarge the image. For the individual photos, just click on one image to see the series up closer.
During the three years that I’ve taught in this teacher training program, I’ve managed to find a comfortable balance between the two roles I play: teaching Korean English teachers how to improve their writing skills, and also teaching them how to teach writing. Although this division may seem clearly defined, the teacher-trainees have different needs compared to their students, so making space for these two contexts has always been something I’ve been conscious about.
However, my level of consciousness seems to have shifted this semester. Due to my position in the pecking order, I’ve become the lead trainer/teacher (the previous lead trainer moved back to England), which means I have new responsibilities and courses to teach.
Today I realized how much this has put me off balance.
In the hallway between classes:
“Josette, I feel like a mess and I’m depressed. I’m really not comfortable with this essay assignment due next week. I’ve never really seen an essay until this week and now I have to write my own by next Thursday. When you asked us to write a paragraph last session, you taught us step by step so I felt like I could do it, even though I still thought it was challenging. But now I don’t really understand the different elements in an essay and I need to write one so fast. My ideas don’t feel organized. “
In my head:
“Wow, ___ ‘s right. Could she/he have said that more clearly? That’s amazing feedback. I usually take them through each part (introduction, body, conclusion) much sooner than this. I usually spend a whole class on just one of these parts! I also usually ask them to read a few essays so they can get comfortable with the format. This time I just showed them one essay. Then in the second class I introduced all the parts of an essay and said “write.” Barely any support.* What was I thinking! This is so not cool. And I’m supposed to be a model for their own teaching? Man.
Maybe I did this because during next session (starting in one week) I won’t be teaching my usual writing methods class, so I tried to compensate for that loss of hours by combining that syllabus to this session. This took away some of my usual essay intro/teaching time.
Maybe I read their abilities wrong.
I haven’t asked for my usual feedback so I really don’t know how they feel about my course so far.
Maybe I took into account the feedback I got from last semester’s participants when some said the course was “too slow”.
Maybe I just thought that was enough exposure for them to be able to write an essay.
Maybe this person is the only one who feels this way.
Maybe I’m super tired and have been spending too much time staying in the office writing observation feedback and feedback on other writing assignments. I’m not giving myself space to plan and reflect as usual.
More possibilities? I’m sure.
This participant and I have sent texts back and forth. We are going to work through this together. They will send me an email this weekend with what they’ve come up with and we’ll go from there.
I’ve written this post. I really needed the space to think about this interaction. Typing this description and interpretation has given the relief and distance I need to look forward.
I still need some time to think about how I approached all this and how I want to change things in the future.
All I know is that I am grateful for this moment in the hallway. Lately I’ve felt like I’ve been so focused on tasks and projects beyond the classroom. I’ve also sensed that I was becoming complacent about my roles in class. I felt these things, but haven’t been doing anything about it. This little hallway feedback was just what I needed to start.
– scroll down for an explanation of how this ELL (English Language Learner) story came to be –
Young-Il was very happy to meet this matchmaker. As the years passed, he was growing more tired with his mother’s nagging. She never missed a moment to tell him how important it was for him to get married. As his mother saw it, the problem is that Young-ll always had his head in the clouds. He didn’t take life seriously. She listened to Young-Il talk about his dreams of traveling to far away lands and meeting the love of his life in a remote country.
His dreaming didn’t stop his mother from trying to find him a wife. Actually, it encouraged her. She didn’t want him to leave her. This is why she found JeongAh, the best matchmaker in town. According to her friends, JeongAh had the magic touch. She never failed to make a match. So to set his mother’s worries aside, Young-Il decided to meet her. He had also heard of her special ability through his friends, so Young-Il didn’t mind taking a break from his dreams in order to meet the woman JeongAh would match him with.
This woman was JiMin. JiMin had long, straight, black hair, and she was very slender. She had legs that went on for miles. JiMin was beautiful and also quite intelligent. Perhaps this is why she was so skeptical about the matchmaker. She didn’t really believe her friends when they told her that JeongAh never failed to make a match, but JiMin usually took what anyone said with a grain of salt. She had to see something to believe it. Despite her skepticism, however, she decided to go with the flow. She accepted the blind date, met Young-Il at the café, and waited to see how the night would unfold.
Luckily she hadn’t denied the blind date or she would have had egg on her face. This guy was fantastic! She thought he had a good head on his shoulders. Just because he was a dreamer didn’t mean he wasn’t smart. He was very intelligent, and JiMin knew right away that he would be a sensible father. He would raise their children well.
She also knew she could marry him because he seemed to have a heart of gold. He told her about how he took care of his mother after his father died. He drove her where she needed to go, and cooked meals for her whenever he had the time.
JeongAh had proved once again that she did indeed have the best matchmaking skills in town. JiMin set aside her doubts and fell head over heels in love with Young-Il. He felt the same. Happily, his mother never had to plead with him to get married ever again.
I had three reasons for writing this story for my course participants:
I couldn’t find a text with the idioms I wanted to use.
I wanted to teach these idioms because I thought they would work well with the acrostic poem they would write about their partner during the final activity.
I wanted the participants to realize that there are other ways to learn vocabulary, idioms, and the like without giving them a definition, so I removed the idioms from the text, wrote them on the board, and they filled in the gaps.
How did I come up with a story about a matchmaker? I wrote the idioms on a piece of paper and waited. I knew I wanted to write something that was relevant to their context. Looking at the words on the page, this was the topic that came to mind, and as I found out during our class, it was very relevant. The participants had a lot to say about their experiences with matchmakers. Did you know that if a Korean woman wants to marry a lawyer or a doctor, she can pay up to 100,000won (88.00US) per set up? Compare that to 50,000 twenty years ago. Hmmm, I wonder if those doctors are really worth the price. Ok, back on track.
Will I write another story when I find myself in a similar situation? Absolutely. It was a rewarding experience. I enjoyed this new writing process (though I need more practice writing fiction), and my lesson aims were accomplished.
Are there other teachers out there writing fiction for their students? Kevin Stein at The Other Things Matter was my source of inspiration. Why not stop by his blog to let him know what you’ve written, and why you chose to write.