The difference between love and a stick

Each semester, I get to know our course participants via dialogue journals. I’ve written about my apprehension in giving this assignment in past (The Bittersweetness of Dialogue Journals – Take 2), but this journal entry, written by Mr. Go Jong-hyun, is another wonderful reminder of why I keep doing it.

Mr. Go was kind enough to let me share his entry with all of you. This is especially meaningful considering the topic of my last post, The love stick that motivates (I highly recommend reading the heart-wrenching, yet enlightening, comments).

In response to the question, Who was your favorite teacher? Why was he or she your favorite teacher? How would you like to be like him/her?, Mr. Go writes:

I was asked those questions in the test to become an English teacher several times. Whenever I think about it, I cannot help remembering my old home room teacher whose name was Kyoung-hwa Kim in the middle school. I was second to last in the elementary. I even had to have the supplementary classes for the students of underachievement in the elementary school. I was beaten with sticks, even slapped in my face by some of my home room teachers because I couldn’t do my homework. No teachers complimented me because I was poor at studying. However, I took the head in cleaning up the classroom. When I was a first grader in the middle school, most students shirked their duty during the clean-up time, but I steadily cleaned up my area. One morning, Ms. Kim spoke high of me because I cleaned the classroom diligently in front of the all classmates. She also said I would excel in study. I was panicked for a while, but very happy to hear that. Her compliment changed me. Her positive reinforcement and trust in me got me not to let her down. I studied and tried to be the best student to rise to her compliment. Finally, my score improved very much, and I became a class leader. I can’t forget her, and am in debt forever to her. Kyoung-hwa Kim was and is my favorite teacher always because she was the best example of the teacher.

The compliment and belief of a teacher have wonderful and compelling power to change and motivate students. I teach where there are many naughty and low-level students comparing with the other academic high schools. However, I always try to look on the bright side of them, and believe them. I always made zealous effort to have trust in my students; they can be changed. I believe the power of optimism and trust. I will compliment my students on every efforts, unique talents and strong points as well as good scores like my great teacher, and then students will rise to my expectations.

Thank you so much Mr. Go.

Reflection within a Reflection

Reflective inquiry came to me in a new form today. I spent the day reading and commenting on my participants final reflective journals. Through their reflections I got the chance to reflect on my own beliefs around teaching and learning. How’s that for meta!

KIETT reflective journals

The following comment helped me explore my beliefs around experiential learning:

I know some students (…) dislike some challenging and creative tasks, and just like to be passive, staying in continuous lectures. I thought I was doing them a favor, especially to the seniors applying for the SAT, while I tried to not give them burden except for memorizing vocabulary or grammar. I am thinking about making them write at least one essay a term but I am afraid that there would be a lot of objection. Josette has an excellent talent in making her students do anything she wants them to do. She really has the know-how. One of the most powerful things of her is to provide a comfortable atmosphere. She does not push, but we do it. I think I have to learn her “sneaky” skill to make students who fear doing something new manage to do it. Because of the prospect of replacing SAT English with National English Ability Test (NEAT), there would be an increase in the need for writing and speaking in class.

Continue reading “Reflection within a Reflection”

The Bittersweetness of Dialogue Journals – Take 2

29 out of 41 Dialogue Journals

Each semester I add dialogue journals to the curriculum. Each semester I wonder why I do this.

Why the doubt? It’s all about the time it takes to respond to the journal entries.

The basic idea of a dialogue journal is that the teacher responds to her/his students’ entries, and a kind of back and forth written conversation ensues. This semester this means I am having 41 conversations since there are 41 participants in our program. But the dialogue doesn’t stop at 41.

I assign two entries per week with a minimum of five sentences per entry. A class per week (3 groups of 14 people) hands in their assigned entries. Then in the 4th week I pick up all 41 journals. It fits beautifully into my schedule, when I measure up the fairness scale (I’m referring to the amount of time I am able to spend on each participant), but that 4th week is a doozy. Some of the participants have 6 new entries for me to comment on.

6 X 41 = a focused weekend in my home office.

So why do I bother?

I love watching them learn. At the beginning of the semester I see how full of self-doubt they are about their writing skills. Then by the end of the semester they are all writing beyond the 5 sentence minimum I assigned on the first day. They are writing with pride and confidence.

On top of the linguistic benefit these journals have, they are also powerful tools for self-reflection. In each entry I ask the participants to reflect on themselves as teachers, or as learners. Below are the questions I ask, and they answer them in the following order:

  • What would you like the instructor to know about you?
  • What are your strengths as a member of a work group? What are your weaknesses as a member of a work group? What are your goals for improving your effectiveness as a group member in this program?
  • What do you think you will learn from the other trainees in this program? What do you hope to learn from them?
  • How do you feel about being in this program so far? Are you adjusting to the group and to the classes well? Why or why not?
  • Tell me about an activity that was fun for you to learn. It can be any kind of activity. Why was it fun to learn this new activity? Did you learn this well?
  • When did you first start learning a language? How did you feel when you first started learning this language? Do you think learning a language should be fun? Why or why not?
  • Who was your favorite teacher? Why was he or she your favorite teacher?
  • Tell me about your favorite teaching moment.

Our written dialogue continues from these reflections. I read each entry with curiosity and delight. I try to respond with positive regard, gently holding their stories at the tip of my pencil.

The learning and confidence I notice in my participants far surpasses the fatigue I feel at the end of the 4th week. It’s the joy and satisfaction I feel about their progress that keeps dialogue journals on the syllabus each semester.

The Bittersweetness of Dialogue Journals

13 out of 41

I have 41 of these to comment on, so my post will be brief.

Thank you for reading ^ ^


Ploughing through the First Day

Why do I feel exhausted? It was my first day back, I only had three, 50 minute classes and I covered the same material in each of them! So if it was such an easy day, where does the strain behind my eyes come from?

The exhaustion comes from my snowplough imitation. With a quick and steady advance, I made my way through the participants’ attentiveness. I can just imagine how my big, round, fully animated eyes must have seemed to them: like looking into blinding blue headlights with too much self-powered energy. I speculate I have a teacher’s gaze that could cause my participants to topple over with either giggles or confusion. But with their cultural composure, they listened and held back on any social slip ups.

My eyes were saying this, “I REALLY want you to understand what I’m saying. Do you understand that this is important?”, and with the strength of a plough, I pushed through the course expectations, trying to pack all the information onto the snow banks of my participants’ minds.

“This folder is for your writing portfolio. You keep your writing tasks here, but don’t keep your classroom notes in this portfolio. Your portfolio is a learning tool, and it will help you see your writing progress. You also keep your reflective dialogue journal entries here. These entries are written at home.”

“What is an entry? An entry is a single written item. For example when you write something in your diary, this is an entry. You have to write two entries per week. If you look at the handout I gave you, I ask you to answer these questions. They are reflective questions. Reflective implies thinking about yourself, and your experiences, and then writing about it. You answer the reflective question and then give it to me. At this point I will read the entry and comment. When you write your entry you can also ask me a question. I will answer this question. This is a private written conversation between you and I.”

“You use the yellow notepad that I’ve given you for your in-class writing tasks. When you are done with the tasks, you rip the paper and put it in your portfolio.”

“…blah blah blah.”

Some instructions went over their heads like the last bits of snow trying to make it to the top of that snow bank.  I was giving them information I knew some of them weren’t understanding. I feel exhausted because I spent too much time talking. What’s embarrassing is that I always encourage participants to decrease TTT (teacher talking time), and here I was using it as my only teaching tool.

I tried to convey information I know will only be understood when it is experienced. This is the beauty. Teachers just don’t need to talk for their message to get across. Being understood is all about action. I know this is true when it comes to giving instructions for a language activity.

So my question is, do I really need to go through this again next semester? Is there a more fun and less tiring way to let them know what their responsibilities are for the semester?

I could have asked them to get in groups to discuss the syllabus and instructions on their handout. I could have given them the folder and notepad, and ask them to imagine what they might be for. Any other suggestions? How can I refrain from acting like a snowplough on the first day of class?