Connecting, Reconnecting, and Disconnecting in 2015

2015 was the year I learned that the path I have taken so far is leading me in a new direction. The fog is still too thick to see where it leads, but I’m directed by the voice I hear beyond it all. I’m working on trusting this voice, and I realize that to trust it, I need to understand its language. It is a language I once knew but set aside to make room for languages that offered safer passages. This voice is my Soul, my Inner Teacher, my True Self.

My desire to follow this path is very strong, and so I’ll use Throwing Back Tokens to light the way. This means I’ll write about topics that may seem unrelated to teaching. But as a wise friend told me recently, everything that is important to a teacher influences her teaching. If something feeds your heart and mind, it feeds what you do.

But before I start moving forward, my first entry of 2016 will be about looking back on the first part of 2015 to see where the path began to veer.

Connecting in the Beginning

The beginning of 2015 was all about connection, reconnection, and disconnection: connection and reconnection with friends and family, and disconnection with the work I had done for the previous 5 years.

After 6 years of being married, and never having had a wedding, Byongchan and I decided it was time to celebrate our connection by taking wedding pictures. It was fun to be glamorous for a day, and to share this joy with Byongchan and our family.

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Another significant moment included reconnecting with Kristina Eisenhower (a.k.a. the fabulous Krisellaneous), which now looking back, was probably when the path started appearing. This is bound to happen when you spend the night dreaming about what lights you up. Kristina is the queen of manifesting such dreams. Have you checked out her Experience Expedition yet? If not, please do.

This was also when I finally met Juan Alberto Lopez Uribe and Buddy the Frog for the first time. Juan’s enthusiasm for teaching from his heart to the heart of his students is contagious. He sparked within me a desire to keep teaching with meaning and love at the forefront.

What I didn’t know then was that the group of teachers Juan and Buddy met would be the last group in our teacher-training program. A few weeks later, during my visit home to Nova Scotia, I found out the Department of Education pulled funding, and that on my return, I’d have to create a new program. But before all this, it was time to play.

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The first stop during my visit back to Nova Scotia for the first in three years involved a Vanity Fair Hollywood cover shoot of the Thériault ladies. Ahh, it felt good to be back to the familiar silliness. We missed my sister, Louisette, but she was off accomplishing the exciting task of becoming a West Jet flight attendant. Go Lou!

IMG_1639I reconnected with dear old friends and and met their new additions (new to me at least). There’s no way I could have prepared for the heart jolt I’d get when their little faces greeted me at the door. Love is a wonderful mystery.

IMG_1790My visit home offered many types of soul food, one being pape’s famous seafood chowder. Yum! What was most fun about this was that pape could enjoy it with us without worrying about an allergic reaction. Lobster for everyone!

IMG_1714The other type of soul food of course was rappie pie. This picture recalls the last one I shared with n’oncle Gilles, my father’s brother. I feel very grateful this was the year I went home as we never could have predicted that a few months later he would pass away.

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And finally a road trip to Florida with my parents marked the end of my visit before my return to a new unknown in Korea. Seeing my parents’ youthful side come out as we danced the night away, traveled to manatee reserves, and relaxed on the beach is a memory I’ll always cherish.

Back to Korea

Once back to Korea, my colleague and I brainstormed ways we could develop a teacher-training program for pre-service teachers at Keimyung. After a few weeks of negotiating with the awesome folks at SIT Graduate Institute and World Learning (thank you Kevin and Lois!), we had the beginnings of what we’d call the KMU-SIT Professional TESOL Certificate.

From March until July, I worked on developing the program. While I learned a lot about what goes into creating such a course, I look back and see this as the time my soul started to speak up. My interests started to shift, or perhaps, amplify. Not being in the classroom during these months, I had the space to explore other avenues that light me up while listening to the podcasts of entrepreneurs I admire, reading the work of inspiring spiritual teachers, as well as engaging in soulful contemplation and creative expression. The series “Teachers Talking About Self-compassion” was born out of this space.

This time was also a sweet opportunity to reconnect with Byongchan and my home life.

So when we ran our the first TESOL certificate course from July to August, I sensed something was different. I wasn’t the same person who had started the creative process back in March.

The course, although small with only 6 participants, was a success. Everyone, trainers (thank you Robb and Jon!) and participants alike, learned a great deal about what it means to teach and learn and grow.  We were all intellectually, experientially, and skillfully stretched that summer.

But then things changed once again.

I’ll end my reflection for now. I’m way over my preferred word limit, and my inner critic is starting to make fun of my self-involvement.

As I write, I also notice many new insights arising. I need a little space to digest it all. I am grateful for this chance to throw back a few tokens once again. I forget how blogging offers refuge.

Possible to Make Assessment Culturally Inclusive?

A dear friend and colleague of mine, Amy Puett, posed a very interesting question about culturally inclusive language assessments a while back. Unfortunately, I wasn’t very helpful in answering. What I could offer, however, was a space to share this question with the larger world of ELT. If you have any insight into what Amy offers below, we’d be very grateful.  

 

I’m currently working on an MA in TESOL, and I’m doing a research project on biases in spoken assessments. In my experience, there hasn’t been a lot to account for in differences in cultures, ages or purpose when it comes to assessing students in their level of spoken English. The standard guidelines for assessing one’s level of spoken English are generally the CEFR and ACTFL guidelines; however, these don’t account for shy, uncommunicative Korean students who might be under a lot of pressure with their studies or a socially astute Pakistani student who knows when and where to pull out stock phrases to impress others with their English skills. Also, there is little room in these guidelines to accurately describe young learners. I’ve taught many Korean elementary students who are at a B1 level of reading, and I can’t see the students acknowledging their level by saying “I can deal with most situations likely to arise whilst travelling in an area where the language is spoken. I can enter unprepared into conversation on topics that are familiar, of personal interest or pertinent to everyday life (e.g. family, hobbies, work, travel and current events).”

Even the guide to using the CEFR guidelines states in the introduction that ‘The Framework aims to be not only comprehensive, transparent and coherent, but also open, dynamic and non-dogmatic. -Council of Europe (2001a:18)’[1] It also mentions that it’s not expansive in describing young learners. [2] However, I have still witnessed that many students are nonetheless labeled with these terms, which I feel can affect how some teachers teach them. The ACTFL has similar issues. For example, the following is said about a student with ‘low intermediate’ speaking skills:

“At the Intermediate Low sublevel, speakers are primarily reactive and struggle to answer direct questions or requests for information. They are also able to ask a few appropriate questions. Intermediate Low speakers manage to sustain the functions of the Intermediate level, although just barely.”[3]

It would be beyond many people’s conscience to behave in such a manner in some of the countries I’ve taught in, and they would learn how to fake responses or gloss over any gaps in their understanding. I also know language students of higher speaking levels who would act in the same manner due to their naturally shy nature in dealing with foreigners.

I feel there must be more TESOL instructors can do to incorporate a more inclusive set of terminology that would allow either more room for interpretation or include a more sets of guidelines to adequately assess students and describe their levels of spoken English language skills.

My question is can any share their experiences with this issue or recommend relevant research? Any help would be appreciated.