Mine the Gap

During my recent trip to Australia, I traveled on the train quite often between Mittagong (where Byongchan is doing a three-month residency) and Sydney. This poem was inspired by my time on those platforms. I was struck by the different speeds at which people walked, the choice of winter or summer clothing people wore, and the various languages people spoke. Amidst all the differences, life seemed to flow smoothly. I feel lucky to take part in such flow.

Mittagong Station, Australia

We walk at our own pace.

We find comfort in our own climates.

We see through our own lenses.

We travel on our own tracks.


To join you on your track,

I must not only mind the gap,

I must mine it.


We mine the gap of our relations.


In the gap, our paces merge;

Our climates combine;

Our lenses blend.


When I mine the gap,

For even just a moment,

I walk at your pace;

I feel your climate;

I see through your lens.


We mine the gap for gems of understanding,

Crystals of clarity,

Minerals of truth.


With my mined treasure,

I walk at a slightly different pace;

I appreciate another climate;

I see a new tint through my lens.


I travel more lightly on my track.

Central Station, Sydney, Australia


I want to tell them

I want to tell them that this semester is about me finding my footing.

I want to tell them I’m sorry for all the experiments.

I want to tell them this all feels so unfamiliar.

I want to tell them thank you for trusting me.

I want to tell them I’m starting to trust myself more everyday.

I want to tell them, but I can’t.

And so I tell myself. And you.

*this was a light night experiment of impromptu poetry/blogging. Thank you for reading

Teaching Teachers to Write from the Heart

I’m stepping out of my comfort zone. This is the theme of this post, and it is inspired by The 30 Goals Challenge for Educators or #30GoalsEdu, which was created by Shelly Sanchez Terrell. Over 10,000 teachers have joined the challenge since it started and I am grateful to now be among them.

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.”

The teachers I met on the 30 Goals Facebook page were right: this has me written all over it.

And so I begin my adventure with this challenge:

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.

Beginning Writer's Heart
Beginning Writers’ Heart

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.

Natalie Goldberg

With all this in mind, the following day, I introduced Natalie’s writing practice.

Natalie Goldberg'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 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.


Why do Korean university students look like zombies?

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.

Essay 1 

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.

Essay 2

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.

I wrote this story for English language learners

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, variousplenty 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.

house in Hapcheon

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.

On Sori Road

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.

Sori Road Bridge

“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.

Credit to Stock Photo (click on photo to find url)

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.

760 words total
Flesch Reading Ease Score: 90.7
Flesch-Kincaid Grade Level: 3

*Yoon Seo is my dear friend’s, Patty Yoon, daughter’s name. She is a baby. This is not her story. I like using the names of people in my life. It helps me connect to the story.