Friday, November 18, 2005

more teacherly notes

My brother writes in the comments section:

Maybe you're thinking into the whole thing too much. You're thinking as though the entire class represents one character, one personality, one person. There are too many variables to concentrate so much on the details.

Brush with wider strokes and you'll be happier with the results.

I guess I didn't make clear that I wasn't accusing every single student of cheating or of seeking loopholes in the mixer quiz. I do think, though, that the problems I've been encountering arise from some sort of large-scale, mutual misunderstanding, possibly cultural in origin. This means I'll need to revise my procedures somehow.

However, I want to note that most classes do, in fact, possess a collective temperament, this being more evident in Korean classrooms than in Western ones. While it would be wrong to pretend all the students are identical, there is nevertheless a certain "feel" to each hour of the day. I teach, for example, four sections of the same level of English conversation, and each class has its own corporate bunwigi, or ambiance.

Andrew R. writes in:

Hi Kevin,

Re: your mixer quiz problems

Have you thought about starting the activity as usual, then doing spot checks? That is, have the students start, then take the paper from a random student. With random student's paper in hand, have the student repeat the activity with you in place of the other student. If/When the answers don't match up - have them do it again.

Best regards,

I sent him this reply by email:

I'm constantly proctoring; I never leave the students alone for a moment. But it's a bit like when I taught high school French in the States in the 90s: the moment I walk away, someone's bound to get sneaky.

The cheating problem is bad, in American terms-- a couple students per class. But in absolute terms, I can handle one or two cheaters in a class of 10-15.

The Smallholder offers encouragement in this post on Naked Villainy:

You know the Big Hominid is a good teacher.


Because he is always thinking and evaluating the success of his lesson plans.

I appreciate the backup.

Speaking of backup, I have to thank EFL Geek for alerting me to Gord's fine post titled "Using What You Know." The post reassures me that my own stance about occasional Korean use in the language classroom is justified. At one point, the post says:

I am of [the] opinion that nothing turns a class off faster than being told not to speak their mother tongue, especially by a foreign language teacher who is refusing to speak the local language in class. While I'm not sure the term "imperialist" is quite the correct one for this, the criticisms about why it's wrong (found under the heading of "linguistic imperialism") are often quite sensible. Certainly there are severe problems with a classroom in which the mother tongue is a bad thing. However, it's not useful to students to develop a habit of continually leaning on the mother tongue in such a way that it slows and impedes advancement in the target language.

My thinking is that when a student is engaged with second/foreign language study for extended periods of time-- 2 to 4 or more hours in a row-- short reversions to the mother tongue, far from being undesirable, are quite natural, important to the learning process, and frankly unavoidable. However, the important thing is that one must revert back to the target language when study begins again after the short break. This "macro-reversion" pattern is natural and healthy, and not a barrier to language acquisition.

Likewise, the use of the mother tongue in momentary explanations of grammar is, often, quite useful. [This] is also natural: one finds grammatical parallels in the mother tongue, understands, reexamines the structure in question, and then experiments with it. Sometimes a degree of code-switching-- translation and retranslation-- is very useful at this stage of acquisition. As long as this stabilizes towards a temporary domain of second-language practice, then there's no problem.

This is exactly how I use Korean in the classroom when I do use it. Not being fluent in Korean, I'm unable to rattle on at length, however much I might be tempted to get selfish and practice my Korean with the students instead of helping them practice their English. I also refuse to speak Korean in my higher-level classes unless we're dealing specifically with elements of Korean thought and culture that have no direct translation in English. Unfortunately, this attitude gets me branded a heretic by linguistic absolutists who insist that the "throw enough mud and some will stick eventually" approach-- i.e., speaking always and only in English while teaching-- is the only approach worth considering. Such absolutists need to understand that Korean use is not an all-or-nothing issue. In practice, I too am against overuse of the native language in the classroom: interactions (both teacher-student and student-student) should be as close to 100% in the target language as possible.

But some students, who've had part of their formation under said absolutists, will still complain that I'm using too much Korean-- never mind that I'm throwing in only a phrase or two now and again (and not without reason). Unfortunately, this uncompromising pedagogical ideology seems rather prevalent in Korea, and it's based on the silliest of theories: that language learning follows some sort of "more is always better" rule. Sometimes more isn't better. If I waste ten minutes flapping my arms while trying to explain a word to a student without resorting to translation, how am I benefitting the other students, who are patiently waiting for the lesson to continue? Because no language class has an infinite amount of time available to it, teachers have to make command decisions that sometimes end in compromises-- such as the quick translation versus the amusing, but time-wasting, arm-flapping spectacle.

I recommend Gord's article. His basic point is about more than the issue of Korean usage. To find out more, click the link above.


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