Sunday, August 25, 2013

tomorrow, it begins

[NB: This post has been revised in light of some discussion in the comments.]

Tomorrow, I have my first day of class. It's a four-hour day, which won't be hard. I've mentally wrestled with the whole "let them out early" thing, and have reconciled myself to giving the kids the option of a 10-minute break in the middle of the session or a 20-minute early release from class at the end of an uninterrupted "block" session. I still feel guilty about this; part of me is convinced that I'll be short-changing the kids, and another part of me whispers that, given an already-easy schedule, I'm making life even easier for myself. If I'm teaching only 90-100 minutes each class, then instead of a four-hour day, it'll actually be a three-hour-twenty-minute (or merely a three-hour) day. Lazy, lazy, lazy.

Today, I'm finishing up my lesson-planning. I've got two things that need doing: (1) a calendar for all four of my classes, which will take the students day-by-day through the semester; and (2) this week's lesson plan, which is all about mixer/icebreaker exercises to get the students comfortable with me and with each other. Beyond that, I'll be ironing my clothes, prepping my awesome go-bag, and wondering when the hell I'm supposed to receive my class attendance list (at a guess, Monday morning).



Unknown said...

The reason we only teach 40 minute - 1 hour classes the first day is that the student list can change completely as students transfer in and out during the first week.

My argument for the 90 minute class goes like this. We have 110 minutes of normal class....with the 10 minute break in between. Skipping the break creates a 100 minute class ...and if you let them out 10 minutes makes for 90 minutes.

Whether 100 minutes broken up with a 10 minute break...or 90 minutes with no break. The students are not going to learn English from the class. The goal, from my pedagogical standpoint, is to intrinsically motivate the students to incorporate English into their lives. I liken learning English to is impossible to bring exercise into your life, unless you find some form of physical exertion that is fun for you and you are passionate about. There are many forms of exercise, and finding that specific one takes time and trail & error.

Just like finding the specific ways learning a L2 can fit into your life. Reading, writing, test-study, speaking,, screen English, music, slang, interview, business, mmorpg, Academic English, internet English....etc.

Every class we do the book material, because it is relevant for the listening test for 45 minutes and the last 45 minutes is introduction to a new way that they might incorporate English into their life. If they can find just 1-2 ways...they will spend a LOT longer than 90-100 minutes/week outside of class doing those activities.

Kevin Kim said...

Thank you for your thoughtful comment!

It was my understanding, however, that the shortened class time wasn't recommended only for the first day of class: it was to apply to the entire semester. Perhaps I misunderstood.

I completely agree that making language-learning relevant helps provide intrinsic motivation for students learning their L2. Sticking with the exercise metaphor for a moment, though, I'd note that two hours per week isn't sufficient "exercise" for the students to accomplish much by the end of the semester. A fat guy like me, should he try to get healthy, needs way more than two hours per week. Same goes for low-level L2 learners.

In 2002, I took an intensive Korean class at Korea University that lasted four hours per day, and gave about five hours' homework per night. In ten weeks, my Korean improved vastly, not necessarily because I found the "exercise" fun and was passionate about it, but because the course provided a disciplined framework that pushed me to greater heights. I had to keep up, like a soldier in basic training.

You and I may not be in fundamental disagreement about this, of course; we may simply be approaching the same problem from two very different angles. I don't see that relevance/fun and discipline are mutually exclusive; as Principal Joe Clark supposedly said, "Discipline is not the enemy of enthusiasm." I do worry, though, that I'm going to be short-changing the students.

At my previous tutoring-center job, I taught students in groups of two or three for an hour and fifty minutes, without any break. We took learning seriously at that job, and that's an attitude I'd like to bring to this new one.

Kevin Kim said...

[NB: I just erased a second comment and am reposting it, now, with corrections.]

Let me clarify:

I hadn't heard anything about teaching 40 minutes to 1 hour on the first day. I'm planning to teach 90-100 minutes.

Also, the "shortened class time" that I was referring to in my above comment was the 90-minute recommended duration. Students in my class will have the option of (1) sprinting the whole 90 minutes, thus allowing them out earlier, or (2) having a 10-minute break in the middle of two 45-minute sessions. 45 + 45 + 10 = 100. Even at 100 minutes, students will be getting out of class 10 minutes earlier than officially scheduled.

Unknown said...

This is my third university and no one ever teaches full classes the first week...for the reason listed above. There is no point taking attendance, and even your attendance sheets will be completely different the second week, due to the first week being a transfer period...students changing back and forth between classes.

Most teachers do 40 minute "get to know you" sessions, followed by the syllabus.

That said, that is what "most" teachers do. There is nothing set in stone. The best perk of our job is...there is complete autonomy.

And I give my students the option too...take the 110 minutes with a 10 minute break....or the 90 minutes and no break, and I will let you out 10 minutes early. They always choose the second option.

Kevin Kim said...

Thanks for the comment.

Yeah, the fluctuating attendance is going to make a lot of that "getting to know you" stuff superfluous, and I have no plans to re-introduce myself the second week. Whatever intro-related activities I do the first week (presenting my syllabus, going over in-class rules, etc.) will be retained only by the students who hang on until the second week. The second week, I'll likely end up training an almost entirely new group of kids, but I'm hoping I won't lose too many after the first week. We'll see, I guess.

Wait a sec—if you let them out after 90 minutes, you're actually letting them out twenty minutes early, yes (1:30 versus the scheduled 1:50)?

Unknown said...

Only 10 minutes....because I skip the break. Total class 110, -10 minutes early, -10 minutes because no break. Total: 90 minutes

Kevin Kim said...


Charles said...

I rarely go the full allotted time on my first day, either, primarily for the reason that Worker Bee cited. It's not so much the students that transfer out that are the problem, but the students that transfer in. If I do something critical to the class on the first day, I run the risk of having some students miss it.

In all the classes I took for my MA and PhD coursework, none of them ever went for the full time on the first day. I honestly don't remember what it was like at university in the States.

Then again, you are obviously well within your rights to teach the full session on the first day. If it bothers you letting them go early, go whole hog. If the students react positively, you're good to go. If they react negatively, you may need to tailor your expectations a bit to be more in line with theirs.

Kevin Kim said...

In undergrad, all my classes on the first day ran the full time. Maybe GU was just strict like that.

I agree re: not doing much important on the first day, which is why I devote that day primarily to intros and mixers. Serious textbook work won't happen until the second week.

The problem with negative reactions, of course, is that Korean students don't always give you those reactions to your face, which leaves me to use my nunchi to figure out, before class ends, how I've been doing.