Sunday, April 04, 2021

a Sad Turd Day spent at work

We're in the middle of a long crunch period at work as we try to crank out six textbooks in the space of a little more than two months.  Each textbook is over 100 pages in length.  The two books we're working on are part of an eight-book series of English textbooks.  Books 1-4 are aimed at the fifth-graders who attend our language institute; Books 5-8 are for sixth-graders.  Each book comes in three different levels; this is a way to catch a wide variety of students who enter our program at different skill levels.  So, for example, Book 1 subdivides into Book 1 Advanced, Book 1 Intermediate, and Book 1 Basic.  Each book has ten chapters averaging 14 pages in length, i.e., 140 pages of material for the kids (who, as you can imagine, hate all textbooks with a passion no matter how well-made they are).  We're currently working on Books 2 and 6 in the series (the books we work on are determined by what part of the curriculum the teachers need first, so we can't churn the books out linearly), which means 140 x 6 = 840 pages of material.  With a time window of 2.5 months, that means we have to produce about 336 pages per month.

It sounds horrific, and while it is hard to create six books in a short time, there are two mitigating factors.  First:  each chapter of every book contains a reading passage, but once the advanced-level reading passage has been written and edited (we outsource our writing to freelancers whom the boss trusts), it's a simple matter to "dumb down" the passages for the two lower levels.  A 700-word passage at the advanced level becomes a 500-word passage for the intermediate kids, and a 300-word passage for the basic-level students.  Dumbing down is easier than scaling up, so we always ask our freelance writers to give us high-level material.  Our boss, acting as editor-in-chief, takes it upon himself to "knock down" (his words) the reading passages.  He then uploads the passages to a communal database that we can all access, and most of the rest of the chapter's material is generated based on the verbiage in the reading passage.  Second:  many of the exercises we create are not knocked down from level to level, which means we can copy/paste much of the material we create.

I generate several sections of each chapter:  there's a "Wordsmith" exercise—etymology for the sixth-graders and varying parts of speech for fifth-graders, based on vocab from the reading passage.  I also do a "Grammar Point" section, which involves explaining a grammar point and then having the students do exercises to reinforce what they've learned.  This isn't dependent on the reading passage, although the exercises in this section are often formulated to reinforce (in the business, we say "scaffold") the language the students have already encountered.  The third thing I write is a "Pattern Writing" section, which is based on a pattern found in that chapter's reading passage.  The pattern is explained, and students do simple reinforcement exercises.  Fourth, I'm in charge of a "Task Writing" section, which is a bit more ambitious because the students are required to write lengthier responses than they do in other parts of the chapter.  Lastly, I'm the guy who proofreads the almost-finalized manuscript before we send everything off to our printer to create the physical textbooks.  Any errors that make it past me are my responsibility (read:  fault).  I catch most mistakes, but I admit I don't catch absolutely everything; there's a ton to keep track of.  My American coworker also does some proofreading as a way to help me with my job.  He also generates his own exercises, and he creates the templates to be used for each chapter.  Each chapter follows the same rhythm, but there is some variation to keep the students from getting too bored because they're stuck in a rut.  My Korean coworker, meanwhile, finalizes the page designs, adds his own artwork to each chapter (he's an excellent artist), and also integrates the artwork that I do for all the Task Writing exercises.  I'll be slapping a few of those images up on the blog soon, so stay tuned.

I currently have 23 comp hours, i.e., a stash of above-and-beyond work hours that I can "cash in" later on to take hours or days off.  I came in for 9 hours on Saturday, and I'll be putting in a full day on Sunday as well.  It's going to be this way for the next little while, and around May, we'll all be able to take a breather.  May is when the weather starts to get uncomfortably warm for yours truly, so the timing kind of sucks.  But I can spend time indoors, racking up a massive electric bill thanks to my A/C, or I can visit Seoul's massive and air-conditioned shopping malls, so I'll find ways to entertain myself while I stay out of the angry sun's way.  This is Seoul, after all:  there's no lack of distractions here, even for us introverts.

Stay tuned for pictures.  I kinda like the ones I've done thus far.


John Mac said...

Interesting. I was never clear on just what these projects involve. Quite the undertaking! Looking forward to the pictures.

Daniel said...

Sounds like an enormous amount of work. Very impressive.

Kevin Kim said...

Thank you, gentlemen. Pics are coming.