What do you do when you and your supervising teacher have completely conflicting pedagogies?

I am teaching English in South Korea right now, and I am firmly rooted on the affective learning side: that students do better when they enjoy themselves; that language processing happens with greater automaticity when the walls (and all that noise that comes with the walls of “i hate this/i’m not good at this) are down.

There is research to support my point of view.

Krashen’s Affective Filter Hypothesis, if you like to err on the side of Krashen, states that comprehensible input ( language that is juuuuuust above a learner’s current level) will not turn into acquisition (you won’t grasp and hold and internalize and use the language you were just exposed to) if it is filtered out before it reaches the brain’s language learning facilities. And in this case, the things that could filter it out are low self-esteem, anxiety, etc. 

Additionally, the Center for Applied Linguistics cites Rubin (1975) in suggesting “that good L2 learners are willing and accurate guessers; have a strong drive to communicate; are often uninhibited; are willing to make mistakes; focus on form by looking for patterns and analyzing; take advantage of all practice opportunities; monitor their speech as well as that of others; and pay attention to meaning.”

Although research has shown that it’s difficult for a language learner to be truly uninhibited, things like “positive self talk,” practice, and authentic language situations can combat their language inhibitions.

I think these factors are strongly effected by affective factors. In many language-learning environments, people find themselves afraid to use the language they’ve acquired because of fear of making mistakes or discomfort. However, I think that a comfortable classroom environment coupled with naturally engaging tasks can “get students talking.” I am a teacher who doesn’t care what you talk about–just say it in English. 

I believe that my job as a Native English Teacher is not to provide students with an Academic class–it’s to provide them with a learning environment that facilitates conversation. From there, it’s my job to do my best to help students understand rhetorical and semantic conventions of conversation with an American Native English speaker.

My coteacher, however, believes that language learning can only be achieved through blood, sweat, and tears. At least, that’s what I think she believes since every time I propose an idea she wants it to be more academic. She can’t see the point in teaching English through purely enjoyable activities. It must be difficult.

Now at this point, there are some things to consider. Whereas I am a linguist fresh out of graduate school armed with all my theories, my coteacher is a woman who has been teaching EFL for 17 years. Plus, she actually learned English in a foreign language environment, to the point where she now has achieved automatic processing of academic and conversational English.

On the other other hand, my coteacher is the exception for EFL students. I’m sure that she must have been a highly motivated English Language Learner to have reached this degree of acquisition. Many of our other students are competent English test takers and fairly decent English writers, but when I stop them and ask them what they’re looking at in the halls, that is when they freeze up.

What I’ve learned as a teacher in my four-month stint, however, is that difficult for the students pretty much means difficult for me. Tedium for them means tedium for me. A class they hate = a class I hate.

And who benefits from a class everyone hates? Especially in an environment that is supposed to encourage language flow and language processing with a Native English speaker? 

I’m not quite sure how to articulate this to my supervising teacher, but after reading up on it a little more, I am more confident that there is a method to my language-teaching pedagogical madness. Any thoughts?

 

the brainHello all,

Well it’s been a solid eight months since I’ve updated this thing. In those eight months, I’ve graduated and moved to South Korea, where I’m now working as a Native English Teacher at the top high school in my province.

Korean High Schools are no joke.

But I didn’t log in to post about that.

Actually, I logged in to posit a theory to y’all.

It’s about whether or not Jamaican Patois is a dialect or a separate language.

I did a couple final projects on the phonology and syntax of Jamaican Patois, and before now, I’d kind of thought Patois (and creoles in general, I guess), could be counted as their own distinct language categories, as opposed to simply dialects of an umbrella language (for example, Patois being a dialect of English).

Today, however, I am reconsidering this theory.

For many of my friends and I, Korean is not our second language. It is our third, or maybe even our fourth. One conversation we seem to have over and over regarding our Korean language acquisition is the conversation of transfer: how our L2s pop up to fill in the blank spaces of our L3s.

And how it’s never English that pops up to fill in those blank spaces.

I think it’s really significant that for us, it’s always the L2 that pops up to fill in those blank spaces and never English.

When I was studying for my M.A., I did just a teensie amount of research about L2-L3 transfer and whether or not it really exists. I would have to read about it a LOT more before I could actually comment on it intelligently, but I guess I did enough reading to have the vocabulary to posit this theory:

If Jamaican Patois is a separate language, then howcome I’m not experiencing any Patois transfer?

There are some scholars who think that the L2 and L1 are stored in different (yet overlapping) parts of the brain. This has been supported by Brocia’s apasia, which affects the L1, and Wernike’s aphasia, which affects the L2, and apparently a number of studies (which, admittedly, I have not read). According to a paper on the brain and language by Sumit Mundhra (2005), in the brains of late bilinguals (those who acquired their second langauge after the Critical Period), the “grammar and motor maps” of the L1 develop in close proximity, whereas they developed in a separate area for the L2. Additionally, data shows an “increased right hemisphere involvement for later-learned L2s in a single language environment” and a “left hemisphere localization of the L2.” Although Mundhra ultimately concluded that organization of the languages in the brain depends highly on the environment in which the language was learned, Wuilleman and Richards (1994) and Vaid (1993) concluded that age of acquisition influences brain organization as well, saying that languages acquired after the Critical Period involve more right brain than those acquired before.

The information in the paragraph above suggests and supports the theory that additional nonnative languages acquired after the critical period are stored differently in the brain than native languages. I think this explains why it is always L2s (for me and my friends) that pop up to fill in our blank spaces in Korean.

I started learning Spanish fairly young–you know, they teach you the days of the week and stuff when you’re in elementary school, and then I made Spanish my language concentration in middle and high school. When I was 18, I started learning some Jamaican Patois (mainly because I had a Jamaican boyfriend and wanted to understand him). In both languages, I got to the point where I could understand (most of ) conversations in real-time and understand the music of both languages, and to where I could express myself in both languages (although I’ve never needed to express myself in Jamaican Patois because everyone I know who speaks it code switches into English pretty much flawlessly).

However, by these events, and I admit I am using my own specific example in this case and would need to have a much less exclusive data sample to say anything conclusively; however, by these events, if Jamaican Patois is a separate language and not a dialect of English, then wouldn’t I be experiencing transfer from Patois as well, in the very least?

Then again, a paper by Ingrid Hendrick (2006) for the Teacher’s College, Columbia University, Hendrick writes that nonnative transfer can be dependent on the recency (which I did not know was a word) of language use and exposure, and in that case, I definitely have used/been exposed to far more Spanish than Patois in my life. Additionally, Hendrick writes that in the case of transfer, language learners most often borrow from the lexicons (vocabulary memory bank) of their nonnative languages, and there too, I have a much wider lexicon of words in Spanish than words in Patois (that are not also shared in English). Finally, Hendrick says that data suggests that language learners often experience nonnative language transfer when they are speaking, but they don’t want to use/sound like they’re using their native language. For my extent of knowledge of Patois, if I were to pull from my knowledge of it to fill in my Korean, I would basically sound like I was speaking Konglish, unless I wanted to adopt the phonology of Jamaican Patois, which would render me unintelligible to Koreans and is generally pretty rare as something that is transferred between nonnative languages.

So in conclusion….there is no conclusion. On the surface, the lack of transfer I’m experiencing could be used to suggest that Patois and English are organized in the same places in my brain, which could in turn suggest that Patois is a dialect of English and not a separate language. However, when explored beyond the surface even a little, there are several things that could explain the lack of transfer without challenging Patois’ language status. Therefore, at this point, the only thing that I can conclude is that I would need to study several folks who are not me but who are speakers of creoles to see if I can find anything more conclusive.

At times, the academic process seems like just a whole lot of jumping through hoops as someone with more power and prestige than you dangles that carrot. Or brass ring. Whatever.

This was one of those nights.

As a part of my practicum, my practicum coordinator has to observe me teaching, and while I do understand it, and she is also very nice…at the same time I can never quite put out of my mind that she is the person with the power to say “No, you don’t get your degree.”

So with that in mind, I taught my advanced II grammar class, nervous as all h-e-double-hockeysticks.

Now,

I chose for her to observe this class, because I like the vibe of this class. The class is mostly made up of Saudis, and they are very congenial. They are also pretty forgiving; they help me help them.

But this is the same class that I got that “lose credibility” feedback with from before, and it is the same class that for some reason I just have this crazy-difficult time remembering their names.

I knew them last session, and the crazy thing is the class is pretty much the same, but I get their names mixed up and I have called students by the wrong name before.

This confusion of course only intensified because I was nervous, and I ended up getting confused on students whose names I know I knew.

One guy got so frustrated that he ended up muttering under his breath “he has a name” the next time I called on a student without using his name. I know dude. But I’m under a lot of pressure right now.

This does not bode well for Orals.

Then, of course because I was being observed, one student absolutely grilled me about the difference between adverb clauses and noun clauses. Like, this guy took me to task for every teacher who ever gave him an unsatisfactory explanation on the subject and he would not stop until he was un-confounded.

I think I helped, but it was a rough road.

Now I wait for my feedback.

 

Well, I’m on the East Coast, so Sandy brought to me a much-needed hurrication this weekend (thankfully, the storm didn’t bring more than the usual flooding to my area). During the first 3 days of my 4-day weekend, I laid around, watched marathon episodes of Happy Endings (hilarious BTW) and cleaned a little and studied a little. It reminded me of when I was a kid and I was perfectly content to lay and watch TV all day for days on end during summer vacation.

I was a very lazy kid.

Alas, I am no longer a kid. I am someone who is one month away from her M.A. and that means that there is always something to do, no matter how I neglect. So by day 4, I was vegged out enough to attack this Practicum thing again, and I reviewed all of my feedback and typed up all of my reflections.

It must have paid off, because today I kicked butt. I taught a lesson that really did go well, so much so that my mentor came over and told me good job before the lesson was even officially over (when they were working on their assignment).

This was a much-needed win, because the feedback I got from Friday was kind of a downer.

I told one of my friends about it, and he just kind of shrugged it off, saying “but what’s the fun in being perfect?”

I told him my type-A instincts say perfection is the fun in being perfect,

Agree to disagree.

Today, we went over MLA style in class, and I was pretty careful to make sure that I was knowledgeable and reinforcing form at all points. Plus, because it’s Halloween, there was an added level of comfort, and I could make the lesson themed (I opened with a “horror” story about a student who got caught plaigerizing). I could also keep it pretty light.

Of course no lesson was perfect, but I think this was my strongest so far.

I even didn’t end it awkwardly.

…..unlike this blog.

So this week I got a bit of feedback from my mentor that has me wondering, once again, if I’m even in the right field. I have pretty much been asking myself whether Linguistics is for me since my very first class, but I’ve trucked on through it. Now, at the end, as I’m doing my practicum, I’m back to square one in wondering whether this is for me. And kind of thinking it’s not.

Here’s the feedback though:

“Really study your charts before class.  Same goes for the exercises you choose for the day.  Pencil the answers in the book to avoid confusion in the moment.  Some of the students have studied this information before- don’t let [name of student who showed me up in class] (for ex) show you up when another student has a question.  That’s a really easy way to lose credibility with them.  They know you’re still learning, but it’s best that they aren’t reminded of it- ultimately, they need to be able to count on you for solid knowledge and you need to be able to do your job without them trying to take advantage of your newness. (for ex, we don’t want them saying well I got all these questions wrong on the test because I was confused about that point and when I asked you, you weren’t sure either)”

It’s so frustrating. Is it supposed to be this hard? I’m “teaching” upper-level proficiency students, and I’m teaching writing and grammar. I’m trying to think of these things as a blessing, but they really just make me feel inadequate because they expose how much I don’t know. And I feel like I just can’t predict what they are going to ask.

Teaching is hard. Teaching is truly, truly hard. I had no idea how difficult it is. And it is something that I feel like I have to literally take day-by-day, except that one bad day erases like 4 good days.

Is it supposed to be this hard? If I were meant to be a teacher…if teaching were something that I were meant to truly enjoy….would it be this hard? Wouldn’t I be good at it? Have a “knack” for it? Am I trying to force my square peg self into the round hole of teaching? I’m starting to feel like it’s truly not a good fit…

 

So apparently this session I’m just the [student] teacher that goes hard in the paint. I just started teaching again yesterday; today I gave my grammar class a quiz and tomorrow there’s an in-class writing assignment that counts as a quiz for the writing class.

I was messaging my mentor today and I asked her about whether I could use a quiz from the workbook or make one myself. She said I could do either, so I made one myself. In my most secretest place, in my heart of hearts I am a writer, so I figured making a quiz would be a cool way to exercise my creativity. Plus I like working the students’ names into stuff because I think it’s engaging.

So I make what, to me, is a simple, obvious quiz. Straightforward. Coordinating conjunctions. Add and/but/or where you need to. BOOM.

But the funny thing is that you just can never quite predict what is going to be straightforward and what will trip the students up. My little straightforward quiz ended up having a few answers that were justifiably right. And because it had a “correct the errors” section, students were looking for things that I would have never thought to look for. I have to remember to tell them “correct the errors that are relevant to what I’m quizzing you on ONLY. All other errors are the result of human imperfection and should be ignored/embraced.”

Now I am grading their quizzes and I have realized that I am one of those annoying teachers that corrects spelling errors (even though I don’t take off). From the side of the test-taker, it’s like “really? How anal.” From the side of the test-grader, it’s like “well…they probably ought to know how to spell.”

In my writing class, I asked students to bring in two articles to the next class, but apparently I told them Friday was the next class because the only person who actually brought in an article was the guy who came to my mentor’s office hours to double-check. I could see that. I almost never know what day it is anyway. On the other hand, my mentor and I were both on the same page in thinking I told them to bring these articles in tonight. It’s just such a learning process, because I feel like I never quite predict which will be the things that the students find to be crystal clear, and which will be the things that cause massive confusion.

 

Well,

so it goes. I guess in my line of work, things are hard to predict.

Today I taught two classes, one writing and one grammar. These are a part of my practicum, so they are not my classes, but my mentor lets me plan them and execute them and pretty much only jumps in if I’m drowning.

Well.

Tonight was my first night teaching again after a two-week hiatus due to both a family emergency and break between sessions, and I was mostly excited but also a bit nervous.

I was excited because I was teaching conjunctions and I felt like I planned this lesson to a T. I studied it and I had this nifty train car metaphor and I had conjunction junction and this lesson was gonna be IT, how I bounced back after a somewhat shaky first session (in my eyes).

I was nervous because I was also teaching a writing class and I had spent so much time and energy on the conjunction junction that I wasn’t really sure what I was going to do for the writing class.

Well.

As the saying goes, you can never be too rich or too thin. Or predict which classes are going to go well and which will have you looking/feeling/sounding lost.

In the writing class, I introduced the Objective Report by examining (deconstructing, I’d like to think ^^) an article on the New York Sugary Drink ban.

And that did have some issues, but they weren’t due to my teaching (mostly). They were just normal issues of, like, vocabulary and some students still finding their sea legs after moving up a level.

As opposed to my beautiful, well-studied conjunction junction which got stopped in its tracks. At one point, I literally said “OK I can see this is not working. Ignore what I just said and let’s just do this.” And then I proceeded to have them do some exercises out of their blue Azar book.

It seems that in my preparation for the lesson, I got too meta. I was too far above the material–I lost that balance of how to present it in their terms.

And I understood it so well that I didn’t know how not to understand it, so I was having a hard time even understanding their questions.

Which prompted my mentor to remark that she understood, and that it comes with working more with the class and getting a feel for them,

and that “you can’t understand the material TO them.”