As I continue to fight through writer’s block, I realized interviews could provide fun and useful content while allowing others’ to share their accumulated wisdom and experience.
So today I share my interview with Kristy Dolson, my supervisor here at the Institute.
IS: Kristy has lived here for eight years after receiver her Bachelor of Arts and Bachelor of Education with a minor in history. She spent five years working at Hwasun Elementary School, one year at the Jeollanamdo Educational Training Institute, and now two years as the native instructor coordinator at JIEI where she specializes in pronunciation and microteaching. Kristy, it’s great to speak with you today.
KD: Thank you. It’s great to be here.
IS: I’m very grateful for this opportunity.
Microteaching is not a term I was familiar with before I arrived here as an instructor.
How would you define microteaching?
KD: Microteaching, as developed by Dr. Dwight W. Allen at Stanford University, is defined as a teacher training technique whereby a short teaching demo is recorded and viewed by the teacher, their peers, and a master teacher to gain constructive feedback to improve one’s teaching techniques.
In my course, I share a similar definition. Except in my class, we assess previous teaching demos in class altogether. Trainees then assess their own demos individually.
IS: I’m also interested in the ‘micro’ aspect of it. It makes me consider how we can adjust the little things in class to make a big difference in the long run.
So you’ve been teacher-training for almost three years. You’ve evaluated a lot of Korean English teachers’ teaching demos.
IS: You’ve provided a lot of feedback.
What do you identify as the most common critiques or areas of improvement in Korean teachers’ demos that native English teachers can keep in mind?
KD: With Korean teachers, I would like to see less hesitation. Korean teachers, while doing an English teaching demo, have the habit of broadcasting their anxieties before starting a lesson. They also use a lot of running commentary where they provide constant English narration of the class. A lot of native teachers do this as well because they think their students need constant English input – which is not true.
A lot of running commentary and class narration is overwhelming to lower-level students, and a lot of [the teachers] are not aware of this [narration] until I bring it up to them. So my wish is that these amazing and competent teachers would have the confidence to stop [narrating] and simply teach their lessons.
I would also like to see a shift away from [teachers] using running commentary, teacher-centered lessons, whole-class questioning, and instead use more pair work and group work.
IS: Reflecting back, when I started as a native teacher, running commentary is also something I struggled with.
For example, if I stepped in front of a class and said:
“Okay, we’re going to do a worksheet. So now I am going to hand the worksheet out to you.”
How would you adjust that [teacher talk] from a microteaching perspective?
KD: Students can see that you have a worksheet with their eyes. You don’t need to announce that you have a worksheet for them.
The best thing you can do is keep [statements] simple and short and begin your sentences with the word “let’s” to make [your statements] more community-focused. For example…
“Let’s do a worksheet.”
And then hand out the worksheet, and provide the instructions for that worksheet in the shortest, simplest language you can use.
IS: I like how you taught me the “let’s” expression. It sounds much more positive and community-focused, as you said. It’s also imperative (in the form of a command). It communicates “Here is what’s happening. Let’s do it.”
IS: You also spoke about questioning. Sometimes our questioning techniques can prove ineffective, especially for students’ confidence in speaking – an issue common to many Korean students in the EFL classroom. Do you have any recommendations that teachers can use in their questioning to improve students’ confidence in class?
KD: I like to increase students’ engagement and confidence by using questioning strategies that engage most (if not all) students at the same time. In contrast, whole-class questioning only allows the two or three most confident, highest-level students to engage.
In my classes, I like to use the “golden standard” of T-P-S – Think, Pair, Share. I first pose a question to the whole class and allow the students to think quietly about it. Then I tell them to talk with a partner.
When I teach English teachers, I have them discuss in English. But if I were at a public school, I would allow them to discuss in Korean. But if I am looking for an English answer, I would ask them to summarize their thoughts in English. The point is not necessarily their use of the English language, but rather their engagement with the topic of the class. I want them to discuss with a partner to prepare them to share with the whole class.
This is where monitoring [becomes important]. While [students] are talking with their partners, I like to walk around the room and listen for either the correct answer (if there is one correct answer) or for unique answers.
I make a [mental] note of who provided such responses so when we return to the whole-class sharing aspect [of the discussion], I can choose specific students or groups who have unique answers that I want everyone in the class to hear. By directly choosing those students, they receive a confidence boost because they’ve been noticed by the teacher. For example,
“Oh, Kyungsoo that was a really great answer. Please share that with the other students.”
And that praise provides another confidence boost. The next time, they might volunteer to answer instead of being called on by the teacher.
IS: I like that double-benefit. When you call on a student, they don’t feel put-upon. They don’t feel like they have to rack their brains for a response because they’ve already formed a response in their thinking time. And they also feel proud when you notice them and reward their efforts. It’s a subtle way to introduce reward into your classroom.
A new class of teachers will come in April. Many of them have not stepped into a classroom, let alone a foreign language classroom in a foreign country.
If you could give any advice to brand-new, starry-eyed teachers, what would you tell them?
KD: Be silly. If the students are laughing, then they’re learning. They’re creating long-term memories. They’re making positive connections to you as a teacher and to English, a subject that the educational system forces them to learn. And they’re forming good memories and good connections to your class.
Also, I strongly believe that much of teaching is sharing. New teachers may think, “I can’t share who I am because that’s not what I am here to do.”
But it is.
It is what you’re here to do, especially as a cultural ambassador in Korea. We ought to share our passions with our students.
If you’re into anime, put your favorite anime characters into your PPT. The students will love that. If you love movies, decorate your classroom with “now showing” posters. It creates an atmosphere and talking points for your students when they say, “Teacher, you saw Star Wars? Me too! I loved it!” It is something beyond your lessons that your students can connect to. It helps them form good memories of you and positive connections about foreigners and to English as a language.
Don’t just be “the English teacher.” Let your unique personality shine through in your classroom and in your lessons.
IS: I have two general takeaways from that. Something I repeat to myself often is,
“Students won’t always remember what you teach, but they will remember how you make them feel.”
So being silly and bringing in those positive emotions will stick with students a lot longer than the future tense.
KD: Yes. Exactly.
IS: And because we’re foreigners, they’ll naturally be curious about our lives. So injecting our own interests in our lessons can satisfy our students’ curiosity, make us more engaged in class and reciprocally generate more of the students’ engagement in our class.
Kristy, this has been wonderful and enlightening. I appreciate you sharing your wisdom with us today.
KD: It was my pleasure, Ian.
I swear I’ve taken more photos in the last three years than the rest of my life combined.