Teaching Reflectively – Interview With Ashley Yu

Ashley Yu earned his Master’s of Education from Keiser University.  He has lived in Korea for five years, teaching at eight schools in Hampyeong County.  For the past two years, he’s worked as a native instructor at JIEI, specializing in reading and writing skills and methodology.

Ashley, it’s great to speak with you today.

AY:  Yeah, thanks for having me.

IS:  You mentioned that you wanted to adopt a more reflective teaching approach this semester with the (Korean teacher) trainees.

How do you define a reflective teaching approach?

AY:  To me, reflecting means taking in what I am doing [as a teacher] as well as taking in the responses I receive [from students] and trying to adjust my teaching to get the response I want.

IS:

What do you mean by “response”?

AY:  For instance, if I want a higher-energy class or a more work-heavy class, and I try it, maybe it doesn’t work out or bumps appear on the road.  Reflection, as I define it, means going back to those ‘bumps’, analyzing what happened, and trying to smooth those bumps in future classes.

IS:  It sounds like you’re employing critical thinking in terms of your class goals and the feedback you receive from your learners.

AY:  Yeah.

And I think [reflection] is great because it is a very internal process.  It goes on inside of yourself.  You don’t have to go outside and ask others for feedback.

It is an internal journey.

IS:  Yeah, reflection is a very personal journey.

What practices or habits do you use to be more reflective in your teaching practice?

AY:  It involves a lot of notetaking.  Most of those notes involve writing the goals I have before a given class and then reviewing my notes after class to see if I hit those goals.  It’s a simple way to evaluate whether or not I did what I set out to do.

IS:  Do you have an example of such goals?

AY:  For example, the first class of this [six-month program] is an icebreaker class for all of us.  In each of our courses, we try to introduce content gradually while still getting to know each other.

As the reading instructor, I like to use the teacher read-aloud method to introduce more free talking.  If I can get [the trainees] to speak freely through the teach-aloud method, I feel successful in that class.

IS:  So your goal is for the teachers to be responsive and talkative in your class?

AY:  Yeah, and I give them the carrot of demonstrating  [in-class methods] that are transferrable [to their own classes].

IS:  So you’re working with [the trainees] as learners, but the flip side is that your methods are methods they can take with them?

AY:  Yeah.  And reflection comes in when I look back on my lessons and see if the [skills practice and the methodology] met.  If they did, then I am happy and appreciative and look to repeat that process.  If not, then reflection helps me consider where I erred and where those ‘bumps’ appeared in class.

IS:  It’s interesting to hear the way you talk about reflection because it sounds both personal and artistic, but also scientific at the same time.

AY:  That’s a great way of putting it.  I remember doing a team-building exercise when [us instructors] stood on the left and right sides of an education continuum between art and science.  I definitely feel like [my practice] falls somewhere in the middle.

IS:  Yeah, totally.

I want to point out that when you mention ‘this program’, you’re talking about a six-month program working with Korean [English] teachers – very high-level learners.

How did you use reflective practice while working with elementary students [in Hampyeong]?

AY:  Teachers working with elementary-level students can employ slower-paced reflection strategies.  I work with very high-level learners (adults), I can reflect on classes day-to-day and make adjustments.  If I was in an elementary school, I would make reflective adjustments on a 4-5 class basis.

Because in my experience, elementary students need more time to get settled.

IS: They need more time to build that trust, motivation, and classroom culture.

AY:  Yeah, you may feel like you’re not reaching your classroom goals by the second class, but if you stick with it, you might see more desired results by class four.

IS:  So there are more factors that you need to settle down before you can assess the method itself?

AY:  Right.

On my reflective journey, a big component I’ve developed is considering students’ feelings and how my lessons meet those feelings.

IS:

What feelings do you try to address?

AY:  For elementary students, there is a lot of energy and hope.  But students can also experience a lot of demotivation and repetition where they feel bad at language.  [As a teacher], you’re working through all of those feelings with them and trying to meet those emotions with more positive emotions.

IS:  It seems like elementary students would be more likely to wear their emotions on their sleeves.

AY:  Yeah, exactly.

IS:  Compared to teaching adults, who have more of a filter, and are more likely to conceal their feelings.

AY:  Right.  For elementary students, that can work for you and against you.  If a student is in a bad mood, you sometimes have to check yourself and realize, “This is just them today.”  Like you said, they wear their emotions on their sleeves and their feelings can change quickly.

IS:  As teachers, we get so involved in our classes and caring about our students, that we can take those emotions personally.

When in reality, as you mentioned, there are a lot of different factors that affect our students’ feelings and emotional states that often have nothing to do with us [or our lessons.]

AY:  Right, right.

IS:

We have a new class of [JLP] teachers coming in April.  Some have never stepped foot in a classroom.  Some have never been foreign language teachers in a foreign country.

What advice would you give them as they begin their teaching journey?

AY:  I listened to your last interview and I loved Kristy’s idea of ‘laughing at yourself.’

To build off that and to keep with the theme of reflective practice, I would ask [new teachers] to recognize that

“It’s not you.”

You’re not the reason [the students] are angry or the reason behind whatever emotional response you may receive.

Instead of pushing the kids toward an emotional response that you want, try to be more free-flowing.  If [the kids] are in an angry place, try to give them more space and try to find the best ways to help them communicate their emotions to you.  That way, you can give them whatever nourishment or education they need.

IS:  It sounds like you’re saying [teachers] should try to be perceptive and adaptable to [the students] needs might be at a given time.

AY:  I guess for a new teacher that sounds like a lot.  All I’m asking is not to take things so personally.

IS:  Sure, sure.

AY:  It’s really not about you.  And I’m sure if [students] had the ability, they would apologize as much as you would want them to apologize to you.

IS:  Sure!  I can’t speak for you, but I definitely had my fair share of difficult classes where I had to learn that mindset.

But after about two months, through [near automatic] reflection, I was able to develop a classroom culture and lesson structure that worked for both my students and myself.  It’s an iterative process.  It won’t happen instantly.

AY:  Yeah, it’s going to happen in iterations.  And you’re going to arrive in a class environment where education happens.

IS:  I like that.  Be patient.  Be perceptive.  Make adjustments when needed.

AY:  Thanks.  That’s a great way of summarizing it.

IS:  No, man.  It was all you.  I appreciate you sharing your thoughts and experiences with us today.

AY:  Yeah, thank you.

Random Photo Corner

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At my co-workers’ recommendation, I began reading Korean webcomics to develop my reading and vocabulary skills.  The results have not disappointed.

But this line was quite the tongue-twister :P.

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Silent rave?

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배가 앞아 :{.

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One lovely trainee used her holistic medical knowledge to bring me back from the dead after food poisoning brought me to my knees.  I guess pain in the belly is links to nerves in the hands?

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