Today I transcribed an interview with Bryan Hale. Bryan has taught in Korea for many years, and currently works at Yeongam High School. He is also heavily involved in KOTESOL, a professional development group for English instructors in Korea, serving as president of the Gwangju-Jeonnam chapter.
Along with some older photos from my college years :P.
BH: This year, I will teach elective English. It’s a new program high schools introduced for second-grade high school students.
IS: My parents often get confused when I say “I teach first graders”. They say,
“Ian, you teach at a high school.”
So second-grade high school students map onto 11th grade in Western school systems.
BH: My parents get confused too. I tell them, “With first grade I’m doing this, this, and this.” And they say,
“That sounds very advanced for first grade, Bryan. Have you thought this through?”
And I have to explain that it means 10th grade.
So with 11th-grade students, we will do elective English. This time around, I hope to teach them in blocks of time. Rather than spread classes out once per week, I can teach students in a three-week block. So my plan is for the students to make short films – an assignment more involved with a more detailed rubric.
However, I’ve had problems with rubrics in the past.
I can make students read and understand the rubric, but then they forget the details the next week. It’s too many details to remember over a semester.
IS: Yeah, I teach Korean English teachers and they don’t read the whole rubric either.
BH: But if there’s a three-week block and students can meet with me each lesson, without a break, then they may be able to better process the rubric. I’m looking forward to this more intensive, involved project.
In general, I want students to get past their anxiety over speaking English with “perfect grammar.” They constantly ask Korean co-teachers,
“How do you say x in English?”
And the students load up perfect English in their brains to later regurgitate (and promptly forget). I want to scuttle that.
So assessment is always secondary to helping students develop comfort in using their interlanguage in class. That is first and foremost.
But then I try to assess in a way that supports that.
IS: I love how your bring up interlanguage. You talk about how you try to encourage peer-to-peer speaking and make it a part of your assessment process.
What is your tolerance or degree of leeway you allow students to speak in Korean in order to arrive at more English communication down the road.
BH: If students are using Korean to push their English, then that’s good.
And now, more and more people speak about translanguaging.
In short, all of my students are Korean and they speak Korean. It’s silly to pretend that they don’t. Translanguaging is about not putting up barriers between languages and allowing languages to mix in the classroom.
However, I do get frustrated if in the midst of a speaking game, when students only engage with the game element of the activity and they use Korean when they could use English. I find it frustrating when students do not taking ownership of pushing their own English skills.
And I get especially frustrated when students solve a language task entirely in Korean and then flag down the Korean teacher and ask them to translate all of their ideas to English. It’s the same process of “loading up and regurgitating English.”
It’s an issue I’ve had with co-teachers. They can put a lot of emphasis on the perfection of the output without considering the language-learning process in students’ minds.
IS: If only my former students and current trainees knew the grammar I used outside of class. They would never question the use of perfect grammar because in my opinion, “perfect grammar” is not a real thing.
BH: I think there is a lot of focus on sentence grammar, and not as much emphasis on discourse in English – how to make a paragraph in English. Not writing it in Korean first and translating word-by-word, but working through the discourse in English.
That’s part of why I do message writing back-and-forth between students. We can start with sentences and build towards paragraphs in English.
IS: It’s not just about making a sentence that is grammatical, but also considering how all of those sentences cohere to form a discourse or text.
IS: Yeah, that’s important.
BH: It also helps if the discourse meaningful to them. Students get a lot of English texts in their day-to-day curriculum, but it is not meaningful for them. So they attack those texts by translating word-by-word.
So I want the students to feel that when they write a paragraph, it’s their paragraph. It’s not about the grammar of each sentence, but the whole.
IS: It sounds like you’re saying that the Korean educational system puts a heavy emphasis on reading texts, so the students don’t feel ownership over the language.
And in your class, when your ask them to produce their own paragraphs, you give them some ownership over developing their own communication skills and motivating them towards English.
BH: It motivates them a little bit. They could always be more motivated.
IS: Of course, of course.
Someday (I hope), new native teachers will arrive in Korea. You have a wealth of experience. If you could give new teachers some advice, what would you tell them?
BH: My first advice is to do classroom management. You can’t avoid it.
When I first arrived, I and other new native teachers fell into a pattern of standoff and avoidance saying,
“But my Korean co-teacher is supposed to manage the class. I’m supposed to do the English.”
But you can’t avoid it. Also, your Korean co-teacher can also lack classroom management experience. So you end up in a situation where two teachers avoid, tiptoe, and fail to address classroom management.
So you have to be ready to take charge of a room of students.
IS: Take initiative. Take authority.
BH: Yes, but it’s not rocket science. You don’t have to get it perfect. If you break your classroom management into small parts, you can incrementally strategize. It’s not too tough. You will not regret taking a proactive approach toward classroom management. It confers many benefits.
Classroom management is as simple as:
How are the students entering the classroom?
How is the classroom set up?
What do I do to get students to settle down and listen?
There is a lot of ways to experiment with these questions.
It’s just a series of small steps. Classroom management is not insurmountable, and you don’t have to be perfect. I have experience, but I still have a lot to work on. Just get started. You won’t regret it.
IS: It seems to me that most student misbehavior comes from unclear expectations or, quite frankly, boring lessons.
That’s my classroom management tip! Make lessons interesting to them.
But what you’re saying is, build your classroom management brick-by-brick so that students grow familiar with the expectations and procedures of your class.
BH: You said brick-by-brick. I think that, for example, a detailed PPT with lots of information is not classroom management. It’s just a big load of stuff that you dump on the students.
And you said “boring.” Sometimes students still say that my best lessons are boring. But if you’re just standing at the front of the room and broadcasting information, you’re not really doing classroom management.
I think, in general, it’s better if you do something and then students immediately do something. So if your instructions are a three-minute wall of text, that’s not going to do anything.
You should say something, and students should say something back and react. A little from you, and a little from them.
If you can give the shortest instructions you can and then encourage students to react or demonstrate understanding, then students can gain traction on what is going on in class and you can build traction with them.
Then, even if expectations are not totally clear, or your co-teachers and school culture are inconsistent with expectations, you can have a way of creating a dialogue with students. You can build expectations together.
IS: Ah, building together. I like that. Giving students more of a voice.