Friday, October 26, 2007

Review of the October workshop

I previously mentioned that there would be a provincial wide meeting amongst all of the EFL teachers on the Jeollanam-do province's payroll. The meeting was split into two parts with half of the teachers participating the week earlier to avoid overcrowding. Smee (over at waygook.org) was in the early session and started a post with his comments on the whole affair.

The Teaching Demonstrations
The main items on the agenda were two simultaneous teaching demonstrations of a native speaker and a co-teacher. The first presentation was on stage in the main auditorium where the native speaker taught a mixed middle school class while the Korean co-teacher participated with minimal interference. The second was a live video feed presented in a small theater on a lower level where the roles were reversed and the Korean co-teacher actively taught the class while the native speaker was metaphorically warming the bench. As a bonus the second one was also a demonstration of TEE (Teach English in English) a new concept to Jeollanam-do's English education policy where the Korean English teacher teaches English without out any Korean instruction.

Both of these demonstrations defined co-teaching in terms of a teacher-assistant model. A little bit of background reading on co-teaching led me to a book that uses the more official sounding name of supportive teaching. It seemed like the model was being presented as the de facto standard and I would have liked to see more discussion including other co-teaching theories especially when the teachers in attendance differed greatly in their teaching environments, education level, and even school support. Consequently (and after talking to some of other workshop participants) many participants felt like the demonstrations had no real educational value because of this great discrepancy.

And then there's the concept of TEE. While it was just being introduced to the teachers and native speakers (well, at least to me) at the workshop, the theory has actually be around for a couple of years. I am unsure why the province brought up the model in front of all of us since there's a large group of native speakers who can provide anecdotal evidence that most schools are not ready for it. I managed to develop a case of esprit de l'escalier after I did some research and found this paper by Peter S. Dash. Peter raises some valid points against TEE, like the near impossibility of implementing it:

Somewhat surprisingly, a number of papers related to research in Hong Kong appear to also underline the problems of many students learning English through only English. Ho (1985) states in reference to questionnaire findings from 28 schools' remedial English classes, "complete avoidance of the native language (L1) was not possible" (p. 1). Even in Hong Kong- "many pre-service English teacher trainees find it almost impossible to survive in primary and junior secondary classrooms without using the mother tongue" (Lai, 1996, p.173 ). More specifically, in relation to when L1 can best be applied, some researchers see it as particularly useful for concept development and the transfer of cognitive and academic proficiency, (Park and others, 1984, p.1). These conclusions relate to Asian minority students being observed by a variety of Illinois immersion, bilingual and ESL program teaching personnel.
Or the major obstacles from implementing TEE specifically in Korea:
It is also fair to point out that the differences between English and Korean, linguistically and culturally are so great at times that it is not possible to explain every grammar point or cultural difference in English from which a particular lesson might give benefit. ... Or it might sometimes be possible, but the inordinate amount of time to do so could take away from the imperative to cover a fairly lengthy curriculum in preparation for examinations or satisfying the concerns of principals and supervisors.
The fact that many TEE issues were not fully examined during the workshop also highlights another criticism I had with the demonstration: the unrealistic teaching environments. Both classes involved well disciplined children who were so hyper aware of the live studio audience behind their backs that the scene conjured various of images ranging from awkward Sunday school pageants to (my favorite) North Korea military cadets performing of Kim Jong-Il. Peter used quasi-researched feelings of students and teachers to justify his points but in both classes the lessons were so well rehearsed that any complications that could have arisen were simply written out of the script; it simply showed what TEE looks like in theory, not what it looks like in practice. Maybe we would have seen some of Peter's points addressed, even challenged and corrected, if the students had actually been allowed to ask questions.

There's another TEE conflict that Peter's paper highlights and that's the co-teacher. In our TEE demonstration he was useless. This isn't a criticism about his teaching abilities or his interaction with the children. Going back to my live studio audience metaphor, this would be like blaming an actor for a poorly written script. His talents were simply not put to use and from what I saw during the second half of the class he was marginalized to the role of the same cd-rom that is currently in use. Peter's version of TEE assumes that the classes are taught by a single teacher and from what I saw in the demonstration, TEE actually removed the need for a native speaker.

Samuel, the native speaker in question clarified his situation later on the waygook.org post:
I did a TEE last month. It was a "Conversation Lesson". I was used very little, perhaps about 20 percent. It is possible to watch these TEE on line.
On the 26th, I will do a "Reading Lesson". It is content heavy. I am used about 40 percent of the time. I have no say in the content of the lesson. The Korean makes up the lesson, and they must follow a strict lesson outline. In fact, my co-teacher already gave a solo presentation last month, but for some reason the education board asked her to do the same lesson with a native speaker, which is me. So the lesson was left unchanged, and we figured out what to divide between us. My co-teacher has no-time to make up a new lesson.
This sheds some light on my complaints, but learning about this outside of the workshop, on the waygook.org board undermines the validity of the entire presentation as well as the usage of a native speaker in a TEE class.

Conflict Resolution
Unfortunately any real workshoping was really at a minimum in the post demonstration discussion. These discussions were rather one sided since the talkative ones were all native speakers and the topics tended to go off on tangents to a point where outbreaks of off topic, but valid, discussion were cut short because of time constraints. Andrea King, the native speaker coordinator for Jeollanam-do and one of the hosts of the workshop kept the workshop moving along by apologetically resolving each situation with something like "well I guess each school will have to come up with it's own solution."

Placing the onus of this resolution on the school really placed the onus on to the shoulders of the native speaker since (at least in my case) the conflicts involves a principal, vice-principal, and 8 different English teachers of various gender, age, and level of Confucius ideology who were not in attendance. Returning the native speaker back to the school without any strategies or at least a notion of what works best was really detrimental and a counter-workshop aspect of the workshop.

Virginia Parker and Nicola Andrewes conducted a in-house poll during the early parts of the session and was going to present their findings (the highlight I was looking forward to) but unfortunately it was rushed and practically cut short for the 5pm deadline. Some of her questions were:
  • What is working? What are some positive apsects of the teaching program you are involved with in Jeollanam-do?
  • What can Korea English co-teacher do to improve their effectiveness in the ESL Team Teaching classroom?
  • What can Native English Speakers do to improve their effectiveness in the ESL Team Teaching classroom?
  • What can the Jeollanam-do Education Administration do to improve the effectiveness of the language program in place in Jeollanam-do?
It seemed like it was the only case where documented feedback could have been brought back to the Jeollanam-do Office of Education for thought in policy making, so it was unfortunate that effectively analyzing the results was pressured against the 5pm deadline.

My Workshop
Calling the afternoon gathering a workshop was really a misnomer. To me it seemed more like annual corporate rally, showcase, presentation, or even an awkward Sunday school pageant, where the point was to sit back and simply watch the the new direction of education in the Jeollanam-do province. Any attempt at a workshop, where the audience actually participates in exercises to better their own abilities, was really impossible since the problems and solutions were too varied. In the end it seemed like the only problem that had all of the staff and teachers unified was if the schedule would stick to the 5 o'clock deadline.

Playing the game of what I would do to make it better, I'd devise a two part workshop spread out over a number of days focusing on two main topics:
  1. Co-teaching Workshops.
  2. The Native Speaker and Co-Teacher Relationship.
The first part would be valid teaching workshops broken up by education level; elementary, middle and high school all have different education models and curriculum and need different workshops. The teaching workshop could focus on bad and good teaching by examining various realistic situations in the classroom (maybe submitted anonymously to avoid public criticism) and noting what went right and what went wrong. This would be also good forum to laboratory-test the feasibility of TEE.

The second half doesn't have the same nice split across the education levels, so it could reunite everybody to focus on the native speaker and co-teacher relationship. Apart from dealing with problematic children, this seems like the other source of frustration in the school environment and the goal here would be an attempt to solve co-teaching conflicts in a mediated fashion. Off the top of my head some topics could be:
  • Young Female Native Speaker and Elderly Male Co-Teacher: How filial piety can be interpreted as a sexist insult.
  • Okay Okay, Do Not Worry About It and other invalid answers used when answering question in English.
  • Efficient use of a single native speaker and many English co-teachers.
  • It's alright to have bad English: Examples of co-teaching that doesn't embarrass co-teachers with poor language skills.
  • Dealing with school staff without a translator.
  • The proper way to correct mistakes made by the other teacher.
  • Co-Teacher Paper Work: What is it and how can we reduce it?
  • When is a little brat a little shit? The various stages of punishment and when to apply them.
I'll admit that this list seems a little one sided and that most of this post has been thought up from the stand point of my native speaker's point of view. There are other native speaker here with actual teaching training and know way more about teaching than I do--enough that they could lead some of these workshops. And of course I would love to have opinions from the co-teachers side of the relationship, but whenever I ask I get a simple and polite everything is okay, thank you.

1 comment:

Pascali said...

Nice job of analysis it would appear. Suggest you follow-up with some research and get posted at Asian EFL journal teaching articles. That in itself would keep the momentum going from on that quasi research article on TEE by Dash. It is important that that of the past that is relevant to today is not lost. The Education boards are there to drive home that all is well when it is not particuarly given the political pressures they are under. Hence TEE is likely far from fully working though progressing here and there no doubt. And those pressures are driven from a number of places from parents on one side and chaebols on the other -though I think the well informed business leaders have largely given up on most of the korean education. You noter the factory like attitude to everyone wanting to finish by 5pm. That in part of a nutshell is where education has gone-juxtapositioned against the 3 million dollar salary of football stars and 100000 dollar banker receptionists in Europe. Businesses really need so few of the graduates for the major thinking positions who inevitably get a good education even if it is in part through a reducation programme at company training andéor good school in a good district or private school. My general view of public education is largey unfavorable though there certainly are some good schools able to deliver a decent curriculum -TEE included. They would do well to shut down a good number of universities which are so far in surpls that it borders on the ridiculous. Finally more technical schools are needed where English and TEE overall should be probably les emphasized. Education expectations and labour market requirements need to be realistic including parents.English on one hand is way too much of a fad and everyone wants it because too many have a dreamland about where they are goig professionally etc. Administrations like in so many of the systems are strangling off resources, collecting unreliable statisics amany etc. to feed these ridiculous expectations and trying to hide badly structured and managed educational institutions.

Merc de France.