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Archive for the ‘ESL/EFL University Teaching in China’ Category

I haven’t been blogging much at all since Julianne and I moved to China and began teaching . . . here’s a post that kind of encapsulates a lot of what’s been going on.

We’ve been teaching at a military university’s English program, and it’s been good in many ways, and extremely challenging in others.

Over the course of the first two months of teaching at the university I met many Chinese English instructors of various ranks, and had several conversations. These conversations led to me being invited to give a presentation on my teaching methodology and philosophy of teaching. I should explain the larger context of the conversations involves a massive teaching reform project at my university that has been going on now for just over a year. The university powers that be want to update the teaching methodology that the instructors use, and I think also the English program’s textbooks, testing, and overall curricula design. It’s a massive project.

I decided that since I put about 3 weeks of work, and dozens of hours of reading and prepping a power point and handout, to post a story about the presentation, and my handouts, because I think other EFL/ESL teachers will find it interesting, and hopefully useful too.

You can see my handouts below, and also the list of my “Must Have Books” For EFL/ESL University Instructors.

Please feel free to comment and ask questions.

J

Last Friday morning I packed up a suitcase full of about half the books in my teaching library, and headed out to do a presentation on my teaching methodology. I was excited about doing this presentation because I’d spent the last 3 weeks reading, and re-reading parts of my methodology books to clarify in my own mind what my current teaching methodology is since it’s gone through quite an evolution during the time I spent teaching in Korea, and now over the last two months in China.

I was also happy that I was being given a forum in which I could explain how I see teaching through the framework of EFL (English Foreign Language) teaching (as opposed to the fractured and confused perspectives I’d been hearing from EVERY Chinese teacher I spoke to–I realized that there was an English program “identity crisis” as far as what kind of program we were all operating within, and I REALLY wanted to address that FUNDAMENTAL PROBLEM!). One of the major issues I wanted to foreground during my presentation was the fact that I thought my university’s English program was trying to function within three different types of English programs: ESP (English for Specific Purposes), EAP (English for Academic Purposes), and EST (English for Science and Technology). I got quite a reaction from my audience of teachers, and high ranking colonels and PhD professors when I talked about that, and later in the post-presentation discussion period I was really happy to hear others thought the same thing as I did!

I presented to 30 Chinese English teachers, some of who were the top ranking officers/administrators in the English program of the military university where I teach. Before I presented, two other presenters gave their content, and it was quite telling to see that they were essentially trying to introduce what native English speaking teachers take for granted about what a ‘good teacher’ is–for example, treating students equally. They were also touching on some aspects of CLT and TBL (Communicative Language Teaching Methodology, and Task-based Learning Methodology) but didn’t really do anything other than scratch the surface in a manner that I would think should be used for student-teachers, or teachers who have never taught before and are just starting their careers–not a room full of teachers with years of experience.

Over the past ten days or so I have been fighting a head cold and cough, and also dealing with my regular teaching duities and the problems I’ve been trying to address with course objectives being unclear, and invalid testing and lack of info I needed to know about the final grading and exams . . . this unfortunately made me tired, and I actually needed two or three more days to nail my presentation materials; I finished my prep and first draft of my power point with 177 power point slides of pictures of my students DOING the things I wanted to talk about, and my 10 methodology approaches and principles . . . I then smacked myself up the side of my head and said, “JASON! You ONLY have 50 minutes to present this material–you can’t present 177 slides no matter how good the material is in that time!”

Thursday night, the night before my presentation, I invited a Chinese English teacher over to the apartment so I could do a practice run through of my material, and try to get a clearer sense of what I needed to cut. I think I already knew what needed to be cut but by the time I was done my power point design it was Thursday at 6pm, and I didn’t have the 2 or 3 days I needed to mull over what I could cut, condense, and revise in order to cull it down to a manageable amount of presentation material.

I even went and re-read Jeremy Harmer’s “10 Things I Hate About Powerpoint” because I knew I was putting too much, lol …. but I was out of time, and too tired.

My Chinese teacher friend had a good response to my presentation, and good suggestions too. I cut as much of the material after she left as I could, but I could still see it was too much material. I forced myself, though, to go to bed and not kill myself for a presentation I was only giving once, and for a presentation I was not being paid a large fee for!

I printed off a two-page double-sided handout with some primary points from the power point, and a list of books I’d be referring to during my presentation (see below), and went to bed.

Back to Friday morning . . . I do my presentation and only make it to point 5 of my 10 points I’d used to organize my teaching methodology. With only 10 minutes left in my 50 minute presentation I skipped past several slides in each section, and got out the key ideas for my last five points, and was done. I was somewhat satisfied with my presentation, but knew that if I’d just had a few more days to prep I could have done something I think might have even impressed Jeremy Harmer a little–him being, in my mind, one of the best presenters I’ve ever heard and seen give a power point presentation (KOTESOL 2007, South Korea).

I’d been given 90 minutes to work with for my presentation, and I’d told the colonel and vice-dean of post-graduate studies at the university that I’d use 50 for my talk, then we’d take a short break during which the teachers could look at the 100 books displayed on a table at the front of the conference room. The break time was a rapid fire blitz of questions from THIRTY teachers all looking like kids on Christmas morning as they grabbed different books I had on the table, and began asking me questions about the books and different teaching needs they all had–holy cow!

I was really happy to see one of the high ranking teachers (not sure about the actual rank) ask me a lot about “A Framework for Task-based Learning” by Jane Willis. I referred to it as the ‘bible of TBL’ during my presentation, and THAT got her attention as she’s one of the teachers assigned to the current massive teaching reform project that my university is currently doing. From what I’ve been able to piece together, she has to ‘teach’ and ‘train’ all the Chinese English teachers on how to teach using TBL, and how to test students too. But based on the fact that the winter and summer breaks don’t seem to be used for in-service training, and that teacher training only seems to be done on Friday mornings each week of the semester with teachers giving lectures with no real training taking place in terms of trainees doing exercises and activities to apply what they’ve been learning about….well, I don’t see how the Chinese English teachers are going to be able to get a solid grasp on what TBL is, and how they can use it in their courses.

A major point that I stressed during the discussion period after the short break and book gazing frenzy was that the current curricula at the university, and specific textbooks I’d seen, were not suitable for use with TBL methodology and testing. This got quite a stir from the teachers, and the colonel tried to diminish my comment/criticism of the curriculum not being compatible with TBL–to which I said, “Sir, you teach post-graduate courses, right? Have you seen the undegradate textbooks? No? I’d suggest you take a look at them and then we can discuss this again. But until then I strongly believe there are major problems that need to be addressed.” I said this with as much respect, sincerity, and neutral tone of voice as I could, and he seemed to realize that he couldn’t back up his opinion cause he had NOT looked at the undergrad textbooks, nor did he seem to be familiar with their testing either.

Anyways, I think some of the big things I walked away from this experience with were quite valuable. Assessing and articulating what my current EFL/ESL methodology and philosophy of teaching was a good experience. It showed me what I need to learn more about, and what I need to read more. It reaffirmed teaching principles and approaches that I strongly believe and practice. And it allowed me to establish more credibility with the powers that be at my university so that when I say something, or criticize something, they know it’s not just a complaining foreigner who ‘doesn’t understand Chinese culture or the university’s English program and teaching culture’–the comments and criticisms are based on knowledgea and experience gained from hard work, and a lot of experience.

The conclusion I came to after a lot of reading and re-reading, and reflection on my teaching, was that I was doing what Harmer refers to in his fourth edition of “The Practice of English Language Teaching,” 2007: “We need to be able to say, as Kumaravadivelu attempted, what is important in methodological terms, especially if we concede one method alone may not be right in many situations” (page 78, my emphasis, Harmer).

Basically, I use a combination of CLT (Communicative Language Teaching methodology) and TBL (Task-based Learning methodology) with some of my own personal approaches to teaching all mixed up into one hybrid form of the two major methods. But in terms of how I practice and apply my methodology there is no fixed formula. How I teach depends on the needs and wants of the specific teaching situation, language learning situation and needs and wants, and the overall teaching and learning environment within which I’m operating. I think that I knew this before I began my prep for this presentation, but doing the work helped me to clarify and confirm what I do, and why I do it. I highly recommend other EFL/ESL teachers try something like this if they have the time and inclination.

Oh, a really bizarre moment occurred after the end of the discussion period. The colonel stood up, and walked to the front of the conference room. He then proceeded to say that he thought I had a lot of great ideas and opinions about teaching methodology, and EFL, and that he wanted to hear more about my ideas. He then said that “after learning more about Jason’s opinions and ideas we may adopt them here as policy and practice at the university”–HOLY SHIT!

Sometimes I really don’t realize how other teachers perceive what I say and do. Sometimes I really don’t give myself enough credit that the hard work I put into my teaching craft, and continually trying to improve myself as a teacher, comes across to such a point as that I’d actually have my methodology used as a part of the basis for an entire English program’s teaching methdology reform . . .

It’s humbling, scary, and thrilling all at the same time.

I just have to hope that some degree of success can be achieved in their reform project because based on this article, The Impact of CurriculumInnovation on the Cultures of Teaching (http://www.chinese-efl-journal.com/Vol%20%201%20January%202008.pdf), I don’t know if they can achieve their wishes.

But I’ll help–if they ask (and hopefully pay more too!).

J

What is a good man?

A teacher of a bad man.

What is a bad man?

A good man’s charge.

If the teacher is not respected,

And the student is not cared for,

Confusion will arise, however clever one is.

This is the crux of the mystery.

Lao Tsu 1997, ch 27

From “Experiential Learning in Foreign Language Education, General Editor C. N. Candlin

Applied Linguistics and Language Study, Pearson 2001

Different types of foreign language learning . . .

• ESP – English for Specific Purposes

• EAP – English for Academic Purposes

• EST – English for Science and Technology

• EFL – English as a Foreign Language

• ELF – English as a Lingua Franca

• ESOL – English Speaking of Other Languages

• CLIL – Content and Language Integrated Learning

EFL/ESL influences on my teaching methodology . . .

Jeremy Harmer

Scott Thornbury

Michael Rost

Sari Luoma

Penny Ur

Jane Willis

Michael J Wallace

Teaching methodologies . . . Which one? More than one? Or . . . Something new?

• Grammar-Translation

• Direct Method

• Audiolingualism

• Behaviorism

• PPP (Presentation, Practice, Production)

• ESA (Engage, Study, Activate); Boomerang Procedure, Patchwork Procedure

• Four Methods: CLT (Community Language Learning), Suggestopaedia, TPR (Total Physical Response), and the Silent Way

• CLT (Communicative Language Learning)

• TBL (Task-based Learning)

• The Lexical Approach

• Teachers-Students Dialog Method

• Post Method ???


My 10 EFL Methodology Principles and Approaches to ELT


• 1. Fun and Interesting. The “Magic X” factor.

• 2. Balance of accuracy and fluency language goals and content in lessons/course design.

• 3. Communicative and interactive style of TTT and STT.

• 4. Task-based learning.

• 5. Transparency in testing/evaluation, rubrics, and process.

• 6. Recode EFL language classroom with communicative power dynamics.

• 7. Games and Activities are a vital learning tool for learning, practicing, and mastering language goals and skills.

• 8. The 7 P’s: Proper planning and preparation prevent piss poor performance. Lesson planning/course design are critical in achieving teaching success, and language learner success.

• 9. “Variety is the spice of life.” Using a wide range of learning goals, language goals, skills, strategies, tasks, games, activities, and topics.

• 10. Empowering language learners to develop meta-cognitive learning skills (or ‘learner autonomy), and EFL language learning skills.

CLT – Communicative Language Teaching, and interactive style.

NOTE: There was a diagram on my handout that I cannot copy paste into blogger.

Post-Method: 10 Macrostrategies?

• “What is needed, Kumaravadivelu suggests, is not alternative methods, but ‘an alternative to method’ (2006: 67). Instead of one method, he suggests ten ‘macrostrategies, such as “maximise learning opportunities, facilitate negotiation, foster language awareness, promote learner autonomy” etc.’ (Kumaravadivelu 2001, 2006)”

From, The Practice of English Language Teaching, Fourth Edition. Jeremy Harmer

Post-Method is my ‘one’ method . . .

• “We need to be able to say, as Kumaravadivelu attempted, what is important in methodological terms, especially if we concede one method alone may not be right in many situations” (page 78, my emphasis, Harmer).

• “We have to be able to extract key components of the various methods we have been describing” (page 78, my emphasis, Harmer).

“Must Have Books” For EFL/ESL University Instructors

Speaking
Conversation StrategiesDavid Kehe and Peggy Dustin Kehe 

PLA (Pro Lingua Associates)

W20,000(?)

Basics in SpeakingMichael Rost 

Longman

W15,000

Strategies in SpeakingMichael Rost 

Longman

W15,000

Keep Talking: Communicative fluency activities for language teaching.Klippel, Friederike. Cambridge University Press, 2004. 

Cambridge Handbooks for Language Teachers. Series Edited by Penny Ur. W30,000

Oxford Basics: Simple Speaking Activities.Jill Hadfield and Charles Hadfield. Oxford, 1999. 

W5, 800

Getting Ready for Speech: A Beginner’s Guide to Public Speaking, by Charles LeBeau and David Harrington. Compass Publishing, 2002. W14,000
Pronunciation Pairs, Second Edition: An Introduction to the Sounds of English, by Ann Baker and Sharon GoldsteinCambridge, 2008 

W20,000

Conversation Gambits: Real English Conversation Practices. Eric Seller and Sylvia T. Warner. Thomson Heinle, 2002. W29,000 Small Group Discussion Topics for University Students, A Modern Approach to Fluency in English, Third Edition.. Jack Martire. Political, economic, environmental, and social issues facing the world in the 21st Century. Pusan National University Press, 2009. W12,000
Reading
Steps to Academic Reading Level 3: Across the BoardJean Zukowsky/Faust 

Thomson Heinle

W13,000

Steps to Academic Reading 4: In ContextJean Zukowski/Faust, Susan S. Johnston, and Elizabeth E. Templin 

Thomson Heinle

W13,000

Extensive Reading Activities for Teaching Language. Edited by Julian Bramford and Richard R. Day. Cambridge Handbooks for Language TeachersW25,000
Reading Extra by Cambridge College Reading Workshop, Edition 2.Malarcher, Casey. Compass Publishing, 2005. W15 000
Curriculum Design
Materials and Methods in ELT, Second Edition. A Teacher’s Guide.Jo McDonough and Christopher Shaw. Blackwell Publishing, 2003. 

W35 000

Games and Activities
Games for Language Learning, Third Edition. Andrew Wright, David Betteridge, and Michael Buckby. Cambridge University Press, 2006. Cambridge Handbooks for Language Teachers. Series Editor, Scott Thornbury. W28 000 700 Classroom Activities.David Seymour & Maria Popova. Macmillian, 2005. 

W20,000

Grammar Practice Activities, Second Edition, by Penny Ur. Cambridge University Press, 2006. Cambridge Handbooks for Language Teachers. Series Editor, Scott Thornbury. Cambridge, 2009W39,000
Debate and Critical Thinking
Discover Debate. Michael Lubetsky, Charles LeBeau, and David Harrington.Compass Publishing, 2000. 

W16 000

A Handbook of Critical Approaches to Literature, Fifth Edition.Wilfred L. Guerin. Oxford, 2005. 

W22 000

The Bedford Glossary of Critical and Literary Terms, Second Edition.Ross Murfin and Supryia M. Ray. 

Palgrave Macmillan, 2003.

W25 000

Becoming A Critical Thinker: A Master Student Text, Fifth Edition.Ruggiero, Vincent Ryan. Houghton Mifflin, 2006. 

W11 000

Listening
Tree or Three? Second Edition. Beginner Level. Ann Baker.Cambridge, 2006. Ship or Sheep? An Intermediate Pronunciation Course, Third Edition. Ann Baker. Cambridge, 2006 Teaching Listening ComprehensionPenny Ur 

Cambridge Handbooks for Language Teachers

W29,000

Dictations for Discussion, A Listening/Speaking Text, by Judy DeFillipo and Catherine Sadow. Pro Lingua Associates, 2006. W41,000 Listening.White, Goodith. Oxford, 1998. 

Resource Books for Teachers, Series Editor, Alan Maley. W26 000

Pronunciation Pairs, Second Edition: An Introduction to the Sounds of English, by Ann Baker and Sharon GoldsteinCambridge, 2008. W20,000
Writing
Sentences At A Glance, Third Edition.Brandon, Lee. Houghton Mifflin Company 2006. 

W10 000

Paragraphs At A Glance, Third Edition.Brandon, Lee. Houghton Mifflin Company 2006 

W10 000

Share Your Paragraph: An Interactive Approach to Writing, 2nd Edition.George M. Rooks. Longman, 1999. W13 000
Effective Academic Writing 1: The ParagraphAlice Savage and Masoud Shafiei 

Oxford University Press

W?

Effective Academic Writing 2: The Short EssayAlice Savage and Patricia Mayer 

Oxford University Press

W?

Effective Academic Writing 3: The EssayJason Davis and Rhonda Liss 

Oxford University Press

W?

EFL/ESL Test Design and Evaluation
Assessing SpeakingSari Luoma 

Cambridge Language Assessment Series

W35,000

Testing Second Language SpeakingGlenn Fulcher. General Editor: C. N. Candlin. Applied Linguistics and Language Study. Pearson Education Limited, 2003. 

W25,000

Testing for Language Teachers, Second Edition. Arthur Hughes. Cambridge Language Teaching Library Cambridge, 2003.W30,000
EFL/ESL Research and Teaching Books
Teaching and Researching ListeningRost, Michael. Longman, 2002. 

Applied Linguistics in Action Series, Edited by Christopher N. Candlin & David R. Hall

W22 000

Teaching and Researching SpeakingRebecca Hughes 

Applied Linguistics in Action Series, Edited by Christopher N. Candlin & David R. Hall

W22 000

Teaching and Researching ReadingWilliam Grabe and Fredricka L. Stoller 

Applied Linguistics in Action Series, Edited by Christopher N. Candlin & David R. Hall

W22 000

Teaching and Researching Writing Ken Hyland. Applied Linguistics in Action Series, Edited by Christopher N. Candlin & David R. Hall. W22 000
Culture/s and Cross-Cultural Lessons
Crossing Cultures in the Language Classroom, by Andrea DeCapua, Ed.D., and Ann C. Wintergerst, Ed.D.University of Michigan, 2004. 

W45,000

Culturally Speaking, Third Edition, by Rhona B. Genzel and Martha Graves Cummings2010 Heinle, Cengage Learning 

W21,000

101 American Idioms Harry Collis and Joe Kohl. Compass, 2004. W7,500; 101 American Customs Harry Collis and Joe Kohl. Compass, 2004. W7,500; 101 American Superstitions Harry Collis and Joe Kohl. Compass, 2004. W7,500
A First Look at the USA: A Cultural ReaderMilada Broukal 

Longman

W13,000

More About the USA: A Cultural ReaderMilada Broukal and Janet Milhomme 

Longman

W13,500

All About the USA: A Cultural Reader Second Edition. Milada Broukal and Peter Murphy. LongmanW13,000
EFL/ESL Methodology Books
The Practice of Teaching English, Fourth Edition.Harmer, Jeremy. Longman 2007. 

How to teach English.Harmer, Jeremy. Longman, 1998. 

W22 000, 000

How to teach Vocabulary.Thornbury, Scott. Longman, 2002. 

Series Editor, Jeremy Harmer.

W22 000

How to teach Pronunciation.Kelly, Gerald. Longman, 2000. 

Series Editor, Jeremy Harmer.

W22 000

How To Teach Speaking.Thornbury, Scott. 

Series Editor: Jeremy Harmer. Longman, 2006. W27 000

How to teach Writing.Harmer, Jeremy. Longman, 2004. 

W22 000

Teaching English Through English.Willis, Jane. Longman, 1981. 

W20 000

A Framework For Task-Based Learning.Willis, Jane. Longman, 1996. 

W22 000

Listening, Practical English Language Teaching. Marc Helgesen and Steven Brown. McGraw Hill, 2007. David Nunan, Series Editor. W15 000
Speaking, Practical English Language Teaching. Kathleen M. Bailey. McGraw Hill, 2007. David Nunan, Series Editor. W17,000 Teaching ESL/EFL Listening and Speaking, by I.S.P. Nation and Jonathan Newton.
ESL & Applied Linguistics Professional Series. Routledge, 2009. W25,000
Teaching ESL/EFL Reading and Writing 

by I.S.P. Nation and Jonathan Newton.
ESL & Applied Linguistics Professional Series. Routledge, 2008. W25,000

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Sorry for not blogging much over the last couple weeks . . . I’m still not happy blogging without uploading pics to scatter throughout the posts I write, and I’ve also been insanely busy . . .

Anyways, today in class we began working on demonstration speeches.  I showed my students a video of me demonstrating how to do a demonstration speech (ha, mabye I should say “modeling”). The topic was ‘How to put nail polish on your finger nails.”  Yes, that’s what I said, lol. (Other reasons I chose this video, of about 6 I did as models for previous courses where I’ve taught demo speeches, are that it wakes up the students and gets them paying attention, and it’s just plain funny to watch, lol.)

I explained to the students, cause they all thought the topic was ‘odd’ for a guy to be doing (hey, why the hell not?), that I’ve seen my sister, my mother, and girlfriends over the years all do their nails.  After explaining how I was able to give instructions and do a demo speech on this topic, I decided to say one more thing–and stepped on a major cross-cultural ESL/EFL university classroom landmine . . .

I asked the class this question: How many of you have sisters? And how many of you have watched them paint their nails?

Yeah, let’s pause for a moment, and watch as Jason’s foot gets blown up straight into his mouth–lol.

If you haven’t caught on yet as to why this is a rather STUPID and culturally INSENSITIVE question to ask students . . . consider that I’m teaching in China.  A country which has a one child policy . . .

Yeah! Nice one, buddy!

The students didn’t seem upset or mad or anything bad in terms of how they reacted. It was more like they all did a lightning-fast scan of the room to see who was dumb enough to admit their family had violated the policy (I won’t comment on whether anyone raised their hand or not).  When they looked back at me it was with a kind of surreal are-you-actually-asking-us-that-question-look-in-their-eyes . . . and then I realized what I had done and quickly switched gears and refocused everyone onto another aspect of the demonstration speeches.

Even though Julianne and I have only been in China for about six weeks I thought it’d be interesting to write a bit here about taboo topics I’ve discovered so far . . . or at least topics that are culturally sensitive.

1. ‘Do you have any brothers or sisters?’

As I said before, one child policy . . .

2. ‘Do you like Japanese people/culture?’ Basically, anything to do with Japan.

There is a visceral reaction that has taken place every time anything/everything Japanese comes up in the conversations I’ve had with my students so far (bear in mind this is with one university, and in one region of China, and I’ve only been in-country six weeks).  If you don’t know why some/many/all (?) Chinese people dislike/hate the Japanese this is one of the major reasons,

“The Nanking Massacre or Nanjing Massacre, also known as the Rape of Nanking, is a mass murder and war rape that occurred during the six-week period following the Japanese capture of the city of Nanjing (Nanking), the former capital of the Republic of China, on December 13, 1937 during the Second Sino-Japanese War. During this period, hundreds of thousands of Chinese civilians and disarmed soldiers were murdered and 20,000–80,000 women were raped[1] by soldiers of the Imperial Japanese Army.”

NOTE: This being said, I should qualify it, and problematize it, by saying that a few students I’ve spent a lot of time with have said to me that they like Japanese animation and comic books . . . so I think it’s safe to say that not everyone (and how the hell would I know considering there are 1.3 billion people here) dislikes the Japanese, and actually quite a few love  Japanese culture and people. (You can see pics I took on my flickr page of an anime, comic book, and cosplay exhibition I went to in China.)

3. ‘I think basketball is boring.’

Basketball is a BIG DEAL in China.  Every time I walk around campus after the regular lectures/classes have ended I can see many students and teachers playing basketball on massive multi-court fields. I’ve been asked several times now if I know so-and-so-player, and mentally wince when I have to say I don’t know who the person is talking about (I actually do think basketball is boring–lol.)

The Huffington Post has a pretty good article which illustrates (in some ways) how basketball mania is a national pasttime here. And there’s a decent history of basketball in China here.

Anyways, I don’t usually make step on too many cross-cultural landmines in the classroom–but today’s was definitely a big one.

Luckily, I’ve spent enough time now teaching my students that they have a sense of who I am as a teacher, and as a person, and they knew it was just an  honest mistake.

J

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It’s been a while since I blogged . . . sorry about that.

I’ve been having issues with trying to figure out how to continue blogging in the style that I enjoy.  I usually write my stories with pictures sprinkled liberally throughout the text.  But I’ve been unable to do that here because of the upload speed, servers disconnecting and reconnecting in the middle of uploading pictures (just one picture seems to be impossible), and some other issues.  I’ve been trying to figure a solution so that I can keep blogging in the way I enjoy . . .

But it’s not working.  Time to reinvent my blog style.

I think what I’m going to have to do is write my stories here, and upload my pictures to my flickr account.  I’ll try to write short comments, and in some cases short stories, under pictures that warrant them.  I think if readers of my blog finish a post and then go to flickr to look at the pictures that that will work for now.

Anyways . . . here’s a post I’ve been sitting on for a while.

My first day of teaching . . .

I woke up at 6:15 am on my first day of teaching.  While that might seem a little early it was because my first two hour class begins at 8am, and the bus I have to take to get there leaves at 7:15am.  I got up, showered, got dressed, and then headed out into the heat and humidity . . . the forecast for the day was “feels like 41”–ugh.

I walked outside the gates of the compound where there are three apartment buildings attached to the military university campus (there are something like 9 campuses, I think, or 10 (I forget)), and crossed the street carefully (scooters are electric here, so they’re kind of lethal in terms of not being able to hear them coming).  I grabbed some dumplings for breakfast, and a can of Coke (I needed the sugar and caffeine, I don’t drink coffee), and then walked back inside the gate of the apartment compound.

Before I continue, I should explain that Julianne and I have basically learned that we’re teaching at what is essentially the “West Point” of China in terms of military universities.  I knew the university has quite a reputation in China, but didn’t realize it was that prestigious.  Later, once I began teaching, it sank in even more becaues the English abilities of the students are unbelievable.  They are the top 1% of high school graduates in the country, and it shows.  I’ll write more about this later.

Back to my first morning of teaching . . . I re-entered the apartment compound and then walked into the office and out through the back where a path leads onto the campus the apartment compound sits on the edge of.  A short two-minute walk later I was standing at the bus stop, and already wiping sweat off my head from the excessive humidity.  It was going to be a long and hot day.

The bus arrived, and I got on with some other teachers and students in uniform.  It was air conditioned, and while I enjoyed that immensely I couldn’t help but think that I had to get off fifteen minutes later at the other campus where my classes are . . . and that my classroom would only have fans.  Ugh . . .

Getting off the bus, I walked towards three massive five-story buildings along with several hundred other students.  I panted my way up four flights of stairs and then walked into my classroom.  I met the computer technician again (Julianne and I had gone up to the campus the day before to find our classrooms, check the teaching technology worked and learn how to use it, etc), and she turned on everything and then left.

Students began entering the room.  Wide-eyed and curious with smiles and friendly demeanours . . . I relaxed and began to look forward to the start of my class.

The class leader, a few minutes later, entered and introduced himself to me.  He gave me two bottles of water (awesome!), and then said he’d give me a class list of students’ names in English next week.  I told him that was great, and he went and sat down.

A bugle came on over the P.A. system signalling the start of class, and I introduced myself.  I also used an introduction power point that I’ve been using for years with pictures of my family, jobs I’ve had, hobbies I enjoy, and other things I’ve done.  The students were engrossed in looking at the pictures and hearing the little stories about each.

After finishing my power point, I did a listening dictation with minimal pairs.  I began to get a sense of what “level 5” (the top rating a student can get at the university for English ability) meant as we did the exercise.  The students were able to follow my instructions quickly and without any misunderstandings.  When I put them in pairs and asked them to do the dictation for each other to practice their speaking and listening with the target sounds they also did this easily and quickly.  Wow.

After the dictation with pairs, I did one with sentences using the same pairs of words within the sentences.  I didn’t give the dictation myself, but rather had them dictate to each other the sentences with their own choices.  They seemed to enjoy this student-centered approach, and it also gave me a chance to walk around and listen and observe.

Definitely HIGH LEVEL students–wow.  I don’t think anyone in the class was below low-advanced, and many seemed to be intermediate-advanced or higher .  . .

Later, though, I’d begin noticing that some aspects of their language abilities were . . . underdeveloped.  This is not surprising, though, in a culture where teacher-centered learning is still the norm (from what I’ve been able to learn so far, anyways).

Listening dictation finished, I began lecturing with the power point I’d made for use with unit 1 of their textbook: National Flags.  The focus was on the American national flag, and the history of its development.

I began lecturing and the students were at first hesitant with my question and answer style.  After a few minutes they began to warm up to it, but still struggled to give definitions of vocabulary from the textbook unit in English.  I could see that they were used to answering in Chinese (Mandarin), and that they probably also were not used to being asked to give answers but rather being given the answers by the teacher . . . it seems likely there are some learning behaviors and strategies that I will need to model and teach them so that we can move through the lesson content at a good speed over the semester.

I wasn’t able to finish the national flag lecture before the ten minute break between periods came.  We broke for ten minutes and I tried to cool down and mingled a little with some of the students.  My classes range from 40 to 50 students, give or take, and 95% in general are male.

AH! I forgot to mention the name of the course I’m teaching: Advanced Listening.  It’s a sophomore course, and I have 3 sections of it.  All three sections are on Tuesdays.

After the break the students came back and we finished the rest of the lecture.  It was fun seeing their surprise and hearing their laughter as I lectured because I like to make small jokes, and emphasize and stress key facts and points with some dramatization or changing the pitch and tone of my voice.

National flag lecture done, I then taught them how to play “Simon Says” with 25 body part words on the white board.  I wanted to do something fun and not related necessarily to the national flag topic.  It would also let me see how quickly they were able to produce language they already knew, and learn some vocabulary they didn’t.  In addition to that I was fishing for common errors of pronunciation . . . but didn’t really find anything–wow.  The students really enjoyed the game, and we had a lot of fun.  I made sure to use groups of five to six in order to give as many of the students in each group a chance to be Simon.  Teaching 50-ish size classes is something I haven’t done much, but with the military discipline of the students classroom management was easy!

With about fifteen  minutes left I began the last activity I had planned for the day, a look and describe/listen and draw paired activity.  I gave the instructions and then drew a funny picture on the white board and the activity began.  Again, the students really enjoyed it.  I felt happy that my first class at the university was a success.  As the bugle began to play over the P.A. I gave the students their homework (read the next unit for the following week) and said goodbye to them, and they clapped to show their appreciation for the class.  I was very happy.

I then taught my next two hour class, and had about the same degree of success and reactions from the students.

It was lunch time.  A Chinese English teacher met me outside my class and we went to the cafeteria in another building close by.  It was organized chaos with several THOUSAND students in uniform all heading towards the cafeteria.  I wish I could have taken a picture to show you!

The teacher and I went to the teachers eating area in a room next to the massive stainless steel benches and tables student cafeteria.  We got our trays and then found a seat.  Lunch was so-so . . . actually, barely satisfactory.  I just scarfed it down and tried not to pay too much attention to it.  The teacher and I chatted about teaching, about my experience in Korea, and other things.  It was fairly pleasant, and I enjoyed not being asked some of the all too typical questions that a Korean teacher might have asked me (what’s your blood type, why are you so fat, etc).

After lunch I was surprised to realize (though I had seen my schedule for the day) that I had until 3pm off.  Apparently there’s a kind of siesta culture at my university where you take a rest and relax after lunch.

This cultural practice is so institutionalized that they actually have a FREE HOTEL for the teachers to go and rest in during the 3 hours after lunch each week day that there are no classes.  Yes, I said a HOTEL!

I was taken to see the hotel which sits about 3 blocks or so from the buildings where I teach.  You show your ID card and a clerk gives you a room key card.  Unfortunately, there is no air conditioning in the rooms (at least that works anyways).  There are fans, a TV, two beds, a bathroom and shower . . . but no working air conditioning.  I ended up going back to the building I teach in and up to the fifth floor technicians’ office where I’d seen a working air conditioning tower and large couch.  I sat there and read and cooled down for two hours, and then went to teach my last class of the day with the same general results as the first two.

Overall, definintely a good first experience in terms of lesson planning, teaching, and reactions from the students.

Some final thoughts . . . I was kind of shocked to see SEVEN CCTV cameras in the listening computer lab where I teach.  Four of them were like the type you see out on the street, and the others were the bubble style.  The fans worked just enough to keep the students and I from getting heat exhaustion.  I can’t imagine what it must have been like during the heat wave that hit Seoul, and apparently the university, during July and August.  It must have been awful.

The students at the military university have extremely disciplined attitudes and behavior. Albeit it was the first class, and it’s also the beginning of the fall/winter term . . . but I was VERY impressed by their motivation levels and HIGH degrees of paying attention during the class.

I am looking forward to seeing my classes again next week, and can’t wait to experience more time in the classroom with them.

J

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