Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Classroom News

Before I get to my classroom, I have here a story in today's Korea Times which announces that beginning in 2010, some 600 high schools in Korea will begin having classrooms that are "designated exclusively to individual subjects."

Right now at Young-il, myself in the "English Only Zone", the art teacher and the music teacher are the only ones with dedicated classrooms. Of course, PE takes place on the playground. The subject teachers rotate from room to room while students stay put. I can't imagine how this works for, say, science. As the article points out,
The government said the new scheme would eventually make each classroom more effective for each subject. It cites the example of English classrooms, which will be equipped with more English materials.
"The new system will gradually offer tailor-made classes according to the academic level of students," said Kim Cha-dong, director-general of the ministry [of Education, Science and Technology].

Congratulations and welcome to the twentieth century, even if somewhat belatedly.

The pedagogy here is almost entirely lecture-based, teacher-centered. In their normal English classes (that is, the four times a week they don't come to me), the typical lesson is dictation and translation. Students have little opportunity to practice or apply what they've learned, except for a handful of rote exercises.

The teachers generally seem to agree that this system is not particularly effective (as does the research), but What can we do about it? they shrug. They are not teaching a subject so much as an exam. And an inappropriate, poorly designed exam, at that. I can state this, since I've seen the (Korean) SAT English section of the last two years. The best thing I can say is, at least the scoresheet had the correct answers.

Speaking of exams, I found out yesterday that I will not have any classes tomorrow (Thursday), because students will be taking a practice version of the national exam all day. So my carefully timed two-week "Job Fair" lesson sequence is foiled by poor communication--for Thursday classes, anyway.

But back to pedagogy: I'll be the first to admit my lessons are far from perfect, but they are pretty much student-centered: the last twenty minutes of this week's lesson requires them to compose and write their own questions (with plenty of prompts), ask the questions of classmates, listen to the answers, etc.

The level of involvement in actually performing varies, of course, but mostly it could be worse. The co-teacher and I try to go round helping with formulating questions, then monitoring the conversation phase. Still, numerous students, perhaps taking a tip from the "Get a Haircut" thing, thought "Are you handsome?" was a good question. Then there was this:
What you get a skill about job?

The most amazing thing about it, though, was that he got answers! I realize he probably re-asked it in Korean, or possibly even just made up answers to fill in the sheet.

So obviously having your own subject-designated classroom isn't going to work miracles.

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