Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Some Thoughts on Teaching English

Incruit Corporation, which claims to be Korea's leading HR company, has released a survey of over 4,000 jobseekers in the Korean market, as reported in Korea Times yesterday, and found that "the country's top employers' recent recruitment trend highlights one value they're looking for most ― English proficiency."
"Our assessment shows that the English test score was the only outstanding factor that differentiated candidates from success and failure," said Ko Jin-hee, a career consultant at Incruit.
Strong academic records, voluntary work, internships, awards and certifications didn't turn out to be decisive, as a large number of candidates who were rejected had such credentials, the data show.
A similar evaluation done previously indicates that English proficiency is one of the skill sets most valued during recruitment, but figures show that candidates ― whether successful or not ― are improving their scores across the board.

This is no surprise to anyone who is knowledgeable about the way Korea works--or doesn't. And for anyone who teaches English here, like me, it's a definite indicator of job security, especially with the jobless rate in the US plummeting towards 10% and our financial whizzes seemingly resigned to it.

I got a W100,000 per month raise on my new contract (about $85 at current exchange rates) even though technically I was supposed to stay at my level for 2 years. I feel that I am well-liked at my school, even seen as a model teacher--I am sometimes asked not just for English advice, but also teaching advice. The older teachers take notes on my presentations.

OTOH, I am wise to the fact that all that respect could disappear with one "wrong" move from me, though I can't even suss out what that might be until it happens. This is the downside of buying into a foreign culture.
"The standard of English proficiency has changed," said Ko. "Job seekers can no longer outshine their competitors with mediocre skills because everyone is getting better."
She stressed that test scores aren't enough to assess language proficiency, which leads companies to put more emphasis on speaking evaluations.

This is why I try to make students--even resistant students--speak English, a sentence or an idea at least, in every class, hoping to give them some confidence. The best way, it seems to me, is to give them no choice. Listen and repeat has its place, but that's not what I'm talking about.

You can't accomplish this with slapping or beating, or even really with hypervigilance. You need to give them a reason to speak English. I never sit at my desk. When not presenting the lesson material, I move among the students and insist my coteachers do the same, asking questions, eliciting responses, or just plain talking to them, even if it's not about the lesson. Sometimes, I make them stand up and address the class--reading a sentence or two they have had an opportunity to work on.

Much of the time, my lesson plan is only really successful with the students who want to practice or improve their English. The least proficient students (i.e., the ones who need it most) are most reticent. I have learned to accept that. Efficiencies are thus, so don't spend too much time trying to lure them out. Teach to the top, and hope it trickles down.

Still, these bottom 10-20% are part of the class, too. The ideal plan is one which requires any student to speak, in a controlled situation, with a good chance of success. An information gap activity fits this bill--especially one designed with student interests in mind, arranged so the teaching team can maintain high vigilance. An example: Job Fair.

Did that take work? Yeah, of course it did. The SMOE contract is 22 teaching hours and 18 planning hours per week. That's close to a 1:1 ratio! My advice--use those planning hours to plan, to look ahead, to strategize. The better your planning, the more polished your powerpoints, the more well-thought-out your logistics, the easier time you will have in class. When students are engaged (or at least occupied) every minute, there is less chance for misbehavior, more chance for English-speaking.

Since this is turning out to be a post about teaching methods, allow me to mention Howard Gardner's work on multiple intelligences--while as second language teachers we focus on listening, reading, speaking and writing, we should also avail ourselves of the different learning styles and worldviews of our students. Gardner's work was a paradigm shift in my teaching, and it's still impacting pedagogical theory.

1 comment:

Kelsey said...

Good on you for mentioning the multiple intelligences. Too many teachers don't integrate that.