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  • timothyhampson 10:11 am on November 16, 2014 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , Ideas,   

    A defence of fun. 

    %22Fun,_off_the_job_keeps_him_on_the_Job%22_-_NARA_-_514789I wrote last week about values in the classroom. One of the values conflicts that often comes up is fun vs learning. A common complaint of English teachers in Korea is that they are expected to just have fun in class and don’t do any ‘real’ teaching. “I feel more like a babysitter than a teacher.” complained one of my friends. Obviously fun can lead to more learning. Students need to be engaged to learn things. If they’re bored they won’t pay much attention and won’t learn much. The real issue is when fun is treated as a means in itself rather than a means to the end of learning things. Some teachers might feel pressure to choose fun even when it leads to less learning.

    It’s okay to have these classes where fun is the first priority once in a while. It might even be a good idea. Having these lessons once in a while can make for happier classrooms. Students who have fun less serious classes are more likely to work harder in more serious classes. The fun classes can sometimes be a well valued reward for hard work in other classes.

    The second reason is that it’s important to create a less hierarchical atmosphere in the classroom. Having a class where you play some games can help students feel more confident about talking in other classes. When your students have beaten you at scrabble, they become much less scared of making mistakes in front of you.

    Finally, a lot more learning might be going on than we think when we use these classes. Explaining rules, for example, is a good authentic language use. Playing games often brings up lots of emergent language, either through words someone doesn’t know or though stories people tell each other while playing games.

    These kinds of lessons would lose their efficacy if they were all that ever happened, but as a once a month thing I think they’re a good idea. Fun things that I’ve used in the past were board games like Scrabble or Guess Who. For a special, end of course book, treat for my adult class I’ve taken them for bingsoo a few times and just brought some conversation questions in case conversation dries up. The first priority here isn’t to learn lots but just to have fun, but these classes still seem really valuable experiences and well worth doing. I’d be really interested in hearing from any readers who have suggestions of fun activities to use in class.

  • timothyhampson 3:05 am on November 12, 2014 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: Ideas,   

    Who owns our values as ESOL teachers? 


    Values are a funny thing. Two people could have the same set of information and make completely different decisions based on it. Both of these decisions would be right for them because their values are different. Presented with a cake and knowing it would make me chubby in the long term and happy in the short term, I would eat the cake: good call! Someone else might choose to avoid the cake: also a good call!

    Another example. You want to take a Korean class. You find information about two different courses. One of them has a big focus on speaking, the other has a focus on writing. Neither of the courses are a better course. It all depends on what you value.

    It’s all fine and dandy making a decision based on your values when you’re the only stakeholder, but as teachers we have many stakeholders who all potentially value different things.

    You: If you’re a teacher for any length of time it’s probably (hopefully?) because you quite like it. If you like it you probably have some things you value. You might love task based learning, extensive reading, teaching unplugged or whatever. It might be something more simple like wanting to really get to know your students and have conversations or seeing them all get really good test scores.

    Your school: Your boss and coworkers might value the same things as you, they might not. The stereotype is of the school owner who only cares about money. I’m not sure if that’s particularly fair. They probably are committed to keeping students at the school though. They might also have their own beliefs about what a successful class is. Coworkers or coteachers might also have beliefs about what they want your classes to look like.

    Parents: If you don’t teach young learners parents might be less of a consideration. If you do teach young learners you’ll probably have had a parent tell you you’re teaching wrong. Its frustrating sometimes but these parents just want their children to be successful.

    Students: Students are all different. Some of them might be there because they’ve chosen to be but it’s rare for all of them to be that way. Some students value learning English as fast as possible. Some want to learn but also want to really enjoy it and don’t mind taking a bit longer as long as the journey is fun. Some just want to have fun.

    Society: Teachers have an effect on what their students are like. We probably have some societal duty to help students be nice people. We probably have a duty towards fairness too. I’ve heard a few stories of kneading results to make the school look better. This would be teachers choosing their school’s values (or maybe their own I guess) over society’s.

    What you have then is a bit of a mess of values. I want to leave it open for discussion for a bit before writing a part 2 giving my thoughts on this. Steve Brown wrote a really interesting post on if teachers are too nice. The Secret DOS also wrote a post on similar themes that is (like almost everything on The Secret DOS) worth reading. I want to know how you deal with these kind of conflicts in values and what kinds of conflicts arise in your schools.

  • timothyhampson 2:00 am on October 11, 2014 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: Ideas, ,   

    KOTESOL part 4: Scott Thornbury 

    It’s no secret that Scott Thornbury is one of my favourite TEFLers, so I was pretty excited for his plenary on Saturday evening. I actually met Scott afterwards and managed not to say anything too silly (I realised recently that my earlier paranoia about saying silly things came from this blog post).

    I told him I really enjoyed his talk and he said, in an almost disparaging way, that it was a light feel good presentation. The focus on the talk was about embracing change and near the start he said that anyone who had come to a conference had already embraced change. I think that, possibly, it’s one thing to ’embrace change’ and another to actually change. I also think being encouraged to change might be more useful than knowing what to change. I know quite a few ways I could change in class but they’re scary and different to what my classes are used to and might go down like a lead balloon.

    At the heart of Scott’s talk were 5 principles that he’d borrowed from a book about professional development for doctors (note to self, read more weird and random books). The five principles were:
    Don’t complain. Lots of teachers (and most people) complain about their jobs, but it’s not really helpful and it’s pretty annoying. He suggested #KELTchat for people in Korea as a forum where TEFL discussion happens in a positive way. I really like the sound of KELTchat and I’m going to be taking part this month.

    Ask an unscripted question. It’s important to have real conversations with pupils and ask questions from a place of genuine curiosity. If we do this then we can learn about their interests and give classes that really matter for them. We can also ask questions like ‘When did you use English?’, ‘What’s easy and what’s hard about English?’ and ‘What do you want to say in English that you can’t?’ that give really obvious ways to change our classes to make them better.

    Count something you find interesting. At the end of the day research just comes down to counting something ‘Count something’ sounds less scary to do. There are so many aspects to TEFL that there are an overwhelming number of things a teacher could research. Scott talked about counting the number of times he used certain mannerisms and how this made him stop. I know I say ‘so…’ all the time, if I counted it, it would probably make me stop to. One could also count the number of ‘real’ questions asked, how often the students spoke or how often names were used.
    Write something. Scott talked about how writing a blog, tweeting or something of that ilk can be really useful. If you write something down you can clarify what you mean and think it through properly. You can also get help from other people by doing it. Writing up these KOTESOL blog posts has helped me consider what I heard and I’d recommend it for other teachers.

    Change. The last point was to just change. The phrase “Recognise your inadequacy and seek solutions.” stuck out for me because it’s blunt and positive at the same time.

    I’d be interested in knowing what other people thought about the talk. I really enjoyed it. I think the five points he mentioned are something I could come back to again and again if I ever feel stuck in a rut.

    • David Harbinson 3:24 am on October 11, 2014 Permalink | Reply

      I think you did a really good job of summarising Thornbury’s talk – a much better job than I did! You’re right that the talk was a light one, but with 50 minutes, I think that’s just about right. He did a talk at KoTESOL a couple of years back on the Secret History of Methods (you can find it on YouTube) which was really funny too.

      I really like what you say about embracing change being one thing and actually changing being another, and I agree that the latter is much more difficult. That’s why I think Thornbury’s talk was good, because the ideas are not exactly new, but a nice reminder of what we can/should do. It’s been a while since I’ve ‘counted something’, but something that I plan to do over the next few weeks.

      I look forward to seeing you at the next #KELTchat.


    • ashowski 6:00 am on October 11, 2014 Permalink | Reply

      This reminded me of the motto “be the change you want to see”

      I really like it when someone finds something from a different area and applies it to ELT.

      Nice blog post 🙂


      • timothyhampson 4:56 pm on October 11, 2014 Permalink | Reply

        Thanks for the kind comments. It’s really hard to know which area to apply from but when it works it can be great. Apparently obscure Scandinavian filmmakers and doctors are working out for Scott though so…


    • Nicola 7:26 am on October 11, 2014 Permalink | Reply

      ooooo the power of influence! 🙂 That sounded like a good talk, well summarized.


      • timothyhampson 4:52 pm on October 11, 2014 Permalink | Reply

        Nicola Prentis: Worldwide spreader of Scott Thornbury based paranoia.

        Liked by 1 person

        • Nicola 7:28 pm on October 11, 2014 Permalink

          You know the best part? I’m meeting him next week. I have terrified myself of course. But, I’ll make sure to pass the recalibrated fear levels on afterwards. 🙂


    • Chewie (Gangwon Dispatches) 12:00 am on October 14, 2014 Permalink | Reply

      Good summary! I was there and found his talk quite engaging. About complaining: Yes. It does get annoying. I do think that complaints can be legitimate, but it’s important not to push too hard on them. A good friend here has what he calls “the five minute rule,” in which if he complains, he goes for five minutes and stops flat. He figures that five minutes is enough to say whatever’s needed. Besides, what comes after complaining–more complaining, inaction, or seeking solutions? Seeking solutions–or at least noting them–is much better than whining.

      Side note: Sometimes stuff about teaching/stuff that applies to teaching comes from unlikely sources. I recently read this novel by Jose Rizal called “Touch Me Not” that had a brilliant discussion about how ineffective corporal punishment is in school. The novel had little to do with education, but it did sum things up better than many teaching texts I’ve read.

      Rock on.


  • timothyhampson 3:14 pm on October 9, 2014 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: Ideas, , ,   

    KOTSESOL (part 3) Herbert Putcha on thinking and young learners 

    N.b. I’m going to make these write-ups slightly shorter than my last one as I realised just how long it would take to do otherwise. If I did a full write-up I’d forget what people said by the time I got to the end of Sundays talks. If you want more detail about anything drop a comment in the box below and I’ll try and help.

    Herbert Puchta – teaching young learners to think

    The next talk after Mike Long’s was Herbert Puchta on teaching young learners to think. I think I lucked out finding it because I wasn’t really sure what to see but it turned out to be very relevant to me  It was a really good presentation. He opened by saying that students are so bombarded by information that it can be very tempting to do the same to them in the classroom with all singing all dancing lessons. His perspective was that if young learners are engaged emotionally engaged they’ll enjoy classes. (He proved this by citing some studies that show that emotional engagement in class causes dopamine to be released. I’m pretty sure that you don’t need neuroscience to show that though.)

    To make lessons emotionally engaging you should make them meaningful. Lots of lessons aren’t meaningful, for example in the dialogues they use. If you ask ‘What colour is my tie? What colour is my suit?’ and so on, you’re not really having a meaningful conversation. He pointed out if you asked these questions on the street people would think you were really weird. Instead of asking about tie colours he suggested giving students blank CDs and ask them what colours they can see reflected (refracted?) when it’s held up to the light.

    Colours in a CD

    By engaging learners different thinking skills we also emotionally engage them, and so they can learn more in our classes.  He gave a list of all of the thinking skills he’d identified, but the one he spoke about most was imagination. We should, for example, set gap fills with lots of possible answers where they can be imaginative. He did give some more examples and you can have a look at them here.

    The talk was really good, even though the conclusion was make lessons emotionally engaging and let kids use their imagination which isn’t that controversial. It was nice to see it delivered from a neuroscience point of view. Afterwards I bought his Teaching Young Learners to Think book. I’ve used it a few times in the last week and it seems pretty good so far. I’m sure I’ll do a full review in the future.

    Questions to think about

    The talk wasn’t that contentious to be honest, although I’m not that sure how much of a ‘real thing’ neuroscience actually is. So, what was one time you really emotionally engaged learners in your class? How did you do it? What was the result?

  • timothyhampson 3:46 am on September 27, 2014 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: Ideas, , Word of the week   

    Word of the week 

    One of the things I really want to do with this blog is put classroom ideas out there. They might be good ideas so you can steal them, or they might be bad ideas so you can learn from my mistakes. Either way any feedback is appreciated so that, good or bad, my classroom ideas can be better.

    I noticed recently that lots of my pupils don’t know certain pieces of vocabulary. Weirdly they all seem to not know the same things. They already do a lot of vocabulary work with a list of maybe 100 words to memorise each month, but I thought that adding a really useful extra word each week might be a good thing. I made some posters with ‘Word of the week’ written on, laminated them. The plan is to scribble a word and it’s Korean translation on with a blackboard marker each week.

    The first word of the week was ‘rude 무례하다*’ because I was fed up of blank looks whenever I said ‘Don’t be rude!’ The first week of trying this out has gone pretty well, sort of. My pupils (especially 6th graders) think it’s hilarious to shout ‘Don’t be rude’ at each other (and me *sigh*) for no reason. My classes might not be that much more polite but at least they probably won’t forget how to say ‘rude’ now.

    *Just for the record’례’ is some tough Hangul to get your mouth round.

    The next word of the week is going to be ‘least favourite’ because everyone knows ‘favourite’ but is confused if I add a ‘least’ in front of it. I’ll update soon and let you know how it goes. Before I do, has anyone tried anything similar to this before? Do you have any ideas for words that might work as word of the week? Do you have an idea about how this could work better? Let me know in the comments.

    • David Harbinson 5:18 am on October 1, 2014 Permalink | Reply

      I think what you’re doing sounds good. I like that you’re introducing it in a phrase/in context, and I would imagine that this will help the students retain it more easily and possibly in the future use the pattern and adapt it. And it’s great that the students are already shouting it out freely. I’m sure I read another post quite recently where the teacher talked about the students shouting things out in class, at first for fun, but it eventually turned in to something more meaningful. I can’t for the life of me remember where I read it though, but if I find the post, I’ll let you know.


      • timothyhampson 12:32 am on October 3, 2014 Permalink | Reply

        Thanks David, I think it’s better to present it in context too. Maybe a phrase of the week would be better. If something is funny it seems easier to remember so hopefully I can inject some humour into it in the future.


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