Archive for October, 2011

Paperless? Well, less paper anyway

October 28, 2011

I have used blogs to relay information to my students for years now.  I am happy to avoid wasting paper but also to prevent any “I lost the form” or “I missed class, I didn’t know what the homework was.” claims in class.  In this way, it leaves a sort of (non)paper trail that shows my students had all the information they needed.

The blog, or any online communication platform for students, should be more than that, of course.  In the past, I have pushed the internet tools part of class as far as I could and found diminishing returns very quickly.  In my current classes, I can only use ten percent of the student’s grade for homework.  Having the students sign in to a common website and share information and consistently spend time at is difficult to impossible to motivate.

Still, I use the blog to its full extent.  Class and university information is posted there as well as English Cafe events.  Often, but not for every week, I post the presentation slides on the blog.  In fact, they are usually up early so students could check them out before class.  Finally, sleeping students are photographed, their faces obscured so only classmate will recognize them, then posted on the blog.

As a result, I don’t hand any paper out to my students.  However, I do expect them to hand in assignments in hard-copy.  I don’t know if there are any word processors that offer ‘grading’ features that work simply.  It is far easier to use a red pen (or pens of varied colors) to underline and circle and jot notes, then to use a word processor’s capabilities to highlight offending passages, offer corrections and the like.  Maybe I could do that in image manipulation programs.

Anyway, I find it easier to offer commentary in pen than via a word processor.

This year, my second year students are blogging their homework.  I like what I am seeing but I have the same problems.  Their work is paperless, but my grading works best on hard copy.  This is for the reasons set above, but also because I wish to be circumspect in publicly pointing out student’s errors.  On my student’s blogs, I routinely add comments on the content but don’t mention which parts I find confusing or have bad grammar or the like.


On a similar subject, I am now reading Pencil Me In, a wonderful story, told in an elaborate and satisfying metaphor, of using modern technology in the classroom.  The story is set in the early 1900’s and Techno Tom is advocating for the use of pencils in his classrooms. The older teachers don’t see why students can’t just use slates and chalk, and the parents are concerned that the students will just use the pencils to play games (hangman and some form of Bingo).  On nearly every page, I see teachers, techniques and even the terminology of this era accurately described and thought out.  In an inspired section, students save their work in folders.  Some accidentally save their work on the desktop and one student absent-mindedly places his in the trash can.  I was honestly startled in recalling that all these are real world objects, not merely icons on my computer.

Spencer, the author has many blogs that are aggregated here.

If you are interested in paperless teaching, follow Spenser or Shelly Blake-plock for ideas and such.


Late October at the Farm

October 27, 2011

Six photos from a recent weekend at the farm.

First up are some persimmons.  I think they are on a broken branch so they have ripened faster than the other in the grove.  The next two show family digging caterpillars and worms out of the cabbage.  Man, from I saw in those cabbage, wash them before you eat!  The fourth pic is of a frog that must have been slacking as they were letting the caterpillars in. Tsk, Tsk.

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Fifth, I eat eggplant but don’t really care for it.  I think the dark branches, leaves and flowers have a gothic sort of Hallowe’en feel to them.

Sixth, and last, is a kind of sweet potato.  I have never seen any this darkly colored before.  I thought it was a beet!

dragonfly eating a damselfly

October 27, 2011

Well, that’s what I think it is.  Click to biggify.


It was pretty cool to see the dragonfly go by and notice it seemed to be carrying something.  Luckily it landed nearby and I was able to study it briefly.

I was nervous about photographing it as it is on the windowsill of a bathroom at my university.  Not the sort of place I want someone looking out of and seeing a prof with a camera!

This time of year, I see many preying mantids.  They are easy to catch and seem to be at the end of their lives.  This dragonfly was still pretty spry, though.

Iceland as a model of ESL

October 24, 2011

TEFLtastic has a review of Langauge of Instruction from Iceland Review Online and compares English education in Iceland vs Japan.  I suspect Korea resembles Japan in these respects.

92% of PhD theses are in English, most university textbooks are in English, all lecturers must think about doing their classes in English if someone asks them to, and they use English more than any other Scandinavian country. All that, and yet there are also fewer borrowed words in Icelandic than in Danish, Norwegian or Swedish.

Sounds like the complete opposite of here in Japan, where nothing is done in English but the language is being taken over! As I’ve said before, the Japanese really should import teachers and policy makers from countries that are doing things right, rather than native speakers from some of the world’s least bilingual countries…

Regarding that last point: Ouch.

Kumaravadivelu at KOTESOL (Part 7 of conference remarks)

October 22, 2011

I feel sympathy for Dr Kumaravadivelu.  Like “The musician formerly known as Prince”, he name had devolved into a sentence that lazy people used rather than take the effort to work through the seven syllables.  I think he was even introduced as “Dr Kumara…whose name I can’t pronounce”.  I may have misremembered that but certainly everyone described him that way when mentioning his talks.  Justin McNulty, who introduced Kumaravadivelu, was nearly the sole exception went out of his way to pronounce the man’s name repeatedly in his introduction.  This prompted the man in front of me  to mutter, “show off.”

This is especially ironic as his talk was about using language teaching to transport and share cultural beliefs and practices.  Morrison, described (very) briefly in a previous post, discussed how Jin-hye comes to English class and becomes “Jenny” and how this is wrong.  I think Kumaravadivelu would agree.

Um, that’s about all I have to say about Kumaravadivelu and his talk.  It was moderately interesting  but a little too ‘big-think’ for me.  I did feel it was particularly appropriate for an Indian to discuss how English is a language of colonialism as well as globalism.

He was also interviewed by McNulty for Koreabridge.  The Korea Herald mentions him in it’s description of the conference.

I was satisfied by his talk, even though I didn’t take any notes -nor for any of the plenary speakers; a problem I should rectify at the next conference.

Those among his students who use Rate-My-Teacher seem to find him an interesting speaker if not the best of teachers.

The Times on saving energy and travel for women

October 21, 2011

A career educator in nearby Changwon discussed management styles of energy conservation in today’s Korea Times.  At one college, the owner/president decreed that all employees should do all in their power to reduce energy use.   Later, at a private university, individual rooms were proctored by students who made sure the lights and electronics were turned off when the room was not in use.  The student also kept the rooms clean and the white- or black- boards were clear.  Finally, at a national university, no one seemed to care about energy use and lights were often left on in empty classrooms

In the final situation, the teacher would typically turn lights off as he passed vacant rooms. 

“For my part, I like the last one with the students and the teachers taking care of things around us on their own.  That is, after all, the real aim of education.”

I agree with his philosophical point; that we should care for things around us.  I wonder who should be teaching this, and when, though.

A simple activity that anyone at university can do, that will make everyone much more comfortable and will also save energy is to ensure that the access doors to the building are closed when not in use.  I see this as win, win, win, win.  The fourth ‘win’ is that fewer access doors to buildings will be locked if people learn to close them properly. 

Also in the Times was the article “Solo travels offers unique perspective for women”.  I expect that the titles claim is correct but article is interesting for two other reasons.

The first is that the online version of the paper has no awareness of the article.  MSNBC offers the article and notes that it is copyrighted with the Associated Press.  Okay, in the corner in small print of the Time, I can see (AP).

The second reason I find it interesting is a travel story included in the article that matches very closely the experience a friend had and it also relates to language awareness.

Safety is also an important consideration for Warkentin. After being robbed of her camera at knifepoint while traveling alone in Chile in 1992, she downsized her camera and routinely uses windows or other reflective surfaces to see who’s behind her.

A female friend traveled to Brazil some time ago and spent a day at a beach.  While on the beach, vendors repeatedly spoke to her, asking her to buy their product.  At the end of the day, she was tired of this and when a man near a bus stop stood in front of her and yelled, “cuchillo…[something, something..]”, she ignored him and told him, “No!”.  Then she went to her hotel and learned “cuchillo” means knife*and the man had probably been trying to rob her.

If she had spoken better Portuguese, she could have been robbed.  I think she was lucky and don’t recommend this, but not knowing the language saved her a lot of trouble.

*I think “cuchillo” is knife in Spanish and Portuguese, but could be off. Also, I heard the story long ago.

blogging as teaching tool (part 6 of conference remarks)

October 20, 2011

Melissa Shaffer had a seminar on “Blogging and Bravery” and Christie Provenzano displayed a poster on a similar theme.

Here is Provenzano’s display:

Provenzano gave me permission to photograph her poster and I think I asked her if I could post it my blog.  If she wants it removed, I’ll pull it down fast!

I have used a teacher’s blog for years and am experimenting with student blogs this semester.  I agree with Provenzano that a teacher’s blog is good for “eliminat[ing] the “I was absent so I didn’t know what to do for homework” excuse.”  Well, it eliminates the validity of such an excuse but, as a few of us at Dongseo U have noted, it doesn’t eliminate the excuse.

We are wondering, my university coworkers and I, if the online form of notes holds less urgency or importance to the students.  Midterm exams just finished and perhaps a tenth of my students admitted that they didn’t visit the website and look at or print out the exam questions.  I don’t know how that compares to students in classes where questions and study notes were handed out in paper form in class, but a coworker claimed to see a decline in studying after making the switch to online.

Back to Provenzano.  She describes a few forms of blogs her students can use.  Group blogs allow students to feel supported by classmates and make it easier for the teacher to find all the content. Individual blogs can carry on after class is completed and allows students to find a unique voice.

She also mentions some gadgets: dropbox and an unnamed one that monitors extensive reading.  My photo is terribly blurry but it seems to be a part of library thing (here is a pdf that discusses using librarything for extensive reading) .

Shaffer’s seminar was on Sunday afternoon and was poorly attended although I found her content useful.  I am not sure how the ‘bravery’ in “blogging and Bravery” applies.  Perhaps everyone can use encouragement now and then.

In her classes, students needed to write one blogpost and two comments a week and were graded as “yes/no”.  She compared her desires for the blog component to the desires of Korea coworkers.  She wasn’t interested in accuracy or technical skill as much as the Korean English teachers.  She was eager to give her students freedom to be creative but the Koreans wondered why the emphasis on creativity and wanted to assign topics.  The Koreans, in short, were interested in the product and she was interested in the process.

I feel they were both right regarding creativity.  The information I have read suggests a blank page inhibits creativity and that some restrictions enhance it.  Assigning topics might have increased creativity.

In her first semester using blogs, she allowed students to use any platform they wanted.  Many chose Cyworld, which is a good platform but sometimes annoying for teachers to navigate and use.  I personally have had trouble with RSS feeds from cyworld blogs.  In her second semester, she used edublogs.  Whichever platform used, it is challenging to do this with a large number of students.

Peadar Callaghan at KOTESOL (part 5 of conference remarks)

October 20, 2011

Peadar is an acquaintance who has frequently spoken at the Busan Kotesol branch.  I don’t know that I have ever heard him speak, though.  There’s always been something else going on.  He spoke well and I wish I had seen his other talks, including use of comics in class.

This talk was a good bookend with Heidi Nam’s class on checking comprehension.  Both describe how we often question students on different subjects then we think.  Nam offered a nonsense sentence and asked us what the character was doing.  The verb was clear from it’s placement and ‘ed’ ending so we could answer and display our understanding of grammar without understanding the sentence.  In the same way, Peadar described the ‘listening window strategy’ (I think the phrase is a direct quote – it is close).  When we ask students to fill in the blanks in sentences like ” I went to ____ and ____ a shirt.” students wait for the “to’ and ‘and’ sounds and write down the next word.  I was able to do the same thing with a completely nonsense sentence in his class.

Instead of asking for specific words, we should first ask for the main idea, then focus down to specifics.  These ideas might fit a ‘T-chart’ – good points and bad points discussed in the audio – or on a mind map.

On the mind map, it is appropriate to do a ‘fill in the blanks’ exercise as the students are not listening for specific words, but ideas or general concepts.

Callaghan offered a hierarchy of activities moving from teacher -created to student-created.


He also suggested a more away from class-wide audio and instead using a number of cheap MP3 players (and split audio so a few students could share one player) to individualize the learning.  This was a great, new idea, and one that I had been moving towards in some fashion already.  I sometimes bring in a small battery-powered speaker for small groups to listen to.

One activity he had on his slide but didn’t have time to discuss was Audio Relays, an event that has always been enjoyed by my students

As with Sandy and Dudeney, he is eager to help students use their phones in class.  I like the idea of having students make MP3s in one class and then students in another class need to listen to them and determine the meaning.  This is not an out-of-the-blue activity: students need to be given time to prepare a conversation or interview, possibly have it checked by the teacher, then recorded.

Callaghan suggested the English Language Listening Library Online ( as a source for student-created audio.

He has an (under-construction) website and I found a short interview of him on youtube (audio only)

A Treasure Hunt at DongKung Elementary School

October 19, 2011

I had been away for a weekend and didn’t properly prepare for my elementary school class.  Luckily, I’ve been in this biz for a while and when I saw we would be reading about a treasure hunt in Let’s Go 4, I put fifteen minutes to good use.

First, I decided there would be two teams and chose mascots.

Both teams went to the same places but in different orders.  Although the clue above for the Rabbit team was for a map, below is the next clue for the Dinosaur team.

It was a short bit of fun for the students -there were only four clues and the room wasn’t very big.  It could have been more exciting if more than two students had shown up.  Here they are, suitably anonymized:

The clues each contained one large letter that could be combined to form a word.  Trickily, the two words were almost identical: T-E-A-S and E-A-T-S.  I am not sure if they are smiling from the game or the silly pose I required.


Added later:

The Let’s Go text (#4) has a continuing story of a treasure hunt so I repeated the game.  This time, I took a little more time into organizing it and the game was much expanded.




Gavin Dudeney at KOTESOL (part 4 of conference remarks)

October 19, 2011

Dudeney offered two talks on digital literacies and was interviewed by the Chosun Bimbo (or find it with others here).

Digital literacy is a tricky thing to explain:

  • Digital immigrants see technology as things or nouns.  Digital natives see the technologies as processes or verbs.
  • Should we say digital -immigrants and -natives or -visitors and -residents?
  • Young people are ‘tech-comfy’ but not always ‘tech-savvy’.  They may not know how to use it in the service of learning.
To test our digital literacy or footprint, he asked if we had used various services in the past week.  I answered yes to most questions but I noticed that he kept email, Twitter, Facebook update… as separate entities.  I feel that is outdated as they are all forms of digital communication.  Perhaps they should be grouped or sorted in terms of focus or directedness.
He discussed digital literacy skills and a big one was knowing how to search for information usefully.
One point I wanted to question him on but didn’t have time was the use of smart phones (and tablets) in class.  He and Shelly Blake-plock, champion hand held devices in class.  I want to, and try to,  encourage their use but often find students using internet chat.  I do encourage them to use dictionaries and such so I don’t want to (and can’t) completely police phone use.  On the other hand, a kid, a mere youngster (of 22 years) could not be pulled away from his chat to participate in class.  I resorted to asking him to leave class before he would put his phone away.  Anyway, do I need to make my class more interesting? Include more content so looking away would be disastrous?  Should students no longer vocally chat with neighbors but SMS with non-continuous classmates instead?  Basic conversation classes require conversation but not intense collaboration per se.
In the second talk, he offered a tour of various websites he uses with his students.  Lessonstream and photofunia (image featured below) were the big ones and he also pointed us to his presentation slides here (oops, that site no longer seems to be working.  Perhaps this is it). UPDATE: Dudeney responded in the comments and his link works.  This should, too.  Also see the consultants-e.
I liked his use of Wordle – a program that makes word clouds with the more common words larger.  I think it would be a useful way to help students know what words they should learn first.
I think Blake-plock (link in earlier paragraph) does a better job of explaining how technology can be used in the classroom, but he has months or years to get his point across at his blog and Dudeney only had an hour and a half.  I have some new ideas for class and some new concerns now more eloquently stated.  They were good presentations.