Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Teaching in Korea Document Checklist

Phew. Applying for this job is beyond stressful. Or it was until I made myself a little checklist, specifically for application through TeachKorea. And here it is for your convenience:

TeachKorea Application Checklist

  Documents that must be emailed:

  •   Application form
  •   Passport scan
  •   Photograph (studio, facing front, smiling, dressed as if going to the office)
  •   Scan of police clearance certificate (this takes about 2 months to process and expires after 6, although you can get a reprint for R59)
  •   GPA (add up all your marks for all your undergrad courses and divide them by the number of courses)

  Documents that must be sent by post:

  •   Application form
  •   6 passport size prints of studio photo (submit 2, keep 4 for use in Korea)
  •   Original police clearance certificate (or photocopy of receipt to prove you’ve applied for it)
  •   2 sealed character reference letters
  •   Certified copy of degree certificate (or if still completing then a copy of most recent transcripts)
  •   2 sets of sealed transcripts (full academic record)
  •   Agency agreement

And that's all you need. Not so stressful after all, is it?

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

TEFL: Teaching English as a Foreign Language

I was very lucky this weekend to be told of a limited deal on an online TEFL course. This deal cut the price down by 82%, so instead of spending roughly R5000 on a course, I spent only R750. The offer pops up from time to time on Groupon so it's worth checking once in a while.

If I have a PGCE, do I need a TEFL for South Korea?
Technically, if you have already got a PGCE (graduated, certificate and all), then you're immediately bumped up to the second pay level. So no, you don't need a TEFL course to get the job. However, my method lecturer, C, explained to us that TEFL is a brand. It's a specific way of teaching. So if you want your students to have continuity throughout their schooling despite having a new Foreign Teacher every year, it's probably in your interest to be familiar with the system that they are used to.

I'm about to complete the first unit of the course, which is on Classroom Management and Professional English. And so far I have learned a lot that I didn't necessarily learn in PGCE. There are activities suggested that I would not necessarily have thought of, and certain basic principles with regard to using the board and giving instructions that were suggested in PGCE but which are more structured and clear in the TEFL course. 

For example, after completing the English First Additional Language method course, I was of the opinion that rephrasing instructions and repeating them frequently would contribute better to learners' understanding. On the contrary, TEFL suggests using simple, clear instructions and demonstrations, and then asking targeted questions to see if everyone knows what's going on. And now that I think of it, this did come up in our class discussion during PGCE, but was not heavily emphasised. But it makes a lot of sense not to overwhelm learners with a tidal wave of multiply-phrased foreign language. Looking back on my last TP, it might explain why there was often a lot of misunderstanding with the younger grades about what they were supposed to do, especially with regards to homework.

The only acceptable excuse.

Another element is that the PGCE EFL method is aimed at the South African curriculum for Additional Language, which is quite different from Foreign language. In Additional Language, the learners are often fluent enough to speak and understand (albeit with poor grammar and limited vocab) as a result of living in a society where the L2 is used. Foreign language has an emphasis on the foreign. So often you'd be teaching learners who have no background experience of the L2, and can barely understand it. In that aspect, TEFL definitely prepares you better for teaching English overseas, such as in South Korea or Japan. 

So kids, how many words of English do you know?

Online or Real Life?

I contacted a language school in Cape Town who have been known to come through to our little town each year, and they plan to come from 29th September – 8 October. It is definitely worth doing a course like this in person because you can get some practise with the theory and some depth to your knowledge through class discussion. It is also definitely a better idea if you have no PGCE at all, and no teaching experience at all, to do this in person as you then get some experience before having to teach your first class to a bunch of blank faces. 

Little do they know, this is Bob's first lesson.

That said, I decided to go with the super-cheap deal on the online course as I
a) already have teaching experience
b) wanted to save myself R4000+
c) know of several people in my town who are doing the same course, so hopefully we'll be able to meet up and do the group activities together, and all those other shiny things. 

So in the end it depends on your needs and experience. 

Can TEFL help my PGCE?
I think it's interesting to see an approach to teaching that is slightly different to what I've been taught, and also to get ideas and source material for lessons to teach in the future. If you are teaching in a school where they don't speak the same language as you, such as in a township school or an Afrikaans school, it is definitely something useful in terms of making sure the kids know exactly what's going on. So at this stage, yes, I think it can be an enriching addition to a PGCE. But the PGCE is quite sufficient if you want to stay in SA and teach the SA curriculum; if money is an issue and you don't plan to be a travelling teacher, then I would suggest you save your money (unless you can get an awesome deal like the Groupon one). Again, it depends on your needs and intentions for the future. 
I guess I was raised to think "the more qualifications, the more appealing your CV" but I have since been told that when hiring teachers at a school, often the prospective teacher's extra mural activities can be more of a deciding factor than how many certificates line their walls. If you're an awesome soccer coach, a brilliant artist, musician or dramatist, then those will impress the school more than having another acronym attached to your name. I personally enjoy learning about education, and the different methods and theories out there. So while TEFL will help me get into Korea, and may help my long TP at an Afrikaans school, I think I'm also doing this for interest's sake. 

Learn ALL the things!

Once again, it comes down to your individual qualifications, future plans and needs. So it's up to you.

Monday, June 11, 2012

The other extreme: An Over-emphasis on Education

I was surprised when I started teaching practice and discovered that most schools end by 2pm. The school I'm going to for my long TP starts at 7:20 and ends at 13:00. This is apparently to give more time to extra murals. I have vivid memories of my school day lasting from 5:30, when I caught the bus to school, until 4:30, when it dropped me off at home. That left roughly an hour or two for watching TV and doing homework, before dinner and spending time with my family.

Extra murals were included in the timetable, with set periods devoted to ridiculous things like "skateboarding club" and "cake decorating/wedding planning" (cunningly described as "Empowered Women's Education"). And yet I never felt that my day was too long.

South Africa's learners are waaay behind their global counterparts in literacy and mathematics, according to various tests that have been carried out by Big Important Organisations.

Would it then be worth borrowing some strategies from more successful countries, like Korea and Japan, who have a greater emphasis on education?

After reading my friend and former tutor's article, "South Korea's National Obsession with Education", I'm not so sure any more. Deva talks about how Korea's school system is working these kids to the bone, but she questions whether any learning is actually given a chance to happen.

 So how can we learn from them, or from their mistakes? Well, I think that we should be looking more at quality, rather than quantity. Skilled, passionate teachers who encourage creativity and spark their students' imaginations seem preferable to teachers with enough stamina to maintain the required energy for 16 hours of teaching. Not to mention an education department that does what it's supposed to, and allocates teaching posts, resources and funds where they are needed, when they are needed.

Local students protesting over the Education Department's failure to allocate teachers to permanent posts, and their failure to pay temporary teachers, which resulted in a prolonged strike and go-slow by two major Teachers' unions.

As long as there is school, with teachers and proper lessons being taught properly, then we need not devote every waking minute to learning the three R's. Maybe finishing the school day early, and giving kids a chance to be kids, is of value after all. The fourth R is way more fun anyway - Recess!

Friday, June 8, 2012

Plagiarism: How do I hate thee? Let me count the ways.

Grargh! I am so filled with rage right now. Marking these essays, and sure, the grammar nazi in me is mildly annoyed by the "like" and comma confetti, and the misspelling of basic four-letter-words, and people who use bullet points to signify a new paragraph. But those mistakes are okay - they're here to learn, and making mistakes is how one does that.

And then I get an essay with phrases like "legislation has been passed" and "the safety of the children in view" and so on. And at first I go, "Hooray! One of these kids can write!"

Excited teacher is excited.

But then I realise... Hang on a sec. That looks a bit like internet journalese to me. Doesn't it? So I type ONE SENTENCE into google.

Lo and behold! This kid has copied an entire article off the net and tried to pass it off as his own. He probably thought I was a stupid teacher, that the internet is huuuge and I'd never find one little article on one tiny (and not very trustworthy) news site, and he'd get away with it, and probably get a good mark.

He probably thought, "Hey, she's only teaching here for a week while our teacher is off sick, so it doesn't matter what I do."

He probably thought, "Hey, I have better things to do."

They'll never catch me. I have an internets!

He sure as hell did not put a second of original thought into this essay. Which is unfortunate, because the article was too short, so he did actually write some opinions of his own (or at least his deskmate's) down. And they weren't too bad.

His work is decent. Why cheat? Why be a lazy, dishonest, douchebag?

Well, I've given him zero.

And guess what, dear Plagiarist? I'm coming back. For a whole term. Bwahahahahaha.

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

Planning that Research Project

I feel very productive today: during a lovely 2 hour lunch at the local pub with some friends, I ended up planning out my research project.

I structured the planning (I planned the planning... sheesh) and it ended up working quite well, and feeling very thorough. So, here is how I did it. I'm writing this as a set of tips, questions to answer and so on, with the aim of it being useful whatever your topic, and using my planning as an example. That said, I haven't even shown this to my supervisor yet, and after the email he just sent me, I have suspicions that he might want me to narrow my focus a little or something. Nevertheless, this should be helpful for pinning down exactly what you want to do. It might also help stimulate ideas.

In a previous post I talked about how to decide on a research topic using your passions, your area of interest. Now I'm going to go a bit further, talking about how to break it into research question(s) and how to plan your actual research, literature review and so on.

Step 1: Blow your brains out.

Brainstorm the crap out of your idea. Write down (in question form) all the different things you want to know about the topic you've chosen. For example, here's mine (on extended reading in High School):

Step 2: Drown yourself in paper

The moment I started discussing education with my friends (something which is frowned upon in polite society) I discovered that a lot of my friends are casually interested in alternative education methods, such as those used by Homeschoolers and experimental schools. They threw books at me, which I am currently working my way through. At the same time, others have told me about workshops and conferences that might not immediately seem relevant, but which have actually generated a lot of ideas for me. So, while you're still at the stage of planning and thinking about the research project, become a sponge and soak up anything that interests you (whether it seems to apply to your project or not). And while you're reading, make a note if anything sparks your imagination or curiosity, or actually does seem relevant.

NB - make sure you keep track of your sources. I've got a page in a notebook where I've been scribbling the titles of books, articles, workshops and conferences as I've stumbled across them. If a particular quote jumps out at me, I make a note of it and scribble down the source and page number. This doesn't need to be according to any referencing standard just yet - it's just source-gathering for now. It also helps if you write a little reminder of what the thing was so you can find it more easily later and avoid future stress.

Here's a list of what I've got so far:

  1. Summerhill by A. S. Neill - experimental school, no rules! Make learning relevant and fun and intrinsically valuable, not forced.
  2. Unschooling: A Handbook - child-directed education, less supervision, more on them learning better if they're interested rather than forced to do irrelevant stuff. Lots of first-hand contributions.
  3. Teaching as a Subversive Activity - have not read yet.
  4. Nal'ibali workshop - a reading group program aimed at small kids but using interesting alternative education methods to promote the idea of reading being a fun, social activity
  5. English Educators Conference - July 2nd, R120 fee - remember to send in form!
and so on...

Step 3: Divide and conquer

Go back to your brainstormed questions and add in things if you need to, now that you've done some reading. Has your area of interest broadened or narrowed? Have you come across an idea that you want to run with, or an obstacle that is making you flee?

Now look carefully at it, and try to group similar ideas together so that it's more manageable, while including things about your practical application of the idea.


 Breakdown of thoughtsplots
  1. Why aren't they reading? Lack of interest, economic factors, stigma against reading for fun
  2. What are the existing structures in place at the school? Are they working, ineffective, non-existent? 
  3. How can alternative learning principles/strategies be used to construct a sustainable extended reading program in a South African high school?
If you're lucky, like I was, you might find that one of these makes a pretty good research question on its own. Otherwise, you can send these along to your supervisor as subquestions of the main topic/focus.

Step 4: Strategy
Now you need to think about how you can actually research the answers to these questions. So, divide a piece of paper in half, and write down each question as simply as you can on one side. On the other, write down how you would go about answering it.


Step 5: Tick tock...

Now draw up a rough guide of how much time you have to carry out your research. Ours is about 10 weeks. Give yourself a a vague idea of what you need to accomplish in each week.


Pre-TP: Info-gathering. Start literature review, attend conferences and workshops, get as much reading done as possible because TP will have lots of marking etc going on. Might be a good idea to finish lit review and come up with a list of core principles common to the alternative teaching methods eg "Make it fun"

Week 1-2: A bit frazzled because of adjusting to the timetable, getting to know the class and so on. Discuss your idea with mentor teacher - they might be able to suggest things. Find out what existing structures are in place, what students' attitudes to reading are, what the limits of the social context are, and how to source books. Check what's available and compile a reading list.
Week 3-10: Apply the program to a small group of volunteers (a common principle is that they need freedom, they must choose to do it, it must be optional and fun and worthwhile). Apply the principles outlined in the literature and keep a detailed record of what works and what doesn't. Can this be extended to a large group? Does it need to be compulsory? What level of supervision is necessary? Does the book list need tweaking - should students have input into the list?

Step 6: Fill in the gaps.

As my project is very practically based, I think I need some way of assessing whether it is working or not. However, I can't use conventional methods such as a written test or survey because the alternative teaching principles, and the aim of the project, mean that it should be putting forward the idea of reading as fun and intrinsically valuable. Therefore, nothing should be "for marks", and there shouldn't be a formal assessment of the students. But how can we tell if they're reading? Here I brainstormed a few more ideas:

  • get them to keep reading journals in which they respond to the books they are reading. These can be in any form they want, and they can swear, doodle, etc, as long as they're responding to a text. They are not for marks but the teacher needs to be able to see that they are being updated. If learners want feedback they are free to give them in for non-marks-based comments and so on. 
  • group discussions about themes and so on that crop up in the books, eg divorce, rape, world travel, magic, etc.
  • projects during the group meetings in which learners creatively respond to what they're reading, including songs, dance, skits, games, debate, drawings, poetry, etc.
  • feedback from students in the form of a questionnaire
Step 7: Pre-emptive strike!

Look over what you've got and visualise your supervisor's response to it. Imagine your supervisor as being a cynical, over-critical meanie who just doesn't get it. What are they pointing out? Deal with it. Solve the problem.

Imaginary Supervisor: Hmm... all this airy-fairy bollocks about child-directed education suggests to me that they'll just run around like crazy people in your sessions and they won't do anything productive. Are you telling me this whole thing is completely unstructured? Is this just a wordy way of getting out of doing your work, while looking busy?
Me: Aha! It's not unsupervised or unstructured. There will be a planned (but flexible) program of multimedia activities aimed at exploring reading and stimulating creativity, with the aim of making reading fun. This program needs to feel more like play than like work, otherwise the kids will never develop a passion for reading. There will be a regular meeting at the same place and time each week, and the format of the sessions will be structured according to a lesson plan - opening activity, body, conclusion. However, because this is 'fun' and relies on independent reading and personal engagement, the learners must feel that they have an investment in it, thus the idea of getting them to help construct the program. If they think of an activity then they can run it in the next session, if they want to (and if it's relevant) and so on. Do not confuse creative freedom and an emphasis on playful engagement with anarchy and a lack of a plan.

Some final notes
Remember that while planning your research project, things might not turn out exactly as you want them to. You may need to tweak, compromise, or even scrap the whole thing. Don't be precious about it. Adapt, and develop your idea.

Be flexible, and try a different angle.

For example, my initial plan was to implement Nal'ibali's methods in a high school. Then I went to the Nal'ibali workshop and found that it was more appropriate for juniors than seniors, and so I've decided to apply their principles and concepts rather than their exact plan. At the same time I've recently done a lot of reading into alternative education methods that has gotten me excited, so I've decided to see if there are any strategies or principles in there that might help - I think this is relevant because an extended reading program is by nature outside of the classroom, and so traditional classroom methods probably won't work in this case. Instead, methods that encourage self-study and the students' personal investment in the work are much more likely to help my project succeed.

Now that you've got all this planned out in scribbles on scrap paper, or neatly colour coded in a file system to rival the server room at Google, go have a chat to your supervisor and see what they have to say. Don't lose these notes, though - they might help with your research proposal.