ELT Experiences

Experiences for English Language Teaching

Month: August 2013

August Teacher Interview: David Harbinson

David been teaching English in Daegu, Korea since September 2007 and began his teaching career straight after finishing university. He spent a year teaching English to elementary and middle school children at a private academy, before moving on to Wall Street English in 2008. David spent two years as the Program Manager of the Daegu branch, but recently stepped down so he could focus on other things. He currently teaches at WSE on a part-time basis and in 2012 completed an MA in Applied Linguistics and TESOL with the University of Leicester in the UK. He investigated the motivation of adult Korean language learners for his MA dissertation.

1. Could you please let our readers know how you got into teaching?

I started teaching EFL in 2007, almost immediately after I graduated from university. During the first two years of my undergraduate degree, I didn’t really know what I wanted to do, but between my second and third year, I spent 3 months travelling in Australia, Thailand and Vietnam. I loved the experience so much, that as soon as I landed back in the UK, I was already thinking about my next trip. One night in January 2007, I was supposed to be writing my dissertation, but got a bit sidetracked looking into what jobs I could get that would also allow me to travel and live in other countries. I came across this thing called “TEFL” which sounded intriguing, and after a couple of hours of research, I had decided that was something that I wanted to do. The following day, I went to the careers office at my university and found out that the university offered the Trinity TESOL course during the summer. I finished up my university degree and then went straight on to the TESOL course. Two months later I was in Daegu, Korea, in my first job.

2. What advice would you give those that are wishing to go teaching in South Korea?

I would start by saying research is key. It is relatively easy to get a job teaching English in Korea if you are a native English speaker; all you need is an undergraduate degree and a clean criminal background check. But that doesn’t necessarily mean it is easy to find a good job. Quite often I hear of teachers with ‘horror stories’ about their jobs in Korea. Therefore, it’s important to find out as much as possible about the job before you accept anything. I always recommend asking for the e-mail address(es) of at least one current teacher and one non-native teacher. If you can speak to them on the phone, that’s even better. A lot of the time you need to use your intuition. If something doesn’t seem right about the school, don’t be afraid to decline the job offer and move on to the next. If a school is taking too long to reply, or they are being vague about some of your questions, then that could be an indication of potential future problems. I remember when I was applying for my first job, I was in the UK and so eager to get over to Korea, but I read up about potential poor experiences from various online sources. I did quite a few telephone interviews and was offered a number of jobs, but none of them felt quite right. The academy I eventually worked for was fantastic, and I couldn’t have wished for a better first job in Korea. The final thing I would mention, especially for people who have never lived in another country before, is that the culture in Korea is a lot different from the culture in the UK and the US, for example. It sounds obvious, but I’ve met a few people in Korea who complain about things which are ‘done better’ back home. This always astounds me. As an example, one of the things that you will probably have to get used to is doing things (in Korea) last minute. You might only get told about a meeting or something that you have to do at the last moment and be expected to do a good job. While you might not be used to that style in your own country, it is typical of many things in Korea. The opposite side of this is that when you want something doing, it usually gets done quickly. You can order something online on Monday, and expect it to arrive the next morning.

3. What teaching opportunities are available in South Korea?

I have only worked at private academies, called hagwons in Korea, since I first arrived in 2007, so I only have experience with these. I think that most of the ELT jobs in Korea are working for these academies. The majority of hagwons operate between the opening hours of 2-4pm until 9-10pm, so you will be teaching students who are being taught in an afterschool setting. Hagwons typically offer the least amount of vacation each year, usually 10 days along with 12-14 national days off. There are also opportunities working in public schools (at all levels). I don’t have experience working within public schools, but from what I understand, the number of vacancies in public schools are slowly decreasing as the Korean government wants to have more non-native English teachers delivering the curriculum. They typically offer a bit more vacation each year, and you will be working with a Korean co-teacher. Both hagwons and public schools are good options for new and inexperienced teachers. Then there are university positions. Some teachers in Korea regard these as the best jobs, and they can be highly competitive. It would be almost impossible for a new teacher to land one of these jobs, and even experienced teachers who are outside of the country would have a hard time getting into universities to teach English. The pay is often comparable, or sometimes even slightly less, than hagwons, but some of the university positions offer up to 4 months paid vacation a year. Many of the people I know who have been in Korea for a long time work at universities.

4. Could you tell us of a memorable lesson?

Working at WSE, I feel I am very fortunate in that I have some really great students. The majority of the classes I teach are in very small groups of just 2 or 3 students, so I really get to know my students. Over the last 4 years, I have had so many great lessons, and this is mainly down to the students, who are so eager. I’ve also had my fair share of lessons that haven’t gone so well. I think one of my most memorable lessons happened one Saturday a few years ago. It is memorable not because of the lesson itself, but of something that happened outside. I work on the sixteenth floor of a building in downtown Daegu. The class was with two students and both of them seemed very tired. At the beginning of the class, one student had asked me what the expression “pigs might fly” meant, which I explained. We started the lesson and both of the students seemed tired and not very interested in the lesson. We struggled along for about 15 minutes. Then all of a sudden I caught a glimpse of something out of the corner of my eye. It was a helium balloon shaped as a pig floating by the window. I guess a child had let go of it from the street below. Both students and I cracked up with laughter, especially considering the student’s question from earlier. You couldn’t have timed it better. Anyway, the “flying” pig relieved a lot of the tension in the class and the rest of the class went by perfectly. The whole thing taught me the importance of humour in the classroom, and even difficult classes can become easier with a bit of laughter.

5. I can’t believe it is August and we are almost heading into the remaining four months of the year.  So do you have any plans for 2014?

I have just started experimenting with WordPress and using it as an LMS (Learning Management System). I‘m currently using a plugin called LearnDash. Over the next few months, I hope to develop a website using LearnDash to offer online lessons and quizzes for English language learners. On the personal side of things, my wife and I are expecting our first baby in November, so I am sure I will be pretty busy at home.

6. How would you describe your ideal young learner?

I don’t have a great deal of experience working with young learners, so my opinion may not be the most informed. But I think that for me, the best young learners are the ones who are willing to try and speak, even if they are wrong. I’ve noticed that children tend to pick up languages a lot easier than adults, and if they try, they soon find that they can use the language well. One of the reasons that I left my first job in Korea was that students were going to school at 8 in the morning, working all day and then coming to the academy to study until 10pm. That last class of the day could be a real struggle as the students arrive exhausted and unwilling. So, if I ever were to go back to teaching young learners again, I think it would have to be with students who got enough rest during the day.

7. What do you believe is important when learning a foreign language?

I think there are a lot of important factors when learning another language, but for me the most important one is time. It takes so much time to learn a language, whether it’s your first or second. Every now and again I see an article on the internet about how long it takes to learn a foreign language, and while some of the estimates vary, the majority agree that it takes a really long time. Learning another language is not like any other subject, you can’t just memorize a load of facts, you need to allow yourself time to acquire language. One of my favourite quotes is from Zoltan Dornyei, who describes a language class as the only class where students are forced to “babble like children”. The reason is that learning language is a natural process. I am a big fan of Noam Chomsky, who believes that the ability to learn a language is innate. So when it comes to learning a new language, the first thing you need to realize is that it is going to take a lot of time. Once you can understand this, then you can set yourself appropriate goals, and you won’t get disappointed when you can’t speak English like had you expected after six months’ intensive study.

8. What are your opinions of electronic dictionaries?  Do you love or loathe them?

I neither love nor loathe electronic dictionaries. I think that they have a place in the learner’s ‘toolkit’, but think that learners need to know when and how to use them. I very rarely use, or allow, my students to use their dictionaries in the class because I like to get them to try and explain the meaning, and together we can figure out the meaning. However, I have found on a few occasions that I think I have figured out what the student is trying to say, only for the student to come to me after the class, with a different word in their dictionaries. I think there are some times when getting the right word is essential, and if a student can do that in a few seconds with their dictionary, I don’t see the harm. However, when they want to use their dictionaries in class to find out every single word they don’t know, it begins to hinder fluency.

9. What advice would you give to new teachers that have just completed an undergraduate degree and want to get into English Language Teaching?

If teaching English is something that you would like to spend at least a couple of years doing, I would strongly recommend taking a good TESOL course. The CELTA and Trinity CertTESOL seem to be the two brands that are most easily recognized around the world. In order to complete the course, you need to do a minimum of 6 hours observed teaching, which, if you have never taught before, can be invaluable. For some countries, especially in Europe, I think that the TESOL certificate is essential, whereas in South Korea, for example, it’s not necessary, and some employers won’t even know what it is. It is quite expensive, around $2000, but very worthwhile in my opinion. It could be much cheaper than travelling halfway across the world just to find out that you are not cut out for teaching. I’d also recommend the book “The Practice of English Language Teaching” by Jeremy Harmer. I think that this book is fantastic, and includes so much useful information. I have three copies; one for home, one for work and one that I keep in my car – just in case.

10. Finally, what is it like being taught by you?

You’d have to ask my students to find out the real answer! But the one thing that I always try to do is spend a few minutes at the beginning of my classes getting to know the students. About their jobs or future career plans, and most importantly why they are studying English. Then, using that, I try to adapt the class and tailor it to their goals and personal situations. At WSE it’s very easy to do because of the small class sizes. So, I like to think that my students leave the classroom feeling as though they have gotten something out of it that is very relevant to them.

Project Work in the Young Learner Classroom

Projects on jobs and occupations

Teaching Young Learners

Teaching English to young learners can be considered more challenging and rewarding than any other form of language teaching.  However, a lot of what works and what doesn’t involves reflecting on lessons and considering what is successful and what is less successful.  I remember when I first started my teaching career in South Korea, with little knowledge of language teaching and learning, methodology and preparing courses for young learners.  I suppose I would be considered, in most respects, a backpacker teacher with little more than a degree to my name and no teaching experience.  I was shown the classroom by directors of a small private language school in the middle of nowhere and told “You are the teacher, so teach!” and was pointed to the classroom.  If only it was as simple as this.
I learnt very quickly what would be more appropriate to very young learners (aged between 4 and 7 years), young learners (aged between 8 and 11 years), teenagers (12 to 16 years) and young adults.  Throughout this blog post, I will be referring more with young learners and teenagers.  However, some of these ideas could be developed and incorporated into the very young learner and young adult classroom.  In order to learn more about what motivates young learners and why teachers should try to incorporate projects into lessons, we need to consider what young learners and adolescence students dislike from their lessons.

What Young Learners Dislike

Young learners and adolescence students, in reference to a recent ELT Chat on young learner motivation and project work, dislike:
  • Any form of grammar or vocabulary exercises;
  • Having no control over their learning;
  • Having to read alone and quietly;
  • Studying about topics with no immediate or necessary interest; and
  • Being told what to do.
I suppose when this is considered, young learners appear to dislike any form of control or anything which constrains their ability to make informed and autonomous decisions over their continuous guided learning of English.  It is natural: if you push an object, it causes friction and is destined to move against you.  The same could be said for any young learner or child: if you force them to complete activities, they will find any reason to not complete them.  Therefore, but why is project so important for young learners?

Project Work

Students creating a poem for the class
Project work in the classroom, is related to a Task Based Learning (TBL), which evolved from Communicative Language Teaching (CLT), and is encourages learners to work cooperatively in groups to solve a dilemma or problem.  The focus on delivering a solution will inspire learners to use English when focusing on the ‘task’ at hand.  There are many advantages to TBL such as:
  • The students have total autonomy over language production and must use all their linguistic resources to communicate their ideas or solutions to team-members.
  • The natural context for TBL develops personalised and more immediate language learning for the students.
  • Exposure to language will be more varied with language emerging naturally from the context rather than students being told what they are or will study in the coursebook.
However, we are focusing on Project Work with Young Learners, so what do projects offer that tasks don’t?

Project Based Vs Task Based

Although a task based approach focuses on learners completing and finding a solution to a natural problem, it can often be quite demotivating if young learners are unable to or unwilling to complete tasks just to get them talking.  What task is decided?  Who decides the task?  Why does this approach depend on a mechanism to evoke natural speaking?  Is it suitable for young learners?  These are a few questions that teachers should consider when deciding to incorporate a task based approach for language teaching in the classroom, especially for younger learners.  I have often found that the under the guise of TBL, there is no real aim for the young learners and has the potential to spark chaos.  Although, as stated earlier, young learners enjoy autonomy and having some voice within the classroom, the teacher should guide the lesson and overall curriculum to suit the individuals in the classroom.  I have often taught young learners through a task based approach and the learners end up asking “Why are we doing this?” to which I have replied “I want to get you speaking English.”  Unfortunately, young learners don’t have the maturity and are also unsuitable for TBL, which is where Project Based Learning (PBL) fills the gap.
There are quite a few differences between TBL and PBL, with TBL focusing on the solution and communication of the task, while PBL focuses on the end project (either with a presentation or showing off their projects to the class or school).  I propose young learner teachers to incorporate a project based approach for future classes to develop communication (in a natural as possible setting) and also motivating young learners to develop personal and immediate interest in a topic that they are studying.  The Project Based Approach would:
  • Encourage learners to use L2 as and when required.  However, there is understanding that to negotiate the task some learners will revert to their L1 to develop meta-knowledge and ideas of the project;
  • Be completed either a shorter or longer period of time;
  • Integrate language and develop social skills (a must for any young learner developing their L1 or L2);
  • Personalise the learning for the students and encourage a sense of achievement unmatched by any other pedagogical approach for language teaching for young learners; and
  • Have a specific outcome so that learners are able to ‘show-off’ their final products to class, school or parents.

Developing Project Based Lessons

Students created a poster about their country
The key to successfully delivering a Project Based lesson is preparation.  To prepare for lessons it is important to do the following (so that you get the creative juices flowing):
  • Develop ideas by brainstorming ideas on a piece of paper;
  • Try to supplement daily or weekly themes (which could supplement young learner coursebooks);
  • Get ideas by speaking to other teachers in your staffroom or via other Web 2.0 tools (Twitter, Facebook, etc.);
  • Allocate a specific time for the project (last lesson of the day, last lesson of the week, etc.); or
  • Just ask the learners what they want to do!
It is important on deciding activities which teenagers would find interesting.  However, it is one thing to guess what teenagers would be engaged with and another to develop a lesson whereby learners hate their project.  We have all done a lesson on the theme of shopping with teenager language learners, but I am sure not every young learners love shopping as much as you would expect.  So it is advisable that teachers quiz their learners on what they like in their ‘day-to-day’ life as well as what they would like to cover (topic-wise) in their lessons.
A sample questionnaire/survey could be handed out to learners at the start of their course to cover the following:
  • What do you like talking about with your friends and family?
  • Do you have any hobbies that you like to do in your freetime?
  • What do you like or dislike about English study?
  • Do you like listening to music? What was the last thing you listened to?
  • Do you enjoy shopping? What was the last thing you bought?
  • Do you like watching movies? What was the last thing you watched?
  • Do you like reading magazines? What was the last thing you read in a magazine?
  • What would you like to study during the course?
These questions will inform any teacher with what makes learners ‘tick’.  It will encourage the teacher to view the student(s) as a person rather than somebody in the classroom which needs to be fed constant language with the occasional language game to boot (a.k.a. hangman).  Try to develop a more reactive and reflective approach when adopting PBL.

The Project Toolkit For Teachers

Used toilet roll is important for projects (wickedreport.com © 2013)
Whenever preparing lessons for the classroom, no matter the method or approach, it is very important to ensure that you are fully prepared to deliver for the classroom.  The toolkit is vital so that students are equipped to create their own products during the lesson.  Therefore, I would encourage any teacher to include any of the following suggestions for their box of tricks:
  • Photographs – Young learners are usually kinaesthetic learners and as such react very well to any pictures introduced during the lesson.  With photographs, students could cut them out for their projects, stick them to card, create their own flashcards, etc.
  • Flashcards – Flashcards are very important, as are pictures, to introduce vocabulary, so why not get learners to create their own box of flashcards for lessons.
  • Blutack & Pins – When students have completed their pictures, magazines, etc., it is important to make their contribution visible for the class and Blutack as well as Pins serve this purpose.
  • Folders/Portfolios – If you are developing a project over a long period of time, it would be necessary to store ongoing contributions in a student folder/portfolio within the classroom.  Should you classroom not be as secure as you expect, you could always lock away student folders/portfolios in a cabinet at the school.
  • Coloured Pencils & Crayons – When you get students working projects which involve some sort of drawing, you should have all the coloured pencils and crayons.  I have often found young learners not having their own coloured pencils or crayons and constantly asking for these.  You can pick these up quite cheaply via many stationary stores.
  • Coloured Card & Paper – The most important object of all is paper and card (of various colours) which will be used by learners when they are developing projects in the classroom (such as making a poster about animal farms).
  • Toilet Roll – When teaching kids, you need a healthy quota of toilet roll with the amounts of crafts they produce during the lesson.  Before throwing away that empty roll, put it in a plastic bag and then put it to good use in the project classroom.  Young learners could create various objects: http://www.dltk-kids.com/type/tp_roll.htm 
  • Scissors, Glue & Glitter – When incorporating any form of arts and craft in the classroom, it is best to have a collection of safety scissors, glue sticks and glitter.  With most schools that I have worked with, there is usually a huge battle among the every disappearing scissors and glue.  Therefore, I would recommend that you get your own personal collection to add to your toolkit.

Digital & Online Tools

Most young learners these days are ‘digital natives’ and as such expect to naturally see some form of technology being used in the classroom.  Technology could be exploited particularly for PBL.  So try to get your hands on various tablets or cameras so the young learners are able to develop online projects.  There are numerous applications or software which could enhance and motivate learners.  When they are back in their country, they could look at the website or watch the video to show to their parents and gets the language classroom to the students no matter where they are.
With cameras, you could get students to compile photographs of their projects:
  • So that it could developed towards a School Yearbook (a great marketing tool also);
  • Dedicate a section in the school, classroom or on the school website/blog to share projects;
  • Develop online student portfolios to compile projects, art work and crafts.  Websites could include Tumblr.com, Blogger.com, Glogster.com or WordPress.com; and
  • Keep a collection of projects and take photos so that they could be used as a demonstration tool for future learners.
You could use dedicated video recorders or recorders from tablets or smartphones to develop video projects, such as:
  • Making a School Tour, Movie Trailer, School News Story, Introducing Our Class, etc.;
  • Get learners to record objects for one second, every day and create a montage of their stay in the UK or at their school in their home-country; and
  • Use video editing tools (such as iMovie or equivalent) to edit and share via various platforms such as YouTube.

Recommended Resources

I would recommend a number of books that you purchase to assist in the development and incorporation of PBL in your classroom.  These books include:
These books and materials with you give you all the ideas and resources required for generating projects in the classroom.  It is important to have photocopiable material which could be included so the “Timesaver Project Work” and “Imaginative Projects” are a must have.  Should you want to incorporate technology into future projects, I would recommend “Language Learning with Technology“.

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