Teaching with Chopsticks CONTINUED

RECOVERED FROM THE DEMISE OF HUBHAO.COM

Some things are essential to leaving the classroom, feeling not only like you did a good job but that you made a difference is key for me.  You have to be a realist and know that best laid plans will come unstuck every now and then.  To be prepared is to be ready, and ready for action you must be.

In full focus.  Some days are hot, some days are stickier than a bun factory’s spillage of extra-gummy jam, some days it don’t come easy… some days it doesn’t come at all.  Meat Loaf lyrics aside, you need focus.  Buckets of concentration melted together with motivation to perform.  You cannot walk into any class half-heartedly.  Finding the on switch is relatively easy.  A smile, a blast of some good music, a stroll around the school grounds, anything to clear you mind and feel fresh.  In the domain of teaching, insufficient time is afforded to that best buddy of the educator:  relaxation.  Daydreaming and doodling have been linked with high intelligence levels and creativity.  I like to think all my best ideas have stemmed from drawing fictitious maps and brainstorms resembling that of a biro-inscribed cyclone.  Move around the classroom, get many eyes following you!

Made from concentrate.  I hate being ignored.  I detest it when I lose one or two students to boredom, tiredness or the pressures of stacked homework lay before them.  I despise concentration being sapped by distractions.  That said, I can understand.  Empathy and sympathy are your allies.  Your movements and actions will deliver your crowd.  Think slapstick or stand-up comedy over standing up straight.

Realistic goals.  This goes for both students and teachers, because ultimately why aim to high and totally miss your targets?  The level of English in various schools or even within one grade can differ drastically.  You can’t leave behind any stragglers and similarly you cannot abandon the child geniuses.  The fine balance between testing and arduous should sit just above competence and challenging.  With experience you can find that titrated line.  If 80% of the class is at a level higher than the balance, you can over one semester encourage the inexperienced students onwards with more one-on-one assistance and praise.  Their confidence might just need your backing and reassurance.

Lesson planning.  I love to do something.  I hate to plan.  That said, a great plan gives fantastic guidance and helps you avoid stumbling into a ravine without a paddle for the creek below.  Finding a lesson plan is easy.  Then it must be tailored.  The end product needs to suit you, and you alone.  For my lesson plans I slice them into ten key components.  (1)  Do you have a clear and outlined method?  (2)  The lesson should be segmented into presentation, practice and production areas.  (3)  How big will activities be?  Teamwork versus pair work or smaller groups of four?  (4) Push for student talking time, over teacher talking time – where oral English is key.  (5)  Plainly outline the target phraseology and vocabulary.  Avoid clutter.  (6)  Handouts, activities and supporting materials need to be noted clearly.  (7)  Is an example of board work necessary?  (8)  Minimise non-essential skills such as reading or writing when pushing for oral English practice.  (9)  Ensure the students practice what you have taught them and define how you can check this.  (10)  Ensure the task pours, surges and flows as required by bringing the matter to life with a great review…

Reviews.  Perhaps, the only way you’ll ever develop as a teacher is by assessing the level of response from students in a review.  If the games or activities are dull, a poker-face laden class will stare emptily until the class bell.  If the final undertaking is too difficult, confusion and ignorance will call by for a bite to eat:  you’re on the menu!  Engaging review games can catch attention.  They will reveal how much has been learnt or bolstered.  Using characters from popular culture like those of Super Mario Brothers, the latest boybands, or famous sport stars will engage your crowd.  If it is obscure, you’ll lose the crowd.  That said, a personal touch reflecting you and your life can fascinate the gazing eyes.  Add life, add personality and add some spirit.  I have a class that have nicknamed me Tofu.  Since then an entire Powerpoint presentation was based around a dialogue revolving around the food, a fictional superhero called Fantastic Tofu and the new game Super Tofu Brothers.  If a particular class embraces something, you can play off it – it may be tedious to you, but dive in with full passion and join me in a method I like to call Teaching with Tofu!

And with those words of wisdom, I end on a quote by The Hold Steady, “We gotta stay positive”.

For further reading:

Lesson plan maker – Retrieved 2015/04/19.

Lesson plan guidance – Retrieved 2015/04/19.


RECOVERED FROM THE DEMISE OF HUBHAO.COM

Introductions are meant to be swift and to the point.  That’s my introduction over with.

Try to know your students and their knowledge.  In a more technical way I could call this heading, “Acquire relevant knowledge about students”.  Students will have their own cultural and generational backgrounds.  They will have been influenced by their parenting; their friendships; mass media and so on and so on… If you mention Japan in many classes, some closed responses shall follow, but increasingly you may find good arguments or great positivity to Japanese culture.  The beauty of using a controversial or current affairs topic is that it can help develop descriptive terminology.  Similarly, a student with a history of poor discipline can be enticed by different approaches.  What they have learned, whether correct or totally erroneous can shape how they learn new topics.  There isn’t a simple way to note how much every student or a group of students know, but having an idea is a fine way to start your preparations!  Your course design for pacing, examples and format – even the objective depends entirely on knowing your students and their ability.  With this you can flush away misconceptions and draw up clear guidance routes.

 

Teamwork.  Let’s be fair, teamwork is something we all love when it goes well.  When it doesn’t it is hard, but then you find how to develop the strengths within the ranks of a team.  Weaknesses become stronger through assistance and collaboration.  All major road cycling races have a winner, but the team that gets the winner there, does most of the work.  Be they mechanics, support staff or the cycling squad.  In a team, all are accountable.  Responsibility and pride force the hand of those trying to shirk away.  The teamwork is far more social and can heighten understanding.  Essentially students have a jigsaw and through their own methods, they can assist each other.  I’m a massive believer in questions and answers.  For every question a student asks you, try to reply clearly – before launching your own questions.  The beauty of the modern world is you’re never more than one metre from a gameshow.  Turn “Who Wants To Be A Millionaire?” into a classroom activity.

 

Varied learning techniques.  Variety is the spice of life.  Fact.  Monotony creates boredom.  Monotony creates boredom.  If students are forced to sit and listen, expect a disaster of biblical proportions.  What I mean is Old Testament, real wrath of God type stuff.  Fire and brimstone coming down from the skies! Rivers and seas boiling!  Human sacrifice, dogs and cats living together… mass hysteria!  The students must talk.  Through talking they can connect.  They can apply the words by relating it to their experience.  Their learning will become their life and through each oral English lesson they will gain further invaluable experience.  I often devise undertakings to promote the key language skills in naturalised forms, e.g. if we’re discussing transport, why not perform a role-play based on travelling to the Sudirman Cup final (or something topical).

 

Timekeeping skills.  Class begins at 11am.  You have 40 minutes.  Remember to segment the class structure.  Tailor all to the students’ needs.  From experience energy will be highest early on.  Throw in a warm up activity then go straight into an introduction.  Now stop and review.  Slide in some more content, stop, practice and deliver.   Time for a final review?  Class is over.  Be realistic with timeframes.  Nothing great comes from too much review time, and likewise, nothing fantastic can emerge from too much introductory timing.  Only yawns.  Use timers on Powerpoint presentations, stopwatches, clocks and set clear limits for tasks.

 

Excellent!  Well done!  I recommend that you do your homework before the students even receive any homework from you.  Grab yourself a thesaurus.  Try to introduce new vocabulary, be it single words like fantastic or tremendous – or simple sentences of praise and encouragement.  “Try harder next time” can flip to “An admirable effort, but I know you can do better.”  Whether the work or task was first-rate, outstanding, exceptional, superb or poor, words are powerful tools to motivate and provide curiosity.  The students mind may ignore the praise, they may investigate it further, or they may learn an expression and fire it off at peers in the future.  That seed can fast become a network of positivity branching out in the tree of life.  Feedback should be seen as a chance to reflect on what you have asked – and not a motivator for incorrect learning.  Wisely must the force you use be.  Liam, a teacher, I know uses fist bumps, high fives and many other praising moves learnt from the ghettos of Weymouth (U.K.).  Try to vary your praising methods.  Introduce more internationally noted cultural nods of approval.


RECOVERED FROM THE DEMISE OF HUBHAO.COM

Teachers are hugely important in a community.  Education and development of youth pushes the next generation onwards.  During these impressionable years children will be imparted with facts, figures and fart jokes.  These will stay with them forever.  With their new knowledge the student can go on and be responsible, productive and a valuable member of society.  And they’ll probably still tell fart jokes.

 

Diversify.  Theory and practice are two different things.  Flitting between each method is a good way to engage all.  In the novel Jurassic Park, penned by Michael Crichton, a character Dr. Grant talks about two kinds of people, “There are those that want to be astronomers, and those that want to be astronauts.”  The former studies from a point of absolute safety, the other is more like the explorer.  To make a class as hands-on as possible, sometimes lessons need to be outside the box.  For beyond the territories of old-fashioned teaching gives students ways to learn and develop their talents in ways more fitting to showing it off.  Varying assignments, exercises and even the location of teaching can certainly arouse the senses.

 

Build rapport.  So many times I have seen new teachers come and expect instant enthusiasm.  It is insulting to think you’ll be respected and learnt from within the first few classes.  There will always be curiosity but once that wanes, what remains?  Beyond the classroom, keep your office door open; tell students they are welcome to talk more outside of classes; join in with activities beyond your paid time; help the quieter students feel included; take on the tough kids and distractors, find out more about them; and always be approachable.  Wear a smile.  Be professional.  If it is for a moment raining in your heart, bring sunshine to those indoors.  Students will embrace you not just as a teacher, but someone to look up to and learn from as a community member.  Teaching isn’t about being a friend or popular, it is about commanding a respect to encourage your students to learn.

 

Aim higher than the stars.  Previously I penned the importance of realistic goals.  That’s for the students.  For you, as a teacher, should be looking at something far greater: the unreachable wall of perfection.  Don’t just copy and paste last year’s work.  Think how it can be improved.  Is there a different method of review you can use?  Could I modernise or make the images more relevant to the student audience?  How can I encourage more oral English opportunities?  Your expectations can always be heightened.  To quote Nelson Mandela, “after climbing a great hill, one only finds that there are many more hills to climb.”  Do this, and you’ll feel more satisfied.  Depend on older material and you’ll soon become fatigued.

 

There is no Plan B?  Of course there is a plan B.  I personally opt for plans C, D, E and F.  We’re in a subtropical region, with high humidity and build ups of saline detritus on projectors or even power-cuts may ruin a well-prepared powerpoint.  What’s more is that the humidity has rendered a box of chalk into a useless pulp of mush.  The dry wipe white board is not to be used as a previous teacher used a permanent marker and the word comparative has remained on that board for two years.  Unlike the other classrooms the board isn’t magnetised and sticky backed plastic can’t be utilised due to an invasive mouse population in your stationery draw.  Your computer has gave up the ghost too.  Prepare for the worst, hope for the best.  Games and flashcards sat in folders, pre-printed materials, pairwork activities, turning the classroom into an arena… every possibility; nothing’s left to chance.  Think on your toes.

 

Clear boundaries.  If there are two pathways, one is shorter than the other and involves little effort.  You’ll feel happy but relaxed afterwards.  The other pathway is steep, challenging and you will learn as much about yourself as the matter.  You will feel like you have worked hard on this latter path.  Which pathway do you take?  You must articulate to your students, what is acceptable in the learning process.  Recently in Wuhan, drones were used to curb cheating for the National College Entrance Exam.  Of course you want collaboration in teamwork, but in testing an individual, you need their purest response.  You don’t want answers from Professor Google and Dr. Baidu.  I’ve seen hand-written answers copied from Wikipedia complete with coloured hyperlinks and lines beneath them.  Even the red spellchecker error lines appeared.  I tend to highlight my rules early on, and address any breaches as and when with a three strikes and you’re out warning.  Plagiarism and replication of other student’s complete work can turn into a detective job at times.

 

 

 

For further reading:

“Implementing the Seven Principles: Technology as Lever” by Chickering and Ehrmann – Retrieved 2015/06/15.

Clear Learning Objectives” – Retrieved 2015/06/15.


RECOVERED FROM THE DEMISE OF HUBHAO.COM

Making money.  I dislike money, I never seem to have enough or more appropriately, I’m totally irresponsible with my hard-earned dosh.  I earn my bread and then redistribute it on a combination of soft drink addictions and the need to add bits to my bicycle having shredded one part or the other.  I’m told you can save money easier by taking on extra jobs.  “Where can I find more work?”  I’m glad you have asked.  There’s the internet with forums like Dave’s ESL Café (www.eslcafe.com), there’s more regional classified adverts (like on Hubhao), social media like QQ, Facebook and WeChat groups.  Placing an advert in a bar or public place generally gets you spotted quickly.  Beyond the school gates in amongst the masses of parents is a good place to hand out your number and simple advertisement [Disclaimer:  check with your school first, and your teaching contract if this is okay].  Asking senior teachers if they know of anybody looking for private tuition will find you work.  In sunny Houjie, I have had a dozen requests each month and I usually delegate them to my immediate colleagues or friends.  Some of us like free time too much!

 

Forward thinking.  Ever had an idea during a class?  A bright spark followed by that lightbulb moment?  Yes, we all do.  Note it down for later.  During my summer vacation I plan to tailor images, bring props, bring some real things from home, kidnap my parents and force them to move to China… and so on.  There are gaps that can be brought to life in every topic.  I just need to get a life size replica of the Eiffel Tower into China… oh, wait, that’s already been done!!!  I plan this summer to collect magnetic board games including a giant Jenga; some English story books; more things to do with Manchester and the U.K. in general; prizes for games and competitions; seashells from the U.K. and many, many new holiday photos with friends and family.  I am a guest in China, and I want my students to be guests in my life and happenings.

 

Notes.  Notes, not of the musical variety, although that does help occasionally…  “Old MacDonald had a farm… A-E-I-O-U.”  I mean notes, as in minutes, records, transcripts or observations are important.  I average an A4 sized notepad every quarter of a year for a reason.  I rarely write anything beyond words, short sentences and abbreviated squiggles.  This is my idea factory.  Some ideas never bear fruit or even blossom.  Others get filling, direction and fill Powerpoints, games, review tasks, ideas to brighten the school walls up, become performances, songs, poems etc.  Notes, to me, are the foundation blocks of teaching.  Plus, every now and then, I look back at my notes from years gone by and find a piece of gold dust that gives rise to something big and wonderful (like posters about European nations and their culture etc).  Creativity can be born from one note.  La, la, la, laaaaaa.

 

Instructions and examples.  Before travelling somewhere unfamiliar for an interview or appointment, I look at the mode of transport, costs, timings, practicalities, possible weather and climate, etc.  The same applies to teaching instructions.  My sets of instructions have to be clear, broken down into steps, with the relevant introduction and content.  Without this, I am asking for anarchy and pandemonium to visit our classroom.  Alongside the clear instructions, support must be provided and clear examples given.  From knowing my classes I select the best students (and not always the same ones each time, to keep it fair overall) to assist me with demonstrating what we must do.  On the projection wall will sit a further example too.  I will enter the arena and probe around the classroom looking to see demonstrations being practiced before calling forward students to review their collective effort.

 

Don’t jump to conclusions.  Guess what?  As a teacher, you’re not a student.  You’re a teaching expert.  Reading between the lines, filling in gaps, and applying our own comprehension is instinctive.  Sometimes we must switch from autopilot mode into something more appropriate.  We can’t cycle from Chengdu to Paris, without the adequate preparation.  Students need to avoid confusion.  We must prevent them connecting two dots to form a line that is so wonky, one dot may fall off and land in a pile of previously failed dots.  Breaking up duties ensures that each instruction is followed step-by-step along the floor, then up some stairs and high above into the mountains before flight is encouraged.  Take nothing for granted, share how you think as an expert.  The parrot copies human voices for a reason and then applies the skill with precise action.  Your students can do anything with clear, concise instructions.

 


RECOVERED FROM THE DEMISE OF HUBHAO.COM

Don’t flood the market.  Rome wasn’t built in a day.  Nor was a complete understanding of the English language or uses of said philological skills.  There are professors and scholars always trying to further this language of ours.  Don’t worry about everything.  Narrow it down to just a little by little approach.  If you blanket a subject, you’ll swamp it into a boggy, murky, twisted mess and scare the students away!  Don’t do too much in a short space of time.  We must know what to include and what to eject.  Your favourite subjects of contents, e.g. football and cycling may not be apt for the syllabus.  The semester or year needs clear division into units.  Each unit must have a focus and target language.  The students’ experiences, background and class numbers need to be accounted into the material.  I have often split a* unit* into multiple classes to get a sounder understanding of more difficult subjects.  Simply prioritising and setting purposes helps.

 

Questions and answers.  I find that just a simple question with a simple answer isn’t enough to keep a conversation flowing.  Closed questions, the kind where, yes, no and maybe arise can kill a conversation.  More open questions can lead a conversation to more questions and details.  I try to encourage my students to work in pairs and have one student as the question master and the other as questioned.  This is a great technique for reviewing a subject and also makes the students think harder about the level of detail in their answer.  If the task is limited to one minute then the student can respond strongly to prevent further questions.  If the questioned student is too simplistic with their answers the question master can launch many questions.  This makes for a good spectator competition, but use it sparingly – as too many rounds will make you question using this challenge again.

 

Are you the challenger?  Don’t agree with everything.  You can be much more than someone who nods their head and says, “Yes” or “Okay.”  We can be a commentator like of Match of the Day; we can be a challenger like in a public debate; we can be more moderate like a news presenter; or we orchestrate an argument to develop deeper conversation.  Through these characters we can guide students, change behaviours, and promote thinking critically.  It goes without saying about avoiding religious and political debate but subjects such as wildlife conservation and attitudes to animal care make for interesting discussion.  Perhaps give students roles, like a hunter, a conservation worker, a wildlife guard, the family of the hunter, the medicine maker, the police and anyone else connected directly to illegal rhino horn poaching.  You’ll maybe see and hear defences, objectiveness and bias.  Flip the roles between students and see if they can understand one another’s arguments.  Challenge each student with simple questions.  Who?  When?  What?  Why?  How?  Which?  Where?

 

Handouts.  “Save the world”, “save trees”, “recycle”, are a few cried heard all over the world.  If you pass the photocopying room at my school, close to exam time, you’ll hear a different kind of whimper.  As the photocopiers go all lifeless and silent or they spew out worthless misprints the copy staff go postal.  Handouts in classes are essential for homework.  For a class task, it is worth asking two to six students to share one sheet of A4 or A3 paper.  A shared task and prompt sheet is more likely to drive the behaviours needed for good team etiquette.  And you’ve just saved the Amazon rainforest!

 

Evaluate and evolve.  Teachers have basic principles but over the years our methods have become more and more chameleonic.  The successful teacher adapts to new technologies and new methods.  They seek new ideas and embrace them.  They also refine the tried and tested methods to a finite degree of near perfection.  There’s no resting on their laurels (or Sweet Bay leaves).  If something that did work, no longer works, changes must be made.  A variety of incidents may change your teaching methods.  A class size change from 16 to 60 certainly will make you uneasy.  The old rules may be redundant.  There may be a drive for more advanced media orientated or business connected vocabularies.  You must know what to do, usually by understanding your previous workings, exams, evaluations and student knowledge.  You may need to prepare extra base work or go off subject to bring about further knowledge teaching.  You may need a library, online resource, ask somebody for help or forum to seek new ideas or guidance.  From here we can construct content with objectives, structure, adjust and format a new range of materials.  Not everything comes from experience.  Keeping it as simple as possible will make it much more management.

 

For further reading:

*Is it an unit or a unit?  See this debate.


 

 

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