the nikku

reflecting on ESL/EFL and its relation to faith

Sunday, January 16, 2011

Motivation, Anxiety and Other Issues

So, there are some boys in the lower level class who have generally been
a problem. Up until now we could give them the benefit of the doubt,
maybe it was jet lag, maybe they were sick, maybe they were still
getting used to each other, the classes, the food, etc. I have
previously separated the boys and moved desks to the front of the room
for talking, hitting, throwing erasers and coins, etc. However, this
Thursday, the boys were more of a behavioral problem than usual.

In my class, they were blatantly and loudly having an unrelated
conversation in Korean across the room while I was trying explain the
grammar point of the lesson. I realize it might not have been the most
interesting thing in the world, but I was trying to keep it short (under
3 min) and present it in a way that would prepare them for the upcoming
activity. Some might say do the activity first to get them interested,
but at their low level of understanding, I was afraid they would ignore
the activity as well. And trying to get them to write, say or even
repeat contextualized examples is like pulling teeth. I had already
moved the two ring-leader boys to the front, so having few other options
left, I yelled at them for a short bit.

I've said this frankly before, really, personally, I don't care whether
they listen or not, but sometimes I need to act angry to regain control
of my classroom for the sake of all the students and the learning of

After lunch, the other teacher and the department head and I had a
conversation with the two ring leader boys through an interpreter
(thanks J!). At first the boys tried to shirk and blame saying they
hadn't said anything, it was other students - or at least other students
who had started the talking and throwing things. Secondly, the boys
claimed that their "acting out"" was because they "can't understand
anything the teachers say". The boys also claimed that the (very quiet)
girls in class were "always" laughing at their English inability and
calling them names. I personally, I have hardly even seen any of the
girls in class talk to one of the boys. I find this explanation somewhat
hard to believe. I believe that personal motivation is also a key
factor (these boys seem to have been strongly "encouraged" to attend
this camp), and I am still struggling with how to provide that motivation.

We pointed out that other students in the class may feel similarly, and
yet they manage to still pay attention and refrain from having loud
conversations and generally being distracting. We also pointed out that
in very simple forms the boys CAN understand and even communicate -
perhaps even better than some of their classmates. Hopefully that was

I do remember what it was like to sit around in a foreign country and
not at all understand what was going on, so I'm somewhat willing to
except this explanation. If this is the case, then something can be
done to alleviate the anxiety! I am redoubling my efforts to make the
lessons clear and understandable as well as engaging while minimizing
potential embarrassment. We'll see how it plays out this coming week.

But before we talked with the boys, I had never before seriously thought
of "acting out" as a strategy for avoiding language anxiety or
embarrassment. I feel that I have somewhat gained a new vantage point
and hope to add this to the list of considerations that influence my

Monday, January 10, 2011

New Year, New Job

So, I got a job working at an English camp for Korean elementary and
junior high students this January which I am enjoying very much so far.
:) That is not to say it not without it's difficulties.

My first day of real work was on Friday. The boys and girls seem to
still be at the age where they don't like to mix. Which causes some
commotion sometimes with activities, especially partner activities and

On Thursday we had given the kids placement tests (the Michigan Test, an
interview speaking test and a short paragraph writing test). Three of
us teachers supervised all of the tests, and I could really see the need
for clearly defined criteria for the tests. My goal was to work on that
this weekend, but it got pushed back for now. :)

Anyway, there are only 20 students and we have an upper and a lower
level class. In the morning, another teacher and I take turns teaching
each level for an hour and half. We teacher the kids out of a version
of Interchange that targets younger learners called "Connections".

There is a third teacher who always works the afternoon classes (which
are more fun activities). On Friday we tried to do a listening and
writing activity using the movie "Up", but the students feel asleep. We
learned not to show movies to jet-lagged teenagers. :)

Half-way through we changed activities completely to "teaching" football
and frisbee outside to keep the kids active. We at least got to know
the kids better and built better relationships that way. :)