Wednesday, January 12, 2011

How can you improve your students' learning (and hopefully, boost test scores)? Maybe you shouldn't ask me...

Our sixth graders have scored the lowest of their region. This test was something like the SATs and our school stood out as the worse ranked. This came as a shock to our school. All the sixth grade teachers were nervous and the VP and principal were humiliated. The English department grades 3-6 had to start upping their game and employ new practices to ensure higher test rankings in the future.

The witch cackles and my warm desk-warming days end

This winter, I'm definitely chained to my school prison.  Even my mother, who was visiting, desk-warmed with me just to spend time together.. and she caught a cold from it!  Sad, right?

We can only thank EPIK and the public school system for this insanity. I will only teach one "token" week of school in February; unfortunately, my desk-warming won't change those kids' test scores, improve the teaching level for next year or make my students regain their "smart" abilities.

Our students bad test scores-- not a grand surprise to me.

I could read a list of things the 6th grade curriculum at my school needs to improve--

Give homework and tests.
Employ more classroom discipline.
Offer tutoring sessions.
Make more challenging lessons...

But the truth is, I've already stressed my assessment concerns to my sixth grade Korean co-teacher (the head of our English department) early on. My ideas were dismissed.

Who listens to an NET, especially if it entails more work, right?

If I could preach the moral of this story, it would be--

If you don't love your job, you won't do well in it.

From my arrival, many of my KTs thought our students' level was very poor already and it seemed sad to me that their sentiments of the children felt uninspired. Some KTs didn't even like their jobs, didn't care for the kids or teaching!

To them, there were greener pastures outside our school walls where students flowed with high intelligence, sang English, Korean, Science and Math with great hagwon fluidity. Our kids however, were not "bright" --to put it more nicely than it was originally expressed-- and living in the poor side of town; we had to teach EASY and BASIC things.

Korean teachers should practice having better faith in their students to excel beyond the textbook standards or they, as teachers will be uninspired to teach beyond it. The reason why I don't mention NETs in this is simply, most of us come in with no expectations of teaching low level or high. We don't have a level comparison to judge or a preference; we all start off eager to make a difference.

Children are EXPANDABLE.

They're at that formative age where learning a language (or anything...) is primed because they are impressionable.  They learn not only from words and instruction, but also through repetition, mimicking and a bit of environmental osmosis!

For adults, learning a new language is more challenged; learning isn't as flexible as adults must find ways to juggle rules, habits and structures which have been deeply engrained since childhood.

This goes back to what I've said earlier...

If you ask for the minimum, you'll get LESS

If you make a lesson too easy, students will go dumb from sheer boredom and laziness; make it too hard and you'll kill their confidence in trying. But if you give kids bite-sized challenges, it's my belief they'll step up to the plate to bat.Well, my school may have might have more lower level students than others, but...

No child's learning is locked at "stupid". The danger in teaching "stupid-easy" classes, is that's exactly what you'll create of your students' expectations for themselves.

I am stupid, I want easy. 

When you get down elemental essence, this is what my KTs wanted to teach the kids.  Wrong. When you're tempted to think this way of a situation, it's time to push your goals for them higher. Challenge yourself to find ways you'll cleverly challenge them to set higher goals for themself and better self-esteem.

Focus on the positive. Don't drag your personal problems into the classroom.

There's a reason why I separate my personal life from my classroom life. Frustrations with my co-teacher,  stress from a rough acclimation with Korea, food issues, culture shock.... I don't bring it into the classroom.

Kids don't need our baggage. Yet, they're susceptible to what's not being said.

I once saw this episode on Dog Whisperer, where a pet's emotional responses patterned it's owner. The dog could sense when the owner felt scared or when the owner didn't trust the dog's confidence in situations and the dog reacted unconsciously by becoming that.

Okay, so kids aren't dogs but they're uncluttered and pure. They sense our emotions and react.

When I enter the school, I try my best to lock all that "bad vibe" junk outside of me. Kids don't need that kind of crazy energy from me. Instead, I try to work from the heart and focus on the good things that I see in them and push that positivity out. When I focus on their purity, it actually transforms me and my head space.

Practicing integration is a vigilant process

Integrating the past lessons and vocabulary into your future lessons is key; it's something you must strive for with consistency.

It's not only important to review what you taught in the last class, but to integrate it into your future classes. You're helping your students build a bridge to their understanding and practical use of language. To achieve fluency, you must practice something daily.... it must be a repetitive habit in order for one to find confidence in using it successfllly.

When you find a good formula, you must follow through. 

If you find a great style of teaching that works, repeat it. Entrain students to your new style, so they pick up the good habits you're trying to implement.

While the Give Me More technique was successful and students felt more excited and challenged by it, it also took some time and energy to develop.  I was the only teacher employing it and I needed my co-teacher to take up some of my leash and follow suit to make it a habit. We had to meet the 40 minute time frame and as many things, my co-teacher wanted to rush through the lessons to get them over with. I had to cut that technique from my repetoire.

In the end, as an NET co-teaching with a Korean teacher, you'll find that only half the battle is the students. The other half is your KT, holding the rope of the guillotine.

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