Monday, 1 May 2017

3 Different Ways of Dealing with a Curve

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Grading on a curve can be a blessing and a curse at the same time. I've found that most teachers do one of three things when faced with using a curve.

1. They max out the curve
If you take a TEFL course you will find out that many of us are teaching required courses. Even if it's not required, I highly recommend you take a course even if you've been teaching for years; there's always something new you can learn. Some popular online courses are the CCELT (100 hours) and the University of Toronto (100, 120, and 150 hours). Due to this, many of the students don't care as much about these classes as they would about classes in their major. Although English is important, a basic course probably isn't going to make or break their career, so why fight it? If the curve allows for 30% A's, then they'll give 30%, no matter how low the scores are.

There are a couple of exceptions to this, one is when teachers save a couple A's just in case there are mistakes. If they have students with identical scores, they might bump them both down to B's, though some teachers will take a look at how much they improved or their effort and give one an A and one a B. I personally find that difficult to do. Some students are naturally better than others and will score higher with little effort. So what do you do in that case? Reward the student who has slightly better English or reward the student who tried the hardest? Either way, these teachers will do their best to max out the curve.

2. They use cut-off scores
Commonly referred to as a cut-line in Korea, these teachers ignore the curve. The purpose of the curve is to put a cap on how many grades you can give. They don't state that there has to be a minimum number of A's. Therefore, these teachers might use a straight 90-80-70-60 cut-off, or make up their own. If the highest score in the class is a 79, then no one gets an A or a B. The highest score will be a C. Of course, this might set you up for a bunch of student complaints, but I've found that most teachers who do this don't care about complaints and are very firm with grading. They believe that students get what they deserve.

3. They look for a natural separation
This method kind of combines the first two methods. The teacher isn't going to max out the scores nor are they going to use per-determined cut-off scores. They're going to look for bunches. Let's say you're allowed to give a max of 30% A's and the top 23% of your students have scores in the 90s and then there's a huge drop from there and the next score is an 84. Teachers who use this method are going to use the drop as a cut-off score since that's where the divide naturally falls. Of course, even with this method, you're going to get students who complain, however, there will always be students who complain, even when you max out the curve.

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Monday, 3 April 2017

A Quick and Easy Way to Decrease the Complaints You Get About Writing Scores

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At once time or another I'm sure every teacher has been asked by a student to re-grade their writing. Usually what happens is that they'll come to you and say something like they think they deserve a higher grade. Sometimes, they'll bring their friend's paper and say their friend got a higher score and they think that they also deserve a higher score.

In the past I made the mistake of increasing their score. In hindsight, this definitely was a major mistake to make. First of all, it tells the student that you didn't do a good job grading. Second, it lets them know that if they complain, you'll raise their grade. The only reason I would give them a higher grade when they came and complained was to appease them. Once students find out you'll raise their score if they come talk to you, you'll be bombarded by students.

After over a decade of teaching at the university level, I know what grade a student deserves. Due to the that and the fact that it can be depressing for students to see red all over their paper, I don't correct every single mistake. Plus there's the fact that very few students will actually look at the corrections I've made.

One little change I've made has dramatically decreased the amount of complaints I have once I hand a writing activity back.When students come to me and ask me to re-consider the grade I gave them I start at the very beginning and correct every single mistake. Usually after a sentence or two the student will realise that they got a higher score than they deserved. If not, I'll refer to the rubric and start deducting points. Then I'll give them the option of keeping their score or changing it. When they come with their friend's paper, I do the same to their friend's paper and they quickly realise that their friend will lose points.

Some people will say that it sounds mean, but I personally know that I do a good job grading and grade fairly. I don't play favourites. More often than not give them higher scores than other teachers would. This isn't a problem since all my students are graded against themselves: not against other teachers' students. In addition, there's a curve involved.

Granted, there are times when I've made a mistake with the math involved and when that happens I'll happily change their score. However, if you make this one change, students will realise that complaining will not necessarily raise their score and if anything, it will decrease it.

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Wednesday, 1 March 2017

Review of Tax Uncomplicated / U.S. Expat Taxes in Korea

I've written reviews about tax accountants before. First in 2012, I wrote about Greenback Tax Services and then in 2013 I wrote about Taxes for Expats. I never used Taxes for Expats for my tax returns due to the dodgy feeling I got from them. I used Greenback Tax Services from 2011-2014. In 2015, I decided to try a different accountant. The two people who ran this service were Americans who had lived in Korea for years. They're called Tax Uncomplicated and their Facebook group is called U.S. Expat Taxes in Korea. I figured they would have a different prospective on things.Tax Uncomplicated is the American headquarters and Klemsen Consulting is the Korean branch.

I exchanged messaged with Wayne Allen Pfeister over Facebook. They put their prices on their website. However, as I mentioned before I don't just have one income from one country, so that complicates things. I knew I wasn't going to be paying the basic fee, but that's fine with me. I was quoted 235,000 KRW, which is about $200. That's about half of what I was paying with Greenback Tax Services and I liked the fact that they had lived in Korea, so were familiar with that aspect of it.

Speed: 4
Wayne was pretty good at answering my questions very quickly, often within the same day. There were some lags, but I think that was because we were in different time zones.

Communication: 5
Absolutely fantastic. He answered all my questions and gave me all the information I needed. Their Facebook group is called U.S. Expat Taxes in Korea, is also great for getting information.

Price: 5
Looking at what other accountants charge for expat taxes, Tax Uncomplicated is very, very affordable. I paid less than I had before and got more back. However, getting more back could be due to re-marrying. Nonetheless, it's a fantastic deal. I also like the fact that since I live in Korea and make money in Korea, I could pay in Korean currency into a Korean bank account. No need to worry about exchange rates.

Quality: 5
Wonderful. He asked for my past returns and looked them over to see what Greenback Tax Services had done. Tax laws are always changing and he's on top of it and knows how to get the most money back. Their website is very simple and easy to navigate. There's something to be said about the fact that it's not confusing to find out what you need.

Professionalism: 5
Great. I was always treated with respect and in a professional manner. I never felt like any of the questions I asked were stupid.

Overall Review: 4.8
Tax Uncomplicated is great, especially for expats living in Korea. Working with accountants who know about Korea and can allow you to pay via Korean bank transfer makes everything so convenient. The one issue that people might have is that information is sent using email or Facebook. I know with Greenback Tax Services, they had a special encrypted client area. That might be something that they could look at for the future. However, I think Tax Uncomplicated targets a different niche: teachers in Korea. And unfortunately, let's face it, we're certainly not rolling in it.

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Wednesday, 15 February 2017

A Warning About Teaching in the Czech Republic

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The following post is from Ella L., a guest blogger. She taught in Korea, went to the Czech Republic and is now back in Korea. You might also be interested in reading, Stories from an EFL ClassroomWhat are your stories?

Some months ago, i thought the grass was greener on the other side in Europe. I had a job offer in the Czech Republic, and thinking it was the offer of a lifetime, flew to Europe. However, what I got was less than what I expected thanks to a broken contract, unhelpful bosses, and theft.

First, the contract was broken as soon as I had landed. I was told that the contract was invalidated at the immigrations office and so had arrived there with no legal documents to support me. I wound up being paid less than half of the promised salary and had to use online teaching to support myself.

Second, the bosses there didn't help with anything. They made me pay for everything, never got me a refrigerator, and expected me to do my visa by myself, which was nigh impossible to do. They also did not pay for insurance, and expected me to cover it.

Third, I had some items stolen from me. My son, who is nearly 2 years old, had some toys taken from him. I had a couple of valuables taken from me at the bus terminal. It broke my trust in humanity that a nanny could steal toys from a child they had cared for.

I don't feel that Europe is the place to go anymore. You might find yourself having difficulty getting the work visa, spending a lot of money, having your items stolen from you, and find yourself struggling if you're not paid enough. Asia provides jobs with living wages and the people are more helpful, so I recommend going there.

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Wednesday, 1 February 2017

Stories from an EFL Classroom

The following post is from Maria D., a guest blogger.

Being an English teacher in Korea can be a thankless job. The hours are long, vacation is short and cultural boundaries can be intimidating and annoying. But the thing that keeps me teaching are the students. Watching them progress is rewarding, but they also provide ample entertainment in the classroom. Here are my favorite stories!

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1. I was teaching a class of middle schoolers. One of them absolutely loved attention and constantly disrupted the class to get attention. I told him, “If you’re going to act like you’re in kindergarten, you can sit on the floor like in kindergarten.” So, he sat on the floor for the rest of the lesson and quietened down. At the end, when I gave him permission to stand up, he stretched up, then started rubbing his rear, and said, “Teacher! My ass!”

Other disruptions included, “Teacher! He said he cut my pen-is!” and “Teacher, what does ‘wasted’ mean?” He was never boring.

2. I got engaged and had a nice diamond ring to prove it. Often, my partner would pick me up outside the school. One of my other middle school students proceeded to say, “Oh! Teacher, boyfriend handsome!” then held my hand and slid my ring off, then wore it herself. I pretended I was going to fight her then took the ring back.

3. The fifth graders were learning body parts, and the expression, “I hurt my [body part].” When students were lining up to leave, one of the boys walked around to each student, pointed to his crotch and thrust, then said, “I hurt my penis! I hurt my penis! I hurt my penis!”

4. For some ridiculous reason, a middle schooler thought it would be a great idea to bring her 3 tiny pet fish to school in a water bottle. I put it to the side on my desk. Two of the students started play fighting then fell onto the bottle, breaking it apart and suddenly there were three flapping, traumatized fish on the floor and a bunch of screaming middle schoolers. I had to pick up the little things and place them in the remains of the water bottle.

5. And last, but not least, one of the most adorable students I had was a chubby cheeked first grader. She told me about her pet hamster named, “Pudding-ee!” I confirmed with her, “Pudding-y?” and she replied, “No, no, no, teacher… Pudding… EEEEEEEEEEEE!”

These moments are what make teaching worth it, for me. What are your stories?

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