Tuesday, 3 January 2017

Looking Back on the 2004 Earthquake and Tsunami in Indonesia

The following post is from Thomas Tye, a guest blogger.

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Earthquakes. Tsunamis. More earthquakes. I’m not trying to sound nostalgic in the midst of all of these natural disasters, but it makes me think about the really BIG earthquake, the really big tsunami that called upon me to come to Asia. In 2004 it was the earthquakes of all earthquakes, the big one that hit off the coast of Ache in Indonesia. Sent a tidal wave that caused destruction and mayhem in its wake. Everyone on the planet that was supposed to go, went, including me. It took me a few weeks to decide if I was going to leave America or not, but I finally did.

I had no money, just enough gas to get my truck down to Texas to the only NGO that was willing to take me over. I had no relief training, no idea how or why I even wanted to go. All I knew was that there was something pulling me across the planet, something… a feeling I couldn’t ignore that was making it hard for me to drive down to the rickety 747 that was held together with duck tape and chicken wire, an airplane that belonged to the organization Global Peace Initiative, and to Dr. K. Paul, an immigrant who used his life as a radio beacon between him and God who went anywhere and everywhere to bring aid and assist in the time of heartache.

I was lucky enough to bum a ride, along with Congressmen, reporters from all the major news agencies, doctors, and aide workers that constantly have a bag packed and ready in the closet of their homes for times like this. Like I said, I bummed a ride, so I had no idea or control over where we were going. Our first stop—Abuja, Nigeria during the African Conference. No room on the runway for our plane, so we had to park at the end and hike 45 minutes over blazing tarmac to the gates, which proceeded to lead me into the craziest night of my life, a story meant for another time.

I only reminisce about that time now because we just completed our 10th episode on our podcast Married to a Foreigner (Facebook) here in Korea. My wife and I just had our 5 year anniversary, 10 if you count how long we dated before getting married. If it wasn’t for that tsunami 11 years ago, I’d probably still be sitting on someone’s couch wondering when my life was going to begin, hazy eyed thinking that I’d one day get up and out of America. Instead, I hitchhiked on an NGO plane, set up Jack’s Place, a backpacker’s hotel in Sri Lanka, went to diving school in Thailand, spent 6 months learning to walk again after almost cutting my foot off, made a movie in Japan, lived in a castle in Spain and caravanned around Europe, met my wife in South Korea and spent 10 years teaching English around the world. All because one day, the universe told me to get up off of my ass and care about something other than myself. Earthquakes. Tsunamis. I’m sorry that I didn’t learn to give a damn sooner.

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Thursday, 1 December 2016

10 Hoops To Jump Through to Get Renewed at a Korean University

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Anyone who has taught in Korea knows that there's a lot of paperwork to go through to get a job. Nowadays, more and more universities are making you do lots of paperwork just to keep your job, especially for those people who have some of the best TEFL jobs in Korea.

Even if you do everything they ask and pass all their tests with flying colors, it's may not mean anything. They can fudge the results or decide they want to have retroactive job requirements. While I don't want to say that it's a farce, most of it is just a formality. They are going through the motions to show their higher ups that they did what they had to do. More often than not it comes down to them liking you and them having the budget to hire you. Below you can find somethings that people have had to do to renew.

  1. Sign a document saying that you know your contract is up: this is just a legal formality. They need to tell you that your contract is finishing.
  2. Sign a document saying you want to renew: this usually states that this is not an offer of employment, but they just want to know if you want to renew. You can always decide later not to sign the contract.
  3. Verbally tell them you want to renew: and you might have to tell multiple people, such as your head teacher, boss, secretary, and/or dean.
  4. Email them and tell them you want to renew: they cover all the bases and this is just another one of them.
  5. Interview: you might have to have an interview with people such as the head teacher, your boss, and/or the dean. It's usually short and less stressful than an actual job interview.
  6. Self-evaluation: this can get lengthy so be sure to ask if there are guidelines. Some places think the more the better, while others think that less is more. 
  7. Achievements: You'll have to list any awards, publications, new degrees or diplomas, committees, or workshops you gave or attended.
  8. Submit proof of your achievements: you'll have to provide originals or copies to show your awards, publications, committees, TEFL certificates like the CCELT or the University of Toronto, new degrees or diplomas, or workshops you gave or attended.
  9. Student evals: You usually just have to list your score but you might have to print off a copy of them as well.
  10. Have your class observed: unfortunately this is not that common since students really don't know much about methodology and most places completely rely on students to decide which teachers should stay or go (based on popularity). If it's done it's usually internal and the people observing you might not know much about methodology either. 
This is not an extensive list since all places are different. This is just a list of some of the more common things that you might have to do to get renewed. Contracts may be signed early, but more often or not they are signed a few days before the semester starts and it's not unheard of for teachers to sign contracts after the semester has started.

NB: I'll be on vacation in January and February and will be publishing guest posts. While I'm gone you can read posts my other blogs. I will start posting again at TEFL Tips in March.

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Tuesday, 15 November 2016

Pros and Cons to Entering Grades Last Minute

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'Tis the season. Here in Korea, the school year is coming to an end and so is the semester. All Korean universities work in a similar way. You have X amount of time to enter the grades, students have X amount of time to complain about their grades, and then you have X amount of time to change their grades if needed.

I've found that teachers can be divided into two groups when it comes to the grading period: those who enter their grades as soon as possible and those who put off entering their grades as long as possible.

Pros to Entering Grades Last Minute
  • You will get fewer complaints. The reason behind this is that if you enter grades last minute, students will have less time to check their grades. Less time means fewer students to deal with. 
  • You will spend less time checking your emails. Koreans aren't exactly known for their patience. I've had students email me an hour after they sent their first email demanding why I hadn't answered them. If you're lucky, the office will keep your personal details from your students. Sometimes, the secretaries will give out your personal email and cell phone to students. I've had students text and call early in the morning. 
  • You will have more time to do your grading. This way you can double check to make sure there are no mistakes.
Cons to Entering Grades Last Minute
  • If you enter grades at the last minute then your students will have less time to check their grades before the grievance period and this means that mistakes might slip through the cracks.
  • More students will complain to the office that they can't see their grades right away. Korean professors might only teach 1-2 classes a semester and then have TAs do all their grading. Foreign professors typically have 5-6 classes a semester and forget about getting a TA. 
  • You have the deadline hanging over your head which means more stress for you.
The complaint or grievance period is definitely one of the most stressful and annoying parts of the semester. With that being said, I love working at a Korean university and have even written about how to get a job at a Korean university, as well as some of the best places to work at. During the grievance period, students can be very persuasive. Some try to give you gifts. Others will play the pity card and beg and plead with you. However, you need to be firm and let students know that you don't give grades; they earn them.

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Friday, 28 October 2016

A Brief Attempt to Understand Understanding

The following is a guest post written by Dan Bailey, Konkuk University, English Department.  He's written a couple of posts on TEFL Tips before, What do you mean you don't teach writing? and Motivating students in a web-enhanced class. You can reach him at dbailey0566@gmail.com

The following is an answer I gave to a midterm assignment for one of my classes. Please forgive the overly-academic tone and try to understand the original purpose of this composition was to be a term paper. I thought it would be cool to share because a lot of these ideas presented here came to me during the past week. The first section attempts to describe the relationship between self-perception of competence and task-value. The second passage looks at attribution theory and attempts to describe how learners view success and failures. The last section attempts to tie together constructs related to the self (self-concept, self-competence, self-efficacy, self-esteem, and expectancies). In the third section, I introduce something called the hierarchical model of conceptual change. This is an undeveloped idea of mine that I hope to contribute more to in the next few years. Basically, it’s a model that tries to explain how conceptual change occurs in a learner.

On self-perception of competence and task-value: 
Self-perception of competence and task-value influence each other over time. If a learner places value on a task then they will cognitively engage in that task until they have built up the self-schema to consider themselves competent. The learner’s identity becomes defined as they becomes more competent at the task. Identity development with respect to competence towards a task will influence task-value. For example, your competence in teaching promotes your identity as a teacher and fosters value towards teaching. This is an example of a positive relationship between competence and value. Alternatively, the learner loses value towards a task if competence is not developed. Devaluing the task may help justify the learner’s lack of ability.

A longitudinal relationship may exist between expectation of success and subjective task value, and they are two important predictors of achievement, but they do not necessarily predict each other. For instance, a learner may place high value on a task due to personal reasons or societal ones while having little expectancy for success towards completing the task. Furthermore, a learner may have high utility value with low competence. In other words, a learner may think math ability will be useful for their life while at the same time hold very low competence in their ability to learn math.

I believe task-value should be developed first in order to encourage engagement and lead to competence. Competence can negatively affect task-value, but task-value, which is often socially driven, has less effect on competence. For example, if you don’t feel competent as a teacher, you might justify your lack of competence by degrading the value of being able to teach. On the other hand, having a degraded value of teaching may or may not influence your competence as a teacher.

According to expectancy value theory, subjective task-value can be thought of as the motivation that allows an individual to answer the question "Do I want to do this activity and why?” Understanding the utility of a learning objective is foremost important when cultivating motivation. Accurately calibrated competence towards achieving a learning outcome rarely occurs at the initial stages of learning (because of a lack of feedback and trial-and-error experience) and therefore cannot be expected to trigger consistent motivation. The learner will be motivated up until they fail in which time they may lose competence and motivation. To avoid this situation, first the learner should understand why they are doing something (i.e., develop value) and then they can learn how (i.e., develop competence). Competence needs experience to be accurately calibrated and learners begin experience by first identifying value. Once value such as utility is established, educators should hope that early successes in learning promotes sustained motivation. Developing talk-value should be a priority.

I would like describe the process through which successes and failures individuals experience affect their subsequent motivation and performance via attribution. I will describe this process through the achievement attributions of ability, effort, task difficulty, and luck.

With respect to ability, success would have a positive effect on motivation. Success attributed to ability will empower self-confidence, self-esteem, and self-competence. This in turn, may act to motivate the individual to perform better than they otherwise might. This success would be attributed to internal ability. In other words, the individual would take ownership of their success.

Failure due to lack of ability has opposing effects for learners who are self-regulated compared to their less regulated counterparts. For a self-regulated student, failure due to lack of ability is part of the learning process. Consistent failure due to lack of ability for a self-regulated learner would be an indication to recalibrate the environment or learning objective to better suit their ability. A self-regulated learner is aware of their zone of proximal development and operates accordingly. On the other hand, failure for a learner who is not self-regulated would be demoralizing and demotivating. Failure would cause anxiety which, without established affective learning strategies, would cause avoidance behavior in which the less capable learner would either not attempt a learning task, attempt an easier task, or approach a difficult task with the intention to fail. An example of attributing failure internally for a less capable learner would be learned helplessness. In other words, they believe their lack of ability is fixed and cannot change (i.e., learned helplessness). This feeling of helplessness demotivates the learner. These less capable learners may also attribute their failure externally in the form of blame. This blame could lead to neurotic behavior and anxiety with a less regulated learner while a more regulated learner would accept a sense of agency and attempt to manipulate external influences in order to avoid the perceived negative external influence.

Effort is another variable that influences attribution. A self-regulated learner with a wide variety of learning strategies are able to capitalize from their effort more efficiently than less regulated ones. This added efficiency in their learning process has a positive effect on motivation. A self-regulated learner attributes successes and failures to effort or lack of effort. To find motivation through both failure and success, the learner should be both self-regulated and experienced. An experienced learner will be able to compare present successes and failures to prior ones (i.e., utilize temporal learning strategies). This is an excellent example of why learning portfolios are valuable tools. Learners can draw motivation from failures when they compare and contrast present examples with past ones. For instance, a learner will be able to identify patterns in their scores that coincide with the amount of effort they invest (e.g., 3 hours of study = A, 2 hours = B, 1 hour = C). Less self-regulated and inexperienced learners may lose motivation due to failure. They would, as in the case with ability, attribute their failure externally. Again, I use the term blame because blame helps the low performing learner justify their poor outcomes. They may blame themselves by thinking regardless of the amount of effort invested they still performed poorly, or they may blame an inconvenient situation that disrupted the amount of effort they could invest.

The third achievement attribution is task difficulty. Successful learners are able to break difficult tasks into manageable pieces while less successful one cannot and therefore experience a sense of feeling overwhelmed. A less proficient learner may attribute failure due to the excessive nature of a task while a more proficient learner will better match their ability to task-difficulty.

With regards to luck, a successful learner attributes less to luck than an unsuccessful one. For instance, if an unsuccessful learner succeeds with minimal effort (i.e., guessing) then they will consider themselves lucky. They are unlucky if they fail. For higher proficient learners, they are aware of how they are doing in the moment which means less guessing and therefore less attribution to luck.

Hierarchical Model of Conceptual Change 
I believe a hierarchical order exists when viewing the conceptual change that occurs in language learning, and learning in general. This hierarchical model of conceptual change goes from self-concept (most global and cemented), to self-perceptions of competence, to self-efficacy, and finally to expectancies (most domain specific and malleable to change). While I place expectancy below self-efficacy, I believe the two are reciprocally related more so than the others because of their plasticity with the environment. Self-esteem is the positive or negative view of our self-concept and could possibly be used to gauge efficiency of the hierarchical chain. In other words, if expectations, efficacy, and competence are accurate, then a healthy self-concept will emerge represented by a positive self-esteem. On the other hand, this could be our perception of self-concept suggesting that self-esteem may just be a figment of our imagination.

I believe self-concept (self-identity, self-perspective, or self-structure) is most important when considering the relationship between these constructs. Having an accurate self-concept means knowing yourself (i.e., your strengths and weaknesses). Self-concept can contain a combination of identities and each identity can be influenced separately by more domain specific competences and efficacies. Within each identity exists unique agency that affords different levels of environmental control. Therefore, expectancy, efficacy, and competence are more malleable to change with respect to the environment while self-concept is more engraved within the learner’s self-schema.

I would like to introduce the construct of self-regulated learning behavior in my contrast and comparison of the constructs within my hierarchical model of conceptual change. All of the constructs work either for or against the learner depending on their calibration. An individual who identifies as a self-regulated leaner with a wide variety of learning strategies will operate in the positive realm because they utilize environmental feedback. This utilization of feedback allows them to hold realistic expectations and calibrate self-efficacy and self-competence. On the other hand, less capable learners practice avoidance behavior and exhibit learned helplessness.

The self-regulated learner achieves accurate conceptual awareness of their self-concept through feedback from their environment. In other words, the self-regulated learner knows themselves, knows what to expect, and knows they have the skills to accomplish their goals. Through this accurate understanding, the learner reinforces their self-concept.

Competence can be relatively global (e.g., competent at all math) or local (e.g., competent at algebra) while self-concept is generally global (e.g., good at math and bad at English). My hierarchical model posits that accurate competence within local areas has an incremental effect on local competence. Consequently, inaccurate competence will have the opposite effect.

Calibrating self-competence from environmental feedback can be accomplished at the self-efficacy and expectation levels. The self-regulated learner utilizes learning strategies to calibrate their self-efficacy and competence. For example, the learner can gauge their self-efficacy through social learning strategies such as asking for feedback from others and/or metacognitive learning strategies such as reflecting on personal growth over time (via learning portfolio). Through accurate self-efficacy, the learner knows what to expect when beginning learning objectives.

Alternatively, having accurate expectations will reinforce accurate self-efficacy. I rank expectancy below self-efficacy because expectancy is related to value (utility, cost, etc.), and can be influenced by emotion, making self-expectancy prone to change even more so than self-efficacy.

All constructs mentioned in this hierarchical model of conceptual change share a similar attributional relation with failure and success. Self-regulation of learning through the use of a wide variety of direct and indirect learning strategies help maintain a calibrated leaner at all levels (self-concept, competence, efficacy, and expectancy) of my hierarchical model. This is accomplished through failure more than successes. Humans have a tendency to learn more from their failures than successes and a self-regulated learner manages these failures by transforming them into teachable moments. Failure is necessary for calibration. Without failure, efficacy and competence cannot be accurately known leaving us with a false concept of ourselves. The learner measures these constructs of themselves through failures. The self-regulated learner grows from these failures while the less proficient leaner struggles.

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Saturday, 1 October 2016

Pros and Cons of Norming in the EFL Classroom

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While norming has been part of education in some parts of the world, such as the USA for a few decades, in others it's just starting to take place. It's the third part of team building: forming, storming, norming, preforming. While norming can be a good thing, care has to be taken to make sure it is done correctly.  Below you can find a few pros and cons to norming.

  • Rubrics are the same: teachers ensure that students are graded based on the same standards.
  • There are standards to learning: since the teachers know what will be on the rubric, this ensures that all students, even those taught by different teachers, will learn the same thing by the end of the semester.
  • It's fairer: all students are held to the same standard.
  • Teachers can easily find problem areas: and then fix them if most students due poorly in one area.

  • No catering to students' needs: individuality is not acknowledge. Everyone is expect to reach the same level despite their different starting levels, abilities, or majors. 
  • Lots of time is wasted: it's hard for teachers to agree on what to put in the rubrics and they rarely receive any training on how to make them.
  • Teaching to the test: since teachers want their students to do well many just teach to the test. 
  • Data isn't used: all this data is gathered, but teachers don't see how their students did compared to other teachers' students.
As you can see there are pros and cons and both need to be carefully considered before norming is used.

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