Caveat: Wisconsonian Arirang

A few days ago we had stopped in Whitewater, Wisconsin, to see my friend Bob who is a Professor of Music there. He has a colleague named Chris Ellenwood. When Bob was giving us an impromptu tour of the Music department, we met Professor Ellenwood and he, upon learning that there were two visitors from Korea, gave a spontaneous rendition of the Korean folktune "Arirang" using a whistling technique, which Curt captured on video. I said I'd post it when I got a chance, so here it is. 

Caveat: Why Should I?

Yesterday during my Davinci2B cohort, we have been practicing singing a few different pop songs for the May talent show event. These boys seem to enjoy singing – unlike a lot of kids who are too shy or inhibited by the prospect of trying to sing in English. They ask to do it, and seem very at ease with it, even if a few of them don't have the lyrics down perfectly. I particularly like when Paul, in response to the lyric "Take me into your loving arms," ad libs "Why should I?" Anyway, they chose the song themselves, from the catalogue of various English Language pop songs they have been exposed to.

Here they are singing.



Here are the lyrics they're singing.


"Thinking Out Loud"


When your legs don't work like they used to before

And I can't sweep you off of your feet

Will your mouth still remember the taste of my love?

Will your eyes still smile from your cheeks?


And, darling, I will be loving you 'til we're 70

And, baby, my heart could still fall as hard at 23

And I'm thinking 'bout how people fall in love in mysterious ways

Maybe just the touch of a hand

Well, me—I fall in love with you every single day

And I just wanna tell you I am


So, honey, now

Take me into your loving arms

Kiss me under the light of a thousand stars

Place your head on my beating heart

I'm thinking out loud

Maybe we found love right where we are


Here's the original song.


[daily log: walking, 6.5km]

Caveat: Betty Botter’s Bitter Butter

I made another tongue-twister debate with my elementary Honors1 cohort, based on the "Betty Botter's Bitter Butter" tongue twister:

Betty Botter had some butter, "But," she said, "this butter's bitter. If I bake this bitter butter, it would make my batter bitter. But a bit of better butter – that would make my batter better."
So Betty Botter bought herself a bit of butter, better than her bitter butter, and she baked it in her batter, and the batter was not bitter. So it was better Betty Botter bought a bit of better butter.

I think that they did pretty well. Roy, especially, actively tried to integrate the tongue twister into his debate speeches, although in other aspects he didn't do as well. 

Debate proposition: "Betty Botter should not buy bitter butter for her busy daughter." The class was PRO for the proposition, while I took the CON side – off-camera. Speeches were mostly memorized.

[daily log: walking, 6km]

Caveat: Gingerbread Man

I was happy with some kids in my lowest-level Betelgeuse-반 yesterday.

They put on a very nice performance of an adaptation of the old "Gingerbread Man" fairy tale, using stick-puppets.

Here is the video.

I like the little songs, and I was daydreaming about making some kind of postmodern adaptation of the story. I think it would be good as a kind of background theme for an AI-goes-amuck type story.

[daily log: walking, 6.5 km]

Caveat: King Jeong-eun

We were having a debate in my HS classes, on the topic of "restoring the Korean monarchy." 

This may seem like a quixotic topic, and it is, a little bit, but it is a sort of leitmotif in Korean media, sometimes – there was a popular TV drama a while back set in a vaguely alternate universe where South Korea was a monarchy. Historically, for most of its long history, Korea has been one or more monarchies in the Sinospheric tradition of "conceptually tributary but de facto independent" kingdoms under the suzerainty of the Chinese emperors. 

Anyway, to make the debate more interesting and less of a fairy tale, I focused on the aspect of an implied transition from a presidential system to a parliamentary system of government, since that is generally how monarhies operate in the modern world. We talked about separation of powers, about the seeming higher incidence of authoritarianism and corruption in presidential systems, South Korea's own problematic history of authoritarian presidents and how a parliamentary system might have moderated that or how it might prevent future tendencies in that direction.

In that vein, the students vented their annoyance with the incompetencies of our current dynastic president, Park Geun-hye, the daughter of the 1970s dictator. I made a throwaway line about the methods by which we might choose the new monarch, aside from simply annoiting some descendant of the Yi family that ruled Joseun prior to the Japanese takeover in 1910. In this vein, I mentioned both the Park family of the current president and the Kim family that has been ruling our neighbor to the north for the last 75 years. This was really meant as a joke.

However, one student, Seungyeop, decided to run with it. Seungyeop is one of those types of students that abound in my high level middle-school debate classes: pretty good at English, quite brilliant academically, but not really interested in doing homework. In fact, Seungyeop never does homework, but he can often get away with it in my class, where the main score is based on the quality of one's speeches. 

He gave a speech yesterday where he explained, more-or-less cogently, the advantages of making Kim Jeong-eun, North Korea's current dictator, the king of Korea as a part of resotring the monarchy. He said that since he seems mostly interested in the trappings of power, he would be happy for such a figurehead position, but since it would be implemented as a constitutional monarchy, he would be essentially powerless. Thus, this type of restoration could bring about Korean reunification.

His speech is the first in the series of five speeches in the video I posted for the class blog (embedded below). 

It's a little bit hard to hear, and as always, keep in mind that these are just middle-schoolers learning English, so I hold them to a fairly low standard on some axes of evaluation. But overall I thought it was a clever argument and it holds together especially well considering he slapped it together in the five minutes before speaking. 

[daily log: walking, 6 km]


Caveat: This debate is boring

This is crossposted from my work blog.

We did a "humorous" debate on a topic the students selected from a list of suggestions. 

Proposition: "This debate is boring."

The debate was special because my relatives were visiting, and my niece Sarah and nephew James participated. It was a rare chance for American students to participate in Korean hagwon life. And although they'd never done this type of debate style before, they held their own as native speakers, with excellently reasoned if somewhat short speeches.

Here are the speeches.

Homework: none.

I'll post additional pictures of James and Sarah's visit to the hagwon later.

[daily log: walking, 6 km]

Caveat: That Was Somewhat Disappointing, I guess

I thought I would feel happy when the show was over. Instead I felt angry and depressed.

To the extent I was supposedly the show's manager, I felt the project was badly managed. So that's annoying. "No one to blame but myself," and all that. Perhaps the reason I so often resist being pushed into managerial roles is because I am incapable of deriving any sense of accomplishment – instead I pick apart what I've done and find the mistakes. I'm happiest as a worker drone, obviously, where I can feel a sense of accomplishment in surviving the mismanagement of others.

I might go into a more detailed "post mortem" at some point. Or just move on and forget it. I will post some video of it, when it becomes available.

There were no major disasters or failures – just A LOT of things that could have been done better, and a lot of unnecessary stress around all the small mistakes and failures.

I hope the kids had fun. And I hope the parents weren't too annoyed.

Anyway, I was exhausted last night and have to work today.

What I'm listening to right now.

Zeromancer, "Fractured."


Can't you see my hands are clean
I'm as holy as can be
I will never do you harm

I am fractured
It can't ever be the same
Can't you see my hands
Are clean
Can't you see
I'm as holy as can be

What kind of life is this?
What kind of life is this?

Can't you see my hands are clean
I'm as holy as can be
I will never do you harm again
I am fractured
It can never be the same

What kind of life is this?
What kind of life is this?

I warned you a thousand times
It's like crying to the clouds

Why are you asking the questions
You already know the answer to?
Can't you see
My hands are clean

What kind of life is this?
What kind of life is this?

What kind of life is this?
What kind of life is this?
A good life

What kind of life is this?
What kind of life is this?
A good life

What kind of life is this?
What kind of life is this?

A good life
Is a quiet life
A good life
Is a quiet life

[daily log: walking, 6 km]

Caveat: Trying to return to the habit of posting debate videos

The HST반 kids (9th graders) this evening had written essays on the topic of Korean North-South reunification, but they only had about 10 minutes to prepare their speeches after we formed teams. They are allowed to read their notes, but these three kids really impressed me, as they are coming close to approximating what I think of as an "American" debate style, cramming their ideas into a short, timed speech (in this case, 1 minute).

[daily log:  walking, 6km]

Caveat: Day-in-Review in Video

Yesterday, as is more and more the case, I turned on my camera in each of my classes. The video camera has become a kind of reliable pedagogical tool, which I use partly because there is pressure from Curt to provide fodder for his efforts to effectively advertise our hagwon, and which I will happily support, but also because I have found that my students, as much as they groan and complain about the camera, actually respond to it very positively, speaking with more focus, with more effort, and more entertainingly, too. 

Below is a sampling of yesterday's video caps. Mostly, these days, I don't post my recordings to youtube – I'm a bit lazy (it took me 2 hours to minimally reformat, edit and upload these) and they weren't being used or viewed much. I will let Curt look through the raw clips if he wants, and a few times he's taken some things or asked me to compile some things. I still think that if I was willing put in the effort, it would be cool to have a daily "video diary" of my classroom work.

So here is a one day's video diary of student work in speaking classes at various levels.

At the start of the day, yesterday, I was coaching two students (siblings) with special prepartion for speeches they want to submit to a contest. I think the older brother's speech was a bit boring (and he was stubborn about applying my advice to make it more interesting). I think the younger sister has a good chance of some kind of prize – she's remarkable for someone who has never lived or studied abroad.

Next, we practiced a little song in my Phonics class – these are near-beginners. Then, we practiced the anachronistically Christmas-themed roleplay (an adaptation of the story of Scrooge) in my slightly more advanced Sirius class (where I had to play several roles myself, including Mr Scrooge, because of absent students) – these kids voices are very hard to hear and the sound quality is terrible, I know.

Then, for two classes, we did TOEFL-style speaking – supposedly one-minute speeches. The middle-school students are a rather unmotivated group, none of whom really got close to a high-quality speech, but these were just practice speeches – their speech tests (on exact same topic) will be on Friday. The elementary students (the two girls in the second), on the other hand, are supposedly the top of the hagwon (certainly academically they are),  although I think I have others who are better at speaking, specifically.

Finally, in my awesome new TOEFL1 middle school (really these are transitional kids, 6th-moving-to-7th, just now) we practiced longer, only lightly-prepared (and with zero notes) summaries of the Reading-vs-Listening variety known as TOEFL Speaking "Task 4" questions. 

I suppose I decided to post these partly to give some picture of what it is I spend my day doing. I'm not just sitting around complaining. 

Caveat: Peter & Wolves Redux

This was an adaptation I made of a group of "kindergarten" songs into a kind of musical that I put together several years ago while working at 홍농초 (see [broken link! FIXME] post from that time).

I decided to try it again with the kids of my Vega class. Last Friday, we had our month-end roleplay "test" and they did well, with not much practice or "extras" (zero props, costumes, etc.)… and "a capella" too!

[daily log: walking, 5.5 km]

Caveat: Kinda Boring

My day was kinda boring, so I don't have much to say. I walked through the park this afternoon, and it was really clear so I took a picture of Bukhansan, looking east from the top of Jeongbalsan.

[daily log: walking, 6.5 km]

2014-09-13 15.44.43-1.jpg

Caveat: Pervasive Corruption

Yesterday (Wednesday), I had a brief discussion, via Kakao chat, with my friend Peter over the nature of the recent spate of deadly "accidents" and disasters that seem to be befalling South Korea. There was the ferry boat sinking last month, there was the fire at the bus terminal on Monday here in Goyang, and yesterday another fire at a nursing home or something. There were some subway crashes, too, last month. 

The public sentiment seems to be that there is a big problem with corruption as being an underlying cause or correlate of the neglect of public safety in these events. I pondered this after our brief chat, because I decided it might make an interesting debate topic.

I did something I haven't done much, so far, but I consider it to be the ultimate objective of my debate teaching: I went from "chosen topic" to actual debate in a single class period. At the start of class, I explained the topic, which immediately grabbed the kids attention because it was topical. I then crafted a proposition on the fly, which was something like this: "The recent spate of disasters in Korea (ferry sinking, fires, etc) indicates a problem of pervasive corruption."

We brainstormed some as to what would be some PRO and CON reasons, and I ran to my desk for a moment, went online, and found a recent and older editorial from the Korean English-language press on the topic of corruption, which I printed out. We did not read these exhaustively – rather, I presented the materials as a sort of instant research resource. Then we assigned sides and I said, "OK, 20 minutes." After the kids had prepared their ideas, we had our debate.

Normally the class has four students, which is perfect for debate – 2 to each side. However, one student was absent, so I stepped in and took a position in the line-up. When I do this, I handicap myself by denying myself the opportunity to adequately prepare – I have to speak completely off-the-cuff. As such, I would say my 2 speeches are less well organized than those of my students, even if they are, obviously, of higher quality in terms of referentiality and nativeness of the English. 

So here's the debate. I think these students did really well with short notice and a difficult topic. Even though I'd told my friend Peter I thought there was, indeed, corruption, notice that I'm taking the CON side of the debate below, with my student James, against the girls Jisoo and Andrea.

Caveat: Tarot Shtick

I have a sort of fortune-teller shtick using my old tarot cards that I sometimes do with my more advanced classes. It's often very popular with middle-schoolers. I don't do it as much with elementary students, because they don't have the patience for it, and it can seem a little bit too abstract for them. Last night in my Newton2 debate class, a pretty advanced class of 5th and 6th graders, I tried it. Unexpectedly, I ended up recording the whole 15 minute episode, because I'd left the camera on from when we had our debate. It hadn't been my intention to record it, and, like any candid video recording, it's hard to follow in parts and boring or others – it's not really performative. But the shtick itself had gone on very well. The three kids were utterly fascinated by the cards and their "fortunes" as I read them from the cards.

Many people object to this kind of "lesson" in class, but there is, in fact, a clear and strong pedagogical purpose behind my in-class ramblings of this sort. First of all, when the kids are genuinely interested in this, they give their whole attention and because it's in English, that in itself is a great learning context. One of the girls asks near the beginning, for example, why I can't give them the printout of card meanings in Korean, and I dismiss it, saying this is English class. She goes on to pay very close attention. I let the kids talk among themselves (and to me, to the extent I understand) in Korean, because I think having recourse to L1 (native language) helps them to cement meanings in L2 (target language).

Anyway, I don't often post "raw" video of my teaching – especially a "fun" lesson such as this as opposed to something more conventional. I decided to just go ahead and post it, however. Partly, I see it as similar to posting photos, just more "high tech" – you can see me and what I'm doing, I guess… what my day-to-day life is like, and how I am in my "non-performative" moments in my classroom environment, where I invest such a high proportion of my energy these days.

[daily log: walking, 5.5km] 

Caveat: New Elementary Debate Classes

This past week I started a new, exhausting schedule – as if my previous schedule didn't already feel exhausting.

One advantage of it, though, is that I get to teach debate to elementary kids again – after a very long hiatus where my only debate work with elementary kids was through my Saturday 특강 or my own surreptitious, off-curriculum efforts.

Here are two debates we had on Thursday.


[daily log: walking, 1 km]

Caveat: Alienating Debate

2014-02-27 17.22.34
We did a completely unrehearsed debate today. On some slips of paper, I wrote some rather silly debate propositions about the family of aliens that I drew on the whiteboard (see picture, above). Then the students drew the propositions and whether they would be PRO or CON, randomly, and had 5 minutes to prepare their speeches. The three propositions were:

"Bob the alien is weird."

"For aliens, uniforms are wonderful."

"For aliens, playing is most important."

I wrote the propositions originally for a younger group, but these three older (7th grade), more advanced kids did really well with it and had fun too.

[daily log: walking, 5 km]

Caveat: Aliens vs Monsters

In a final end-of-year debate experiment, before the cohort is split up and new classes start on the 2nd of January, I gave los crazy boys a final propositon to debate: "Aliens are better than monsters." We drew some aliens and monsters first, to be clear of the difference.

This class has a lot of the things going on in it that I consider most crucial to successful elementary-age-level foreign-language learning: engaged imaginations, peer-teaching (note that James and Mario are helping their less proficient teammates extensively), task negotiation (the students and I had an extensive, 10-minute conversation about what, exactly our topic would be).

[daily log (11 pm): walking, 5 km]

Caveat: The World That I Dream Of

Below is a video of me reading a speech written by my student, Andrea.

The title for the speech is "The World That I Dream Of." She wrote the speech entirely. I made some substantial corrections to grammar and a few tweaks to vocabulary choices, but I added not a single sentence or idea, nor were her her original grammar or word choices anywhere so poor that I was unable to grasp her intended meaning (conceding that I have many years of familiarity with what you might call Korean rhetorical norms being awkwardly translated into English via a cellphone dictionary, where every sentence starts with "Then," "So," or "And").

I handed her my camera and I am reading her speech for her because she is going to be entering a speaking contest, and she struggles some with English intonation. I thought that by giving her an example of a native speaker's intonation on her words, she could practice and improve her own.

As I read the speech, I became aware that it's really a pretty remarkable bit of rhetoric, for a 6th grader. I wasn't close to producing this level of social thought at that age, much less in a foreign language. I think Andrea has a future as some kind of preacher or inspirational speaker (e.g. a TED-talker).

[daily log (11 pm): walking, 5 km]

Caveat: Santa is a criminal

Los crazy boys had a debate on whether Santa is a criminal, yesterday. They were being quite rambunctious – this video represents the trail end of a rather stern effort on my part to get them to not dance on the desks when not expounding their positions for the debate, so they are feeling a bit resentful. They still do passably well on each side of the proposition, if somewhat hard to understand at moments.

It was fun. Here’s a group of aliens I drew on a whiteboard, climbing a holly tree (is there such a thing?) and contemplating a Christmas present.


Anyway, happy Solstice.

CaveatDumpTruck Logo

Caveat: My Cancer Story As Told to Low-English 7th Graders

The kids only understand maybe 20-30% of what I say. But I repeat myself a lot, I draw a lot of pictures on the whiteboard, I've given them some key words ahead of time (cancer, surgery, etc.).

So I just talk. I actually teach this way a lot – providing kind of personalized "stories" or narratives. "Almost-comprehensible input" I call it. It's deliberately a little be above ability level. But this narrative was quite a bit longer than most I do – and more deeply personal, too.

Despite their limited understanding, their eyes were wide and they were utterly attentive throughout. They know the topic, they know it's REAL, they're fascinated.

I go off on a little bit of a political-leaning statement at the end, saying the kids should be proud of their country that they have better health insurance than in the US. I believe this, but it's also calculated – I often try to get my students to reflect that their country isn't as "poor" and "bad" as they like to believe. Koreans love to talk about how bad things are in their country, and I want them to recognize that they exist on a continuum where in some realms they're really quite well off.

I feel a little bit self-conscious posting this. It's not perfect, but it's very much how I tend to conduct a class, just on a more intensive subject than usual with a much longer "lecture" part. As I listen to it, I'm hyperaware of how much I use "filler" transition words like "so" and "and then." All of us do this, but stylistically this has become a bit of an affectation for me – I've "Koreanized" my sentence structure: I add transition words the way that Korean non-native speakers of English tend to add transition words. It sounds weird, to me, played back. But I have come to feel that especially for lower level students, it gives them something to "hang on to."

I kind of fudge on a few aspects of the story – I leave out the complicating infection and attribute my second surgery to my own talking too much. There are other corners cut in the narrative – it's not for a medical journal. But overall I think it's sincere to what I experienced. 


Caveat: My Own Private 6/25

Yesterday was what the South Koreans call 육이오 [yuk-i-o = six-two-five], which is to say, June 25th, which is the anniversary of the day North Korea launched its massive surprise invasion against the south, that led to the 3 year-long Korean War. It’s not really a holiday, but it’s a day of rememberance. A day to reflect on “national tragedy.”

For me, it was just a regular day. A morning, running errands, and an afternoon teaching four elementary classes and preparing some speaking test results.

Oh, and I had my cancer diagnosis confirmed and spent an hour discussing survivability statistics, neck and tongue reconstructive surgery, tracheotomies and the length and frequency of radiation therapies.

I guess the contrast feels striking to think about.

I’ve been really diligent about making video records of all my students’ speaking work, the last few months. There are more than 100 videos posted now at my other blog [UPDATE: this link still works in 2023 – very surprising!] – which is a work blog for my students and their parents, mostly – it’s not getting much use, yet, but it was meant to be a start of something.

One side effect of this is that I have some sort of video record of almost every teaching day. So for yesterday, I made and posted 3 videos.

First, with some younger ones where I was not their regular teacher, we did a “story reading” class. We made “books” (illustrations) and then they read the story. They hammed a lot for the camera, too. If you watch nothing else, watch the last 12 seconds of this video.

Next, I gave a speaking test to an earnest but low-intermediate level group of older elementary kids. They weren’t really that happy about it, as you can tell – but some of them are still getting used to my teaching style and I only see them once a week.

Last, I gave a debate speech test to my most advanced elementary kids. They really always impress me with their strong effort, research and thoughtfulness. These 3 minute speeches are completely from memory.

So… you’re not seeing me in these videos. But it’s nevertheless a kind of video record of a single day of my work. I guess I feel like it’s an affirmation that despite my emerging situation, I can hang on to a kind of normalcy.


Caveat: Kids vs Wolf

In my young ones class (Stars 반), this month we have been practicing a play called “The Wolf and the Five Little Goats.”

I made video of our practice yesterday. At first I had intended to make this the final version and edit it so it came out well, but the girls don’t really have it memorized yet and they were still deciding how they wanted to arrange their scenes, so this is just a kind of running practice. They are progressing well, though.

I know it’s really hard to understand what they’re saying – they have a sort of on-going chatter in Korean wrapped around their fairly decent reading of the lines of their characters in English, but it’s very focused and on-task – they’re mostly discussing how to do a given scene and where to arrange themselves.

I love to see my students “take charge” of their own learning process, which is clearly what’s going on here: I’m just a guy with a camera, while they are deciding what to do, how to do it, and the pace of things. This makes for a classroom setting that is very chaotic from a traditionalist perspective, and some teachers find it scary to contemplate running a classroom this way, and other teachers will probably contend that no actual learning is going on – “they’re just playing” was a remark directed to me by a Korean teacher once, after witnessing this type of classroom. But if there’s one thing that I can feel confident of: they are internalizing the English dialog from this play at a level that is hard to achieve otherwise at this age.

We have done previous plays and they have echoed lines from those plays in appropriate contexts months later. One example – although it’s not in the text of the play we’re working on now, toward the end the goats push the wolf into the well (you can see the girls acting it out): the two girls pushing say “push, push!” and “push harder” – which are some lines from a play we did quite a while back. They improvised it at the appropriate moment in our current play.

pictureI really like the series of books that we’re working with for these – they suit my feelings about good ways to do dramatic arts with low-proficiency young learners.

To show what these materials look like, here is the front cover (at right).

Here are our eight characters. This also is part of what makes the girls’ performance interesting: there are three of them playing eight characters and do so with a remarkable level of sophistication. Watch, especially, in the video when the girl in the light pink dress is playing both the wolf and one of the baby goats behind the door.


Here are some pages from the book so you can get a feel for it (you can click to enlarge them and see the lyrics to two of the songs).


If you’re teaching 1st/2nd/3rd graders at low or medium level EFL in Korea, I highly recommend this series, called Ready Action! by publisher A*List E*Public. It’s worth noting, too, that this publisher, A*List, is the same one responsible for one of my favorite series of speaking and speech-giving textbooks for more advanced elementary learners available in Korea, called Speaking Juice.

Here is a video by the publisher supporting the first song in the script – a little bit annoying but interesting to see.

Caveat: Be all my sins remembered

I have been forcing my most advanced class to read poetry. They're not really that into it, and I know it's hard. I make them read it out loud – not like memorized, but with practiced semi-dramatic readings and presentations.

I believe it's a good way to teach them to think about and internalize the cadences and intonations of English – and intonation and cadence are major issues with these kids – more so than vocabulary or grammar or even word-for-word pronunciation. So that's the plan. Who knows if it really works. And Hamlet's soliloquy is pretty ambitious, I realize. We spent a full class discussing obsolete vocabulary and context. They were interested in that. Then each of them read it for me.

The sound quality is poor – for which I have to apologize. Their voice quality is better than the video might suggest. The camera's mic is good, but the hagwon is noisy and the walls are thin. It's hard to get the sound only from the talking student. I need to invest in a stand mic maybe.

The text:

To be, or not to be–that is the question:
Whether 'tis nobler in the mind to suffer
The slings and arrows of outrageous fortune
Or to take arms against a sea of troubles
And by opposing end them. To die, to sleep–
No more–and by a sleep to say we end
The heartache, and the thousand natural shocks
That flesh is heir to. 'Tis a consummation
Devoutly to be wished. To die, to sleep–
To sleep–perchance to dream: ay, there's the rub,
For in that sleep of death what dreams may come
When we have shuffled off this mortal coil,
Must give us pause. There's the respect
That makes calamity of so long life.
For who would bear the whips and scorns of time,
Th' oppressor's wrong, the proud man's contumely
The pangs of despised love, the law's delay,
The insolence of office, and the spurns
That patient merit of th' unworthy takes,
When he himself might his quietus make
With a bare bodkin? Who would fardels bear,
To grunt and sweat under a weary life,
But that the dread of something after death,
The undiscovered country, from whose bourn
No traveller returns, puzzles the will,
And makes us rather bear those ills we have
Than fly to others that we know not of?
Thus conscience does make cowards of us all,
And thus the native hue of resolution
Is sicklied o'er with the pale cast of thought,
And enterprise of great pitch and moment
With this regard their currents turn awry
And lose the name of action. — Soft you now,
The fair Ophelia! — Nymph, in thy orisons
Be all my sins remembered.

– Hamlet, Act III, scene i.

Caveat: Giving Speeches

I'm teaching a lot of debate classes, these days: more, by almost an order of magnitude, relative to previous terms at Karma. And I make video of all my students' speeches. And I evaluate the speeches and give scores. This is a laborious process, and part of why I'm feeling overwhelmed with work. But I have decided it's a really great way to get middle schoolers actually talking in English class. The combination of natural adolescent reticence on the one hand combined with the horrifying discomfort of speaking a foreign language they don't feel confident with, on the other, means that getting middle school English students to actually talk is about as easy as pulling teeth from a chicken. But if you turn on a video camera and tell them it's a test, they'll stand up at the podium, shaking and quaking, and give their damnedest. It's a bit coercive, relative to my most preferred methods, but overall I'm pleased with how well it works.

Here's one of my favorite classes, giving some speeches on the debate proposition: "Immigration to South Korea should be encouraged." They complained that this topic was difficult, but they all said it was interesting, too.

As a bonus, this video has a complex connection to an earlier blog post: I'll have to give a door prize if anyone actually identifies the connection. I don't know if I have any blog readers loyal or attentive enough to do this. So this is a kind of stealth-test.

Caveat: 3300

3300_html_f54c3a7Everytime I leave Korea from Ilsan, I think, "I should make a video of this airport trip." Not sure why I believe that would be interesting.

So this time, last Saturday, I made the video.


It's not really that interesting. But, there it is, such as it is. I call it 3300 because that's the route number of the bus from Ilsan to the airport.

Caveat: Running for President

In the middle of February, my advanced middle-schoolers ran for President of Korea. They gave "stump speeches" and impressed me greatly. Below is a video of their speeches, completely unedited. Note that I, too, am running for President of South Korea. This is not meant to be taken seriously, but a core aspect of my debate and speech curriculum idea is that as their teacher, I should give at least as many speeches as they do. The kids know that my ideas are not entirely serious, but a few of them address them in their own way.

I'm ready to vote for Jaehwan for president – he's not the most charismatic speaker (I'd give that prize to Haeun, maybe), but he's got a great grip on the issues, and he offered a rebuttal to everyone else's ideas. I also liked Dongyun's speech a lot.

As mentioned in my last post, these videos are "unlisted" on youtube, and, depending on feedback – i.e. anything inappropriately negative or nonconstructive by troll-like, internet-based creatures – I'll likely remove the embed.

Caveat: Plastic Surgery

I'm finally getting around to posting some of my advanced debate class student speeches. I have decided I don't have the gumption to produce anything like a more polished, edited version of these speeches, but I want to make them available – I've had coworkers request them and I like to share what the "end result" of my advanced debate classes is – in all its limited glory.

So these videos are somewhat "raw," but I don't think there's anything too embarrassing in them. The sound quality isn't always great – especially for those not used to listening to shy Korean middle-schoolers' accents.

Below, here is a debate we had on the topic of "Plastic Surgery" from the beginning of February. I'll post more tomorrow.

I'm always proud of my students. I think Haeun got the high score on this one.

I'm keeping my videos of student work "unlisted" on youtube – I got too many trolly comments from random people viewing them. So this blog entry constitutes the only "public" exposure of the video – hopefully this won't cause problems, but if it does, I may remove the embed in the future and set up some kind of "authorized viewer" with my youtube account.

Caveat: “Control Your Class”

Sometimes one student can ruin a class. Or a day. And there's nothing to be done about it – just bluster through. Sometimes parents make boneheaded requests, and there's nothing to be done about that, either – just bluster through.

So I was already having a grumpy day. And then… 

Recently, some random strangers (trolls) posted utterly non-useful comments on one of the youtube videos I posted of my teaching (it was an effort to show how I tried to teach "debate" to a very low-level 3/4/5 grade class, and felt it went better than I'd ever dreamed. The substance of the comments: "control your class!"


I saw the comments, and I watched the offending video – frankly, it's not that uncontrolled. It's from a few years ago – it is, in fact, from my last day at LBridge, at the end of August, 2009 – so over 3 years ago, now.

There's the one kid, John, who was always vaguely ADHD and so I tolerated a kind of restlessness in him. Excepting him, and his special circumstances, none of the other kids show a great deal of uncontrolled-ness. To provide additional context, this was not, by any stretch of the imagination, a regular class. There was the fact that it was my last day – the kids were aware of this. There was the fact they'd just attended an assembly where they'd received special packages of goodies – that's what a number of them, notably John, are obsessively fiddling around with. Finally, I'd decided to deviate utterly from the expected curriculum, without preparing them for this fact. I'd "wrongfooted" them. So there's the fact that they don't really know what I've planned for them. And finally, we cannot forget that the presence of a video camera, in and of itself, will tend to make kids act out and do strange things – they don't get the "just act normal" dictum that older kids or adults can understand.

Considering that, I'd urge my anonymous commenters to realize that context in these things is important. Further, it doesn't appear either of these creepy commenters went on to watch the subsequent parts of the same video – they only watched the first video, and therefore they didn't, in fact, see that the kids actually managed to present their "debate" – pretty low-level, admittedly.

But obviously, I've taken these anonymous, troll-comments personally. Because, when you get right down to it, I do feel some insecurity about my ability to control a class. Like on bad days. Like today.

But I'd like to set aside that insecurity, for a moment, acknowledging it for what it is – an expression of insecurity about my teaching ability, and not something grounded in sound pedagogical theory or child-development psychology.

Kids do not, in fact, need to be "controlled." "Controlling" kids has nothing to do with providing them with a good education. Kids need to be engaged. There are only two reasons kids need to be "controlled" in a classroom: 1) their safety, 2) because they make the adults uncomfortable. Only the first reason is legitimate. The second reason is just about people nursing secret fascisms in their blasted, grown-up souls. "Controlled" kids are bored kids, depressed kids, turned-off-to-learning kids. Kids should be positively engaged, and to the extent a teacher is successful, they will then control themselves.

Really, watching that video, after seeing those comments, I was expecting to see kids jumping around or bouncing off walls, and in fact, I saw no such thing. I saw a few kids fiddling with things, OCD style. I saw a few kids looking around at other kids, or making side-comments in the their native Korean, a few times, even, to clarify what I was saying in English (I rely on and encourage this – it's called "leveraging peer-teaching" between those with stronger English skills and those with lower-level ability).

And if one goes on to watch the subsequent parts, you will see that without any violence on my part (meaning not physical violence, but authoritarian verbal coercion a la the "traditional classroom"), I get 100% participation in my little experiment to teach debate to high-beginning elementary English learners.


Sigh. I deleted the trolls. And I posted a link to this rant at that video. Not that it makes a difference – I have 0% expectation that the offending trolls would read this rant or, that, if they did, would understand my points. Nevertheless… I had to get the thoughts off my chest.

Caveat: Immigration Debate

I'm finally getting around to posting a video of my last major debate test with the middle schoolers, which was at the end of October (no debate test for November because of the special test prep schedule, which doesn't have a debate class).

The video is kind of long – I strung together the Monday and Tuesday cohorts into one long video because the topic and proposition were exactly the same. One student's speech and part of another's were lost because of a camera problem, but other than that, it's all the students who participated.

As usual, I haven't put a lot of energy into the minutiae of editing – I cut out the various short exchanges between me and the students in which I provide quick feedback or directions – so it's only their voices.

Sometimes, they are very hard to hear – the sound pick-up on the camera didn't seem to work that well, and there's a lot of ambient noise (especially during the Monday group's debate) that makes hearing them harder, too.

Most of them are clearly not comfortable with public speaking yet, but a few show some progress if you compare them to earlier speeches. A few are more natural with public speaking – they will be the ones who are easier to understand, but keep in mind that they aren't, in fact, the ones with the highest competency in English, necessarily – they're just more at ease with the format.

The topic was challenging, and I think they did pretty well. I gave some guidance but I tried very hard not to let them merely bounce back ideas that I suggested (for both sides) but to forge their own.

The proposition was: "Immigration to South Korea should be encouraged." It's a topical, meaningful, "real" debate proposition, as it's something I bet has been debated in South Korea's legislature in recent years quite a bit. I've written and reflected on South Korea's relationship to the potential of redefining itself as an immigrant-welcoming society in other places on this blog – I won't go into it here, and I was careful not to be too transparent on my own biases and opinions with the kids.

Please don't judge the kids or their quality of presentation or English too harshly – remember they are 7th and 8th grade students who for the most part have never travelled to an English-speaking country. Nor have they had any experience with public speaking – even in their native Korean language. Considering that, they do pretty well..

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