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Learning Designs

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Phrasal verbs are a verb + preposition, adverb or particle. Teaching…Continue

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About

No Thank You to Korean Education

So my coworkers have been a buzz about Barrack Obama's recent comment that claimed that "Korean students are in school a month longer than American students. Koreans seem to find this as a vindication of the hours and hours of studying and the grueling and competitive regime of tests that they have to go through to get into one of three universities that Koreans consider worth a damned.

Today it dawned on me that this does not compute. Koreans usually complain about the education system and most seem to acknowledge that Korea schools seem to put it double the time studying only to get about the same results as Americans in math and science, piss poor results in English, and almost no results in things like writing, presentation, political science. Korean schools can produce Doctors and engineers, but they are handicapping Korea in the gobal economy due to their inability to produce learners that are flexible, familiar with critical thinking, or able to do anything other than regurgitate the infomation from the test.

Not that the American system is all peaches and cream and without many of the same problems and then some. It is certain though that the Korean system would rob us of one of our most precious resources: Innovation.

As middle school teacher that is neck-deep in the Korean education system, I find Obama comment reckless. Apparently I am not alone. To look at the Korea Education system with envy is absurd. The whole system is only kept afloat through expensive and morally dubious privite after-school cram schools.

I do recognize that this was a minor comment in a speech that I generally agree with, but a minor survey of Foriegn English teachers in Korea would shed a lot of light on the situation.

Downloads: 309

Comment by Ellen Pham on March 25, 2009 at 7:23am
Amen. It's like the one thing we have going for us is a slight edge on creativity and innovation- do we want to squash that too? Children need the freedom to play in environments that are reasonably safe for them to play in. They don't need more text book and worksheet time. Half of a child's school day should be devoted to hands on, exploratory activities, field trips, relationships with and the care taking of animals (ok, that is a personal preference of mine) and playing OUTSIDE. Making forts, digging in the dirt, playing house, KIDS games of soccer, basketball, etc, whatever moves them. Making messes and then having to clean them up. Cooking, nobody ever learns/gets to cook anything anymore!

I think we don't do this not because it isn't effective (I can prove it is), but because it is more trouble and less comfortable for the adults. Whatever happened to the idea of child-centered education? Being developmentally appropriate??

It just pisses me off to no end, to have so little respect for human needs and rhythms in our educational system. Who in the world is this serving? The test makers? The text book publishers?

We either ignore and neglect our children, or stunt them with over-structure. We are a playful and curious species, we learn through play and exploration. But you know what, Justino? It doesn't make one f of a difference that I'm saying this. All I can do is do my best to teach the way I know children need to be taught (you don't have to be a genius for this, just have some common sense and stop expecting kids to do what adults themselves would not be willing to do- like sit still for hours a day. The teacher doesn't do that, she gets to move around whenever she wants! And she gets to talk whenever she wants, too. What adult would be able to sit and attentively listen for hours each day, day in and day out? Who actually does that as an adult? And yet we demand it of children???)

You know, if we would just take to heart the PROVEN developmental stages of children, our educational system would start fixing itself.
Comment by Ellen Pham on March 25, 2009 at 8:59pm
I don't know if I should even write about this, but since I've already started swearing, what's the diff? So my husband retired a few weeks ago, and he wants me to teach him how to write better in English, again (we have tried this before.) So I tell him he should write something, and we will go over it. He is at a high level in many ways, and at a low level in others- much like EFL students are with spoken English, they know a lot of words, can hardly pronounce many of them. Worksheets aren't going to cut it, he needs customized instruction.

So it's been about a week since he brought it up, and he shows me something this morning that starts out with, I wish I could bent (sic) over and lick my Peking duck. I sigh. He goes on to explain to me what he meant- I interrupt, I know!- and it shows no respect for the teacher or the teaching process. If he wants to write something seriously, I'll bother. If not, I won't.

Now I know that Chuck does this because it is his way of dealing with feeling inadequate with the language (he also enjoys being obnoxious, but that is another story). So as I go out to get coffee, etc, I think I should try to have empathy for that and give it another go. When I get back he has written something about the Chinese harassing that American ship a few weeks ago. It still has bombastic Chuck in it, he manages to bring the paragraph around to how the Chinese should think about what they did to the Vietnamese Islands, and he manages to get Peking ducks in it too, the ocean around China should be full of them, but it's definitely something we can work with. He can be so creative with language, I know he was a fine writer in Vietnam. We go through the paragraph, me pointing put little grammar spots, him clarifying what he meant to say, and we're done. That's enough for one day. The growth will come when we do it again tomorrow.

But we haven't been at it that long, it seems like we should do a little more. He wants to look at a workbook he picked up at the library. He hasn't mastered when to include articles, so I look up that section, and we read it. Me some, him some, and he answers the questions out loud. He can't make the "f" sound in specific. It takes a lot to slow him down, I get really playful with the sound so he just can't resist practicing it in isolation, he has to do that in order to have a chance at pronouncing the word, there is a big jump in pronunciation by the time we are through... Somehow we move onto the voiced 'th' sound, I find another silly way of practicing it (we are sitting side by side and can play with the vibrations of sound) and he says... that makes my tongue tired (ohhh). It is a sound I could go on making all day! And I take that opportunity to really say to him, See? It's not your fault, it's just muscle development.

Learners think pronunciation problems are their fault. They are embarrassed by them. Some students escape this feeling of shame, and they are the ones that learn to speak so much more quickly than the rest. For the rest,their dilemma just makes me feel so tender. I understand, I can't pronounce one sound really correctly in Vietnamese! It's not your fault, it's just muscle development. And he left the house giving me kisses while making that sound.

That's teaching, guys. The student feels inadequate or vulnerable in the face of the task, and in this case, acts up. The teacher responds by laying some ground rules, which really come down to if you want me to teach you, you have to give it up- you have to, at least for a little while, let me lead you. Both parties reconsider their stances, softening a little, and enter into a mutual willingness. There is a period of mutual intense concentration, where understandings are shared and clarified, and then it's time to shift. Still learning, but in a free play style. We've established trust.

Of course the specifics of this situation are dependent on a husband/wife relationship, but the elements are common to teaching. And I learned as much as Chuck. I can't tell you how much I learned when he said, This makes my tongue tired. What I learned is beyond easy words. And I was grateful for it, just like he was grateful to me.

I love teaching. In the end, it always feels to me like love has occurred. And it only took about 15-20 minutes :D :D

Supporter
Comment by ddeubel on March 25, 2009 at 11:16pm
Ellen,

I have a rule about "teaching inhouse"!!! You are very brave :) It ain't easy.

Justino,

I agree with the overall sentiment of your remarks but I don't take such a strong "affront" by Obama's remarks. I reread them and they can also be interpreted to mean that the times are a changing and Americans should change with them. He's not JUST talking hours at school but about new ways of organizing the learning environment. He's also talking about the American fixation with "ease" -- that everything should be easy and doesn't require much work. This cultural feature has really afflicted America negatively in my own opinion and I am for anyone waking Americans up to the fact that they must put in effort to not just get "garbage out" and fluff, puff and pop.

That said, yes, it is how you do it that is disturbing. I really wish that we'd just abandon the classroom as a place of learning. Start all over. You'd love Teaching as a Subversive Activity by Illych . I'll post a pdf if I can find it -- these days, overwhelmed with too many documents and got to do some housekeeping/organizing.

I think the point is that we don't know what the future will hold. What our students will need. With such "fog" - best that we get on with making sure the soil of learning/education is right. never mind pruning the trees! What is that "soil"? It is providing society with the "will to learn". All else is for naught, if that is missing. Koreans have that soil but they aren't good with the gardening. Americans in many ways, don't have the soil, so lots of strange things grow up.... that's my own bad analogy..

Ellen, be patient :)

Cheers,

David

Supporter
Comment by ddeubel on March 26, 2009 at 12:25am
I wonder what this kid is doing right ?


Supporter
Comment by Justinoxxii on March 26, 2009 at 1:39am
I applaud Obamas support for reforming the education system. I guess I am just irratated at my coworkers who arrogantly see a passing comment as the "Serene Triumpt of the Korean Spirit and Fanastic Drive for Final and Ultimate Prefection in Education". Seriously Obama, dont encourage them.

Ellen, I agree with you. The problem is that the right way to educate kids is hard and people all want the easy way with tests and documents.
Comment by Ellen Pham on March 27, 2009 at 2:06am
Chuck's morning story...

Mt. Ba Na
It is the mountain of four seasons.

It is early in the morning when the warm wind blows through the wild flowers. Nearby, birds are chirping. It is spring on Ba Na Mountain.

When the sun shines on top of your head, you will feel the heat, and somebody has to look for shade to cool down. Suddenly the mountain becomes quiet, even the birdies want to take a nap for themselves. It is the feeling of summertime on the mountain.

In about an hour and a half a gentle wind blows through the mountain. Tree leaves awaken from their nap. They react like their mom is knocking on the door, hurrying and weaving because some of the weaker leaves are leaving the branch.

Sitting on the mountain top to watch the sunset, you feel trees, birds, wild flowers, wind at once within you. The chill wind gives you goosebumps under your t-shirt. Mrs. Na says, "You've got to have a blanket to go to sleep tonight."' Good night, bundle tight. xox Ba Na
Comment by Ellen Pham on March 27, 2009 at 3:04am
Ba Na Mountain

Comment by Ellen Pham on March 27, 2009 at 3:07am
More... untouched

Dawn

Towards evening

Supporter
Comment by Justinoxxii on March 27, 2009 at 4:03am
badass
Comment by Ellen Pham on March 27, 2009 at 5:03am
About the boy playing The Boxer (great song) What I see when I look at this video is an individual child with innate specific abilities, born into a specific family (look at all the CDs in the bookcase). The stars lined up in this constellation. I hear that his playing is lovely, but I don't necessarily see right or wrong- I can't tell from here. And when I think I can tell- this is good, this is bad- it's still only from my limited perspective.

This view might be colored by me being a mother with three children, none of who appeared to be born with these specific abilities : ), but I like my viewpoint anyway.

David, I suspect that what seems like the lack of the will to learn and the fixation with ease is actually a manifestation of a deep dilemma, but I have to think more on this. Why do so many children feel so apathetic about their own future? Have so little belief in their ability to have an effect on their own lives? So little belief in themselves?

I was reading something today by Theodore Gray, the guy who created this amazing interactive rendition of the periodic table (click image to go to his sight, and keep clicking on images as they come up, the interactivity is at least 3 layers deep). He also writes articles like, how to collect your own bottle of pure hydrogen, how to make your own hot tub (using chemical reactions) and more of the like. When writing up his experiments, he tells you what you shouldn't do, but he doesn't keep the info from you, so it's a dubious site to put in your students' laps.


Anyway, I came across this- he is talking about chemistry, of course...the blog is from 2003-

...At the end of one of those books, Uncle Tungsten, Oliver Sacks describes the process of growing out of his youthful enthusiasm for chemistry as a painful feeling of loss. I know exactly what he's talking about.

And I also know that there are a lot of kids who never feel this sense of loss, because by the time they are teenagers, they have nothing left to lose. Whatever enthusiasm, creativity, and focus they started with has long since been driven out of them, destroyed by television, video games, horrible schools, horrible opportunities, and horrible role models. The bright flicker of our television screens is the stolen incandescence of a thousand young minds.

One of the first things to go is a sense of mastery. Television, even the supposedly good stuff, is full cues that this is something other people can do, not you. Beyond the ubiquitous "Don't try this at home kids!" there are the slick production values and the fancy props to hammer home the lesson that nothing you could possibly do at home is as interesting or as valid as what you see on TV.

There is a world of difference between watching someone use a special aparatus to make hydrogen in front of the class or on television, and doing it yourself using nothing you don't already have at home right now. Go ahead, try it: I bet you in less than an hour, you can have a bottle full of 99% pure hydrogen gas without leaving the house. (My website, under hydrogen, will tell you exactly how.)

When you do it yourself, it becomes a part of you. It becomes something that you are master of, because you made it happen from scratch. There's something indescribably powerful about that feeling.

Watching my own kids, I see them having this kind of experience just about every day, sometimes twice before breakfast. What fun that must be! At age 3, a pond and a room full of tools provides plenty of opportunities for advancement.

But what about when they grow older?

In the past a child could make a wagon, or a cake, or a whatever as good as any you could buy. Children could feel a real sense of accomplishment knowing that they really could do as well as the grown-ups around them. From this could spring the genuine belief that they too would one day take their place in the world, and that is the very definition of self-confidence.

But the intricacy, sophistication, and sheer technical finesse of the everyday objects surrounding our children have raised the bar for meaningful contribution. Have you ever looked inside a laptop computer? It's scary.

How any child is supposed to imagine growing up to build things like that is beyond me. We crossed a threshold of sorts when the working parts of many common household items, including the average doll, become invisible to the naked eye (and today have sunk below the wavelength of visible light for crying out loud).

You might say that the man-made objects in a child's environment have become almost as opaque to understanding as the biological ones, their working bits nearly as tiny, intricate, and seemingly beyond human perception. Yet someone made these things. That must be pretty intimidating, once a child is old enough to comprehend it.

But kittens aren't intimidating, and technology doesn't have to be either. We just have to find the levels at which it can be understood, then deepen those layers bit by bit.

In one of those coincidences that beg to be followed up on, I finished reading Uncle Tungsten literally the night before the first rehearsal session for a keynote address to be given by Steve Jobs. (I had been asked to give a little demonstration of my company's Mathematica software during Jobs' talk so I probably should have been preparing instead of reading, but I just couldn't put it down.)

During his talk, he played a short but lovely mini-movie that had been created by a couple of 13-year-olds (using Apple's new iMovie software, of course). His point, which he made directly and with feeling, was that this technology allowed these boys for the first time to speak in the primary visual language of their generation. They could make a short movie better than much of what you see on television (OK, maybe that's not saying much, but to them it is saying a lot).

I think the most important thing here is that after they finished their movie, they surely never looked at television the same way again: The process of creating a movie had become for them a process they could understand and internalize. They had taken a step in the direction of seeing adult producers of television as peers rather than elders.

Jobs has given (well, sold) a certain group of children a tool that lets them participate in their own growth. I like that.

There's a lot of talk these days about the problems with our schools and our children (perhaps there should be more about the problems with our parents), but in my opinion not nearly enough is being done to address the fundamental question: What's a kid to do these days? How can we give them the tools to let them see a path from here to there?

You can't buy a decent chemistry set, the pin spacing on integrated circuits has gotten too close to solder by hand, if you try to buy sulfur and saltpeter they'll probably call the police, and you read in the news that having batteries and wires in your garage is grounds for suspicion! There's no field out back with a stream you can dam, your parents won't let you explore the park after dark to learn what squirrels do at night, and up in your bedroom there's a killing game your parents gave you for Christmas so you can spend hours in front of a screen pointing a gun into photo-realistically rendered human faces and pulling the trigger in exchange for points and a satisfying splatter of blood.

Is it any wonder we have problems?

I realized about half way through the essay under hydrogen that I had found something, maybe just a little thing, but something I could do to answer the question, what's a kid to do today?

By writing up exactly what I did, and presenting it in the primary language of information exchange for the educated youth culture of today, the web page, I think I can reach a few of them. I don't know how many, and I never will, but I think it's going to be enough to make it worthwhile.

What's the best style for addressing the youth of today? Should you try to use their language? Only if you're the same age as they are, otherwise it sounds stupid. The way to reach anyone of any age or generation is to speak directly, clearly, and in your own voice about things you know and care about.

That's what I've tried to do with my website, and I've included everything, including the things I probably shouldn't have done, because this is about reality, not television. In reality, people do stupid things, people do dangerous things, people do even boring things...

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