Monday, February 28, 2011

Streaming Oscar and Saturday Class Auditions

Well, the Oscars have come and gone, and I wish I could say that I managed to see the show. I was considering myself pretty lucky when I saw that I wouldn't be working on a Monday (the new semester doesn't start until Wednesday) and I would therefore be able to watch the Oscars for the first time in Korea - they would b showing them here, right?

Apparently not. Though people here do pay attention to the Academy Awards and they feature prominently in the ad campaigns for releases here (even Winter's Bone got a release in Seoul), no basic TV network (it may have been showing on cable) was showing the event. Even the Armed Forces Network didn't air it here. I checked AFN's site and saw that AFN Atlantic Region was showing the Oscars, but in the same time-slot, AFN Pacific (of which Korea is a part) was instead showing Dr. Phil, Dr. Oz, Access Hollywood, and Are You Smarter Than a 5th Grader? Nice.

I was able to find a couple of sites that were doing their best to stream the show online while ABC and its affiliates were doing their best to shut-down said sites due to copyright violation. I'm not really sure why doesn't have a site where we can stream the show for free - and I mean the actual awards portion of the show - not the red carpet embarrassment. Watching some hack from the Associated Press try to backtrack from a slag on Helena Bonham Carter was funny, in an unintentional David Brent kind of way, but unnecessary just the same.

Anyway, what I was able to see of the telecast was so-so. I like James Franco, and I'm all right with Anne Hathaway, but it seemed as though they weren't delivering what the audience wanted. They were game, but it also seems as though they just need to go back to the drawing board. Next time, I'm hoping for a more classic host with better scheduled presenters (Colbert and Stewart, Gervais, Larry David, etc.) to get the funny taken care of. I know these are "TV people", but the show airs on TV, and Ellen did a pretty bang-up job of it not so long ago.

Not too much of note to say. Happy to see some wins and surprised by others. All in all, this was a pretty strong year for nominated films, so you really couldn't go wrong among them. Though I managed to get plenty wrong - 50% accuracy this year in my predictions. Usually I'm good for 75% or above. Shabby indeed.

In other news, in addition to my regular classes starting-up on Wednesday, my Saturday class also gets going this weekend. I'm excited to have a familiar face join our team with the creative reading and writing class (my friend's co-teacher) and glad to have my other co-teacher back on-board.

Being home during the vacation this time around also gave me a chance to be a part of the organizing and application process for interested students. Last year, I was in Canada for all of this, so it was nice in a way to be able to get a couple of extra days of paid work, and to see some of the fine young people who will be in my class this term.

Let me say a bit about the process. This isn't a complaint, I hope - more of an attempt to illuminate the process for myself - and for anyone who's interested in what I do here as a teacher. As mentioned in previous posts, this Saturday Creative Reading & Writing class is a chance for very advanced (in English) Korean students in the Nambu district to enroll themselves in an English only classroom environment where we will read, discuss and write about various readings on a variety of "hot issues" as chosen by the teaching team. For example, we will be discussing, among other things, Gay Marriage, Social Networking and Privacy, and Tiger Moms. The idea is to give students a taste of what it is like to be in a Western-style English class - at least I'm imagining that is why they have brought-in Western teachers.

Last semester, I found that a fairly high percentage of my students were very reluctant to speak out in class. I wasn't surprised. Though things are changing, in Korea, it's often a challenge to get away from the Confucian centered idea of the rigidly structured classroom - where a teacher stands and professes, and a student listens intently, and both kind of hope for the best. Of course, the outside environment this students face in recent years makes this system seem more and more ineffectual - at least in terms of trying to attain comfort communicating in a second language. I do feel that I was able to make a great deal of progress in this area with most of my students, but not all. In short, discussion, and hopefully a lot of discussion brought on by disagreement is what I'm after.

I'm not convinced that's what the district is after, however. After having experienced the pilot semester of this program, it was clear to me that the essay-writing capabilities of my students was not as "advanced" as promised. I was glad of it - raw material with which to work :) Their writing improved a great deal on the whole. I actually shudder a bit to think what would have happened had my students every one of them been at university level as advertised. Anyway, I was thinking it would be best to keep my expectations low at the intake stage this time. As a result, for the essay-writing portion of the entrance test, I suggested an essay question that all students have an opinion on: marriage - as in do you want to get married, and give me 3 reasons for your answer. In essence, I was trying to get them to guide their writing toward a classically structured 5 paragraph persuasive essay: "I don't want to get married because 1, 2, and 3. Now give detail for each, and summarize in a clever way. Really, that's the best I can hope for in an entrance exam format.

Apparently the question was thought (by the district powers that be) to be too easy for these students, so they were instead given a much more challenging question: "What are the factors that are contributing to Korea's aging population, and what can we do to combat the change?" I would say that maybe 10% of the students were able to write more than a paragraph. I did receive some interesting responses though - the most notable among them being "I think that women want more power and ability to choose their job and make money, so they don't want to have children because children are too expensive to have. So, we must handicap women so that they will want to become mothers and stop working." This student was a female. Clearly, we are headed for some lively discussions in class.

Once past the exam portion, students attended a very intimidating (I thought) interview process. I agree with having interviews, but... well, this was intense. The prospective students gathered in a classroom, then one at a time, were called into the hallway to read a short article about Korean reality TV shows (immensely popular here). They were timed with a stop-watch. They were also given two questions to answer:

1) Why are these shows so popular?
2) Comment on the negative and positive affects of the popularity of these shows.

Students then entered the interview room to face us three teachers and "present" their opinions to us. We were to grade them on the thoughtfulness, completeness, and fluidity of their answers - paying particular attention to their use of grammar and ease of speech. If time allowed (they had five minutes each to respond), I was to ask two more questions - regarding their reasons for applying to the course, and inquiring about their future educational pursuits. All legitimate questions.

After the interviews began however, it struck me just how far this would be from any kind of "hey, how are you" kind of meet-and-greet. Students came in, showed their number sticker (so that we wouldn't have names to skew our judgment, I suppose), and rattled-of their "responses", which seemed to be for the most part by rote.

I realize that this comes-off like I am complaining about the process. What I really want to say though is that I feel that it was an inappropriate process for the class I intend to run. Based on reviews I received for what we did last semester, I can confidently say that our curriculum and lessons born from it were right on the money - at least in terms of how happy they make the parents, which is really of the utmost importance here. I am also proud to say that last semester's students seemed to enjoy the class immensely, and I feel it necessary to add that students seemed to enjoy the class, precisely because we immediate made a point of breaking-down the rigid classroom structure that most seemed to have gotten used to through their experience so far in the Korean public school system. Not saying our approach is better in every way, but in terms of what we were trying to achieve, our approach was unquestionably more effective in every way that mattered.

So, I suppose all I need to say is that the process of allowing students into the class, was horribly at odds with the actual type of class we are hoping to run. There are times when one juts needs to make the necessary adjustments on the fly. For instance, though we were instructed to just let students answer the questions without prompting, I'm not going to let a nervous ESl student who feels like he's bombing in front of three Simon Cowell's just sit there and boil in his own embarrassment - I'm going to prompt him, and ask questions...

"Korean reality shows give us fun and impressions... and they have many impressions and... fun...
Teacher Dave: Do you like to watch these reality shows?
Student: Ummmm... ha ha ha... ummm... not really.
Teacher: Aha! An honest answer! Tell me, why not?

...and so on.

If I'm the one grading him, I'm also wanting to see how he (or she) responds to a teacher trying to enter into a dialogue. The student's success in our class will after all be based on a student's ability to engage in discussion - not his or her ability to memorize a stock response.

Anyway, there are clear differences in our approach as classroom teachers, as compared to the approach of the district supervisors. Rules will bend as needed, just as they did last semester. I'm excited to know my new students, and it will all start again on Saturday.

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