Re: [xmca] Reflective Teaching: A Hall of Mirrors?

From: David Kellogg <vaughndogblack who-is-at>
Date: Mon Oct 22 2007 - 16:59:09 PDT

Thanks for a characteristically suggestive reply, Jay. I think Australia must be on the same time as Seoul--shortly after I wrote my last prolix post, I got a gentle off-line ribbing from Andy for spending so many paragraphs contextualizing what amounted to barely four turns of data. Yet I can see that from your point of view my data was UNDERcontextualized.
  The wonderful thing is that in a typical primary school the SAME teacher teaches ALL the subjects to the SAME children: the teacher changes the subjects instead of changing the children (or, from the kids' point of view, we change the textbook instead of changing the classroom).
  There you have it: a natural experiment, all variables but one controlled and one allowed to vary. We can compare the SAME teacher teaching the SAME children in Korean (music, math, Korean language, social studies, art, etc.) and in English. We can even eliminate the slight ordering effect of different timetable slots by comparing different classes. Since the teacher is the same (and the kids are the same) the differences we observe are not cultural, except insofar as they relate to the use of language as a culturally familiar or culturally unfamiliar tool.
  The differences are striking! In the English classes, we get one or two word answers or else verbatim repetitions of what the teacher says, usually from a single participant (often the same one). Here's an example:
  T: This is Sejong Daewang King Sejong the Great) (T shows a picture of King Sejong the Great, the fifteenth century founder of the Korean writing system) Who's this? (Up intonation to indicate a checking question)
  S: This is Sejong Daewang. (One student responds in kind)
  T: This is Sejong Daewang. Who's this? (Repeating in order to get other children involved)
  Same Student: He is Sejong Daewang. (Puzzled at the teacher's dissatisfaction, varies his answer to see if this will satisfy the teacher.)
  T (Giving up and responding to the one student who will answer): Right. This is King Sejong.
  In Korean, the children tend to answer in full sentences. Here's a bit of math class, on using regular polygons to tile a plane, for comparison. To cut down on extraneous detail, I'm just going to give the English translation here, so pretend this is in Korean.
  T: (How would you say we can confirm that the shape "ga" in number one will completely cover the form?)
  S1: (If there is an error you'll be able to see it.)
  S2: (If you use transparent paper you'll be able to know.)
  T: (Well, let's look in your math book on p. 37.)
  Something very different is going on here! You can see that the teacher is using much more oblique language, the children are giving multiple responses to the problem, and the teacher is giving a still more oblique response to the response, merely suggesting resources to be used in order to provide a more efficient answer.
  The English lesson is the lesson of Vygotsky's "rickshaw puller" (see Educational Psychology, pl 49, and also LSV's "Preface to Thorndike", Collected Works Volume Three, p. 160). The teacher is hauling around a single student, providing the sum total of the pedagogical content herself. But the math lesson is that of a tram driver, with the teacher organizing the social environment of learning and the children themselves providing a discourse which is self-sustaining where answers can compete with each other and the teacher's job is to control and organize rather than substitute herself for the discourse.
  We could blame the difference on the children's (or the teacher's) lack of language resources in the English class. So one response to this has been to make English a special class, taught by a (Korean) TESOL specialist rather than the general-subject teacher. In other words, instead of keeping the children and changing the subject, we keep the subject and erase the children. This "solution" is particularly appealing to our board of education, because it allows us to hire the surplus middle school teachers of English as elementary school teachers and pay them lower wages (because they are less experienced).
  But the solution has made the problem worse, not better. In the English lesson above the general subject teacher teacher who is familiar with the children can vary the speaker by calling out different names. But this is NOT possible for the TESOL specialist, because the TESOL specialist teaches all eight hundred students in the school, and never learns the names. Think of the BIG difference in everyday discourse created by knowing a person's name and magnify that by a factor of eight hundred or so and you'll see what I mean.
  (One of my grad students did some great work on this in the Canadian Modern Language Journal. See:
  In wealthier elementary schools (and there are many in this part of Seoul) another response has been to bring in so-called "native speakers", although there is some dispute as to whether the "native speaker" is an apprentice, or a "language teaching assistant" or the central figure of interest in the class.
  No matter what role the "native speaker" plays, they lack teaching expertise, and the way this SHOULD be remedied is, as Jay suggests, a period of apprenticeship. However, this kind of apprenticeship is not ALWAYS an effective way of transmitting teaching expertise, particularly when the so-called "native" is not at all a native of the classroom! For one thing, an apprentice has to KNOW that he or she is serving an apprenticeship and genuinely look forward to becoming a journeyman!
  (Believe it or not, ANOTHER of my grad students did some great work on this FAILURE of legitimate peripheral participation in the International Journal of Applied Linguistics! See:
  I'd like to finish by querying Jay's suggestion that a fully contextualized expertise can NEVER be taught by "decontextualized" media. I think this depends very much on what we see as "context" and the degree to which we accept the ability of texts to encode contexts. There is, of course, the example of tutorials attached to computer games, which J.P. Gee uses. And there is the example of XMCA itself, which as Andy points out, can carry an outrageous amount of detail about Korean education and Korean social life in order to contextualize a pitiful quantity of classroom text.
  Can CLASSROOM language have this function? In a few hours time I will go and teach my undergrads. We are going to learn three techniques for teaching repetition in the classroom, to wit:
  a) "Casting" the characters of the dialogue, by dividing the class: "Over here, we are Minsu. And over here, we are Julie."
  b) Making "hamburgers" of teacher-talk, where the teacher's voice has to frame the character's voice: "Now, listen Minsu: 'I like apples!' Repeat?"
  c) Providing a "continuation". "What does Julie say?" "What does Minsu say next?"
  My undergrads don't know quite what to make of this three-step trot; they are used to teachers who just play the bloody tape and then ask comprehension questions. But we can't do that in elementary school classes because the resulting questions are more complex than the text itself ("What did Julie say when Minsu said that he liked apples?"). Instead of putting the story into the children and then seeing if we can get answers out of them, we tend to put the children in the story and see if they can keep the story going ("What does Minsu say?").
  A lot of the undergrads think we are really just having fun and killing time (because they are used to a lot of that, too). When I put them in groups they tend to ham it up even more than real children would, and they are still prone to outbursts of good high school English ("Now, listen to my questions and let's see if you understood the dialogue!").
  However, in two weeks when they leave to do their practicum, they will stand in front of children who will NOT respond to their high school English, and I think it is quite POSSIBLE that they will find themselves falling back on a simpler, more direct way of teaching: possibly something quite similar to what we will be doing today. Of course, they will be recontextualizing. But in order for that recontextualization to happen in the future, they have to learn the decontextualized bits today. Isn't this what English learners ALWAYS have to do?
  David Kellogg
  Seoul National University of Education

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Received on Mon Oct 22 17:02 PDT 2007

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