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Jo's Korean and Other Crazy Adventures Jo is coming back to teach in China for a second year that is sure to be filled with new crazy adventures!

Today's Rant - Rote Learning is a Crock of Shit

SOUTH KOREA | Wednesday, 13 June 2007 | Views [4406] | Comments [1]

Rote learning is a learning technique which avoids understanding the inner complexities and inferences of the subject that is being learned and instead focuses on memorizing the material so that it can be recalled by the learner exactly the way it was read or heard.


The textbook that we use in the classroom is based on rote learning for the most part. Today was frustrating because one of my grade six classes missed last week because of a field trip. So today my co-teacher informed me that he was going to whiz through Chapter 6. Because we teach an eighty minute class, I usually expand on the chapter for forty minutes. I don't follow the textbook, but I use games and activities that encourage them to speak English. I think the more they use dialogue and other interactive games, the more they will improve their conversational English.

The text book which is also the national curriculum for primary schools in Seoul covers different chapters on different themes. Today we were studying the theme of occupations. Me and my Korean co-teacher teach two 80 minute periods to cover one chapter. This is not enough to cover the topic in any depth, nor let alone learn anything. There is usually one half a page on writing, a song, and the rest on scenarios between two English speakers - which for the most part have bad accents.  

Why does my co-teacher have the need to have them repeat everything all the time. For example, today he had them repeat the phrase - "my dad is a pilot," about ten times. The students didn't even learn about jobs, what are the different types of jobs or any introduction to the subject. They were just repeating this phrase. I mean, WTF? I don't think he realizes that they aren't learning anything by constantly repeating a sentence.

I know that drilling is good at times for pronunication purposes, but only if needed. I continually shake my head at the education system here. Being my first year in a government publicly funded school (but have previously taught one year in a private language school), I am learning why my grade six students who will go to middle school next year, cannot even have a simple conversation. They also can't write the months, know ordinal numbers or even write a grammatically correct sentence.

I was told by the government that hired me, that the reason why they put Native English speakers into the classroom is to bring some of our 'western teaching methods' to the table. But, in what capacity I ask? I realize I am ranting here, but sometimes teaching here can be frustrating beyond belief.

On a more positive note, small changes are being made in my school. I feel that my co-teacher is open-minded to an extent that he lets me teach at least half of the lesson, the way I want to teach it. I do not have to follow the textbook to the tee. Next semester, I have a new co-teacher and I hope that she is not as controlling and allows me to teach the whole eighty minutes, and not have to follow the textbook.

I felt bad for the kids today. There are a minority that are interested in learning English. Most of the kids seem to think it is not important. Why should they learn English when it is not spoken on a regular basis outside of the school? I even have trouble getting the staff that do speak some English at my school to speak in English. I am always told by my co-teacher that the reason why they don't speak English even when they know it is because they are shy or they are afraid of making mistakes. Well, that's great, but how are they going to learn and become better at the language? Not all Koreans that I've met are like this, I will add.

The push to learn English is strong in Korea. There are hundreds or even thousands of parents that send their kids to a private language institute after school to learn more English. It is the students that are in private language schools that seem to know a lot more English in my classroom. There are about half of them that go to a private institute. The other half are not as lucky in that from grades 1-3, they aren't instructed in English. In grade three, they are not taught any English writing skills, and the focus is on conversation (or shall I say rote learning).

I will not stay teaching at a public school next year. I will do what I can do this year, to help those students who want to learn. The ones who raise their hands when I ask for volunteers, the ones that bring their books to class, and do their homework. This experience has been an eye opener on so many levels.




Tags: work



Hi Jo,

I taught in Japan (in a private 'cram school') many, many years ago now and experienced similar problems with rote-learning. I did not have particular text books to follow as the lessons were additional to their school requirements, but none-the-less, trying to extract 'coversational' english from these students was still impossible. I often noticed that this was because they'd never had the freedom (been encouraged?) to talk and try things out and became locked into a way of learning English that merely helped them pass exams.

Culturally, i think the Japanese notions of 'harmony' and no humiliation were hindrances too. I remember in one lesson asking 3 teen girls what their favourite ice-cream flavour was... obviously, a completely innocous question. They giggled, then looked at each other, then confered on the answer in Japanese and finally one of them announced in English, "strawberry". Determined to get them talking for themselves, i turned to one of the other girls who hadn't answered and asked again , "But, what's YOUR favourite flavour?". There was a blank look... the group had given their answer. I guess I always hoped inside that i could also get them THINKING for themselves too.

In the end, like you, I gave my best efforts to the ones who wanted to really learn. In an evening class, 3 adult professional friends decided they wanted to keep up their school level English and also find out more slang... so the classes descended into a free for all slang, rude words and oddities session. Naturally, they turned up every week and we all had fun.

I only had one high-school student who I felt i could actually talk to about real-world stuff in English. It was his curiousity about how foreigners viewed the Japanese (especially post WWII) that led him into complex conversations - clearly a bright kid destined for a good university - he used the opportunity to round out his knowledge and useful English, rather than learning more pronunciation and grammar. I'm glad I put in the effort with him as I got a lot back from it. Looking back all these years later, he is one of the very few local people I met that I'd like to get back in touch with.

Stay zen the next time you have a 'my dad is a pilot' moment... and search out a more satisfying teaching job when the opportunity arises. The world needs inspirational teachers and they are few and far between, more than likely a result of having all their enthusiasm beaten out by systems like the one you're in.

Take care and keep blogging about this stuff - as they say, 'it's better out than in'.

  crustyadventures Jun 14, 2007 2:20 PM

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