|Middle school students engage in a role-playing game in which they practice ordering food and receiving customers in English at Deokjeok Middle School on Deokjeok Island in the West Sea, in this file photo. / Courtesy of Deokjeok Middle School|
By Chung Hyun-chae
Some might not expect a high-quality education from a small school on a tiny island in Incheon, west of Seoul, with less than 30 students.
The English class at the school led by Kim Hee-jeong, 30, has overcome such prejudice with an activity- and student-centered curriculum.
For three years Kim has been the only English teacher at Deokjeok Middle School on Deokjeok Island in the West Sea.
"I have tried to help students become familiar with English so that they will not give up on studying it," Kim told The Korea Times.
"For this, I believed English classes should get the students interested in lessons," she added.
This is why Kim devised diverse programs and activities during English class.
For Lim Ji-won, 15, who will move to the eighth grade in March, outdoor learning was the most interesting activity as it enables students to play a treasure-hunt game using English words.
In the activity, students had to find pieces of paper outside the classroom on which the teacher wrote English words.
For example, verbs were written on red paper and subjects on yellow. Those who made the most complete sentences with those words won the game.
"While playing the game, I was more able to focus on learning English," Lim said. "Being in a rush, I made a question by only putting a question mark at the end of a declarative sentence; I later learned that the sentence was incorrect."
Real-life preparation activities
Keeping the classes fun and interesting, Kim also gives her students opportunities to learn English in real-life settings.
"I have been trying to help students learn English as a means of communication, rather than taking an academic approach," Kim said.
For example, the teacher gave an assignment to the students to experience becoming weather forecasters.
First, the students watched an English news program where weather forecasters presented the weather forecast.
Then they wrote scripts, judging from the look of the sky, memorized the scripts and filmed themselves making weather forecasts.
It was not easy for Kim, who teaches students of all grades as the only English teacher in the school, to come up with new ideas for every class.
She teaches English 11 hours per week.
Learning from each other
The total number of the students attending Deokjeok Middle School is 27 ― three seventh grade students, 13 eighth graders and 10 ninth graders.
Kim noted that the small class sizes provide frequent interaction among students as well as between teacher and students.
"I found one female student, who was quiet at the beginning of the term, but she has improved her communication skills both in English and Korean," Kim said.
The English teacher strongly encouraged students to study together.
"The main feature of our English class is that the teacher does not teach us everything," Lim said. "When I asked her to translate an English sentence that I could not understand, she told me to discuss the sentence with my classmates about how to interpret it. The class has always been this way."
Kim Chan-lan, 16, who graduated from the high school this month, said she could gain deeper knowledge while teaching her friends and being taught by them during the class.
"Each one of us was a teacher of a certain subject," Kim the student said. "When I was in charge of grammar, especially about relative pronouns, I had to study until I understood the concept enough to teach it to the others."
Another factor that made it possible for Kim the teacher to make English class more interactive and full of activities is video materials that Kim made herself.
"I uploaded video files for the students to study new content before coming to the classroom or to study more after their lessons," Kim said.
This kind of learning is called "flipped learning," in which students learn new content outside of the classroom and discuss it in class, engaging in "peer teaching," which allows them to learn from one another.
"I believe that learning while interacting with others is more efficient than taking notes and memorizing vocabulary," Kim added.