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- CCQs and ICQs in the Korean Educational Context: Some Practical Tips
CCQs and ICQs in the Korean Educational Context: Some Practical Tips
Andrew Griffiths is a teacher trainer for the Daejeon Educational Training Institute in South Korea. He holds an MA in TESOL and has been teaching for almost 11 years. He specializes in student-centered learning and methods of delivering effective classroom English.
CCQS and ICQs are understood to be a useful part of a teacher’s toolkit. However, in the Korean educational context, special techniques are required to make CCQs and ICQs work effectively, as many students are not used to being asked these kinds of questions. This article will detail these techniques and their rationales.
CCQs (comprehension or concept checking questions) and ICQs (instruction checking questions) are useful tools for teachers to check understanding of language content or classroom instructions. In the Korean educational context, teachers’ guidebooks for public school textbooks show a similar value placed on asking questions to students, particularly in the case of CCQs. Virtually all dialogues and reading texts will include a number of questions scripted for the teacher to ask after listening or reading. Then do Korean-context CCQS and ICQs function the same as in other educational contexts?
The Korean educational context: A scene from experience
A closer inspection of a Korean public school classroom reveals an interesting dimension to the act of asking questions and receiving answers, which can be encapsulated in the following experience I had as a public school teacher:
The teacher plays a listening dialog about the Korean Thanksgiving Festival to the students, who listen dutifully. At the end, the teacher turns to the students and asks the first question: “Whose house did they go to on Thanksgiving?”
Four or five hands go up to answer. These are the students who attend ‘hagwon’, private after-school institutes for students where they will study advanced material that they won’t encounter for perhaps three more years in public school. The content in this lesson, then, is easy for them, as is the teacher’s question. As such, when the teacher asks a question, it is always these students who answer, and rarely anyone else.
The other twenty-five students’ hands remain on their desks.
This is a common scene for many teachers in the Korean context; similar experiences abound for almost anyone who has stepped into a Korean classroom, especially in the public school system.
Interestingly, other forms of concept checking, such as worksheets and textbook exercises, almost always reveal that a relatively large majority of students do understand the language content – they just elect not to verbally answer the questions when posed in class. The issues we must address are thus the following:
- Why do so few Korean students elect to answer CCQs and ICQs in class?
- Is this actually a problem, taking into account that some students in some cultures may not be familiar with being asked questions so openly as others?
- How could our techniques of asking CCQs and ICQs be improved to accommodate Korean students’ needs as learners in their own cultural and educational contexts?
In the next section, we will deal with the first two questions before looking at the third issue for the remainder of this article.
What’s happening and should we be worried?
There are several reasons that stand outside of context that can explain why students might choose not to answer a question: they may not like the class or the subject, or even the teacher; or they may simply be thinking about other things (the last class before lunch is always notorious for this, I find). However, there are other factors that can be tied to specific educational situations. In the Korean context, the following items can be posited as reasons for not volunteering answers:
Level differences. There are often large level differences in Korean classrooms, especially public school; a student who does not even know the alphabet may sit next to a student who has lived in an English-speaking country and is virtually fluent. As such, there are always higher-level students who can easily dominate a question-and-answer section of a class.
Generally low standards of English communicative ability. Korea struggles with producing students with satisfactory English communicative proficiency (see Yeo, 2016). As such, many students struggle to verbally respond to a question in English even if they know the answer in their heads.
Chaemyon. The Korean concept of ‘Chaemyon’ (face, reputation, pride) is of strong importance (Tudor, 2012). While not an exclusively Korean or even Asian phenomenon (see Bammel, 2013), chaemyeon is still relevant to any understanding of classroom dynamics in Korea. In a society where English proficiency is highly prized, to risk giving a wrong answer in class is to risk losing face. As such, many students practice avoidance strategies, especially when they know higher-level students will freely volunteer answers in their place.
Unfamiliarity with whole-class questioning. Many students are used to having teacher-led classes that rely on individually-oriented work such as worksheets and textbook-oriented work. While this is starting to change, old habits die hard (Lee, 2016) and for many students, especially in secondary public schools, lessons that are delivered 'lecture-style' are still the norm. As such, lively classroom discourse that is peppered with questioning is unfamiliar and uncomfortable for many.
There will be, of course, other factors at play, but these are some of the most salient.
Should this situation be deemed problematic? Arguably yes. A large aim of the public school English curriculum is aimed at improving students’ communicative ability and their ability to interact with people from other countries (KMEST, 2011). Since questions and answers can be considered as one of the basic ‘ingredients’ of verbal communication, the dynamic of open, unscripted questioning and answering can still be judged a valuable skill for Korean students to learn to participate in. As such it is incumbent upon us, as educators, to make CCQs and ICQs work better for Korean students so that they might become better communicators in the future, while remaining sensitive to their needs both as learners and as Koreans.
In the following section, I will briefly mention current best practice techniques for asking CCQs and ICQs generally. Then, in the following section, I will detail nine strategies and techniques I have used that improve the way in which a teacher can deliver their CCQs or ICQs to a class; each technique is specifically designed to respond to the reasons for resistance as detailed in this section,
Current ‘Global’ techniques for asking CCQs and ICQs
There are many different teacher training books and courses, all of which offer worthy advice about how to ask effective CCQs and ICQs in a multitude of educational contexts across the globe. The following items are often posited:
- Keep language simple and to the point. (“Which player goes first?” rather than ‘Can you tell me which player will be the first to go?”)
- Ask a number of questions to a number of different students.
- Speak slowly, and use paralinguistic features such as stress, intonation, inflection and gesture to show what you mean.
There are, of course, many other strategies available, but those listed above are consistently agreed upon by multiple sources (for example Scrivener, 2011, Gower et al, 2005). The following techniques I shall propose are not intended to replace or disprove these ideas, but instead to augment them and adapt them for the Korean educational context. Indeed, the advice above should be considered foundational for anyone wishing to ask questions of their students in any class, Korean or otherwise.
CCQS and ICQs in the Korean educational context: Nine Tips
1-4: Long-term Planning
A semester- or year-long plan for asking questions is required in the Korean context. This is because Korean students are not used to being asked questions in class and may feel resistant to this at first. A period of adjustment for the students is thus required, with a long-term strategy in place where questioning techniques change – that is, become more complex and challenging - from the beginning of a semester to the end. The following should be done:
1. Plan when to ask questions, and make that time consistent. Korean students may not used to being asked a lot of questions, but they are familiar with regular classroom routines. Asking questions at the same time – for example, ICQs always after a game demonstration (not in the middle of it), or CCQs always directly after listening to a dialog – provides a sense of routine and regularity to the act of asking questions. This consistency helps students predict when questions will arise, and allows them space to mentally prepare for them. Asking questions at an unfamiliar or unexpected time, especially when students are first getting used to being asked questions at the beginning of a semester, is not effective.
2. Don’t ask too many questions at first. Students should not be asked too many CCQs or ICQs in the first class of the first semester as this might overwhelm them. Start with only a few questions and increase the number throughout the school year – perhaps from one or two at the start to four or five later in the year.
3. Don’t make the questions too hard at first. Once again, if students are not used to answering questions then too many difficult CCQs and ICQs in the early stages of the semester will stymie them and lead to a lack of participation. Start simple, and increase the complexity as the year goes on – for example, go from having more closed questions to having more open questions. Of course, this should be balanced with the need to ask questions at levels appropriate to the difficulty of the material.
4. Always grade your questions. Even later in the semester or the year, a teacher should produce a selection of ICQs and CCQs that contain both easier questions as well as more challenging items; this will allow even lower-ability students a chance to participate. This is especially important when there are large level differences in the classroom. For example, CCQs about a listening dialog related to the annual Korean Thanksgiving Festival could begin with something as simple as “What did you hear?” and end with questions that take the students beyond the text, such as “What do you like to do on Thanksgiving?” (see Griffiths, 2019).
This long-term planning is designed to increase familiarity with the act of being asked questions in class instead of letting them become accustomed to the usual 'lecture style' of teaching. In other words, we are metaphorically dipping the students’ toes into the water – the shallow end before the deep, of course.
5-7: Language Mechanics: The ‘Moment of the Question’
The ‘moment of the question’ is critical, and thus focus on the detail of both the words we use and how we say them are of paramount importance. This ‘moment’ only lasts a few seconds at most – yet in it is contained the marrow of a potentially successful (or unsuccessful) communicative act for a student. These seconds, then, are ‘make or break’ seconds.
Note: For these tips, let us assume a game demonstration is taking place where ICQs are needed. Imagine a language game where normal playing cards are used and a ten of hearts and three of diamonds is shown, each card being held in either hand by the teacher. In the game, the higher card would win. At this time, a teacher might choose to ask an ICQ such as “Which card is the winner?” using the following techniques:
5. Signpost the questions. Signposting is a hugely effective strategy at grabbing students' attention. One way of signposting is to begin each question with the word “Question!”, with a slight pause afterwards. This allows students to focus in on the ‘moment of the question’, even if they have problems following other parts of the classroom talk. Thus “Which card is the winner?” becomes “Question (pause). Which card is the winner?”.
6. At first, have the answers inside the question. While some scholars believe that this is ineffective (for example Gower et al, 2005), I argue that this is useful especially at the early stages of a semester. For example, the ICQ “Which card is the winner?”, while seeming simple from a teacher’s perspective, is actually highly complex to answer for a student; in fact, any of the following answers are valid: red, black, hearts, diamonds, ten, and three. At the ‘moment of the question’, if a student is faced with such myriad possibilities, they will more than likely back down and not volunteer an answer – for why risk losing face if you say the wrong thing?
Containing the answer inside the question holds this threat in abeyance. “Question: Which card is the winner – ten or three?” narrows the possibilities of answers to only two, and encourages more reticent students. Later in a semester, when students are more confident, this strategy can be gradually withdrawn if the teacher deems it possible.
7. Always repeat the questions. It is useful for a teacher to repeat their questions to encourage more students to volunteer an answer. As all teachers know, choosing the first hand that gets raised is definitely a bad idea. In an atmosphere where chaemyon is a concern for students but proficiency is generally lower, more time and more repetition is critical. Thus: “Question: which card is the winner, ten or three?” (Pause to wait for more hands to raise) “Which card is the winner? Ten…or three?” In my experience, a significant bulk of the raised hands comes on the second question rather than the first. This then allows the teacher the pick of the raised hands rather than being forced to choose the same few students again and again.
These 'moment of the question' techniques, while applied to ICQs in these examples, also work equally effectively when asking CCQs. These techniques assist students in answering questions even when they have low communicative proficiency generally or when there is a big level difference in the class: signposting the way so students can know when to 'rise to the occasion' of the question; narrowing the answer to allow even those with limited proficiency to answer; and, perhaps most critically, giving time and repetition to allow everyone a chance to catch up and participate, not just the high-level learners who might otherwise dominate. These are small changes, but in my experience they have been critical.
8-9: The Instant After the answer
The response to the answer is important for both teacher and student alike. It is always worth remembering here that in the Korean context, CCQs and ICQs aimed at the whole class are not incredibly common – and in most cases, students will have become used to allowing the same four or five hands to dominate the answering. It is worthwhile, then, for the teacher to frame their responses to the students’ answers in a way that encourages trust and engagement for future questioning:
8. Treat each answer as a success. Even if the answer the student gives is wrong, the very attempt of answering itself is a successful act of communication. It is of utmost importance, then, that a teacher treats any proffered answer with the same respect. For example, a wrong answer could be responded to with “OK – close – nice try!” before moving on. A kind smile directed at the student never goes amiss either.
9. Nominate other students for the same question, even if another student has already answered. Allowing other students to answer an already-answered question provides a little boost to quieter, shyer students who might not be comfortable volunteering an answer first. This is especially useful in more complex questions, for example when asking open questions that might have multiple ‘right’ answers, but can also be used in simpler questions as well. For example, in a simple CCQ such as “Do you think the answer is A or B?”, asking other students (for example“Minho, do you agree?” and “Suji, what do you think?”) is effective at increasing engagement. Being a part of things, even in a small role, can be truly meaningful for a student, and helps build confidence among those not used to being active participants in the class.
The instant after the answer is given is in my opinion, one of the most important parts of asking questions. After all, there will be more questions later in the class and then even more tomorrow, and so forth – and what we require is that students be both mentally and emotionally ready to encounter these questions and to feel in an emotionally secure enough space to answer them freely. In short, how we treat an answer is as important as how we initiate a question.
While I can only offer anecdotal evidence for the efficacy of these techniques, I can say that they have been tried, tested and proved by myself and many teachers I have trained since. In my experience, consistent use of these techniques can see a greatly heightened participation; in some cases, I found that 80-90% of students would volunteer to answer questions – a huge improvement over the ‘scene from experience’ related at the beginning of this article.
This is not an exhaustive list of techniques, and I welcome further additions to and improvements on the techniques and ideas listed here. It may also be that these techniques would function effectively in other, similar educational contexts such as China or Japan. I would be excited to encounter research from educators in such contexts who face similar challenges in their workplaces and to add their expertise to the preliminary ideas presented here.
Bammel, S. (2013). Reflections on face and what it really means for life and business in Korea. Nojeok Hill: My View from The Top. Retrieved from http://nojeokhill.koreanconsulting.com.
Gower, R., Phillips, D., & Walters, S. (2005). Teaching practice: A handbook for teachers in training. Oxford: Macmillan.
Griffiths, A. (2019). How to teach listening when you really don't have time to teach listening. EFL magazine, July 2019. Retrieved from www.eflmagazine.com.
Korean Ministry of Education, Science & Technology. (2011). Yongeogwa kyoyukgwajung (English Curriculum) Seoul: Ministry of Education, Science & Technology.
Lee, B.Y. (2016). Second language teacher education: Enhancing teacher training and professional development for CLT. Primary English Education 22(3), 83-106.
Scrivener, J. (2011). Learning teaching. Oxford: Macmillan.
Tudor, D. (2012). Korea: the impossible country. Tokyo: Tuttle.
Yeo, Y.R. (2016). Korean English proficiency ‘moderate’ despite big spending. Korea Times. Retrieved from www.koreatimes.co.kr.
Please check the How to Motivate Your Students course at Pilgrims website.
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