Sunday, January 30, 2011

Teaching Evolves

As they say, you learn as much from your students (and at times more) than you are able to teach them. Gone are such thoughts of O'Henry or Edgar Allen Poe, enter Harry Potter and Soprano's new song about the Japanese time traveler Hiro. But enter as well Martin Luther King's speech I Have a Dream (which they all found on the net in translation and handed in with nary a spelling nor translation error to be found... impressive eh?). This bit of translating cheating did however enable them to follow the spoken text (on my Iphone and played on my portable speakers) remarkably well, and they adored his Southern accented, "Dooooowwwwwn in Mississippi...", not to mention my rendition a capella of My Country T'is of Thee. Thankfully I've a decent singing voice.

I've learned my lessons: don't give a popular English song to them to translate as homework, only on a test. As in the first situation, they are all smart enough (and only 3 of the 18 honest enough to resist) to copy it off a professional translation web site. However, a popular and brand new French song (as mentioned above) is a definite hit, and a remarkable way to work on the Past Conditional -- If I had had I would have... etc.,

So, taking this new information into account, I thought I'd throw another American accent at them, and another well-spoken speech, the last 6 minutes of the 1961 John F Kennedy Inaugural Address. And I told them that it would be easy to find on the net, so go and read it in translation, absorb it a bit, and I will play it for them with the English in front of them tomorrow as a bit of Listening Comprehension practice.

In place of Edgar Allen Poe's Raven/Nevermore, I've given them the far shorter text of Invictus -- a favorite poem of Nelson Mandela, and the source of his biopic movie's title. Great fun getting them to work their tongues around 'Unconquerable' and 'bludgeoning'.

I'm not the kind of teacher who puts a thousand 'mots dans leur carnet'-- a discipline technique for our school. Generally it is a 'mot dans le carnet' (note to the parents basically) each time they don't do their homework, get out of hand in class, are rude, etc., It's one way to control them. But, I just can't quite glom to this way of disciplining, etc., Rather, I try to speak to their better natures (they are in there somewhere) and question them as to their lack of mutual respect, their inability to hold themselves quiet when another speaks, etc., Where they want to go in their lives, what this education is for, etc., And, I've decided to come down hard on cheating on tests, etc., No excuses, Zeros for both the cheater and the assister. And no, I don't need to argue about proof, etc., I just give them back with their notes, or, I refuse to take a homework that is clearly copied from the Net. Honor Code anyone? Is this such a far-fetched notion?

I've discussed my fierce attitude towards cheating with my colleagues, and they are of mixed minds. I describe the Princeton University Honor Code (you won't cheat and you will turn in anyone you see cheating, signed, agreed to, or out you go, no diploma, no entry onto that hallowed Ivy campus), and I get back looks of shock and horror. That just wouldn't go over here in this world where your class notes are all that count for getting ahead, so do whatever is necessary, and if that is cheating, so be it. Gulp. I come from another planet.

I've started giving work in-class on the so-called easier elements of English that they did poorly on as a whole on the mid-terms. And in this way I've a bit of calm during my two hours Friday afternoon, and I can go to each student to help them with their answers, answer questions, personally advise and be alongside. And when clearly the vocabulary hasn't been learned (quickly seen on the vocab tests) it is now my rule that they take class time (or go into another class for that time) and write the vocab words 4x each -- as clearly they didn't do so at home.

My connections to the individual students are improving. The girls I had difficulties with in the beginning are now warming up to me, and me to them. But I'm losing a couple of the boys -- bright ones too. From frustration, from annoyance that I do not as yet have the perfect quiet class, from boredom. It's not easy. I'm relatively able to handle the class when I do a 'teacher talks and kids listen' session. But, I lose them when I ask them to speak individually, or when I ask for questions about the homework etc., planning on working with their questions for at least 10-15 minutes of the class. Once there is dispersion of any sort, they nearly all (but for perhaps 2 of them?) start talking to their neighbor(s).

And so, I pile on the homework. My thinking is that there is a good half of the class that actually wants to learn (maybe even a bit more) and at least by doing lots of homework, as long as it is useful and interesting, they will absorb some English this year. I'm working to get back the bright kids who are losing interest, going to them individually, checking in, letting them know what I'm seeing and interpreting, encouraging.

Tomorrow will be interesting. I've already given them vocabulary (over the past 2-3 weeks) to learn from the first 4 pages of the first Harry Potter. I've asked them to read 4 more pages, and to underline, list and translate all new words, to show me this list, and to answer some very easy questions whose answers are directly in the text. Thus forcing them to actually read, think, use a dictionary.

Meantime, with Soprano's song, we'll be discussing more English speaking world heroes (Malcome X, Gandhi, Mandela...) and exchanging on cultural issues.

Perhaps, just maybe, I'll succeed in bringing them somewhat up to speed in English this year. I hope so. In the meantime, I received a dear and very earnest compliment from one of my harder-working students, "Madame, merci pour ton courage et ta patience."


rechab said...

Madame et chere collegue...

I have to inform you about my art blogs ( in French)...

sincerely yours

R Ch

Madeleine Vedel said...

Thank you! et merci, je les regarderai avec plasir, - Madeleine