What the kids tell me continued…


So what did you do last holiday?

Visited relatives.

Studied for my test.  Regretted it.

So what did you do last weekend?

Studied.

Really?  ALL weekend?

Yes.

You didn’t stop to watch t.v. or anything?

It’s my mom – she gets really violent.  So I don’t /not allowed to watch t.v.

What does your family do on Sundays?

Sleep all day

Go to church, go hiking, nap

Eat breakfast, nap

Nothing.

Watch t.v.

Study

What are you going to do next weekend?  (yup, you guessed it)

Study

What does your mom do?

(seems like 50% said “stay at home” and 25% said works part time.  There seemed to be a lot of women in the nursing/health care profession, and there was one boy who’s mother was a lawyer)

Trying to teach these kids how to have natural conversations is sooo damned difficult!  They want to follow a written script.  They won’t turn to face each other when talking.  They don’t want to express themselves or have enough curiosity to ask even each other questions.  I made the mistake of giving them sample questions, and 99.9% of them reverted to those as the only questions.  The ones who are lower level or just too cool for skool won’t even make an attempt to participate – just stare blankly ahead.

It’s halfway through the week, and I’ve finally come up with some things that work – for a minute.  I forget to model these things, but that really does help out immensely when I remember.

So part of my lessons invariably end up going over “good talking” and “bad talking,” body language, eye contact, and examples of how to extend a conversation.  I think this just needs to be pointed out a zillion times is all.  I think it’s still cerebral, and it doesn’t become real to them until they’ve had some successful one-on-one with me.

What works best – and it really does work – is getting close to about four kids at a time and asking them personal questions.  Even the worse students can be coaxed to answer something about themselves.  But this takes about two to five minutes per kid, and there’s over forty of them and just me – and we have about a half an hour or less to do this in.  It was a pain to have the co–teachers that one week they finally showed up for classes.  So this week I’ve incorporated them to help me with some one on one asking, listening, & showing how to be more creative with dialog – and it worked great and I now appreciate co-teachers.   Problem is, even though the co-teachers seem pleased to be included, once they think things are going well they think they’re not needed and therefore disappear.  So I’m on my own again, only now I’m missing having co-teachers now that I know how to utilize them.

My evening classes have shrunk in half.  One male student had come up to the office weeks ago saying he couldn’t attend anymore, because he got a bad test score and his father was furious.  The rest of the attendance has been dropping due to the upcoming midterms.  Today four students inquired as to whether there would be class or not, and I told them we’d vote on it.   No matter.  The ones that showed up are loving the 90 minutes  of one on one and actual English practice.  They want me to continue the class next Symester.  I still suck at it, but I’m becoming better at facilitating dialog.

At first I thought my TESOL training was really valuable.  And from what I read about the other methods of TEFL, I agree that a communicative approach based on teaching the kids to express themselves meaningfully is better.  BUT, in practice I believe that the methods are still too unnatural, too dissected, and too dependent on visual and audio aids and written handouts.

It’s kind of like learning to dance.  There is teaching to develop a dance feeling, and then there is teaching execution of mechanics.  I believe the former coming first makes better dancers in the long run – that for those that dance with meaning and purpose, the mechanics and refinement will follow, but for those that learn to dance mechanistically, the real joy of dancing may forever elude them.

I now think that the very best way for these students to speak is to promote natural discourse, to not worry about the grammar or even the pronunciation.  It’s more important to get them to want to say something/anything.  So we are exploring methods of free talking in a large group (beyond large group – impossibly large group) setting.  Hopefully by next year I can call myself a really good English teacher.

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