Thursday, March 05, 2015

Thursday kiddies

My Thursday kiddies proved to be a bit slower than those in my two previous classes, but that was only to be expected, given that these students were a level lower than the ones I'd taught on Monday and Wednesday. Still, today's classes went fairly well, although the day felt long. Technically, my Thursdays run six hours, although in actual practice, it'll be more like 5.5 hours, as I'll be letting both classes out about fifteen minutes early to give the students time to get to their next class. (My Thursday 3PM-6PM class probably won't have a next class to go to after 6PM, but my 12PM-3PM class likely will. The later class will want to leave early just so the students can go home and eat dinner.)

So at least the first week of classes went well. Whether this momentum will continue is hard to see. There's a good chance the honeymoon vibe will wear off as the semester grinds on: I'm still sticking to a task-oriented, student-centered approach that may get me in trouble yet again for pushing the students when they'd rather be lazy.

Of interest this semester is that we'll be doing pecha-kucha presentations: fast-paced PowerPoint slide shows in which one speaker marches through twenty auto-advance slides that click forward at a rate of one slide every twenty seconds, i.e., the presenter speaks for 400 seconds—or in plainer language, 6 minutes and 40 seconds. I showed my kids the video of Indo-Canadian Shawn Kanungo doing a rather witty pecha-kucha about why Indian kids keep winning spelling bees. (TED talks often feel like a slower, more loosely formatted version of a pecha-kucha.) I'm hoping that this style of PowerPoint presentation will be more interesting than the usual boring, plagiarized sludge that most Korean college students produce when asked to present on a given topic. I've told the students that, along with my evaluation of their performances, they'll also be grading each other. That ought to make things interesting.

For at least one of my classes, I went out of my way to talk about an issue that has bothered me since last semester, when one student whined that s/he had worked hard and thus deserved a better grade. In my spiel this week, I told the students that, because I'm not a mind-reader, I can't grade effort: I can only grade performance. A student might study her heart out before the midterm, but if, during the midterm exam, she flubs half the interview questions while she's in front of me, I have to grade her on how she actually does. Performance, unlike effort made at home, is something I can see and judge; effort isn't. Olympic skater Kim Yeon-ah doesn't get scored on how many hours she practices: the judges judge only her performance. That's the standard I go by, and if that's not fair, then tough titty.

My students seemed to take all my sermonizing in stride, but I don't think they'll truly understand what I'm driving at until they start receiving grades. I'm also requiring, as part of the participation grade, that students consult with me three times this semester: twice via email or text message and once face-to-face. They have to have one consultation before Week 5, another before Week 10, and a final consultation before Week 15 (it's a sixteen-week course, but Week 16 is finals week, so consultations will be too late at that point). This is to prevent what happened last semester: the nasty shock some students received when they got their grades—a shock that they themselves caused because they had failed to communicate with me during the semester. This time around, I'm mandating the communication: there will be no surprises. Those consultations will also give the students a chance to air any grievances they might have; I'm not sure how many students will have the courage to say anything to my face, but if they fail to complain throughout the semester, they'll have no right to complain at the end under cover of anonymity. (That won't stop some of them, of course.)

So as I said above, the first week of classes went well. I gave my self-intro; we covered the syllabus; we did some fun mixers and focused partner work (the students interviewed their partners, then presented them to the class); finally, I broke the classes up into teams, as I always do. The kids' homework, this week, is to buy the textbook and bring it with them next week. If nothing else, I've got the kids pointed in the right direction; they're loaded onto the boat, and next week we shove off from the shore.

Fifteen more weeks to go.


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