Tuesday, April 26, 2005

undramatic drama and other subjects

Except when leaping of its own accord, a tarantula isn't programmed to know what to do when all eight of its legs leave contact with the ground. If you know how to pick a tarantula up (and I do because I owned four of them as a kid), you'll notice its remarkable "default" setting: once off the ground and pinched between your thumb and index finger, the spider curls its legs defensively and does nothing else, attempting to present as small a target as possible to potential predators.

People are occasionally prone to acting like tarantulas when confronted with extremely foreign situations, slipping into neutral gear and waiting for the environment to present more favorable conditions.

One of my students today, SJ, was like this, nearly impossible to prompt into motion. SJ had signed up for my drama class, and was one of only two students. The other student, C, who'd done a little theater before, seemed to slip right into the rhythm of my lesson, but poor SJ was timid as hell and spoke very little English. When she did speak, she was barely audible, and I got the impression she was having second thoughts about signing up. It's going to be hard to maintain a decent energy level in the classroom if there are only two students, but I heard from the office that more students might be on the way. That'd be great, because with SJ's lack of responsiveness, today felt like a bit of a failure.

My other classes also have produced a mixed vibe. I think my first Mon-Wed-Fri class is perky and receptive to my teaching style, but the class following it strikes me as harder to motivate. I have no idea what my intermediate-level conversation students are like, since none of them showed up on Monday. Today's reading comprehension class seemed to go well, though some students felt the reading material (an online article about the Monday train wreck in Japan) was too difficult. I'm still in "you can't please everybody" mode, but will proceed with caution. It's a low-level reading comp class, and I don't want to overload them.

One student in the reading comp class also works at my office's front desk. I suppose she can now report everything I do in class, which means I need to be on my best behavior.

My 90-minute low-level conversation class today was a bit slow and rough, with students trying to speak to me in Korean. I had a chance to talk with them about "active vocabulary" versus "passive vocabulary"-- terms I whip out whenever I hear students voicing frustration about their inability to produce a wide variety of utterances even though they understand such a variety. I made it clear that the only solution for their woes was practice, practice, practice: you can't learn to produce language if you don't practice producing it. Listening isn't going to help you much, because listening and reading are all about building passive vocabulary. Active vocabulary is a whole different library, with only a tenuous connection to the passive. The students seemed to get what I was saying (I was pantomiming and drawing a goofy active/passive bar graph on the board), but I don't know how reassured they were.

Overall, I can't complain about my classes. No one has been overtly hostile. Most students have gone along with my corny jokes and gotten into the group work and other drills we do. Only my drama class worries me; I hope we get a few more students. Koreans are very good about teamwork, and students like the timid, inaudible SJ need a lot of peer support.


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