Saturday, September 21, 2013

my little failures

My intermediate students generally did a very good job on their first-ever quiz from me. Out of forty students quizzed, only three or so failed. Most of the students got "A"s and "B"s. I'm very proud of how well those students are doing, in general. A few could use some extra help, which I'll be proposing to them this week.

My lone beginner class on Tuesday morning, however, did horribly. Over a third of the students failed the quiz—some spectacularly (one got a 19%). I thought I had constructed a ridiculously easy quiz for the kids, but apparently I was wrong. It probably hasn't helped that the beginners haven't really developed their teaching skills; their second week of teaching was no better than their first. It's not obvious to me that the kids are prepping. They should be meeting outside of class, discussing their approach, putting together a plan, emailing a lesson plan to me, and then teaching their hearts out when they come to class. Instead—silence. Hesitation. Confusion. That's what I see in class, and it's frustrating the hell out of me.

So I obviously have to lead the kids by the nose, because that's what they're tacitly begging for: my leadership. I'm going to start calling them into my office, team by team, to show them how to teach their lessons. I'm also going to call the failures in for extra help. The lesson I'm learning from this is that, for the beginner level, I need to spend a lot more time teaching the students how to teach.

Sometimes I forget the oceanic extent of youthful stupidity. If my beginners had understood clearly, and really thought about, the connections between their lack of action/preparation and their poor quiz performance, they would never have gotten into this jam. But along with being beginners at English, they're apparently beginners at life. But that's weird: many of my beginners are the same age as my intermediates, so why the difference in maturity level? I'm still puzzling that one out. Does being in Level 1 make you into a helpless little child?

I haven't had the chance to quiz my two Wednesday classes (beginners) or my one Thursday class (intermediates); I imagine the same pattern will reveal itself with those students as well: the intermediates will do fine while the beginners will stumble. It's going to be bloody.

ADDENDUM: I should say a word about foreign students. At first, I didn't realize that I had any foreign students, but I now know I've got two Chinese kids, both of whom are in my disastrous 9AM Tuesday class. One is a guy; the other is a girl. One of them got the above-mentioned 19%; the other also failed, garnering a 31%. Both of these students are going to need a lot of help. The guy, in particular, was unable to answer a basic question I had asked during the quiz (something like, "Is your mother an actress?"—to which the reply was an equally simple, "No, she isn't."). He obviously didn't—and doesn't—understand a damn thing that's happening in that class, and he's cruising toward an "F" for the semester. I'm going to assume his Korean is better than his English, and will try to approach him from that angle. This won't be easy: he's not even able to sound out basic words in a sentence—that's how bad his English is. Normally, in a Korean college, when students are placed in the beginner level of an English conversation class, they're not true beginners: most of them have had years of English study under their belt, both at their public school and at their private hagwon. I can't assume that that's the case for the Chinese kids who, if I recall correctly from my experience with Chinese kids at Sookmyung University, often come to Korea with little or no English background. Living in China is not good prep for facing the world; it's a pretty solipsistic culture. Hell, even the Chinese name for China—"middle kingdom"—tells you everything you need to know about how China sees itself. Why learn foreign ways when you're already the center of the world?

And what are the fruits of that arrogance? Getting 19% and 31% on English quizzes in Korea.


1 comment:

  1. You are taking a pretty unorthodox approach in educating your students, so I'm sure you are not entirely surprised to be encountering a few bumps along the way. Taking the recalcitrant beginners by the nose sounds like an appropriate course of action.

    I wonder if they've never been faced with a similar challenge and are waiting to see if you'll blink before they have step up and learn to learn by teaching. I expect you won't and they'll figure that out soon enough.



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