Monday, May 26, 2008

Success, sort of

As I was leaving the women's university today I walked out and bumped into the loopy professor, who was chatting with another Japanese teacher outside the building. Simultaneously, a bunch of students were entering the building, and saw me.

"BADAUNT-SENSEI!" they screeched, and I turned, trying not to cringe.

"Oh, hello!" I said. "How are you?"

"Huh? What did she say?" they asked each other, in Japanese, and when they'd figured it out,


"GLAD TO HEAR IT!" I shouted back as they disappeared into the building.

The loopy professor regarded me fondly.

"Sutekina sensei desu ne," she said, and I was relieved that she had not taken offense. She could easily have done. Those were her students last year, too, and they hadn't greeted her at all.

But I think she had probably forgotten them. This is convenient, because those were the students who slammed her in the teacher evaluations. In fact I suspect that she has decided that the evaluations about me were actually about her. After all, it was HER idea to share the classes so that we each see them every other week. Therefore, if the students liked me it was all because of her wonderful idea, and she could take the credit and ignore the fact that they couldn't stand her classes. (This makes sense if you are a loopy professor.)

Today I had some of this year's more outspoken students telling me that they didn't need her classes. They only wanted mine. Couldn't they have only my classes? They REALLY didn't need her classes, they said. They couldn't understand a word she was saying, even when she spoke Japanese.

They shouted this loudly above the ambient noise of the classroom (which is earsplitting at the best of times) and I could only conclude that she probably makes them shut up, because my classes have very little opportunity to be interesting. They are way too noisy. Surely the students don't behave so badly in her classes? Surely she makes them shut up and listen? Is that why they don't like her?

I was not feeling very well, and the whole thing was getting me down.

But they wouldn't shut up for me, at least not at first. They insisted on yelling at me at the tops of their voices (in Japanese of course, even though I pretended not to understand) all about how the loopy professor's classes are boring but mine are interesting. We hadn't even managed to start yet and we were already fifteen minutes in. All I had achieved so far was to call the roll. What was interesting about that? I was getting desperate and they were having a party.

But I had already decided to give myself a break, so I was tolerant. I still have a cold and didn't have the energy to get mad. I whizzed through the unit of the textbook I have to use (which is far too difficult for them – I left out the tricky bits) and then gave them the quiz I was giving all last week at the other universities. I had removed all the questions that might possibly give them trouble, which meant about half of them. I know their level. I kept the questions like, This is an animal with a long nose and big ears, and left out the ones like, This is a perfect vacuum, full of darkness. The difficult questions would only make them give up. As it is, half of them have trouble reading English let alone understanding spoken English, and this is an oral quiz game. They have to read the questions aloud.

I also added a new rule. I told them that if the answer was in Japanese the person could get one point, but if it was in English they'd get two. This was amazingly effective in getting them to listen (to get one point even if they didn't know the English word) and to actually try to think about what the English word might be. These are competitive students. They HATE losing.

And they adored the game. In their groups they quizzed each other with their lists of questions and had a lovely time getting everything wrong and teasing each other. (And screeching. Why do they have to screech when I have a headache?) I did not have to yell at all. They did all the yelling, at each other – and in English, even. It was wonderful. I sat in a collapsed heap at the front of class and every now and again, when I heard an egregiously badly pronounced word ("This is a stripped vegetable we eat in summer") I went over to that group and told them how it was pronounced ("This is a STRIPED vegetable"), but really, that was about all I had to do, aside from be deafened.

I know they liked the game because even though at the beginning of class they'd asked if we'd be finishing early (as they ask every week, no matter what), they were enjoying themselves so noisily they forgot the time. We didn't even hear the bell ring. I had to tell them time was up when I saw students outside waiting to get in for the next class.

I think that is the first time that has happened at that place since this 'team-teaching' thing started.

And that has led me to a new resolution. From now on I will be using more of my own materials and less of the textbook. I will base my materials on the easy bits of the textbook (so I can tell the loopy professor I am using it), and give the students something challenging but that they can actually do, and enjoy, like they did today, because that was a blast. Watching them using English and having fun and actually learning from each other was so unusual there that I felt like I was dreaming. I've been following the loopy professor's instructions too closely (although not all that closely, really), and using too difficult materials. What I used today WORKED.

The challenge for me, now, is to find ways to adapt the textbook. Today's game was not based on the text. I was being lazy and using something I already had available because I wanted to preserve my voice (and sanity), but I will have to be more focussed in future.

So does anybody have any really simple ideas for a competitive game based on the topic of 'home,' which is the theme of the next unit in the text? I have two weeks to come up with something. It should use simple English, be intensely cooperative and competitive (so some students in a group or pair are not tempted to have a wee nap), and fun (or, preferably, funny).

And I'm counting on you, because so far I'm coming up blank.


Hebron said...

Hmm. Wish I could help.
The only thing I can think of is something like Family Feud.

"What kind of things will you find at home?"
"Furniture... survey says... ding! Yes!"

Amy said...

What about a game where they build a home? They have the different parts - like the walls, windows, chairs, etc, but can't use them to build their home until they say the part in english. What ever team has the home with the most, wins.

The intense part would be making the parts before the class. Are you semi-artistic? Or maybe you could print out pictures from the internet.

fallensnow said...

I was thinking of asking the students to come up with descriptions on the spot for the rest to guess, rather than preparing them for homework, if they're good enough in English for that?
Or if they're not, perhaps you could provide a list of words like 'hard', 'soft', 'hot', 'cold', 'big', 'small', 'enormous', 'tiny' and the various shapes and colours, etc etc, and they could use choose the words to use to describe the things. And as usual, their friends would guess the thing?