Today I had my first lesson in Model School. Oh the thrill and adrenaline of teaching (or maybe you don’t feel that way about teaching). I find it exhilarating to get in front of a class. I guess that’s why I majored in education. Today was no different. We were all nervous, unsure of what to expect from the classroom or our students. This first week I am teaching a group of college students with two other people. We are taking turns on different days. The first day of teaching was also my first day teaching the students on my own. It needed to be like that because next week my partner Beth and I volunteered to teach the one group of primary school children. No one wanted to teach them because for the next two years we will be teaching college students, so we all wanted the experience of teaching college students during Model School.
We were unsure of the age, English level, facilities, materials (like chalk or dry erase markers, tape, or flipchart paper), or number of students we would have when planning our lessons for the first week. This is good practice, though, because it will be much the same ambiguity when we leave PST and go to teach independently in a university in China. We found out that we would have 17 students. We soon found out the levels were mixed, with some students at an advanced level of Oral English and some at a more intermediate level. In the end we were left with 16 students total.
I started off class with introducing myself, explaining what the class should expect, and what we would be doing that day (as well as a bit of information for the two weeks). Then the other two teachers (Mr. Casey and Ms. Cross) introduced themselves to the class. Next I handed the students some pencils and paper, and had them listen as I read off a survey for them to fill in anonymously about themselves (needed to further explain the word anonymous, understandably). The questions and their responses are as followed:
1. On a scale of 1-5 how comfortable are you speaking English to a classmate (1 being not comfortable, 3 being a little comfortable and 5 being very comfortable). I also needed to re-explain the word comfortable, breaking it down to mean easy. The average response was 2.7 and the most common response was 3.
2. On a scale of 1-5 how comfortable are you speaking English with a foreign teacher (same scale explanation). The average response was 2 and the most common response was 3. So about the same, which I found surprising. I would have thought that the students would have felt more comfortable speaking with one another than with a native speaker of English.
3. How many years have you studied Oral English? The average response was 3.9 years, and the most common answer was 6 years. The outliers were 0 years and 4 months, and 7 years.
4. How many times have you spoken English in the past week? Average response: 1.2 times, most common response: 0 times. Outlier was 6 times
5. Are you an English major? 14 said no, and 1 said yes.
6. What are your concerns about using English orally?
Their answers were: vocabulary (4 people), grammar (6 people), talking (2 people), listening, structure, fluency, expression.
7. What do you hope to gain from this class?
7 replied that they hoped to learn about life in America/American culture
1 hoped to increase their vocabulary
2 wanted to increase their fluency
2 wanted to sing American songs
6 hoped to improve their overall speaking skills
1 wanted to learn about the history of America
1 wanted it to not be boring (and to watch TV)
1 wanted to improve their listening skills
In terms of the boring one, there is this understanding that American teachers are fun and play games. I would have to agree with this statement because American teachers have a different understanding of learning than Chinese teachers. Chinese teachers focus on auditory skills, and classes are lecture-based and teacher-centered. All the classrooms have a podium at the front, and often the podium is raised up on a platform or stage, so that the teacher is looking out over the students. American teachers tend to walk around the students and to leave learning up to the students, with a focus on critical thinking skills. Apparently students are taken aback when the foreign teachers remove themselves from the front of the room and begin to wander around. The students today did not seem really unnerved by this, but this is probably because they have already had a foreign teacher. Chengdu is a really big city with multiple universities and several foreign teachers. Similarly, Chongqing is a large city with many universities with likely foreign teachers (which one of my students was from Chongqing).
After the survey, Mr. Casey, Ms. Cross, and I did a short skit to explain how we wanted the class environment to feel. We already explained to the students that we were learning Chinese, like they were learning English. So I pretended to be a Chinese teacher and Mr. Casey and Ms. Cross my American students. So I came in and said “Shang ke le” which means “let’s begin class.” Both of them looked around confused and asked if they had learned that phrase already and what did it mean. Then I looked at them and said “Nihao ma?” Which means “how are you?” they looked even more confused and tried repeating after me. I looked at Mr. Casey, addressed him, and said ‘Nihao ma?” He asked if he should respond. Anyways, to make a short story long, they basically acted confused, and the students laughed at our Chinese inadequacies. I summed up by explaining that the only way to learn is to practice, and that not only is it okay to make mistakes, but that it is a good thing because they are trying.
Next we did a “Tea Party” activity (thank you Kylene Beers!). This activity requires the students to walk around the classroom and talk with other students. I gave each student post-it notes with 6 conversation starters. They walked around the room and I would clap my hands for them to find a partner, then clapped my hands and told them which conversation to turn to and to begin discussing it with their partner. This activity was a great way to loosen up the students and get them to talk using English. Occasionally I heard some Chinese slip in, but as a whole they did a great job. It was mainly used as an assessment for us to see where they were at in terms of vocabulary, structure, and overall fluency. The conversation topics were: say 5 things about yourself; name 4 foods you really like; describe the 3 best movies you have seen; describe your country (this was suggested by my host brother’s best friend who is the same age and level as my students); what would you do if you were given 1,000,000 kuai (their currency); and what country would you love to visit (I heard a lot of Australia on that one).
Next the students took a 10 minute break. The class is a total of 90 minutes (45 minutes, 10 minute break, 45 minutes).
After the break I had the students make a family crest. I explained what a family crest was, where it originates, and how it relates to American culture (Irish, Scottish, English backgrounds). The “family crest” was basically them designing a crest and splitting it into 4 sections and drawing things that represent them. For my example I drew my family, books and a paper; the outdoors; and sports. I gave them about 10 minutes to work on it, and then they each had to stand up a present it. This activity was the best assessment of their English abilities, as well as their comfort level speaking English. I told all the students they had to stand (either where they were or in the front) and present their crest. Two boys volunteered and then I started calling out names randomly on the roll. I only had to call out three names, and then the students warmed up to going without being called. This took the rest of the class period. I has to x out the other two activities I had planned (two truths and a lie; and a dialogue they had to put together of two famous people meeting each other for the first time. My example for that one was Jackie Chan meets Michael Jackson).
For the rest of the week our theme is travel. Ms. Cross is discussing various reasons for travel Tuesday (sightseeing/tourism; business; educational; etc.). Wednesday I am teaching modes of transportation. Thursday Mr. Casey is teaching about packing. And Friday Ms. Cross is teaching about making reservations. Next week Mr. Casey is staying with the students, and Ms. Cross and I are switching with the two women who are teaching the primary school students this week (and they go over to our students).
Things to know about the students. They are very well behaved and participated well in everything we did. There was a little chatter on the side, but nothing too noticeable (and from what I hear not preventable). When class was over at 410, I wrapped up by discussing what would be taught during the rest of the week, and mentioning that Ms. Cross would be teaching tomorrow, and then said okay, class dismissed. Well they all just sat there. So I said, okay you may go. But they still sat there. Finally, I packed my bag, and started to wipe the board clean (a student promptly started helping), and then we left. As it turns out, it is culturally respectful for students to wait in the class until after the teacher has left. Good thing to know for next time. But our TEFL trainer (who is finishing up her volunteer stint in the Peace Corps next month) told us that eventually her students got used to the foreign teacher notion that the students leave first. It’s interesting the culturally differences, even with the little things.
Sorry if I bored some people with the details. Probably the teachers reading this blog will find this more interesting than non-teachers. Oh speaking of teachers. There is this fellow Peace Corps trainer in my group that looks similar, and has similar mannerisms to Katie Carson. So every time I see this lady (Gareth) I think of you Katie, and it makes me smile.
That’s all for now. Peace, love, and many happy memories on both sides of the world!