English Class – Problems and Solutions (maybe)

What I’ve done the first week is this —

I started on as a teacher a few days before the end of the month. So I was supposed to give them a monthly test — basically not possible, as I don’t know what they know.

So I got permission to put that off, and I made up a cumulative quiz with questions on each of the five things they’re supposed to know.

Those are, nontechnically: I was printing the paper; I have printed the paper; The paper was printed by me; If you eat the last cookie, I will be angry; tall, taller, tallest, but modest, more modest, most modest.

So, for a week and a half I’ve been hammering away at different variations of these same exercizes. The current educational theory is “immersion,” and the idea is that with enough exposure you “just get” the language.

I’m not doing that; I’m teaching them grammer, and I’m teaching it like math: This is the pattern. Learn the pattern. The test will look a lot like this.

(I’m all for immersion to build fluency, but not to get proper grammer into their heads.)

The slow kids still weren’t getting it. Basically, they’d given up.

I had tried doing a team-study just before administering a quiz. And the smart students sat around and bullshitted while the slow students were quiet. Result: 66% average grade.

(There was one 10%.)

I tried that again, and when they started bullshitting, I stepped in. I said, “I don’t speak Khmer, but I know friendly talking and study talking.” (They giggled.) “You — sit over there. You — come over here. Yes, right here. No, you stay where you are.”

— And I broke up the cliques.

Then they studied quietly. So I went around and asked students to read their neighbor’s solutions. Then I asked them if it was right.

Finally, with about 10 minutes to go, they got sort of into it. Then I had to stop things for the quiz.

I told them to put away their books and notes, but they could talk as much as they wanted. I told them to help each other take the quiz.  And there would be one grade, so their neighbors’ grade was as important to them as their own.

(I wanted to get the slow kids modeling the smart kids.)

They kind of followed through half-assedly. Kids completed their own before helping anyone, and by then they were almost out of time.  The average grade this time was 85%. The lowest was a 60%, belonging to a terribly shy girl who doesn’t want to be there.

The grades weren’t meaningful, in the traditional sense. A lot of the slower students just copied answers. But the quiz was designed to try to make the grammatical patterns clear, so my hope is that the slow students, by physically writing down the answers, would start to see the patterns.

Because the slow students’ English is so weak, on correcting their papers I adopted a math-like notation, especially emphasising answers they got correct.

Stuff like:

Yes! –> (was / were) + V-ing = Past Progressive!

Meanwhile, several of the middle-of-the-road students, who were pretty lost but still engaged, have really thrown themselves into the tutorial homework I assigned, and read the study sheets I gave them, and scored two 100%’s and a 97% — higher than the smart kids, who are bored.

The test is on Monday — I think I’m more nervous than they are.


ps – I told them that, hey, we’ve been working hard — after the test on Monday, we’re going to watch a movie.

_Notorious_, by Alfred Hitchcock, with Ingrid Bergman, Cary Grant, and Claude Rains as the evil Nazi. I’ll find a way to make it relevant.

They’ve never heard of Hitchcock.

Published in: on September 5, 2009 at 11:17 am  Leave a Comment  
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