After sending that message earlier this week, a remarkable thing happened, so I wanted to include it in this, my rather public version of a journal.
No, it wasn’t the first snowfall of the season, though I’ll include a couple of pictures of that, too. And it wasn’t an end to my continuing health problems, which remain a constant source of annoyance. On the other hand, my feet continue to improve.
This is the view from my front door this morning.
Yes, that’s the very same plaza / parking lot where I took that picture of a hoopoe not long ago for my previous message. And next up is almost the exact spot where that bird took a dust bath, now occupied by some anonymous young couple reveling in the sparkling whiteness.
I tried to take a taxi this morning, but taxis were not to be found. In fact, traffic was not to be found. Drivers here don’t do well in snow. They tend to spin out. No taxis plied the byways of my local streets. I walked all the way out to the main road (Anshan Xi Dao), and it wasn’t much better. There weren’t any unoccupied taxis on the main road, either. In fact, there was hardly any traffic at all. Here’s a shot for anyone who has never seen this street in the daytime with so few vehicles.
Finally I gave up waiting on taxis and trudged home, which is why I have time to write this. But snow is not actually what I wanted to write about. This is what I wanted to write about:
Those of us who teach in China are well aware of the students’ reluctance to speak out during class. I once calculated that the magic number was somewhere around 7. Fewer than that, and the students would speak readily. More than that, and everybody just clams up.
Many teachers resort to awarding points towards the students’ grades just to get anybody to say anything. I’ve never been comfortable with that. I never even gave out gold stars when I taught elementary school in California. So if the demands of the lesson require a student to talk, and nobody will, then I just point to one (usually randomly). True volunteers usually step forward, though, given enough time to think.
Anyway, my goal for the students is that they learn enough linguistic theory, and practice it, so that they can go on to perfect their English after the limited class hours that they have spent with me. Or, for that matter, they might someday want to master a new and different language altogether.
Simply explaining this theory doesn’t work, at least not for the majority of the students. The concepts are too foreign compared to what they’re used to, particularly as most of them study engineering, and not biological sciences. The only way to reach them is to build up the concepts gradually and somewhat indirectly, encouraging their own thinking processes to assemble those ideas into a cohesive theory.
Well, I seem to have reached a milestone this week. I actually teach English somewhat differently every year, as my knowledge of language learning and of the students both deepen. Every year it seems that my understandings and skills for teaching Chinese students “have arrived,” and every next year I discover that there’s actually a whole lot more to be understood.
Meanwhile, I search out more effective ways to build up these linguistic concepts gradually and somewhat indirectly. My latest additions to this buildup, by the way, are “movie talk” and the “face identification area” of the brain.
Well, this week, in my last class on Thursday, as my exhaustion from the two long days threatened to topple me completely, I stopped talking at the end of another short presentation segment and again asked for student response. I usually get about three responses, either through volunteers or by invitations.
A young woman volunteered and stood up (another common habit in Chinese schools). She began recounting the key concepts of the lesson, speaking slowly (because of the foreign language) and measuring every word. But she didn’t stop. She plodded along, and every time I was about to say thank you and give another student a chance to contribute, she dredged up another concept, connecting it to the previous week’s ideas. Where was she headed with this?
And then she put it all together, exactly the way that I was planning to, and then she extended the ideas just as I would be using them in the following weeks, but with her own spin on them, thinking as she continued speaking, even as her ideas provoked me to rethink a couple of things.
And this expression was all coming out in public, in the middle of class. It was remarkable. It was marvelous. Students had spoken thoughtfully in class before, but not like that — not taking the risk and putting together new concepts in public. Students had put ideas together before, but not so extensively, and again, not in public.
And I realized that this is what I had been working towards for several years now. And I wondered if this young woman was simply a fluke. Well, finally she sat down. I told the class that this was why I love teaching. And I was about to continue with the lesson, when I realized that only one student had given response at that point in the lesson. Was there another volunteer? There was. And she began an exposition much like her classmate’s!! So maybe it wasn’t a fluke. Maybe it’s a milestone. But what might I have done to encourage it at this time?
Anyway, that’s my addendum. And I’ll attach another snow picture – that anonymous young couple playing with some (feral?) puppies in that very same spot once occupied by a hoopoe.