23 October 2008

This week, teaching

"On ne voit bien qu'avec le cœur, l'essentiel est invisible pour les yeux."

Things were nice this week because it turned out I had one class canceled each day -- Monday because of a school-wide cultural foray, and Tuesday and Wednesday because classes are having retreat days -- which in Slovak translates into something like 'excercises for the soul.'

Our cultural foray was to the city House of Culture (a socialist-era hangover, like the speakers) for a theatrical adaptation of The Little Prince by Antoine de Saint Exupéry. The production was fascinating to watch -- the only actors were two young women, one was wearing all black and being a marionettist for the Little Prince, and the other woman played the pilot and all of the allegorical characters. The allegorical characters (King, Conceited Man, Drunk, Businessman, Lamplighter, Geographer) were all represented by different masks and jackets. The set was black, with the exception of some boxes covered by a parachute, behind which the one actress changed masks, and the boxes were also places for the prince and narrator to sit. The production really forced the use of the imagination in a way that was still very credible.

However, of course the production was not the only thing when you're also in a room with 350 kids. With one of my colleagues, we herded 15 second graders down to the theatre and got them all seated. As we were waiting for it to start, it seemed like half of the school had to go to the bathroom -- these are the things about being little that I can't understand because I don't remember. They didn't know me at all, and when they heard my colleague and I speaking English, they asked her what language I was speaking! On the way back to school, they practiced "What is your name?" and "How are you?" Supercute. At one point during the play, a ninth grader sitting in the balcony started making shadows on the wall with one of the spotlights, actually during a quite appropriate part. It was quite amusing to watch him get dragged away by his class teacher! At the end, a critical mass of kids just got up and started to leave, instead of clapping, prompting my colleague to say, "very cultured, eh?" I was a bit surprised, but on the other hand, learning how to act at such venues is a process, and the important thing is the exposure.

This week with my ninth graders, we played a game that I found on a website of EFL resources for asking questions and using the past tense. Starting from the premise that they are accused of robbing a bank, two students leave the room to create an alibi, while those of us in the classroom brainstorm questions to ask them in an attempt to bust the alibi. After about the third round, they got the hang of it, the alibis got more complex and the questioning became more intense. It was really quite fun and a great way for them to formulate questions and speak to each other in English. The more I think about it, I think it would be a totally fun party game -- grabbing a few beers and/or some Côtes du Rhone and trying to make and bust alibis would be more entertaining than, for example, a seven hour Charades marathon with clues like 'mournful Russian landscape.' :)

Discipline with some groups remains an issue. The class half of whom I po škole-d are a bunch of angels and an absolute joy to teach because they try and they participate and they behave, after I instilled the fear of God in them. The other half of their grade is bordering on the complete opposite and it's getting time to clamp down. This means that two of four groups have no problem with adding 's' to the third person singular in the present simple tense (I like, she likes, etc) but the other half say 'third person' and then say things like "I is likes!" I attribute all of this to their chattitude, not their lack of intelligence, but I am annoyed because I can tell they're not listening to me or each other. This is not difficult grammar, just simple conjugation. It's prompted interesting discussions about methodology and has made me realize how progress-oriented I am. Sometimes I wish I felt I knew more about what I'm doing.

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