Out of Sorts

I don’t think it does much. Feeling obstreperous or grouchy, I mean. Wanting to lash out at all and sundry. I’ve had a funny week, one instance trying to resist this mood, another embracing it, thinking it was cathartic or some sort of tonic. Let me give you one or two examples.

On Tuesday morning, I marched into one of my Freshman listening classes, as I have one of these classes then. Now I know, and am fully expectant, that the mains power swtich on the wall will be off. I remember when I first started teaching in this classroom that nobody, used to the college and its ins and outs, fully conversant with mechaniasms and main switches, had the courtesy to brief me about where to find things or where to turn things on. This was left to the students to tell me. Well, it’s hardly surprising when polarisation’s the norm at this college coupled with lack of communication.

I started the class going off an a short verbal danda to the students about nobody helping me with the switch and that it’s always been like that. Even though they supposedly expect you to be armed with a whole bunch of teaching materials, nobody advises you about using any of it. You just have to figure it out for yourself, and it can be damn infuriating. I quickly shut up. All I got was a scowl from one of the girls who scowls anyway.

Then there was my solitary class on Friday. As the class covers the first morning periods, although I usually get up in the small hours, the students are too lazy to care, and an ‘F,’ about anything I’d laid on, apart from being and getting engrossed in some college beurocracy or other – form filling or submitting names to a table on some A4 papers. This is, unfortunately, what happens from time to time among Chinese students. Their attention span regarding all things western can be all too brief. I flew off the rails and went into a lecture:

‘Look, if you don’t want to be here and would rather do what you’re doing, then fine, we’ll just pack it in. I’ve got plenty of other things I could be getting on with.’ This just drew a silence, them almost like folding uplike limpits or clams. That’s what happens when you try this with Chinese, a brick wall starts to face.

I mean it’s so contradictory. You force them to give presentations in English when, forced out, their potential for creative imaginations and expertise from some more than others is plain to see, then this happens – apathy or lack of interest. How absurd!

Whenever I consider this, a comment from Mark Eveleigh’s travel book, Fever Trees of Borneo, about an expic adventure in the jungles of that island springs to mind

‘Getting angry in Asia achieves nothing.’

Given what I experience and have experienced in China, I can see what he means.

I also think an associate teacher in another nearby college who spends a significant proportion of time getting violently reactive should think on the above quote. It might get him thinking or do him some good. Huh, here’s hoping…don’t be a wally.

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A Saunter in Jingshan Park

It made a nice break strolling around Jingshan Park during an afternoon of one of the Qingming Festival days off with Jaime, one of my co-workers, nostalgically thinking about it today. It also made a change as I hadn’t been to the park since jogging there, or out of the city centre, for some time.
It was amusing watching rows of balloons being shot at close range and seeing the pleasant spring peach blossom flourish on some of the trees.
Viewing Wenzhou down below from up above was a bit disappointing as the urban landscape was somewhat obscured by haze.
We certainly made an effort to march around, taking photos of some of the highlights, lingering in a temple or two, listening to chants of ritualism emanating from some of the rooms by woman clad in black robe-like garments and monks likewise dressed, although in orange walking around the periphery. In one of the temples it was interesting, if not unusual, seeing lighted candles decked inside a glass like cage or an open cabinet.
Once having done the tour we headed back to Xialupu where we stopped for a coffee and a chinwag. It made a nice change, and I particularly enjoyed viewing the blossom – a rare treat.
I related the experience to my students once classes resumed after the break, and did it in such a way so that they could ask for repeat listening to train their ears. Well, that’s the theory. I don’t know how well it worked. You’d have to ask the students, and whether they’re getting anything out of my listening classes.

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Do phrases like “vent it upon” or “apt to” mean anything?

A few weeks ago, I reached the end of 3 units in a textbook which is theoretically designed to provide listening practice to ESL students. At the end of the sections, a selection of phrases were highlighted to give the learner some review practice about comprehension and using these phrases.

Thinking they may be of some use, I prepared a worksheet for the students to do in class – some sentences with bits left out: the textbook phrases. The task for the students was to choose the correct phrase and apply it to whichever sentence they, equally, thought was correct.

As I’m supposed to give the students coursework which will contribute to their final end of semester class participation, etc, I let them do the sheet in class, and because a lot of them wouldn’t be up to the task – the book is quite exacting for their level – I let them help each other, although warned them that if any copied from anyone else’s work, they’d get a zero.

As expected, although most got half and some got two-thirds of the sheet right, most, particularly in a couple of classes, reacted negatively to the whole response. I mean, one girl protested after the lesson that she thought it was boring and meaningless:

“Why can’t you give us something more interesting like showing us a video of your country and its culture?”

Going by how well she did at the task, obviously explained her frustration with the exercise.

I’d already had it in mind to show the classes some footage about the UK, thinking it was time for a change of lesson direction.

But the charge that the task was  ‘meaningless’…..well, I don’t think she was wrong. I mean, apart from comprehending, are phrases like “raise the roof, vent it upon,” etc, ever going to be used lingustically or in any other way by these students? What does “vent it upon” mean, apart from blowing, or something used to express an emotional attitude. It seems just a pretentious exercise by the textbook devisers to say: “look how good we are at fishing out things English.”

It just goes to show how textbooks are narrow, restrictive and unreflective in their outlook.

I choose a nice sunny Wednesday afternoon a few weeks ago to mark their papers, sitting in one of the newly landscaped parks in the Xialupu area of Wenzhou, not far from where I’m living. It was nice watching the top of the International Trade pencil glint in the sunlight and see some of the newly constructed apartment blocks – a jungle of clustered buildings – show themsleves clearly. Bright sunny days are a precious commodity in China so should be valued highly.

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An April Fool

Just before the Quingming Festival, a three-day break in which Chinese families honor the burial grounds of their ancestors by tidying up or sweeping them, I had to do make-up lessons to account for the holiday. As one of the make-up days was a Sunday, April 1st, I travelled to school and discussed with one of my co-workers what April Fool joke I could wind the students up with in the one class I had that day. I announced, first thing as I started the lesson, that I and the co-worker were to be married and that they were to sit an exam – ‘don’t you remember? I told you about the exam last lesson.’ This turned a few heads: shock, horror, consternation….for a few moments: ‘what! ehh!…??’ Suddenly the penny dropped.

I enjoyed the little caper as I rarely play April Fool jokes these days and loudly lilted

APRIL FOO-OOL

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Wet, Wet, Wet

When will it ever stop? There’s no doubt about it, this must be the wettest winter I’ve experienced in China. I’m beginning to think my brolly – indispensable for going out with – has become attached to my hand and won’t let go. It’s funny, despite seeing them with their brollys, given the Chinese attitude to the somewhat inclement weather, whether they know it’s there.

The college floors this morning were glistening, or mired might be a better term, underneath dirty rainwater, and the students all had their brollys expanded, propped on the floor outside the classroom. It also gets crowded at peak times on the campus grounds, and it doesn’t seem to occur to anyone that their expanded brolly, taking up any available space, might be inconveniencing yours, so I try to hold mine above everyone else’s to prevent it from getting knocked or brushed.

I put up the three Ws again in class this morning: and teased the meaning of W_____W______W______out of the students.

It looks like it’s going to be a Wet Week in Wenzhou, as well as wet, wet, wet. Dry conditions, never mind sunny, are becoming an absolute luxury. However, I made the students guffaw when I did the muscular arm pose.

Later, I went out into the drizzle which eventually, guess what…turned to rain. And it’s now hammering down in stair rods. When will it ever end. I’d like to go running again…not in this condition.

 

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The Three Ws

I and my students hate Monday mornings. They probably hate most mornings, having to get up and come to class, particularly as the weather’s been lousy these past few weeks. I mean, will it ever stop raining??

So, I decided to write on the board : W_____ W______ W_______, as a joke or a first thing, tongue in cheek.

I asked the class to think what it meant, or what were the missing pieces, and gave them a few moments.

Asking for their decisions, a lot chanted “World Wide Web.” No, think again.

They weren’t getting it, so I prompted some clues, like:

“What’s it like outside?”

“Wet”

“And what has there just been?”

“A weekend.”

“Right, and what’s today the start of?”

” A week.”

“So, what does it mean?”

They all said: “A Wet Weekend (or week) in….where?”

“Wenzhou.”

Exactly – A Wet Weekend in Wenzhou. It might be another week if the blessed rain doesn’t let up and give way to some sunshine.

My oral class was ‘switched off,’ although I did goad them into doing some talking, although their enthusiasm for my enthusiastic teaching musical appreciation didn’t hold water. And trying to play an excerpt from a Berlioz overture, hoping the opening bars might startle them, was a complete disaster, the bloomin CD wouldn’t play. However, I got away with the Mozart, an African piece and a hit by the Thompson Twins. So, it wasn’t all a flop.

Later, I did some more goading. This time a Freshman listening class. I asked them to talk about the textbook topics they’ve just been listening to – Self-Esteem, Depression and Anger. Hmm…a fine combination. Getting them to talk openly was extremely difficult but a few managed to air some views, so instead of twiddling our thumbs which I and they could do, I got something done for the entire lesson and reverted to a usual website listening passage.

They asked to listen to a passage about a guy hoping some supplements would make him grow muscle but made him get fat. I flexed an arm, making them erupt into hysterics, The rest of the story was about a dog that turned out to be gay. This had them gasping in amusement or surprise. Whatever, it ended the lesson fittingly.

Teaching can be fun, but it can also be a downright pain in the someplace. Tomorrow morning I’m going to spice an experience in Germany to another class. Should be hilarious!

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Robert’s Teaching…And My Teaching

Yesterday, I turned up to have lunch with two of my associates, Robert and Alice, who brought along one of Robert’s ‘Future Star’ students, an evening class where English students do speech presentations and drama performances to decide which one, or one’s, is the most accomplished at doing these.

It wasn’t long before Robert, so bubbly with enthusiasm about his 1 : 30 class, that he used some heavy persuasion to get me to join Alice to do some of the pair work and role-playing he was going to get the students to do.

The subject of the class was about cooking and how to communicate using cooking utensils once the English words defining their meaning had been learnt. Robert’s quite heavy about banning the use of cell phones during his classes, and he’s also equally heavy on the use of ppt – a bit too much – in  my opinion.

Alice quipped about a couple of slides he uses to indicate the cell phone ban, thinking they’re overused

“You think they’re too much? Well, I suppose I could remove one of them. I have been thinking about it.”

I think, because he puts a tremendous amount of work and energy in setting up his classes, not to mention their delivery, that he wants the students to be fully engaged as well as conversant in his lessons. I mean, it’s quite astonishing to see how much detail he uses when he uses imagery to illustrate things, like naming any objects, language uses and organization.

My classes, by comparison, are more slap-dash. I present them in an organized way using ppt with a few images and instruct the students to get on with practising to try to think for themselves and form opinions in English about issues and topics which is rather difficult for them to do, even after demonstrating how to use the language, to get past subjects like:

sleeping

eating

playing computer games

going shopping

Using more vocabulary such as adjectives and adverbs requires a lot more skill and dedication.

I certainly had some fun joining in the role-playing with Alice, such as taking it in turns to say the words of the cooking items, like

“the whisk is below the colander, to the right of the cutting board

and how to use them and how to prepare a meal using the chosen ingredients. I fell about laughing some of the time, it was quite funny.

Two students were asked to give speech presentations about the subject. Whereas one was delivered adequately, the other was a bit of disaster. It was impossible to understand what she was talking about, and the volume wasn’t very loud. Robert, while apologizing profusely, went ‘to town’ about her preparation and her performance, so this soured things a bit about the way the class went. He complained afterwards to Alice that he thought the speech content had been taken from online just to ‘save face’ which made him feel stressed out.

When asked to give feedback, Alice said the slide imagery used was taken away too quickly and that inflexions (intonation) was absent during the speaking delivery which made it dull and uninteresting. She also intimated how she had to sit through over 200 speaking tests at the end of last semester and how little intonation was used by the students then.

It was probably the case. Some of my students, after asking them to hand in a piece of writing, had probably used some language chunks that were too good to be true.

However, it was a good lesson. He’s a dedicated teacher, puts in a lot of work and effort to make his lesson fun and active, but I just think he expects too much and worries too much when they may or may not go well or haven’t hit his expectations. The more you input something and it doesn’t always work out, the more you’re going to feel stressed.

It gave me some useful hints about how to advise my own students when giving speaking presentations and to try to encourage them to be creative and use more language which I’m going to do this coming Monday. As the topic will be about music and music appreciation, I’ll be using language about how to describe musical sounds and demonstrate verbally and physically how to use musical instruments. If it doesn’t work, at least I’ve tried. I’ll introduce some clips by Mozart, Berlioz, Salif Keita and The Thompson Twins – all my own collection.

I passed Robert on the bus looking glum or worried because of his lesson.

I think he needs to balance his dedication as a teacher with:

“Why worry? if it doesn’t always work to one’s specification, don’t get angst about it, and sometimes I don’t need to overdo it with detail and or instruction. If the students want to make head roads in their English skills, they’ll do it themselves.”

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