Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Call It Education

One of my students arrived late to class today. Her mother, the wife of ———, entered with her, sat in the back, and from there directed both her daughter and my coteacher, J., and therefore my class. "{The teacher told you to draw the picture. Draw the picture!}" J. started writing Chinese characters on the board, something we never do. As the students acted out vocabulary words, you could tell the daughter was nervous. During the break, the woman instructed J. further, then turned to me and said that her daughter often didn't know, even right after class, the words we'd just spent an hour and a half teaching her. For the past two weeks, she's been asking her daughter the meaning of every single word out of the books we read.

"We're trying to get the students to understand the bigger concept," I said. "We're not trying to get them to learn every single word."

"You can't just introduce the words to them. They need to see it more than once," she said.

"I agree. That's why we just spent half an hour going over the words. We introduce the words, do an activity, and then read the book."

"You foreigners learn by listening, but we Chinese learn by seeing. You need to write the characters."

"We don't write characters on the board. We're not teaching Chinese."

"But characters are more scientific," she said.

She commented on the students' reluctance to say anything. "I think the students are just nervous," I said. She said that all Chinese students are always nervous. No, not in my classes, they aren't, at least not to the degree her daughter was tonight.

The class was probably 75 percent Chinese today. The students read a short book and then, because of this mother, translated the thing into Chinese to show that they understood the meaning. They did a fine job, but they didn't need to translate. We could have asked them comprehension questions or gotten them to write responses to the text.

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