Tuesday, 16 March 2010

Daft as a Brush

An easy time I had of it today. For three days out of five, I work with groups of enthusiastic, hard-working, self-starting students who pretty much teach themselves. Today was a particularly good day. We did a simulated business meeting in which a variety of proposals were to be put forward, defended, debated and voted on. The class carried the whole thing for four hours. Beyond setting up the activity and supplying the odd item of vocabulary when called upon, I was pretty much redundant all day. There is no greater complement a student can pay a teacher than this, that they no longer need his help. So long as he is still getting paid, that is.

It is not always such a piece of piss, of course. A colleague had a bad morning the other day, and after considering the usual excuses for displays of student dimwittedness, such as culture shock and unfamiliar task types and the strain of operating in a foreign language all day, she decided they were just stupid. I work on the principle that this conclusion is to be reached only when every other possibility has been considered and dismissed. There are students from China and the Arab world who arrive here so teacher-dependent that they scarcely know which way up to hold a pen without instruction, but they do eventually catch on. Sometimes though, you have to wonder if some people are just dumb as trees.

A while ago I had a group who were required to read a book in their own time and be prepared to come to class and discuss what they had read, giving a summary of the plot and recommending the book to the group or advising everyone not to waste their time on it. First up to the OHP is a Chinese lad who calls himself Kevin. He shuffles his papers, arranges his transparency, clears his throat and addresses us thus:

‘OK, so, ummm… How is very big one, and, ummm, litch. So, boy is be must to steer the how. Yeah.’

He doesn’t appear to register that in his listeners’ minds, in Arabic, Chinese, Spanish and English, the same question is being formulated: what the fuck is he on about?

Kev goes on. ‘So, boy is whiz Beer Psycho.’ Checks notes. ‘Yeah. Beer Psycho. Beer Psycho is lobba and danger man very.’

Gotcha! ‘Bill Sikes is a robber and a very dangerous man.’ Kev has been reading Oliver Twist. I am now able to construe his opening. ‘The house is a big one and very rich. The boy must steal (i.e., rob) the house.’ This is now clear to me but I am probably the only one in the room apart from Kevin who knows about Oliver Twist, and definitely the only one who can decode rampant Chinglish fast enough to follow Kev’s drift.

Let us not mock (too much, anyway) attempts to communicate in a foreign language. But let us wonder why it is that someone who is after all about to start a Master’s launched into an account of a book, utterly without preamble, at something like chapter twenty five and expected us to know what the hell he was trying to tell us. I have one excuse in reserve for him. Maybe he thought I was testing him on a book I knew well (I don't) and he was addressing only me. Why would he have been asked to do a presentation if that were the case? What was the point of everyone else being there? Why would I have spent ages telling everyone that they were presenting something as a basis for discussion, not as a test? Oh, I don’t bloody know. Maybe Kev was just not the sharpest tool in the shed, and that was all there was to it.


Nik_TheGreek said...

Έχω την εντύπωση ότι ο Κέβιν δεν έχει μάθει κάποιο άλλα τρόπο εκμάθησης. Ίσως αυτό που εσύ λες συζήτηση στην τάξη αυτός δεν το ξέρει καθόλου…
Ίσως πάλι ήθελε να σε εντυπωσιάσει παρουσιάζοντας σε σένα ένα βιβλίο το οποίο νομίζει ότι σου αρέσει!
Ποιος τον ξέρει…
Δεν τον έχω διαβάσει τον Όλιβερ Τουίστ. Το ξεκίνησα δύο φορές πριν πολλά χρονιά και το σταμάτησα. Το βρήκα μίζερο σαν ιστορία.

vilges suola said...

Στην αρχή πάντα μιλάνε μόνο στον καθηγητή, και πρέπει να τους πείς οτι πρέπει να μιλάνε και με τους άλλους στην τάξη. Αυτό το είχε καταλάβει, το παιδί. Δεν μπορώ να καταλάβω γιατί άρχισε τη παρουσίαση χωρίς να μας πει ποιό είναι το βιβλίο, ποιοί είναι οι ήρωες, τι έγινε προηγουμένως και ολ'αυτά. Πολλά ζητάω; Ε, ποιός ξέρει.

Bo said...

Sometimes they really are just thick. Remind me to blog about 'Natt' sometime.

vilges suola said...

ΟΚ. Will be interesting to read. This wasn't a Cambridge student, I trust?

Sarah said...

I've had to turn to home education because I don't want my son to be a future "Kevin".

The focus here (Italy) is on accumulating information for the purposes of vomiting it all over the teacher on demand.

From first year primary to university level...it's parrot style all the way.

Gah !

I don't teach "Giving presentations in English", it's more a case of "Learn how to give presentations and by the way the course is taught in English."

Poor old Kevin, he is stuck in a skills gap AND a language gap.

Pity the teacher stuck there with him.

Curses on the "real" teachers who made this possible.

vilges suola said...

Yes, the information without understanding is something I constantly came up against in Greece too. And here, every day.

I'm probably being a bit hard on Kevin but I often wonder why some sts don't fill people in on what's about to be said, don't provide any context unless you spell it out that they should. This lad was 25, after all, not 15.

Sarah said...

"This lad was 25, after all, not 15"

Only chronologically. Between an educational system that infantilizes and social expectations that can lead to families leaning too hard in the direction of roots rather than wings, his "real" age might be considerably less than the one on his birth certificate.

I don't think you are being too hard on him, he needs you to keep the bar where it is rather than make too many allowances. Fair or not, the kid is going to have to stretch and then some.

The kicker is that we get to groan on the rack right next to them.

Is there any chance that you have a presentation "star" that you can set on him ? Being offered the role of mentor can really appeal to some and take a lot of the heavy lifting off you.

And if you do have that elusive "star", may I borrow him/her from time to time please. I'll pay the return Sleasyjet fare. It's better than than being driven to an early grave by people who have an Olympic standard talent for ignoring instructions.

I'd much rather delegate.

Bo said...

No no, a teenager I taught a few years ago for a crammer. Nearly murdered him.

Lizzie Love said...

Your post made me laugh. I teach in Further Education and your students sound very much like some of the muppets I have to teach. The poor language skills you can cope with - it's the sheer stupidity that takes your breath away. Still, as you say, most of the time the students are hard-working and a pleasure to teach.

vilges suola said...

@Sarah Ol' Kev is someone else's problem these days. He didn't get the grade he felt he deserved for an essay from another teacher and so he took his custom elewhere.

@Lizzie Glad it made you laugh. Fortunately the Kevins of this world are relative rarities at universities - thank God. It's that any of them gets in in the first place that's worrying.

Sarah said...

"He didn't get the grade he felt he deserved for an essay from another teacher and so he took his custom elewhere"

OK, he's stupid. Spoilt stupid.

Twerp isn't going to get far if he throws a hissy fit everytime he fails to perform to standard.

Ten to one he is going to work for daddy anyway....

vilges suola said...

That may well be the case. I have also had a student who missed an entire course argue that he should have been given the grades he would have got had he not been absent. After all, he could not be expected to achieve a high mark on his presentation because he had not been given the 'techerniques' to do so. Why then had he been marked down?

Sarah said...

Ha !!

So Mr. Absent is not content with our ability to teach English, he also wants us to leap into a personal tardis, visit a parallel universe where Mr. Absent DID turn up, note the grades and whizz back again to the original universe and write up the report card accordingly.

I'm sure we can oblige, just as soon as they give away a free tardis with every CELTA cert.

And when you get the DELTA you can upgrade to one with fuzzy dice !!!

vilges suola said...

But my teatcher in Saudi Arabia have said me I can writ a goode English! Why you tel me no good this essay who I write it? What's it has who is wrong?


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