Tuesday, 16 November 2010

See me!

My new classroom persona

Alexandros has just e-mailed me his homework. The set task, after four hours in class of reading, language work and analysis of several model paragraphs, was for each student to produce a paragraph - paragraph, mind, not essay - of their own, introducing their country, mentioning the location, main attractions, natural resources and language or languages spoken. This is what seventeen year-old Alexandros took a weekend to come up with:

Greece is a small country in Europe. It has borders many countries, including Bulgaria, Turkey, and Albania . Greece has good natural resources marble .The capital of Greece is Athens . Many tourists stay in the city to see the Parthenon. There are also lots of other things to do outside Athens . You can go for swimming in the very good beach! Although the official languages is Greek.
As he was preparing a first draft and cawing 'I dunno! I dunno!' as if this were my fault, I went to help him get some facts together. Thus the info about marble and which countries border on Greece came from me, after I told him that he couldn't include souvlaki as a natural resource. I thought I might excuse his ignorance of which countries border on Greece on the grounds that he lives in Cyprus, but then I though, no, the hell with that. If at ten years old I could locate any country on a world map, having lived nowhere other than Huddersfield, he ought to bloody well know at seventeen which countries share borders with the country he visits most often. Once, when I was teaching kids of twelve in Kalamata, I devised a general knowledge quiz for one of my classes. It was intended as a bit of a laugh for a Friday evening. I had chucked in what I remember from childhood as the staple of kiddie-wink general knowledge: biggest this, smallest that, location of this river or that mountain, where you find such and such an animal, that sort of thing. Well, they knew sweet bugger-all about anything. They offered wild guesses: the Amazon runs through London, the capital of Spain is Paris, Canada is a town in the USA. It was not a laugh at all, it was sphincter-squeezingly embarrassing, and I had to put the proceedings out of their misery after two rounds. The kids were not stupid, far from it, but they were quite extraordinarily incurious. The same must apply to Alexandros, who after all had the internet at his disposal and forty-eight hours in which to check his facts.

Although the official language is Greek. Eh? Although the official language is Greek, what? The thought is dangling there unfinished because Alexandros has remembered he is supposed to chuck in a few althoughs and howevers, but he can’t remember what they mean. I had demonstrated the use of these linkers and found then that the entire class was starting and ending sentences in their drafts with one or the other, as if they were perhaps rest-points for the eye, or like selah in the Psalms. We went back to the whiteboard to sort them out. The sorting-out may have coincided with Alexandros’s visit to the bathroom or disappearance for a fag, but he has a dictionary, writing a hundred words is hardly an onerous task, and he could have checked the bloody meaning. Ρε Αλέξαντρε, πολλά ζητάω; Am I asking too much?

When I was seventeen and a sixth-former, I wrote three essays and three or more prose translations each week in French, German and Spanish, each task taking up about two sides of foolscap. We ‘ad no internet i’ them days, us, and none o’ them fancy e-lectronic dictionaries. Ours were Cassell’s bilingual dictionaries hefty enough to stun a swaledale. I can’t pretend I was a hugely conscientious student at that age, because I relied far too heavily on a good ear for idiom, a capacious memory for vocabulary and on Sprachgefühl generally rather than on solid graft, but I mean even so, kids these days, eh? Get away with murder.

‘This is adult education,’ I say to my Algerian pilots when they complain that they cannot write self-assessments and should not be expected to, as assessment is my cabbage patch, not theirs. ‘Self assessment is exactly what you need to be able to do.’ Still, adult education or not, I feel like giving Alexandros some demeaning punishment such as lines:

I must not submit half-arsed, unedited twaddle to Steve’ x 200

But this would not inconvenience him much – he’d simply copy and paste it then e-mail the result off to me.

He's a nice kid, I must point out. He's lively and quite a handful in class because of his energy, and because he's a good decade younger than almost everyone else in the group. But the total helplessness some students display when it comes to working independently drives me round the bleeding twist.


Uncutplus said...

How independent are these "adults"? Are they using the internet at all to pursue their interests? Do any of them understand the concept of life-long learning? Why not ask them to write an essay (more than a paragraph) on ANY subject that interests them, and that they may use any resource available (internet, library, etc.). However, they must show examples in their essays of writing practices that you have shown them (and you may want to be explicit about which of these are to be used)!

Perhaps the most important lesson that an educator can give is that learning does not end with schooling, and that to be successful, one must remain curious throughout their life. So many of my sentences and thoughts begin with "I wonder . . ."

Fionnchú said...

The spell-check passed it. Why aren't you accepting it, then? (The excuse I hear every other day. La lucha continua siempre, eh?)

Vilges Suola said...

Senor Fionnchu, is the true. If no have errors of spell, because you don't give a big grade? I thing is only why I fall you bad, no?

Uncut, we are in very early days for this bunch of students. The first thing to do is to wean them off total teacher dependence, and after a learning career in their own countries that positively encouraged total teacher dependence, it's going to take more than a term and more than a little persuasion and firmness, since they tend to see it as abdication of our duty.

Bo said...

Hate it. I feel for you!

Michael said...

Yeah, I don't think I could be an English teacher. (Uh, oh, maybe this is the universe playing tricks and jinxing me.)

That is quite appalling. Even I know Greece borders Turkey, Albania, Macedonia and Bulgaria. Don't even kid about people believing Paris being in Spain, or Canada existing within the United States. That hurts my feelings.

Vilges Suola said...

@Mark: thanks for the sympathy - mine to you too!

@Michael: I wasn't kidding! Greeks (I'm generalising horribly here, but what the hell) traditionally have a tendency to regard anything non-Greek as not really worthy of their attention, and so that obviously includes a fucking hell of a lot of stuff.

David Warr said...

I really like your blogs.

Vilges Suola said...

@David Thanks! And thanks for the link.

Doomed But Cheerful! said...

The problem with teaching adults is that I have no idea what has happened to them before I see them. Usually my students expect to be spoon-fed everything. I do not think it is idleness or lack of curiosity: most of my students have never achieved anything formally - I suspect they have never been allowed any independence of though or action in school, lacking any framework by which to live at home.

On the other hand, they can also be mendacious buggers who could benefit from doing a day's work in the farm!

Vilges Suola said...

It's taking longer than usual with my present group to get them to see we don't do English injections. I'm getting frustrated because adults really ought to be able to pick up on this after all this time and all these tutorials. The two other teachers who share the class with me feel the same. I know this is politically incorrect, but I have concluded that some of them are just dense.


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