Saturday, 26 March 2011

The Results are Out...

.... and the first correct answer to be opened was Cat's, (see previous post) 'teachers understand the students' areas of weakness'. As the kids I taught in Kavala in 1985 always said to the one who got top marks in a test: 'κέρδισες ενα μανταλάκι', 'you've won a clothes peg'.

Yours to download and keep.

When I asked why they always exclaimed this to the victor, they explained that a clothes peg was the most trivial, useless object they could think of as a prize.

Most of you got it faster than I did, but you weren't chasing round a bloody classroom untangling a whole series of such attempts, were you, eh?

Report writing continues to occupy much of our classroom time. Yesterday we had this task:
You have a part-time job in a museum. The director has asked you to submit a report with recommendations for making the museum more appealing to children.
Sometimes you look at a task and think, yeah, well.... this requires imagination. Call me all the racist, stereotyping bastards you like, but imagination is not a quality I associate with Saudi Arabian students in an educational context - they seem to have been trained to deposit their creativity at the reception desk prior to entering the classroom, and it takes a while to persuade them to bring it in with them instead. So before getting stuck into the writing task, we spent the morning looking round a very kid-friendly local museum. Here, in place of what the students were expecting - a succession of echoing rooms, hoary odds and sods in glass cabinets, timidly susurating conversation - there were imaginatively themed sections with atmospheric lighting, buttons to press, images projected onto the walls, microscopes to squint down, stuff to handle, tasksheets to complete, humongous cockroaches in tanks, tarantulas, meteorites and a room full of tables heaped with crayons and pictures to colour in. About thirty ten year-olds in school uniform were running purposefully about, filling in questionnaires. I spent a fair while looking around the Ancient Egypt section, and suddenly realised I was standing alone in a dimly lit alcove in the presence of two open coffins and their dun-bandaged occupants. It creeped me out. Great stuff.

After lunch, we got down to the writing task. OK, I said, so how can we make museums more interesting for kids? Silence. What did you see this morning? How can we make it interesting for kids? For kids? Interesting? Yeah?

'Put sign,' Mohammed said. 'Put sign, 'No Touch'.'

Brilliant, Mo, that's the way to pack 'em in. I tried again.

'Teacher,' Zara suggested.

They see teachers every bloody day - for most kids, teachers fall decisively into the 'not interesting' category. So any advance on teachers and don't touch for spicing up museums?

Well, eventually we got started, but as usual it took some prompting, and as so often, I think they missed the point I had been at such pains to underline. I've decided that they probably did not connect what they saw in the museum with education, and so were wondering what the hell I was on about. The kids were milling about and crayoning, not sitting at desks and pretending to listen to a teacher, so where was the learning? I suspect now that some of them actually disapproved, and supposed that the idea was to propose ways of stopping all that laxity and license. In fact, I now see it was pretty dumb of me not to have anticipated that reaction. Ah, well. I liked the museum, and at least I got paid for a morning off.


Peter Harvey said...

Imagination is a quality that was explicitly expunged from the minds Saudi boys that I taught in Saudi. As Head of English I could have used the language lab but decided not to.

It was soon taken over by the school's imam who found that it was an easier way of teaching the Koran than him standing in front of the class and reciting it for them to repeat. What went on there was, literally, brainwashing. Over 30% of the school's timetable was allocated to learning the Koran by heart.

Vilges Suola said...

How depressing. How long ago were you in Saudi? A friend of mine keeps telling me it's changing fast - I don't know.

I have spent all day flogging reports again today and it was extremely difficult for them, as they cannot get the idea that there's no recipe - format and emphases can vary depending on type of report. This pisses them off big time.

Peter Harvey said...

I was there from 1982-84. I suppose things might have changed, but women still can't drive cars. I was in Yanbu, the only place in the Kingdom where (western) women could ride bicycles. The boys that I taught (I was in an Arab boys' school) will now be running the place so I don't see much cause for hope.

Vilges Suola said...

No, I suppose not. Pity.


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