Tuesday, 4 September 2012

We Value Your Feedback IV

I was marking essays on the train this afternoon and came across this:

Secondly, e-learning can enhance the coagulate power and centripetal for the coworker.

I puzzled briefly (centralise power, corporate identity, workers' solidarity) wearied of puzzling, moved on. I have twenty of these to get through by Friday, so I'm buggered if I am going to spend ages trying to interpret every lexical train-wreck.

The perpetrators of this batch of essays are a bunch of very lively graduate students from China, Japan, Libya, Saudi Arabia and Vietnam. They are a gift: this course is usually so intensive and fraught, and it is such a joy to have an enthusiastic, good-humoured group of people who enjoy each others' company and pretty much teach themselves. (They like my CDs, too - we groove to Dobet Gnahore in our group-work sessions.) At the essay planning stage, Yoshiko from Japan, who knows I have the teensiest smatterette of Japanese, showed me a list of ideas whose relevance and interdependence escaped me. I asked her how she was going to integrate them. She did a classic bit of Japanese 'high-context' communication on me: after a slow intake of breath through the teeth, head inclined to the left, she whispered 'muzukashi!' meaning 'it's difficult'.

'Muzukashiku nai!' No it isn't! I said, in the sort of hearty jollying-you-along style I can't abide when people do it to me.

Yoshiko went back to her seat looking quite upset. Here I am, I thought, about to start teaching my MA module on intercultural communication for the second time next month, and I have completely forgotten something I've known for years: the whispered 'muzukashi!' means literally 'it's difficult' but it carries extra baggage, viz: 'I'm not sure of my ground here, so please do not ask any more questions.' What a clod I must have seemed.

I have another much less lively group. This morning's lesson proceeded like a seance. I texted the course director at the break to inform her that if news reached her that eighteen Chinese students had been gunned down in cold blood over at the Hawley Crippen building, I was the perp and I regretted nothing. This afternoon I did a few tutorials with some of these students. We ask stuff like 'how do you feel about the course?' 'Can you suggest any improvements?' and that sort of thing. The responses were mostly positive: teachers are kind and patient (we are good actors, anyway) but a couple said the lessons are sometimes boring.

'They are if you sit there like a bloody Guy Fawkes on a street corner,' I pointed out kindly.

'I have a friend at another university in the UK,' said one girl, 'and the teacher gives them rewards if they get things right.'

'What kind of rewards?' I asked.


I had to check I'd heard that right. I had. Now listen love, I'm not sure I approve of that practice even at infant school level, but I am most definitely not handing out fucking sweeties to undergraduates, so you can put that right out of your mind. Even with my class of Trappists, we've had some lively lessons with lots of laughs, but there's this sense from several of the kids I talked to today of their entitlement to be entertained, of the expectation that they see no reason to participate unless the activity proposed seems suitably japesome and larky. Well, at some point you have to learn how to write an essay, follow a lecture, make a presentation and compile a bibliography. With some ingenuity, we tutors could devise games intended to practise all these things, but why the hell should we keep sugaring the pill? Surely the way we actually teach, by setting up the conditions in which students find out for themselves through discussion and guided discovery, is interesting enough in itself? I wish I could find this teacher who's handing out jelly babies for every correctly formatted in-text reference, and tell her to bloody well cut it out. We shouldn't have to bribe university students into learning, damn it.


Lest I sound like I'm always complaining, it's September, my favourite month, and Autumn, my favourite season, approaches. You should see the colour of the sky from my sitting-room window right now. A baby spider is traveling like a minute cable car along a thread that joins a houseplant to a vase of flowers. There is darkness at a proper time, none of your insipid ten p.m. light that makes the British summer seem like endless insomnia. I'm thinking of wild rice, mushrooms, dark greens, roasting sweet red peppers, red wine, and thanks to a bunch of teachers arriving next month from Thailand, I'll be able to afford them, at least until December.

Then I'll start complaining.


Sam said...

I'm dumbstruck at the idea of a university teacher giving out sweets to motivate students. How can-... What's the point-... I don't ge-... What a fool! Or maybe a genius.

It's good to know that the pursuit of knowledge isn't the most important motivation to the students though. I'll stop bothering to make my classes informative and spend my time drinking wine and searching for jobs which provide me with a role that means something to someone.

Vilges Suola said...

It flabbergasted me too - even the idea that everything should be a game was bad enough.

You mean you don't drink wine in the normal course of events?

Are you feeling better?

Candy said...

Loads to comment on here, but the sweetie woman takes the - well cake, really. I mean FFS! At what point do people like that begin to realise that the people in front of them are ADULTS? Christ, it makes my boil bleed - that bloody British patronising shite that a frightening number of so-called qualified teachers employ. STOP IT! Wrote a blog some time ago now about the childish crap that trainee teachers have to embrace during their CELTA boot camp. Just spoke to a newly CELTA'd colleague. She was advised to infantalise some poor chap with Jonathan Woss Syndrome into singing "Rudolph the red nosed-reindeer". She should have just stuffed his face with jelly beans.
Wine? Couldn't get through the day without .......

Vilges Suola said...

I'm not recognised as a CELTA tutor, but I am as a DELTA tutor - wish I could get into CELTA and counter all that shite.

In 1990-splunge, we at our TT centre in Athens were sent some videos by UCLES for TP standardisation. We realised we had left the arrogant twats standing years before. Every single trainee in the video followed the same lesson format and did a 'find someone who' at the end. FFFFS.

Candy said...

"find someone who...." and word stress dominoes. Give me strength. Today, I was flipping idly through some of our resources deciding on what needed binning. Came across that classic: a dear, dear, dear little exercise for BE students needing " telephone language". It's called " Who's calling? " and in order to get a jelly bean, the beleaguered business man has to put the cut up phrases together in such a way that all the little cut up pieces MAKE A TELEPHONE! I didn't feel very well for the rest of the day.

Sarah said...

Just marking my trillionth timed essay on Motivation Factors and found that you 'will can motive works by give them buns.'
At which point I take a break to get myself a bun and a few minutes internet to remind myself what English is like. Not so much motivation as comfort-seeking.
I believe the word the student wants is 'bonus'...

Vilges Suola said...

@Candy, in defense of the FSW - have used that old chestnut quite a lot with new groups and it has always worked so long as the questions are non-patronising and liable to stimulate curiosity. watching a bunch of lessons on video that all used this for the 'production' stage (!) was to weep, though.

@Sarah Brilliant! What a difference one letter can make when your spell checker won't pick up on it.

maria verivaki said...

wonderful food dreams - mine are based on rolling out pastry and making spanakopita

Vilges Suola said...

I might have a go at spanakopitta soon. I've never actually made one.


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