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Classes and A Pedagogical Discovery

Two of my classes today were wonderful; students joking but doing as part of their work, studying hard and trying to get things right, as well as pass the time in a pleasant way. I love classes like this. They’re usually mostly girls, but in these two cases, the boys in the class are all quite good-natured and eager as well. In a couple of cases, the boys aren’t so eager but their girlfriends (who happen to be fellow students) encourage them and they get into it and realize they can have fun in class. It’s so cute to watch that. They were practicing describing me and we’d joke about my giving extra points to students who describe me as handsome or say my eyes are beautiful, while deducting points from students who say I’m heavy or crazy or whatever. Laughter, but also instructive humor; it makes everyone feel good, and it makes the hour we pass together a joy.

This beats the other kind of class you sometimes get, like the one that started my Tuesday. That sort of class is quite frustrating, though I’m trying to learn not to let them get to me. Rooms full of boys who’d rather be elsewhere having a morning smoke, who don’t pay attention to the subject of the class, go off in conversation in Korean when I am trying to help them or demonstrate the exercise they’re supposed to do… today, I was even helping them prepare for their test next week and they weren’t paying attention. It was weird: I made them sequentially stand up and recite their dialogues, which they were refusing to practice, and since they all were unable to do it, I told them that performance would earn an F and then told them they’d better practice for the test next week. And when I basically humiliated all of the students en masse, suddenly they were all friendly and respectful to me.

I don’t get that: treating some students nicely gets them comfortable and opens them up to learning in a class; but with others, you need to treat them like crap, and they won’t try learn in your class, or even respect you, unless you do treat them like crap. How strange.

Another thing I’ve discovered is that drilling students on fundamental structural sections of the dialogues they’re trying to learn is useful: when they are drilled into barking out formulas for questions, like “Where do you live? Where in bla-bla-bla?” or “What does your bla-bla-bla look like?”, and when they bark them out in a group, before trying the dialogues, it not only reinforces it in their memory, but also makes them feel more confident about what they know. In a Western uni class I’d feel like I was treating my students like dumb kids, but these kids respond to us. Maybe it’s a cultural group-thing, or maybe it’s just the age of these students and their conditioning in school before university, about which I don’t know much. All I know is that drilling them on the main questions as a group really seems to help them.

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