The Weird Adaptation

I saw a movie once—actually, not long ago, though I can’t remember which movie it was—in which some characters attended a speed-dating meeting. The characters basically asked one another a series of questions on a timer and then were forced to move to another partner, in quick succession, until they’d made the full rounds and arrived back where they’d started.

Well, if that doesn’t sound like something that could be adapted into a good exercise, I don’t know what does. Especially for today’s opening gambit, working through BE and DO questions.

Do you like soccer?
Are you from Kwangju?
Do you drink soju?
Are you a strong guy?
Do you have any money?
Are you crazy?

I know these things sound relatively simple, but it’s pretty consistently true that the majority of students, after a school break, seem unable to answer these questions with the appropriate, “Yes, I do,” or “Yes, I am,” let alone form more than a few of these questions correctly.

So after the first half of class, I had the students move the desks into a horseshoe shape, with pairs facing one another along the curve, and then had the students on the inside of the curve shift from one seat to the next, changing partners every minute, asking questions. The person on the inside had the job of asking the questions first, and once the person on the outside (ie., nearer to the outer wall of the classroom) had answered them, the person on the outside asked the same questions back to the person on the inside.

It worked well, but I got a few surprises.The surprising thing for me was that the people on the outside seemed to have as much difficulty remembering which questions had been asked of them as the people on the inside had coming up with appropriate questions.

The other surprising thing was that, after I explained to one student that a rather sizeable portion of his grade would be determined by his participation, he nodded his head and continued to sit there like a log. Even after I explained that making mistakes in the process of trying was okay—and I explained that part in Korean, no less—he still demonstrated a strong preference for just sitting there like a lump.

That, I just don’t get. Was it fear? Or obstinacy? Was it some kind of inherited attitude from the rest of his education that dictated that grades would be apportioned out above D, probably Cs or better, and that no matter what he did he’d still score low but pass? (I’ve been told a lot of students are scored this way, but it’s been more of a whispered, grouchy notion among foreign teachers and I’m growing suspicious about what foreigners claim about Korean-styled pedagogy, and about Korean educational institutions at which they themselves have never studied.) In any case, I should have let the guy sit there and buy himself a poor grade, but some part of me sees teaching as all kinds of things like motivating people to learn, and sometimes just forcing people who wouldn’t otherwise try at all to get up off their asses and at least go through the motions.

Though, when I put it that way, I wonder whether my forcing him to go through the motions isn’t, in some sense, more of the same of his educational experience. Perhaps, like one of my colleagues, I ought to let him choose the grade he wants for himself in the area of participation… even if it means he will likely fail himself.

2 thoughts on “The Weird Adaptation

  1. Excellent, excellent, excellent. I’m a big fan of “mixer” and “icebreaker”-style exercises. Getting them to MOVE is important, and the exercise, once explained, basically runs itself– i.e. it’s STUDENT-CENTERED.



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