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Don’t be the car.

28 Mar

I was fortunate enough to be invited to watch a series of Chinese-English classes. This is a rare thing – usually Chinese-English teachers don’t like native speakers watching their class. They sometimes think that we’ll judge their English prowess (when really, I’m taking notes on how awesomely she corralled that snarky boy with just a look – I must learn their secrets!) or look down on them for having an accent. Or something.

They're laughing at me because I ordered them to do something. I am not a Chinese teacher, therefore I am not intimidating enough. ^__^

There was one male teacher I watched who was utterly brilliant in his efforts to make class interesting! He brought props. He had a flash powerpoint presentationwith cute, singing cartoons. He spoke 95% English in his class (a lot of C-E teachers do a lot of translating, which is a bad thing – but that’s the subject of another post) which is another rarity.

In fact, he did such a great job, that it was really disappointing when he got to the Q&A wrap-up. I mean, he had them singing, chanting full sentences, doing matching games, checking comprehension – and now comes the big part: asking questions and getting answers from the students.

Teacher: “Did the fox want to eat the blueberries?”

Student: “Yes, he did.”

Teacher: “Excellent! The fox wanted to eat the blueberries, great job!”

I’ve already posted about the importance of full sentences and the 80×20 rule so I won’t repeat myself (much). But this teacher did something that surprised me. After accepting this lackluster answer, he turned to the rest of the class, repeated the question and got everyone to repeat it. It was the 1 point answer, not a great one, but he got the group repeat.

That is called a macro response.

I see this look a lot with middle school kids.

Have you ever heard of the expression, ‘like a deer in headlights?’ If you’re a Canadian, you may change it to ‘moose’ or ‘caribou’ and then that covers the whole country and so yes, you have heard of the saying. It means that when the spotlight hits you, you freeze and can’t move or say anything, much like the poor deer which has now just totalled your new Neon.

Don’t be the car, people.

How to not be the car: Students are the same way. Yes, they are like deer. Some of them are outgoing and eager to volunteer and participate in bounding through the classroom field and talking without reservation. Others are almost pathologically shy, or terrified of making a mistake in front of their peers, or god forbid, their homeroom teacher who might now call their parents and explain that “little Timmy just shamed his ancestors because he couldn’t answer the question ‘what color is the brown dog’ with ‘it’s brown’.”

When – not if, when – you get that student in class who looks at you in utter terror as you ask him/her a question, keep one very important rule in mind: do not let the silence drag out. If they do not answer you in 3 seconds or less, they will not answer you in 5. Or even 10. What will happen instead is the child’s eyes will get bigger and bigger like that poor dead deer in your freezer and they will start inching backwards in their seat, trying to get away from the evil teacher closing in on them. They will then start lowering their gaze, refusing to make eye contact with you in the future and that child will grow up hating English all because you stared them down back in grade one, traumatizing them for life. Life!

So what do you do instead?

If a student doesn’t answer you right away, immediately look to their neighbour, or someone with their hand up. Get the correct response from them.This is called a micro response – getting one student to give the answer. Get that answer, and then get the whole class to repeat it for the macro.

Understand?  Let me show you:

Teacher -> one student -> Teacher repeats ?? -> whole class answers

They all get to take advantage of that correct answer instead of just one kid in the class. But then, the most important thing you need to remember, which so many people don’t, is to go back to the original kid, the deer in the headlights, and give them a second chance to answer in the micro response.

Maybe they didn’t understand the question and needed to hear the answer first. Maybe they knew the answer but were shy about pronouncing some of the words. Maybe they thought they knew the answer, but being Chinese and being conditioned to being ridiculed or insulted for not giving perfect answers, they chose to remain silent until they knew for sure. Whatever the reason, you now have an excellent opportunity to get that full answer from them. You can now get them to OPEN THEIR MOUTHS and USE ENGLISH.

So like I said – don’t be the car.

Back to this awesome Chinese teacher – had they been accepting proper, 5-point-or-more sentences, this would have been darn near perfect. Get those full-sentence answers, get the micro-macro-micro responses and let them all take advantage of the proper English being spoken and used in the classroom. Full sentences. FULL. Please, for the love of Hades, don’t do this:

Teacher: “Did he want strawberries?”

Student: “No, he didn’t want strawberries.”

Teacher: “No. Did he want strawberries?”

Student: “……No, he wanted blueberries…?”

Teacher: “No. DID HE want strawberries?”

Student: “…..Oh. No, he didn’t.”

Teacher: “Great job!”

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