So it was back to the drawing board and now we have two book covers!
Which one should I choose? You can weigh in and cast your vote this week at JustJane1813. (And be entered for a copy of the book)
I published A Contrary Wind last January and designed its cover myself. But I've decided to get a professionally-made cover and have been working with Dissect Designs. At first, the design was similar to the one I did, but at the last minute, just as we were about to finalize the design, I thought -- wait a minute. The title of the book is A Contrary Wind, but there is nothing on the cover suggesting wind.
So it was back to the drawing board and now we have two book covers!
Which one should I choose? You can weigh in and cast your vote this week at JustJane1813. (And be entered for a copy of the book)
Julie, my TESL teacher, gave us aspiring ESL teachers a lot of useful information and ideas for classroom activities. But I found the textbook material broke down into two categories -- the first was what I call the no sh*t, Sherlock stuff, such as blindingly obvious remarks about the advantages and disadvantages of different classroom seating arrangements. Student teachers have to read sentences like this: "In any classroom, pupils will be drawn together for many purposes and we can refer to such within classroom contexts as 'groupings'".... Seriously. Get your yellow hiliters out and plow through that stuff.
Then there's the edu-speak, the jargon, which I simply loathed. Example: "...that sees language as a semiotic system, that is, a meaning-making system that constitutes a resource, not a rule-governed object...." I can't bring myself to read any academic article whose title begins with the words Toward a.... such as Toward a Lexicon of Usership, Toward a Cognitive Semantics. And of course there's always a colon: Toward a Pedagogy of Appreciation: Constructive Discourse and Human Organization (Advances in Appreciative Inquiry, Volume 1), bonus points for using the word "discourse."
I can think of several reasons why a doctor would talk about the "posterior view of the fibula" instead of the "back of the calf bone" but teaching is not science and I see no necessity for calling a memory game "Pelmanism."
So now I'm on my fourth semester as a teacher. What I've collected below are some of my own personal no sh*t, Sherlock moments. Things that I didn't learn in TESL class. (and that's not a knock on my instructor, maybe I was daydreaming when she covered it and anyway they can't teach everything in six weeks). So here are some things I had to figure out on my own in my first year of teaching in a regular classroom. If I had any ambition, I'd give the tips some grandiose name, like Revelatory Aperçus for the Neophyte Teacher, or RANTs. But I'll just call them "NSS" for short. If you read them and say, no sh*t Sherlock, good. You've got it covered. If you are a new teacher and you read one and think, yeah, good point, I'm glad I could help.
Beginning of the semester
I'm a visual learner, so I have different colored binders and a matching clipboard for each of my classes (okay, I'm also a stationery junkie who likes pretty colors). I keep the course outline and the filled-out attendance sheets and the lesson plans in each binder.
NSS tip: I taped my class schedule on the front of the fridge and on every clipboard, along with all the information the school's given me about the class, as in, is this for first or second year students, what's their major, which classroom. Do you want to be running through the hallway not certain which class you're about to teach or where? Did I ever do that? I'm not sayin'. And sure, have your schedule on your smart phone or whatever, you smart ass kid. I like to have it on paper.
Look at their textbooks
In North America, textbooks are hugely expensive and many kids don't write in them so they can re-sell them. In China, textbooks are cheap and are treated like workbooks. I have been giving a class participation mark since I started teaching here, and now I'm giving points for how marked-up students' textbooks are. Invariably, the kids doing the worst in my class have pristine, unmarked textbooks. So mid-way through this semester, I had all the kids hand in their textbooks. While they were doing a worksheet, I quickly flipped through the textbooks and gave everybody a mark from "1" to "5." I then stacked the "1"'s all together at the front of my desk, the "2"'s all together and so on. And I told them, Here are the textbooks from the "1"'s to the "5"'s. Which stack do you think your textbook is in? Come and get it. Most importantly, giving points for their textbook also helped me recognize those students who were not doing so great in the tests but were putting in the most effort.
NSS tip: I was told that 100% of the mark was based on the final exam. Even as a newbie teacher, I could see why that was a bad idea. So 30% of my total mark is for attendance and participation. But check with the school authorities first before changing the way they do things.
To get the class's attention, for example, to get them to quiet down and finish an activity when they have been working in small groups and the noise level is getting louder and louder, flick the lights off and on. I learned this from another ESL teacher. It's better than having to raise your voice.
I have broken off what I was saying and stared perplexedly at two students who were chatting, waiting for them to wake up and realize that the teacher and everybody else is looking at them. But mostly I just remind the class, "it's bad manners to talk when your fellow students are talking." That's when most of the chatter occurs in my classroom -- when I've called on a student to say something and very often it's a soft-voiced and timid girl who the others can't hear anyway, and so their attention wavers and they start chatting with their neighbor. Another foreign teacher had a zero tolerance, and I mean zero, rule about speaking Chinese in the classroom. I'm not that strict. In four semesters, I have only once sent students out of the room when they wouldn't stop talking. Because I had never resorted to this before, I had never experienced the aftermath, which was -- all of the other students were as quiet as mice after that.
NSS tip: I use a powerpoint, or as they say here in China, a "peepeetee" to lay out the class rules and explain the breakdown for grades (attendance, participation, in class tests, final tests) on day one. I have yet to hand out a complete class outline and schedule on the first day of the class because I don't have one at that point. Usually I've only gotten the textbook a few days before and I don't have a school calendar that shows holiday long weekends, so any class outline would only be a rough first draft.
NSS tip: But if I could draw up a class outline in the first week of school, I'd start with the beginning and end, plot in when the mid term and final exams falls, figure out when the holidays fall, that is, are there Western holidays which can be used as conversation topics or are there any classes cancelled due to holidays, and then fill in the gaps from there, including at least one class that's a bit of a class party, with games and/or some funny videos. I'd look for which classes fall on a Friday afternoon before holidays and note to myself that attendance is going to be lower on those days because some students travel home on a long weekend and may get an early start.
Don't tell them, ask them
Who knows what this is a picture of? What is the adjectival form of generosity? What was your homework last night? Asking and not telling is drilled in to us as student teachers but if you teach in China or work with a Chinese co-teacher, you may notice that some tend to tell, not ask.
Make your own customized lesson plan template
If that last question about homework was honestly asked because you forgot to keep track of what you assigned as homework, make a lesson plan template which includes a space for the homework assignment and include class time for reviewing the homework assignment. Just last week, I forgot to follow up on a homework assignment, which was, come to class and tell me one thing that China imports from Africa, because I had forgot to carry it forward to the next class's lesson plan.
Leftover exam papers
NSS tip: Am I the only one who had to realize as a newbie teacher: you'll need a folder for carrying the assignments you've marked and haven't returned yet because the student was absent so you couldn't return it to him, and you need to bring that folder with you to class every time. And you need keep track of which students were absent and missed the mid-term exam, or missed receiving a copy of an important handout.
A lot of the teacher books I've looked at seem to assume that you will have one classroom that is yours alone and that you have a filing cabinet in it. That is not my experience. We go from classroom to classroom and language lab and we have to haul everything we need with us. Since I prefer to do my class prep at my apartment, instead of the communal, overcrowded teacher's office where I can't even find a place to plug in, I must ensure that everything is packed before I go. So my lesson plan template includes a detailed checklist at the bottom: USB stick -- video, ppt? Handouts -- did I remember to pack a handout I'm using today? plus kleenex, water bottle, watch..... I have come to class without one or the other vital thing more often than I care to confess.
Always have a Plan "B"
NSS tip: I carry a set of worksheets in my briefcase to every class, in case (a) the power point doesn't work, (b) the lesson is finished early and I don't have anything else planned, (c) the class discussion I planned sputters out. So I have something I can whip out and say, "all right if we don't feel like talking about that, let's review the rules for the passive versus the active voice, shall we?"
Before you give a test or worksheet to your students, sit down and do the test yourself. This is called "dogfooding" and you want to do it for several reasons, but chiefly for catching mistakes. I have photocopied quizzes from textbooks*, and only discovered errors in the questions when I went to grade them. Incorrect grammar in a test question needlessly confused my students and made me look careless.
The term "dogfooding" is courtesy of a useful podcast and website for teachers called "The Cult of Pedagogy." Don't be put off by the name, you don't have to wade through a lot of edu-speak on the site.
NSS Tip: When assembling or writing your own tests and quizzes, be sure that the total points for the test add up to something divisible by 10 or 5. I've thrown together quick tests and didn't stop to think that the total score added up to 17 or something -- that looks stupid and it is more difficult to factor into a final grade.
So I'm on the lookout for books and articles that use down-to-earth language about classroom management and lesson planning, without the ponderous theorizing and the ludicrous jargon. I'll take some blindingly obvious statements if they are couched in plain English over: Reconstructing Education: Toward a Pedagogy of Critical Humanism. Whatever that article is talking about, I'm sure it's not going to help me with more interesting ways to present or review material in the classroom, which is what I'm looking for.
*Not to plagiarize, but so the kids can do a quiz that's in a textbook without having to hand in the entire textbook to be marked.
Recently, Austin Guidry, a Chinese-based teacher* and video blogger, posted his thoughts on the personality traits you need to successfully live overseas. I've been meaning to touch on this topic myself. His list of traits was well-thought-out, so I'm going to straight-up steal it+, and add some comments of my own.
First challenge -- you've been invited for lunch. The waiter plonks down a full plate of plump, juicy, deep-fried cicadas right in front of you.
Still reading? Read on....
The first two traits Austin Guidry mentions are Curiosity and Open-mindedness.
The second challenge I pose to you is, what's your reaction when you see this alley leading to an open-air food market? Would you walk down an alley like this, knowing you are going to encounter strange sights, sounds and smells? That you may have to watch where you step? That you will be stared at? Or would you rather avoid the alley and look for a modern grocery store instead? If you do, you'd be cutting yourself from so much.
Not needing to know everything -- Yes, hand-in-hand with curiosity, you also have to live with the knowledge that some mysteries may never be explained. It's a common complaint among teachers that we're never told anything (like the course syllabus or when the holiday or staff meeting is) until the last minute. Why are things done this way? Who knows?
Enjoying challenges -- doing just about anything takes more effort when you don't speak or read the language. Need to see the dentist? Get your glasses fixed? Want to find a turkey to cook for Thanksgiving? It's all more involved and time-consuming. So the triumph when you succeed is so much sweeter.
One of my challenges this semester involves the fact that the computers are broken in most of the language labs. I've got audio but not video. Okay, that means I need to teach most classes without using short videos, which can become a crutch, the thing I rely on to add the "sizzle" to a lesson, and are too often welcomed by the students because a video means they can sit back and stop talking or even thinking. Just as when I was a kid; I loved it when the boy in the AV club rolled the cart into class and the teacher set up the film strip and darkened the lights. But the key is, how do I react to not having computers in the computer lab -- as something to grumble about every day or as a challenge to my teaching chops? (Well, why not both, upon reflection....)
Independence -- Ross and I pride ourselves on this. We try to look after ourselves even though we haven't made much headway in learning Chinese. I was proud of the fact that I got to Zibo by plane and train by myself, and didn't require anyone from the school to come pick me up in Beijing. We've enjoyed making our own discoveries around the city, but on the other hand, we must acknowledge the hospitality and generosity of our Chinese hosts, who are always bending over backwards for us. In fact, we hesitate to even ask about something -- in my case, most recently, where can I buy a toothpick case to replace one that I accidentally broke -- because if I ask someone, that someone will drop everything and spend hours trying to help me. But I heard, for example, about a predecessor who had to be taken grocery shopping every week by a local because she was too nervous to do it on her own.
Now, I admit to feeling like a little brother who is trying to gross out his big sister -- Hey. Lookit. Lookit. Lookit this. But I'm going to add a parting challenge for those thinking of coming to China -- you are at a banquet and you are serving yourself some chicken soup. You swish the ladle around in the bowl and come up with a chicken head.. Do you: a) put it in your bowl and eat it, b) say, "anybody want this?", c) gracefully slide it back in the bowl, or d) emit a muffled shriek. If you chose "d", you might find life in Asia somewhat challenging.
*An earlier version of this post described Guidry as an ESL teacher. He clarified that he taught ESL but is now teaching Western Civilization and writing for university students who obtain dual university degrees.
+Yeah, to live in China it doesn't hurt to have a relaxed attitude toward copyright laws. Movies, music, books, essays, exam answers -- they're all downloaded from the internet.
I love the Minions. And so does the rest of the world, including China. Here, the name "Minions" has been blandly translated as "Little Yellow People." So when the topic of the Minions comes up, I tell the older kids to look up the word "minion" in their smart phone dictionaries so that they can understand that the humor of the name. Minion means: "a follower or underling of a powerful person, especially a servile or unimportant one."
The third movie featuring the Minions came out this past summer. But not in China. In China, the government suggested* that the movie theaters refrain from showing Western blockbusters to give a boost to the Chinese feature film industry. The government wanted the kids to go see the adorable little monsters in the domestic movie "Monster Hunt" instead. And they did.
Regardless, the McDonald restaurants in China rolled out the tie-in campaign -- little Minion toys -- with their Happy Meals in the summer, but the Chinese kids had to wait til late September to see the movie.
A cosmetics and personal care chain, Watsons, also offered Minion memorabilia. I got some Minion fans. I mean fans that have Minions on them, not fans of the Minions.
Although my main job is teaching college age kids, my college also sponsors a school for younger children and I'm scheduled to teach there now and then. Parents here want their children to have English lessons from a real foreigner.
Since the kids all love the Minions, I've used them in lessons. First and foremost, It's an instant rapport-builder with the kids. And, because some of the Minions have only one eye, it's a great way to review body parts and numbers. Who has one eye? Who has two eyes? Where are your ears? Do little yellow people have ears?
For a class of young beginners, I needed to photocopy and cut up lots of little yellow and blue Minion parts. And in fact I dragooned my Applied English girls to cut everything out. Well, most of them are planning to go on to become kindergarten and primary school teachers, so it's a practical activity for them. Sure.
For the lesson, we reviewed body parts vocabulary, then showed the kids a finished Minion, gave each of them a yellow body and a glue stick, and we handed out the bits of Minions step-by-step. Who needs an eye? Who needs an arm? Would you like one eye or two eyes? The kids had to answer I need a right arm, I need a right leg, etc. to get their Minion part.
Speaking of reviewing vocabulary, with kids, its useful to check their comprehension by choosing the wrong body body part, like grabbing your ear and asking, is this my eye? If you can ham it up, you can get them laughing.
Then we did the Hokey Pokey dance (you put your right leg in, you take your right leg out) with them, which always cracks them up. I think I'm the Hokey Pokey queen of Zibo. The kids all had finished Minions to take home.
As for the movie "Frozen," oy, don't get me started. The little girls here will start belting out 'Let it Go" at the drop of a hat. We used the "Frozen" characters in a simple game of picture bingo for a Christmas party. I remember I had to arrange the little pictures randomly on each Bingo card myself, for a class of 50 kids, because I couldn't find a good custom picture bingo generator online. But talking about "Elsa" and "Anna" and 'Olaf" made a lot more sense than teaching Chinese second-graders to say 'mistletoe" and "wreath."
I would be very remiss if I didn't mention the role played by my husband, Ross, who was Santa Claus at the party. After the party, each of the kids drew a picture for us.
I should mention that the Tom & Jerry cartoons are well known here and very popular with kids, even teenagers. The older cartoons must be out of copyright, and some of them are dialogue-free. I always meant to use Tom and Jerry in a lesson involving positional words -- around, under, beside, through -- if I could collect enough chase scene pictures.
And "Big Hero" is very popular although I haven't yet seen the movie and haven't used him in a lesson.
I found children's jigsaw puzzles at YiWu market, including Frozen, Hello Kitty, (also ubiquitous here in China) Tom & Jerry puzzles. Things like this are so cheap that I have no problem buying them for the class myself and it was a small enough class so that I could get a different puzzle for each kid.
They were 16 piece puzzles per puzzle. I wrote the numbers 1 to 16 on the back of each puzzle piece, and 1 to 16 on the corresponding space on the puzzle board. Then for the class I gave each kid half of their puzzle pieces. The rest I had in yogurt cups, so all of the number 10 pieces were in one cup, the number 11s in another cup, etc. I asked them, what do you need? Here's number 10. I dumped all the number 10's on the table and enjoyed watching them go bezerk finding their own piece. Looks like you need a piece that is pink. Can you find a pink piece? Now, what number do you need next? They ran across the classroom to find the right yogurt cup and bring it back to the table. And remember that this is in the evening, after they've been to a full day of school. Their energy and enthusiasm is amazing. And so on, through the numbers. Deeply educational? Maybe not. But these kids deserve to have some fun, kids absolutely love completing things and putting things together.
If you're looking for other lesson theme ideas, Aesop's Fables are also well-known here, particularly the fable of the boy who cried wolf. Maybe that would be good for a lesson on the difference between "over here" and "over there." The villagers all have to run there to the boy, then run back there to the village.
I think my lessons with the kids tend to be a lot more, uh, kinetic, than their usual lessons are. (Calling movement "kinetic" gives it more of a pedagogical gloss, doesn't it?) Chinese kids spend an inconceivable amount of time sitting, listening and doing rote learning. So I like to get them up and moving on any pretext. In a future blog post, I'll talk about getting kids out of their seats in the college classroom, where keeping the attention of sleep-deprived kids who sleep six to a dormitory room is a real challenge, especially right after lunch.
So to reiterate, when you walk into a classroom, take the Minions with you. Everybody's face lights up and and if your class is relaxed and receptive, you're halfway there. Bonus link: here is a link to a Minions game power point made by another China-based ESL teacher.
*Suggested = nice theater you have here. Would be a shame if something happened to it.
About the author:
I'm a writer and a teacher of English as a Second Language. "Laowai" means foreigner. Check further down for tags for specific subjects. I'm trying to blog about China AND Jane Austen inspired fiction at the same time. Welcome!
JAFF: Jane Austen Fan Fiction
TINYFCC: This is not your father's Communist China
YDCTHTCAETTBELH: You don't come all the way to China and expect things to be exactly like home.
Ground rules: No snarking and sniping behind people's backs. Golden Rule applies. Except for:
Pleasant Goat: unsettling, creepy, Chinese cartoon character.