Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Game board blues: Give them time to sort things out

"Battleship" is a fun game to use when teaching because it is repetitive without being tedious. Playing the game involves making sentences with the expressions in the rows and columns of the game board to “attack” the enemy ships. It’s been a hit in every class I’ve seen it in, but the game’s difficult to get started. It’s never been the easiest game to explain to the kids at any level for some reason. What comes easy to American kids hardly registers initially with Korean students. I’ve been in classes where the instructions were bilingual and the kids still had trouble with it. They would only get it after one or two practice runs. Like engaging the clutch and getting a standard shift car rolling, getting started is the hardest part in the activity, but it wasn’t the case today with a group of 2nd grade HS boys. I’d hardly given them the game boards and the instructions when they were off and running. Half the students knew what to do instantly and they quickly explained things to the other half who was catching up. Soon everyone knew what to do and the room grew loud with all the English being spoken. I stepped back and watched the magic happen. Everyone was speaking or correcting someone’s speech in English.

I’d made the game more difficult by including 3 expressions each to use with “yes” and “no” answers as well as telling them to set up the question with “Do you want to ~”/“Let’s go~” /“We should~” opening phrases. 

A complete exchange sounded like this:
A: [Do you want to] get coffee tomorrow night at 7?
B: Sure, that sounds good.

They nailed it.

And to think I was worried about the students not being self-starters. Much of the Korean (or American) school system’s built upon the students marching from lesson to lesson in lockstep, so I’d been wondering how if anyone still had any initiative to do something without being told to do it. Part of growing up involves thinking independently; it’s my hope to instill some of that independence in the students by stepping aside to let them figure things out at times. Like John Gatto explained in an essay of his, school tends to make students “intellectually dependent” on teachers, and I want to make sure the students know enough to solve problems for themselves.* It is burden enough to know they depend on me to give them a model of good English, but I must also help them become self-directed and confident, too. They've got to be able to make their own mistakes. Sometimes it's best to step back and watch them sort things out. Part of teaching centers on readying the students for their future roles as contributing adult members of society, and intuition’s key there. If their intuition fails, I’ll be around to point it in the right direction.

*From Gatto's essay "The Seven Lesson Schoolteacher," which can be read in his book Dumbing Us Down: The Hidden Curriculum of Compulsory Schooling.

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