Happiness from Hearing Students Discussing Happiness

Alternative Title: 40 Minutes in November

I had an extremely enjoyable class last week and (with a friendly nudge from Ava Fruin) I decided to share part of it here. A bit of background might be helpful before I start. The class consists of 5 students, all in graduate school studying international studies. 3 of them are from Korea while one is from China and one is (an ethnic Korean) from Kazakhstan. The title of the course is “International Discussion” and we tend to focus on both global issues and fluency. I chose some of the topics and the students chose the rest. At the end of the term I asked students to facilitate discussions on new topics of their choice. I think the facilitation assignment is interesting for a few reasons, including the fact that facilitating is different from “presenting” or “teaching,” which are things that the students might be more familiar with at the start of the term.  Hopefully, throughout the term I gave them a decent model of facilitation. Anyway, the slice of class that I would like to share is from the 2nd student-led discussion of 5. This discussion on “What makes you happy?” was wedged between discussions on the Commonwealth (of Nations) in the 21st Century and Issues related to Israel (including its creation and current situation).

So, I will just let you know what happened and you can make your own analysis, ideas, conclusions, maybe even action plans from there.

10:07 am
[In break time] One student (referencing the facilitation assignment) tells me, “Mike, I don’t want to be teacher. Being a teacher is hard. There are too many decisions to make.”

(I nod and smile. )

We start the second session and the facilitator (the student from Kazahzstan) says that she wants to talk about what makes people happy.

The facilitator says, “Life is not long and you need to do something special for you.
You need to rest and you need to be happy with your family.
You need to find something special for you.”

The facilitator says that she has translated 2 famous fables/stories from Russian into English and that she’d like to share them with the group because they relate to the topic. She gives 1 story to have the class and 1 story to the other.

(At this point I smell a jigsaw coming and feel very excited.)

The jigsaw is in full motion. I write, “I am currently watching a Chinese student sharing part of a (translated) Russian story to 3 Korean students… Given to him by a Kazakh student. Nice.”

As students are sharing their parts of the story and summarizing them a friendly debate about the merits of money and love develops. Everyone gets involved sharing what happiness means to them and how important money is to that equation. They respond to points that have been made by others. They extend on their points with examples. They laugh, they smile, they show agreement and disagreement both verbally and non-verbally.

One student mentions that money is important in order to take of his future wife and that his upcoming career is much more important than having fun. Another student responds by asking him what age exactly he wants to get married.

In response to, “What makes you happy?” one student responds, “Every Thursday (class time) Mike makes me happy.”

(I smile and perhaps even blush.)

Now we have moved along to talking about drinking and its impact on happiness.
“I don’t drink when I am sad because sadness makes me drunker.
“I want to drink when I am happy. I meet my friends every week for some meat and alcohol.”

“What else makes you happy?”
“I feel happy when I make some achievement.”

(I nod  and type the quote)

“I think these days you are my best…you always help me these days. When I am depressed I usually sleep and sleep at home but I think meeting friends is the best choice. I think you and me are almost the same because we are close friends.

“What can you do if you want to be happy?”
“It is important to have a good mood. It is important to be in a good mood.”
“Michael always has a good mood and a good emotion.”

(I smile. I wonder if this is true. I wonder if I have hidden bad moods. I remember that I really enjoyed working with this group and I am relieved that it showed so clearly.)

My happiness is briefly interrupted by a student coming into the class and asking if I can check his resume for him. I tell that I am happy to talk to him after class but that I am in the middle of class. He says he will wait there in the classroom. I tell him it is much better if he comes back after class. He leaves his bag and leaves the room.

(I wonder what I missed in the group discussion and go back to taking notes on English) 


  1. celtaconfessions

    Sounds like a wonderful 40 minutes! Happiness is such a deep complicated topic that I think even 40 days won’t be enough or maybe it’s so basically simple that 4 minutes should suffice? 😉 Always wonderful to read about good lessons! Well done, Mike!

  2. mikecorea

    Thanks for the comments! I am glad that you enjoyed it. I wasn’t totally sure it was worth a blog post but your comments made me happier about the choice. I was happy I had the chance to enjoy it and take notes so clearly. Usually I am too busy worrying about “teaching.” Thanks again!

  3. Ava Fruin

    Love it. What an awesome progression, and even more awesome that you were able to sit back and actually observe as it was happening. From the students’ fear of “facilitating,” to the multidimensional jigsaw activity to the self-reflection, sounds like a class you should be proud of. You clearly have done a good job facilitating, by both modeling this skill for students and encouraging that kind of self-awareness through your own attitude in the classroom (a little praise from our students never hurts!)
    Thanks so much for sharing, I am feeling inspired to begin taking notes as my classes are happening.

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