Just one thing, eh? OK.
Today in the middle of class two students were discussing something about some usual vocabulary related to climate change. I gave students 30 words grouped in sets of three related words. They were asked to “choose the odd one out.” In this one slice of the lesson I am talking about the words might have been preserve, save, and protect. Students were tasked with choosing the one word that didn’t fit with the others in the set and then were asked to explain their choices to their partners, while keeping in mind there is no right answer. One student, let’s call her Darlene, gave her response to her partner, Elvis, who didn’t seem to get it. Elvis asked for clarification and Darlene said her reasons again. It made sense to me but Elvis didn’t seem to get it. Darlene tried again and Elvis and Darlene gave me a confused look that I took to mean, “please help if you can.” To be more clear, they just looked confused and perhaps I interpreted this as a cry for help. I paraphrased what I thought Darlene wanted to say. Elvis nodded in what I took as agreement and I felt pleased. I was ready to collect the Teacher of the Year award. But then, Darlene asked if she had said something wrong. I think she took my intervention as a disagreement of her points or her point of view. She said, “Was I wrong?” in a way that sounded a bit sad or potentially hurt to me. I quickly said, “No, no, I was just trying to say it another way. In fact, I fully agree with you and I had the same exact answer. It doesn’t mean we are right though!” She smiled and nodded and I felt better about my intervention.
This thing got me to thinking about how such interventions from the teacher can be taken in different ways. Sometimes I do want to make a point about the content of what is being said. Sometimes I want to make an English focused point. Sometimes I want to make a point about how the task is being conducted. In this case, perhaps my intention was not 100% clear to Darlene. I also had reservations about sort of short-circuiting the communication between Darlene and her partner but in the end I was fine with how things turned out. I’d like to believe and actually do believe the students were as well.
Perhaps this was one of those small moments in class that didn’t turn out to be anything major in the flow of the class but it was nice to give it some thought.
In case you’d like a bit more detail. I think today’s class was fairly typical of my usual Tuesday classes. The title of the course is “International Discussion” and I usually have 9 students (4 from Korea, 3 from China, and 1 each from Taiwan and Russia). It is a nice mix of students (in terms of nationalities but also personalities and English abilities as well as passion for and knowledge of international issues). Related to my post from yesterday I was hyper aware during class but also a bit anxious. You know, waiting for the perfect #onething to reveal itself. There was some sort of weird new calculus and criteria for the class, something different than questions like “are my students more comfortable with English than they were 3 hours ago?” and “are my students better equipped to take fluent turns expressing their opinions in English?” or even stuff related to specific lexis, patterns or common pitfalls. This doesn’t mean I forgot these things, it just means there was another thing there in the back of my mind. Thanks to Anne for introducing the #onething blog challenge.