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8 posts categorized "*In the classroom - Tips for Teachers "

Semester 二 (2)

The Spring Festival vacation was long, long, long, but here we are at the start of a new semester at last! So I think it’s just the right time to discuss the beginning of the two semesters comparatively.

First semester was a whirlwind. That’s the only way to describe it. It took a whole lot of extra time to get my visa and work permit, so my arrival at Nanchang University was quite delayed (about 3-4 weeks into the semester). We showed up here on a Saturday and began teaching two days later with very little information and not nearly enough preparation. I had some general lesson plans drafted up ahead of time, but I honestly didn’t know what to expect from my students nor did I know what courses I would be teaching until that first day in Nanchang. The first week of classes was crucial, not only for getting to know my students and my way around campus, but also for assessing the level of oral English that I needed to gauge my lessons toward for the year. 

The truth is, the students in my classes have a range of oral English levels, which means that sometimes my classes are too challenging for some, while other times my classes are too easy for others. It’s been a real challenge for me to find and establish that middle ground - I’m still not entirely convinced that I have found it. On the plus side, this semester I know my students. I know their different personalities, and those more likely to speak up in class. I know that they like competitive activities, and I know that humor at my own expense is always appreciated. (I’m very willing to embarrass myself for the greater good!) Having that information in advance makes a huge difference between this semester and last.

In truth I was quite nervous to walk into my first day of classes today, mostly because I worried that I would forget my students names after working so hard to memorise all of them last semester. But I got in there and it felt like the most natural thing in the world. I saw all these wonderful, familiar faces filled with an eagerness to learn. It was an exciting day for everyone, in my opinion, because the classroom was full of chatter and movement and learning!

My advice to future teachers in China: Plan for anything. Plan for everything. Just think of your best ideas for activities, lessons, lectures, discussions, and all that jazz - and write them all down! That way once you assess your students you will be able to take those ideas and adjust them to the level(s) of your students without feeling like you are in complete disarray. And if you don’t know the specific courses you’ll be teaching ahead of time (like me!) prepare for it all! Reading, writing, oral english, public speaking, cultures of English speaking countries, debate, etc. You won’t always get information far in advance, so it’s important to be willing and able to adapt!

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(Busy in the city... 南昌 ... Nanchang ...)

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(Yummy dinner in Nanchang 南昌!)

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(The lake on campus - 没有人 ... no one ... )

 

First Semester Wrap-Up

In the interest of giving a lot of information in a short amount of time I want to share a few moments from my first semester in the style of superlatives. So without further ado…

Best Lesson: My best lesson this semester was the one I previously wrote about on this blog. My classes watched a scene from Harry Potter in silence and created their own ideas about what was happening with the characters. It went well in every single class and I believe the students genuinely enjoyed being creative with each other.

Worst Lesson: My worst lesson was during our formal and informal speech unit. I created a few different lessons to help differentiate between formal and informal vocabulary and expressions. There were some very successful lessons with mock job interviews and a game using “slang” words, but one lesson fell flat. We discussed how diary style writing influences informal speech, and how casual videos can show informal relationships. However, the lesson did not have enough substance, so I’ve put it on the blacklist for the future.

Funniest Moment: I can’t pull out one specific funny moment from my memory because the students all say humorous things quite often in my class. One of the most fun weeks though was when the students were learning raps for their pronunciation and intonation class and they came into my classroom mumbling the lyrics to “My Humps” by the Black Eyed Peas under their breath. I forced them all to tell me which raps they were learning and many were throwbacks to my middle school days, so we listened on QQmusic and I rapped right along with them.

Scariest Moment: The scariest moment is a toss-up between two memorable incidents. One: during our Harry Potter acting class two of the boys were such good actors that I was convinced they were actually going to fist fight each other. Fortunately, they played nicely. Two: in two of our classes a computer began smoking in the middle of class and scared the students half to death. We have since marked that computer as the computer of death and NO ONE is allowed to touch it EVER again! ~Fun times!

Most Memorable Class: Again, difficult to choose, but we have now acted for two class lessons and I think those are the most fun. We did our Harry Potter scene lesson, and we also did a class that focused on improvisation. Improvising in a second language is so difficult because it strains your mental capacity to remember vocabulary and sentence construction. Buuuuut… this is how spoken English is used – we don’t plan out everything we say on paper before we say it. So we did a class-wide improv game and the students were once again creative and successful!

Most Difficult Parts of Learning English: Everything. Just kidding – the students are actually quite good at memorizing vocabulary and using it in their writing. They also know a lot more English grammar than I do, which stinks because native English speakers tend not to use grammar appropriately when they speak. The pronunciation is also difficult because it’s so different from the pronunciation of Chinese. There are many sounds that exist in one language, but not the other and vice versa.

Most Interesting Discussion: We spent time one class discussing winters in our hometowns. This was just after a big storm in New Hampshire, so I decided to share my typical winter experience with my classes (Nanchang does not get any snow). It became interesting when I opened up the floor to all the students and had them share with each other about their own hometowns in winter. Many are from this province (Jiangxi) but there are also many from more northern or southern provinces that had cool things to share with their classmates.

Things I Learned: My biggest learning moment (in class) this semester was about the education system in China. We discussed high school, applying for college, and admittance. In China the Gaokao is the college entrance exam (similar to the SAT… except not… the Gaokao score can decide a student’s future entirely). Everyone takes the Gaokao and sends their scores to the universities of their choice, along with their requests for a major. You get 6 choices. Then, a while later you receive information telling you which school you will attend and which major you will be, almost solely based on your Gaokao score. This is very different from receiving several (hopefully) acceptance letters from colleges in the U.S. and choosing one along with your major. It was a big learning moment for me, and it helped me to understand my students even more.

Well, classes are over. Exams take place during the next two weeks. And then it’s time for the students to go home and relax and celebrate Spring Festival (or Chinese New Year) with their families. More on that later!

 

My Student-Actors

Today one of my lessons went even better than I could have imagined! I was very hesitant at first because from my (minimal) experience here the students have a lot of difficulty being creative and imaginative. Many students prefer to ask a question, get the answer, and then memorize the answer. There is right and wrong without much opportunity for individual thought within the classroom. BUT TODAY we did an activity that involved watching a silent scene from a movie and then creating a dialogue to match the scene.

Last class we discussed body language, facial expressions, and how to use your voice to carry your meaning (all things that support the actual language of conversation - whether it is in English OR Chinese). For our purposes, of course, we were discussing the value of these tools in English. The scene we watched today was from Harry Potter (duh, I love Harry Potter) and it was rather emotional. Two characters are talking, then a third one joins them, and an argument ensues! It’s very clear that they are having an argument due to their body language and facial expressions (aka good acting). So the students grouped up, we watched the scene, and then I allowed them free reign to create a dialogue - or at least to create an idea of what was happening in the scene. It didn’t have to be TRUE as long as it realistically MATCHED the emotions, actions, etc.

We took some time. We discussed a few words along with their meanings and pronunciations as a class. I roamed the room listening to their ideas and guiding them toward speaking in English rather than the Chinese that they are so used to. AND THEN a few groups were chosen to share with the class. And boy, oh boy, was it AWESOME! They had us all laughing, and smiling, and one group even had a few of us feeling afraid - it seemed like the two boys in the group were actually going to start fighting. The first group decided the argument was about money - the third character in the scene was the next-door neighbor and he came over to ask for some money. The second group pretended that two of the characters were practicing their lines for a play and the third one didn’t believe them because it was so late at night! The third group decided that the two first characters were studying together and the character that entered the scene was a jealous boyfriend that didn’t believe they were “just studying”. DID I MENTION THAT THESE STUDENTS ACTED OUT THESE SCENES?

It was wonderful to watch and listen to. All of the groups seemed to enjoy hearing from one another because they all had different ideas about the scene. Most importantly, as the teacher, all of their ideas matched up with the body language that we saw. It was a great way to watch the students apply their knowledge rather than regurgitate what they learned last class onto a piece of paper in the form of a test or quiz. All in all, a great lesson and highly recommended to future TEFL teachers! (I actually got this idea from another TEFL teacher who had to DO this during her own high school French class.)

Written on November 29, 2017

Published later to see how this lesson fared in the other 3 classes - same results! Excellent lesson. Highly recommended!

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(This photo was taken by a student during our Thanksgiving lesson the previous week. #InTheClassroom)

 

Midterms are coming! Midterms are coming!

It’s midterm season here at Nanchang University. To those of you at home that statement probably seems like a quick jump from “new professor” to MIDTERMS! It is. My fellow Americans and I arrived during the fourth week of the semester, and therefore midterms have arrived very quickly. However, we can’t wait any longer or else we’ll be giving midterm exams back-to-back with finals and that’s just not fair to the students. So here we are.

 

At my university in America midterms meant, “Okay people, here come a few tests to take and papers to write. Make sure you study and write in advance because these are not things that you can cram for the night before!” (I assure you, they are things that you can cram for the night before.) In China midterms mean, “Keep studying! Don’t stop! Here comes an exam that is worth 30% of your grade, so memorize all of the information and spit it all back to me next Monday!” Now, in an English speaking class in China taught by a foreign teacher (me) midterms are somewhere in between my two examples.

 

My wonderful freshmen have been creating dialogues with a partner for the past week and will be presenting them to their classmates on Monday and Tuesday of this coming week. So they are still doing some memorizing, but they also have a chance to be creative in the process. We have been talking about the past and future tenses, pronunciation, and confidence so that is how they will be graded. GASP! “You mean, you aren’t grading the specifics of their grammar?” you ask, horrified at my less-than-expert teaching abilities! But let me ask you this: how often do you use proper grammar in every aspect of your conversations? Grammar is very important, but the students here have spent enough time memorizing grammar and vocabulary! My job is to help them produce their language on the spot. And on the spot? We all make mistakes.

 

It will certainly be an interesting week (I think some of my students secretly hate me) but I’m excited to see what they share! I’ve had a few previews in class and I am impressed with how hard the students are working to perfect their conversations. I am a bit less impressed when they use their phone dictionaries to search for complicated vocabulary that even I don’t know how to use, but all in all I have high expectations of success! That is, until it comes time to do all of the grading… and inputting the grades into the complex spread sheets on my computer… and planning for the second half of the semester…

 

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Though I’ve told you what midterms meant to me in America, and what midterms mean to students here in China, I have yet to tell you what midterms mean for a professor with 5 English conversation classes, one of which has 81 students in attendance. To me, midterms mean: stay up all night grading and don’t stop until you’re done!

 

With all that bearing down on me, I did what any sane person would do: I bought a bottle of wine to sip my way through all of the grading! Happy Midterms, everyone!

 

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11/11

Double 11 is this Saturday and it’s a big day according to my students. It’s the day to celebrate single people (I just heard the echoes of many laughs from my friends and family as they read this)! Due to November 11th being written as 11/11, people here in China think of those individual 1’s as single people. On this day the goal is to bring single people together to not feel so lonely. There are events happening all over the place on Saturday, and most importantly there are huge discounts for online shopping. APPs like “Tabao” (very popular here - similar to Amazon in the United States) are having major sales. That way if you’re single and feeling lonely, at least you can do some cheap online shopping! It’s comparable to what’s become known as “Cyber Monday” in America, but it’s done for a totally different reason. So if you’re single and lonely, come to China this weekend!

 

For me, this Saturday marks other significant things. First of all, it’s Veteran’s Day in the U.S. (A quick thank you to all the veterans back home!) Secondly, it marks one month of being in China! My way to celebrate: pizza! It’s become a living abroad tradition for me (this is only my second time living abroad, but back in London on the 1-month-aversary of being there I ate an American meal as well: Chipotle) so now it’s time for Pizza Hut! Don’t be mistaken: the food here is great! But having a small taste of home is relaxing and it’s a fun way to celebrate being away from that home. So of course, I will drag some American friends along with me to eat that cheesy goodness.

 

During this first month we have learned our own ways of living and teaching successfully here at Nanchang University. One piece of advice I will give future Teach in China participants is this: The difference between your first day in China and your first month in China is that after a month those difficult moments from the beginning seem very small and far away. The adjustment was hectic and frustrating and I swore in those first days that I would maybe never feel comfortable here, but then I pushed on and made friends and planned lessons and started remembering NOT to rinse my toothbrush with the sink water. I started to figure out how to get places on campus and cross the street without getting hit by a bus. I finally took a hot shower after about a week of cold, military style showers. (My colleagues all had hot water from the start, so don’t worry future teachers! This was just my bad luck.) I learned some Chinese words and I’ve even used them out in the real world (barely, but still). And this is only me! My colleagues have made great progress as well. So yes, we had a tough time jumping into everything at the beginning (it’s a lot!!), but here we are a month later feeling (mostly) confident about teaching, eating, and living in China! So Pizza Hut, here we come!

 

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(Lulu or 龚露, Collins from Texas, Nate from Maine, ME, and Nick from North Carolina after a great dinner out in the city and before watching the Nanchang light/fountain show!)

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(Photo of said fountain show...)

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(Hot Pot! Very delicious, but I still miss pizza.)

What do you mean "professor"?

It is very strange to be a college professor when less than two years ago I was a college student. I am now the expert on the subject of oral English (even though I say things like gonna, wanna, and occasionally: y'all). 

 

The students are very kind and eager to learn and it makes adjusting to this new place a whole lot easier. They have given me a lot of positive energy to work with, and they complete the tasks I give them without argument. They seem genuinely curious about America and how to speak the English language as an American would (so yes, sometimes I do say "gonna" in class). On the other hand, they are willing to help me as I cautiously approach the Chinese language. It is definitely a need-to-know item while in China, so they've helped me to pronounce a few words to get started. They laugh kindly when I butcher the pronunciation of Nanchang University. And they also give me great recommendations, such as the Milk Tea that I am currently trying (it's delicious by the way!)

IMG_4524It was not all butterflies and roses as I, along with my fellow co-workers, plowed through this first week of classes. We had difficulties when it came to getting classroom doors unlocked, using the technology (or lack thereof in some cases), and charging ahead without a curriculum by which to plan our lessons. Overall, I think we did very well, and I hope that our students feel that way too! Living on the other side of the world does not come without its challenges, but the experience itself may be enough to completely eclipse those small details. We have 9 months to find out!

Tips For Teaching

We are in our 7th week now teaching. I am still learning so much every single day. Previously coming to China, I taught some music lessons here and there. This is was I am familiar with. I am a musician. I can say it is much easier teaching one on one to a student about how to play the guitar than teaching 30 kids English. With that being said, teaching English is so much fun. Again, I am still learning every day about new ways to approach the classroom. I want to share some of these discoveries with you!

First, you cannot always expect your teaching plan to work perfectly. You have to make yourself flexible.. Sometimes your plan can go completely opposite of the way you imagined it. You have to just go with the flow and adapt to your students. How are they feeling? Are they responding to your lesson? If not, try changing your teaching method. Some classes are different. Every student does not learn the same, so I recommend you study your student's behavior. Second, improvisation might knock at your door sometimes. Your class may end a little early and you don't know what to do. Think about your lesson and try to tie a filler exercise to practice. I have had to improvise a good bit this semester. I learned very quickly to think on my feet. Lastly, I want to stress to always have fun and smile. Your students will always feed off your energy. This will keep your classroom happy and comfortable for your students. I think it is very important because remember that you are here for them.. You are here to give them an opportunity to open more doors in their lives.

I have learned a lot teaching in China, and I hope these tips can help you when you start your careers abroad.

 

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My Students

 

 

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