Tag Archives: reading

… and they lived happily ever after.

*** Prologue ***

I had my doubts. Thirty-five teenagers in a mixed group of levels from low B1 to near-native language ability jam-packed in a stuffy room, listening to me reading a Russian folk tale about the frog which was, in fact, a princess – I just was not so sure. Many things could go wrong. The text is long, the room is small, the kids are probably expecting games as the tests are over and holidays are near. I don’t know how big the interest of teenagers for a tale about a frog could be (I mean, I might not be too excited about it myself if I were them…). The text, even after my amateur adaptation, still has words like “a spindle”. It’s after lunch. I’m not at all good at storytelling or even story-reading. I don’t believe my reading could engage 35 young active minds and make them follow a long story and keep quiet.

So, entering this class, as any other for that matter, I was filled with concerns and assumptions. Yet, I wanted badly to try have this class my way and see what happens.

*** Class ***

Here’s a dry step-by-step run-down of this 45-minute class proceedings:

1. Instructing the students to organize themselves into pairs of mixed levels (Level 5 and Level 4 students within our course system). This took about 10 minutes and did not result in exactly all pairs consisting of students of both levels. All of them sit facing the whiteboard (and me).

2. Distributing the text. Below you can see the PDF version, but note that the kids only had 5 pages out of ten. As it goes, the office printer had got out of order and I could not print out those extra illustrations to the story. Please also note that I had adapted the text from this webpage, keeping the images and adding a super simple half-picture half-text glossary for the weirdest sounding words in the tale. I’d also divided the text into 4 parts.

3. Explaining to the students what is going to happen. Only half of the group sitting in the classroom are familiar with the practice of reading in class in this way, with an ideal objective of enjoying the text (aka extensive reading class). So I explain and write on the board the following, aiming at bringing some clarity:
– Part 1. Anna reads –> students talk
– Part 2. Anna reads –> students talk
… repeat till the end of story.

I split the text into four more or less logical sections for the reason of giving students a break while processing the long narration, too long (I feared) for many to handle. So my plan was to read the part and then give students 3-5 minutes to discuss it in their groups, in Japanese. Clarifying meanings, discussing, rereading parts, etc. There is no real task as such for this time, it is more like space to take a breather and probably “connect” with the tale.

4. It took around 30 minutes to do as I’d planned, reading and providing the talking time. In that talking time I also gave some extra cultural notes (Ivan’s clothing-related; my random thought that Yelena the Fair in the image on the second page looks much like an image of a woman saint in the Orthodox icons; the explanation of the Little Hut in the Russian woods that always greets the main character with its back).

5. The students are given a piece of paper each to write their impressions of the tale.

*** Students’ impressions of the tale ***

“I want to read many tales like this!!”

“I know that it is just a story and it can’t be reasonable and realistic sometimes, but it feels funny that Yelena changed her mind so easily, though she was going to marry another, to go back home with Prince Ivan.”

“I was surprised with the end of the story. The frog is so amazing!”

“I thought Prince Ivan is so poor. However, it wasn’t like that. Finally, they obtained happiness. I like this story.”

“Prince Ivan looked for his wife but she almost married another. I think it is very bad.”

“The story told me not to lose chances to marry a girl.”

“I can’t imagine life with the princess frog… This horrible story gave me shivers. I know the princess frog is a perfect girl (?) because she can do needle work, dance and cook, but she is a frog!!! OMG!!!”

“There were many scenes that made me confused. Such as the part when the prince’s wife was decided with a bow…. I wonder why it took over one year for Prince Ivan to go look for his wife, because if I were him I would go straight away to find her.”

“I think they are emotional people and Prince Ivan often cried. That’s too much for me. He is a man, he shouldn’t cry too much.”

“I think Prince Ivan was impudent, because soon after going into the house, he asked them to serve him food and drink, put him to bed. I couldn’t empathize with him.”

“I think the story is very interesting. The people in the story and their acting is so unique, as in many tales. I’m glad the prince and the frog became happy finally.”

*** Teacher’s impressions ***

1) I realize I probably never thought that the frog is amazing. In fact, I might have not given the frog a single thought in 20 years.

2) There’s no point (or sense) in asking a group of 35 Japanese teenagers “What do you think is gonna happen next in this story?”

3) While making a choice to read this particular tale I did not consider the message, values and the moral of the story. In fact, I did not think of it at all, maybe because the story and its plot are already too deeply ingrained in my consciousness through my cultural background. And so I was taken aback (in the best of senses) by the students’ reactions, their raw emotions, true and unaffected by comprehension questions and vocabulary gap fills. A single read was enough to spur a wide range of feelings, wonders and judgements… Yes, very humanly so, judgements of the characters and their actions. I had to do exactly ZERO lead-ins and ask exactly ZERO questions to bring up the topics of moral values, quirks of behaviour, relationship struggles and challenges, life choices. Just one read of this tale, that to me to tell the truth is already rather “flat”, was deeply emotionally affective for them. Which coursebook text could provoke any more sincere reactions from students?? It is a rhetorical question.

4) Can we just imagine a school in which we teach by reading?… just for a brief illusory moment.

5) Teens believe in the permanence of love. Why did they expect Yelena to wait for Ivan? We don’t get to learn much about that other man, but if she chose (?) him, he might, for all we know, be a good fella)))

6) The frog tale to my surprise left no one untouched and unconcerned.

7) I did not ask if they liked the story.

8) A student did use the word empathize all on his own, with no prompts OR dictionaries involved.

9) Bookclub. After winter break I am organizing a bookclub in our school!

*** Epilogue ***

This class made me feel so passionate that I couldn’t help but sit down and blog for the first time in four months. The students’ sincerity and genuine emotions was a spark that inspired and energized me. They are fantastic. And I, well, I just love my job.

When we finished I asked them to read something during their winter break.
Read. Just read.

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It will get better, it always does.

***** Part 1. Frustration. *****

  1. Write.

  2. Put one word after another. Find the right word, put it down.

  3. Finish what you’re writing. Whatever you have to do to finish it, finish it.

 

This is the procedure I haven’t been through for quite some time, at least in a way I would find satisfying, for the writing I would consider coming from my heart. And I want to know why, because it is devastating to my soul and literally makes me feel sick. In these months, everytime I traced a thought worth being expanded in a post, I opened the blog and saved the notes, or more often the title, in a draft. I then stared at the blank screen of the new post, blankly. The right word would not be found. One word would not follow another. My mind would drift away, unwilling to witness the shrinking of self-esteem. For whatever excuses my mind would gratify me with, paragraphs would simply not form. This fact undoubtedly adds to my adjustment to living in Japan, and by “adds” I mean aggravates it. Writing in the staff room is not possible as I cannot hear my thoughts. Writing at home is not happening as I am exhausted of the heat and mental pressure of the day, so all I can force myself to do is mindless cooking, watching endless shows on ororo.tv, or colouring mandalas. Considering my *ridiculous* dream to one day wake up a regular contributor to a magazine, a columnist, and/ or eventually a writer, the situation I’ve landed in, well, in one word, sucks.

WRITE. The word keeps ringing in my head. It is unbearable as I know I will suffer through the process and with every minute I will spend racking my brains for words, I will hate myself more and more.

 

***** Part 2. Drowning. *****

The term is over, students are gone, school is empty, my day at work is anything I make of it. So I started reading, as I see it one of the major reasons why my wrtitng does not tick anymore. First, I got back to reading The Tale That Wags but I can only read at home in the comfort of my bed, which seems to be the most welcoming area in my apartment. At work I turned to reading the blog posts I missed, the iTDi Blog issues, and the brainpickings. A more thorough look through my Facebook feed led me to this page. Reading Malcolm Gladwell’s essays got me all warmed up inside once again, as I returned to imagining my own writing on the digital pages of The New Yorker some day. Laugh all you can and scoff at the daring, one can dream.

The most extraordinary, shocking thing happened- I realized my eyes slip line over line, not concentrating, drifting further and further away, hands clasping mobile phone suddenly and unnecessarily. What is happening??! Reading brings about just as much pain as writing. Trying to balance the unbalanced, reading to revive writing, I ended up drowning.

 

***** Part 3. Questionable wisdoms. *****

Desperate in my search for reasons I fall through with my attempts to write successfully in Japan, one click after another and I found myself on this page, where Stephen King details everything one needs to know to write successfully. So here’s what disturbed me:

 

4. Remove every extraneous word

You want to get up on a soapbox and preach? Fine. Get one and try your local park. You want to write for money? Get to the point. And if you remove all the excess garbage and discover you can’t find the point, tear up what you wrote and start all over again . . . or try something new.

5. Never look at a reference book while doing a first draft

You want to write a story? Fine. Put away your dictionary, your encyclopedias, your World Almanac, and your thesaurus. Better yet, throw your thesaurus into the wastebasket. The only things creepier than a thesaurus are those little paperbacks college students too lazy to read the assigned novels buy around exam time. Any word you have to hunt for in a thesaurus is the wrong word. There are no exceptions to this rule. You think you might have misspelled a word? O.K., so here is your choice: either look it up in the dictionary, thereby making sure you have it right – and breaking your train of thought and the writer’s trance in the bargain – or just spell it phonetically and correct it later. Why not? Did you think it was going to go somewhere? And if you need to know the largest city in Brazil and you find you don’t have it in your head, why not write in Miami, or Cleveland? You can check it … but later. When you sit down to write, write. Don’t do anything else except go to the bathroom, and only do that if it absolutely cannot be put off.

 

The questions I asked myself and found my answers unsettling:

Would my writing have a point after the excess garbage is removed?

Would I “impress” anyone (most importantly myself) should I choose to not look for better, more suitable words in thesaurus?

Will I ever be content with my vocabulary?

What’s my problem with sitting down to write and just writing?

Why is it that my brain hates me so these days?

 

***** Concluding complaints thoughts. *****

I feel hurt by my own self. Not same as guilty, but causing myself true pain – all because I can’t seem to do what my whole being craves. I struggle to transform my daily classroom and life experiences into letters and words on page.

I feel jealous of people blogging incessantly. I feel down I cannot find the right words.

I keep losing faith in myself.

I am not publishing this post to attract attention or fish for head-patting. I am not finding more excuses, rather spilling the heart and pain in it (which is real and tangible) on the page, in no hopes it cures or magically causes catharsis.

It is so different now, and while I’ve certainly settled down in my routine both at home and at work, this one aspect is my daily torture. I do not clear the bar I set myself.

 

Yeah, it will get better.

 

Thanks for reading.

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An ELT play of sorts.

With very few lines from characters and an Act of Silence.

/note: all Acts should have been more logically called Scenes. But an Act of Silence sounds too good to reject it../

The People in the Play:
Teacher of English
9 university students

*****

Act 1 At the door

TEACHER: There’s a password today to enter the classroom. Think about our lessons, concentrate on your thought. Now in order to come in you need to complete the idea:”I think it could be a good idea to … in class.”

(whispers, muffled sounds)

note: each sentence from a student is followed by a reaction from a teacher, such as “oh, wow, great, thank you, I like that” + making a note of the idea. All students eventually end up in a lesson.

STUDENT D: I think it could be a good idea to watch short videos in class.

STUDENT Aboy: I think it could be a good idea to read books in class.

STUDENT Sgirl: I think it could be a good idea to listen to songs in class.

STUDENT V: У нас идеальные занятия, меня все устраивает и у меня нет никаких предложений. (We have ideal classes, I’m satisfied with everything and I have no suggestions.)

TEACHER: Sorry, thank you, but please think of some idea for the sentence. Thank you!

STUDENT Sboy: I think it could be a good idea to have a break in the middle of the lesson.

STUDENT Agirl: I think it could be a good idea to have fun.

STUDENT V: I think it could be a good idea to sometimes sleep a little in class.

STUDENT K: I think it could be a good idea to write letters to each other in class.

STUDENT B: I think it could be a good idea to discuss our problems with physics.

*****

Act 2 Perceptiveness

(all students are taking their seats and getting ready for class)

STUDENT V (to Teacher): Why are you sad?
(Puzzled look and a silly near-smile on Teacher’s face)

TEACHER: That’s a very good question. How do you know?
STUDENT V: I have this feeling.
TEACHER: I don’t know. I slept very badly and I hate this weather.

(In Teacher’s mind: very unusual and sweet that it’s this particular student who noticed change.)

*****

Act 3 Skipped, or On Fast Forward

(feedback conversation on students’ suggestions for class, organizational moments, questions, Student D brags about a white scarf very fashionably tied around neck, brief review of what reported speech is all about)

*****

Act 4 From Tales of the Unexpected

Synopsis:

Teacher hands out copies of Genesis and Catastrophe and invites to read the paragraph about the author preceding the story. Students learn that Charlie and the Chocolate Factory is actually a book first. Teacher goes a bit exclamatory about Roald Dahl’s legacy and its fun and use for learning English. A couple of Students are noticed to take a note of the author’s name.

Part 2 of task: reading Page 1 only. The page ends with this line: “None of my other ones lived, Doctor.” Several Students make articulate and very recognizable “aaww”, “oohh”, sigh and wonder out loud (“Will he live?!”).

TEACHER: You’ll get the copies to read the story till the end at home, if you wish.

Part 3 of task: dividing the dialogue in half and working in pairs to transform it into reported speech. All Students are noted to be working, even those who normally openly sleep.

*****

Act 5 Act of Silence

(One student finishes very early, flips the page and goes on reading. There’s still 40 minutes of class left and a whole big, partly irrelevant point on the lesson plan to be done with.)

TEACHER: Please read the story when you finish with your work.

 

The 25-min silence that followed was broken several times by the following:

STUDENT D: Why is the text so sad??

STUDENT Agirl (the one to have begun reading first): He’ll survive.

STUDENT D: He shouldn’t have.

(in a while)

STUDENT Sboy (jumping off his chair and exclaiming almost in panic): This is about Hitler!!!!

(this outburst resulted in a lot of moaning, disgruntled remarks, hushing, blaming of “spoiler-ing” the story for those Students who were reading behind)

 

25 minutes of near absolute silence being engrossed in the story. Pleasant silence. Unhappy when broken. Unusual to all in the classroom. Filled with mute emotions on Students’ faces which were read from their, very different, changing expressions: shocked looks, raising eye-brows, laughing (??!), frowning, sighing, eyes wide open. Watching Students read for Teacher was most exciting and eye-opening. The reactions of certain Students, who might have previously been labeled for repeated lines in their behaviour, shook the world of Teacher’s mind.

 

As everybody were leaving the classroom, after a brief sharing of  opinions regarding the title of the story and the shocking impact, the following lines were heard and noted:

STUDENT V (to Teacher): Goodbye. Don’t be sad.

STUDENT Agirl (to Teacher): Sleep enough.

Everybody leaves. Closing curtain.

*****

This class happened last Thursday and the notes used to write the post were made during the lesson itself. The decision to give the time to read in silence in class was impulsive. We didn’t do planned things. Reading literature is not part of our syllabus (and these are Physics students). I’m not ready to analyze how effective this move was and how much they learnt in comparison to what they could’ve learnt had we followed the plan. I can’t know or measure the impact of the decision I take until I take it and see what happens. As Josette LeBlanc used this word in her post once – fluid – it’s become one of my favourite words. Looks as if it refers all around my understanding of teaching at the moment. If the day/group/mood/ whatever other conditions had been different, this wouldn’t have happened, wouldn’t have been my choice.

And there’s no further analysis to this Play, just a funny post factum observation that we did read in class as one of the students had wished to do at the beginning of that lesson. =)

 

Thank you for reading.

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