Wednesday, April 02, 2008

The Accidental Revolution

Tuesday morning I had class with my sophomore English majors. We were trying to find a solution to their problem of having no one to practice English with. Something I've learned in my studies is that if you have a relationship based in one language, it's really tough and awkward to switch to another language. So these kids who have class together all day everyday find it hard to practice English together outside of class. I understand why that is, but I still have to tell them they need to suck it up and do it.
In class we were brainstorming ideas on how to help things along. I suggested they designate a day each week as an "English only" day, but they said they've tried it in the past and it didn't go well. Classmates would slack off and refuse to speak English, friends who weren't taking part would make fun of them for speaking English all day, and they would end up getting discouraged and quit after the first day. So then I thought, why not try it again, only you can speak Chinese with people not in class. They'd only be required to speak English with their classmates. That would avoid people outside of class making fun of them. But if your only choice for practicing English is the same group of classmates all the time, you get tired of talking to them. So I expanded the idea, why not invite the other English major classes? Then we'd have around 200 or more students taking part in English Day each week. Then I thought, why not invite anyone and everyone to participate? So many students complain that they have no one to speak English with, and we foreign teachers often complain that students only target us to practice their English.
Well, at this point things got exciting. In my mind, anyway. At first the idea only involved the 35 students in my class, then grew to include 70 students, then 200. Now the possibilities were enormous. We could get 500, 700, or even (dare I dream) 1,000 students involved in this! Now the problem was how to know who's participating in English Day. You don't want to have to go around every Tuesday asking people if they prefer English or Chinese. I told my students that before class on Thursday they need to come up with some ideas of something everyone could wear as a sign of participation. Something cheap and plentiful. Today a student told me it's possible to get something you can write on and pin on your shirt. Very easy, very cheap. I think they plan to start this next week, so sometime this week we have to go out and find a few hundred of these pins and some markers to write on them.
When I was telling Angelyn and Jessica about this on our way to lunch Tuesday, we were all getting really excited. One of them commented that we could be starting a revolution and we all got more excited. It feels weird to say we're starting any sort of revolution in China, but at least it's a revolution in getting students to practice their English. I'm sure there are some types of revolutions that wouldn't be so welcome. This was really all quite accidental and sudden. I don't know why it took so long for this idea to form itself in any of our brains, but I'm glad it did. It seems to me that at the very least our English majors can take advantage of this to get in more practice and form the habit of speaking without their teachers looming over them, forcing them to speak English. If some students got into that habit, it would definitely revolutionize the classroom environment. I'm tired of having to practically flog my students to get out more than one sentence. I look forward to the day I can leave my whip at home when I leave for class.

No comments: