Half a watchdog is better than none

Cross-posted from The Daily Kos. JISHOU, HUNAN, CHINA — Today while I was watching a girl with the English name Jackie teach some vocabulary this morning, I could tell she would be a successful person in the future. The thought just popped into my head unbidden, so I hope it’s a good sign. I don’t know Jackie all that well. She’s a freshman. Since I see my students only two hours a week, that means I have had only about 24 hours of contact time with Jackie and most of her classmates. Furthermore, since I teach her class composition and not spoken English, we rarely even talk to each other in class. Still, I can get a general idea of Jackie’s character and personality. She works hard, but is not especially gifted at English. She smiles a lot, is friendly, and pays attention in class. I reckon she cares a lot about people. Today, she came to class prepared with three vocabulary words to teach class (a weekly assignment for everyone): dusk, eminent and scenic. And she taught the lesson exactly as I had requested, which not many of her peers have been able to do so far. Further, she ...

ESL students meet Dickens’ Christmas, yearn for travel 2

[Cross-posted at The Daily Kos.] JISHOU, HUNAN — The fall term is coming to a close here. I gave my exams this week, and will spend the next two weeks reading and marking them, so I can return home to see my offspring with a clear conscience. Before exams, I decided to give my students — and me — a break, and show them a movie. Of course, it had to have some educational value. Believe it or not, Christmas, at least among our students, is a big thing here in China. They learn about the holiday as part of their English lessons in middle school, but still have only a hazy idea of what it is all about. Chinese textbook authors condense Christmas traditions from the USA, Europe and the UK into a mishmosh of ideas that serve only to confuse, not inform. Students ask me about how we celebrate Christmas in the USA, and I give them a pretty generic description, based on my own memories of 50-odd previous Christmases. But descriptions, particularly for ESL students, do not really convey the spirit of the holiday. So, I chose A Christmas Carol as the movie I would show all ...

Seven pictures are worth 10,000 words 1

[Cross-posted at The Daily Kos, and rescued from diary oblivion. That’s 3 for 3!] JISHOU, HUNAN, CHINA — Friday, my sophomores in oral English were more animated than I’ve seen them in ages. It was a set of posters that livened them up. To preface this diary, I need to explain that our classrooms here are barebones dull: white painted walls, beige tile floors, fluorescent tube lighting, wooden desks and chairs bolted to the floor, and a single double-wide chalkboard. We at least have ample natural lighting from the windows along the exterior wall. And no heat, but that’s for another diary. [It was at least warmer today than yesterday’s high of 6° C (about 43° F).] In September I decided that staring at the mostly bare walls was getting boring, so I decided to spend a little money and order some posters from the USA off the Internet. (I won’t link to the site here, but the site’s name is no exaggeration. They have ALL kinds of POSTERS.) I ordered four at first, one for each class of sophomores, as the freshmen had not started classes yet. Three were decently sized, but I failed to read the description of ...

Shameless self-promotion 3

I am now a writer for the Teachers’ Lounge at The Daily Kos. My first Teachers’ Lounge diary went up yesterday, and was even rescued overnight! In DKos-atopia, that’s a singular honor. So, go read it.

Merrily we roll along … 2

JISHOU, HUNAN — Hard to believe that the semester is nearly over, but it’s true. Time passes too quickly. It also means that I have been in Jishou for three entire months. While it may be hard to believe, it’s become home for me. I still struggle with being absolutely illiterate in Chinese and being incapable of having even a simple conversation in Chinese, but I learn new bits of Chinese each day. So, I figure I’m making progress. Chief on everyone’s mind now are finals, and for the seniors, postgraduate exams. Anxiety levels are high, and we all are busier than usual. Of course, the students are more anxious than the faculty. This weekend, I need to write six exams to turn into the office. Each writing or reading class has to sit for a two-hour exam. Oral class students need to be tested individually, and I have 35 sophomores, so I’ll be occupied with them for the next several days. Fortunately, I have had some experience writing exams, and I have been giving the students in-class assignments for a few weeks now to gauge how long they will need to complete the tasks. They naturally want the tests ...

Sarah Palin: ESL student 2

JISHOU, HUNAN — After three weeks of reading their diaries and other compositions, I’ve been able to identify some patterns in the written English of my freshmen. They have not fully understood the need for commas, or have confused commas with periods. As a result, they start many sentences with conjunctions: “and,” “but” and “because” are the most frequent. Some who have mastered the comma and proper conjunctions use create run-on sentences. To be fair, this habit is one shared by native English-speaking students, so I can’t criticize my ESL students too much. There are sentence fragments – clauses with no verbs, for example. Sentences that abruptly change topic or subject midstream. There is occasional misuse of tenses, using past for present and present for past, and conjugations, using singular verbs for plural nouns, or vice versa. One exercise in the freshman comp book is to rewrite incorrect sentences so that they obey all the basic rules of English grammar. These sentences are usually pretty mangled, and a good eye can reconstruct them pretty quickly. Grading papers can be tedious at times, so I took a break to read the transcript of the debate between Sen. Joe Biden and Gov. ...

The New Revised Syllabus

JISHOU, HUNAN — I now have a new schedule, which will change slightly next month after we return from the National Holiday Sept. 29 to Oct. 3. The Thursday afternoon class moves up one time block. Monday Tuesday Wednesday Thursday Friday Saturday Sunday 8:00 – 9:40 Oral Business English 2005 – Room 4418 Oral English 2007 – Room 4420 Oral English 2005 – Room 4218 Written English 2005 – Room 4418 Written English 2008/g1 – Room 4420 Oral Business English 2005 – Room 4418 Oral English 2007 – Room 4420 10:10 – 11:50 Oral English 2008/2 – Room 4418 Oral English 2008/g2 – Room 4421 Written Business English 2005 – Room 4218 Oral English 2008/1 – Room 4418 Oral English 2008/2 – Room 4418 15:00 – 16:40 Written English 2008/g2 – Room 4419 Written English 2008/g2 – Room 4419 16:50 – 18:30 Oral English 2008/g1 – Room 4218 (until Oct. 1) Sat. and Sun. classes only 27 and 28 September We’re meeting Monday and Tuesday classes on the weekend, so that the freshmen get a full week’s worth of classes. Their military drills ended today. Mercifully, I will get the weekends off again beginning next month. Typical of locations in ...

Reflections on the first week 2

JISHOU, HUNAN — So, I survived my first week on the job here. The classes went well (I think), considering my comparative lack of experience teaching ESL and practically zero preparation time before the first, Oral Business English 2005. I can tell, though, there is a wide range of English skills among the students, which will require some careful planning on my part. I have three groups right now. I see about a dozen business students twice a week for oral and written English. Senior English students — 21 in all — see me twice a week for the same kind of courses. And there’s the 35 sophomores I see once a week for oral English. The youngest ones, as you might expect, are the least practiced in English, but do fairly well reciting English passages and writing English. As with most Asian students I’ve had, however, their listening and speaking skills are not as developed. The senior English students are the strongest, but again, need work on their aural and oral skills. These kids are stressing about the IELTS (International English Language Testing System) exam, the outcome of which determines whether they can attend university in an English-speaking country. ...
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