Monday, October 25, 2010

Rock, Paper, Scissors

Last week I met with my students and this time I had a couple of projects planned. First, each student made a "sik m sik" card. Sik m sik translates to " do you or do you not understand" (payoff for that morning's Cantonese class!). On one side they drew a happy face and the word "yes"; on the other side they drew a sad face and the word "no."  I made one, too.  It took some explaining, Lucy, but we finally got on the same page. If you "sik" show me the happy face and when you don't "sik" show me the sad face. And if I don't "sik" I show you my sad face but when I "sik" my happy face is rightsideup!  Wow - did that make a beautiful difference in our communication. 

Next I handed out journals. We discussed the word "journal." What is a journal? "Like a diary," said Silvia. Yes - like a diary! Our journal's first job is to start collecting new vocabulary words. Every day they must find one new word. "Where will you look?" I ask the group - trying to make my face look quizzical so they understand my questions - shrugging my shoulders to my ears, raising my eyebrows into my hairline, shaking my head (I might win an Oscar for this) - I try all sorts of monkeying around to help the translation. As if that really works. But, okay.  So, the students list a few places to look for new words and we agree they will have 14 new words the next time we meet. (No meeting this week as its mid-terms for them.)

Now the fun part! I pull out a stack of magazines that Mark has collected for me for the last two weeks.  I brought construction paper, scissors, and glue.  I explain they are to make a collage that tells me who they will be after they go to University. What will their lives be like? What are they hoping for? They have about 10 minutes to make the collage and then we will come back as a group so each person can present their project.  Let me back up a minute...

Remember in my original post I said they take a test to get into University and English is part of that test. I asked the principal last week how this actually works. Here's the scoop: kids are given a passage written in English along with questions written in English. They have 15 minutes to read the passage and consider the questions, make notes; then they must speak, in English, for 10 minutes about the passage and use the questions as a starting point in their discussion. Talk about pressure! So, now you can see the rationale behind our activity.

I wasn't sure what to expect of their projects. They only really had a few minutes to quickly page through magazines and create their collage.  Back in the circle I ask, "Who will go first?"  I look down at my paper, waiting, as I know someone will eventually give in.  There is some murmuring and then all 8 students have their fists in the circle for a rousing game of "Rock, Paper, Scissors."  After a few rounds and by simple elimination, it was Rex that went first. Here are a samples of their work:

 Brian made this one. He lived in California for a year as an exchange student. His English is okay- not great, but his comprehension is excellent. He spoke about wanting to take "the right direction" with his education but ultimately he wanted to escape from the rigid world of learning and enjoy life like he did in California where they had parties and he danced with girls.

Jenny made this collage. She likes learning (picture of the little boy) and she wants to travel. Beside Brian, no one else has been out of Hong Kong. I ask Jenny where she will travel to and she says, "Beijing." And where else? She shrugs. Then she points to the woman in the lower left corner. When Jenny is educated and has traveled, she will be powerful like this woman. Yeah. I was excited too! We talked about how the picture conveys power - her eyes, her stance..."...she looks confident" says Jenny in her tiny, quiet voice.

This last collage is from Charlie. Charlie really tugs the heart strings. Last week he was the class clown. This week he wins the Most Improved award. He is the last to go. Clearly he is nervous and now I know why: he has very limited vocabulary. He is a bright kid, so bright it starts to worry me that he has left too little too late and now is so far behind it might not matter. The words he selected are: "industry" "communicate" and "positive change." I almost don't have to tell you what those words mean to him - making positive changes in his study habits (girl working) so he can communicate better with his teachers and go to University to learn about industry. The knowledge of what is ahead for him this year makes him feel a lot pressure: picture of the volcano. He didn't know the English word - we made that the first entry in his journal.

And now I know a lot more about my students and just how prepared they are for the exam. We will come back to these collages in the coming weeks. We'll add vocabulary words and pictures.

The principal also suggested I give them phrases ("she was talking a mile a minute") and ask them to explain it right away - no thinking; have them read phrases aloud and discuss.  I'm so excited about the progress I think these students will make. I wish we were meeting every day - then I would know for sure we have some kind of I feel like the volcano.

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