Tuesday, May 11, 2010


A few thoughts/experiences from my little world of teaching. And yes, I'm exactly like Robin Williams's character in Dead Poets Society.

1. MAKE THEM DO MORE WORK! One of my big realizations as a teacher is that I do too much work and the students don't do enough. I'm not talking about preparing for class, because that's important, but rather creating environments where they are working and inventing. In ESL-speak, I should be the "scribe on the side" instead of the "sage on the stage." This is difficult for me, because in addition to enjoying hearing myself talk, I tend to get anxious when I'm not talking. It makes me feel like I'm not "teaching" enough, even though I was told that in an ideal speaking class, the students should be talking 80% of the time, and the teacher only 20%.

A beautiful example of this is a recent conversation I had. I wanted to improve my students' pronunciation, so I was planning a lesson centered around a traditional method: tongue twisters. I wanted to make it more interesting, so I asked Jessica for advice. She suggested, "Why don't you have them make up their own tongue twisters?"

Success! Instead of a dry, rote class where I introduce tongue twisters and they repeat after me, like zombie robots, I had a really fun, dynamic, student-centered class where they created the content. Most of them came up with funny and well-thought-out tongue twisters, and even a few weird/provocative ones. ("Nick thought a sick thought when he saw a hottie on the Theodore Shore")

On a related note, I'm forever halfway through Paulo Freire's "The Pedagogy of the Oppressed," but I feel like in a small way, this is an example of the liberationist education he's going for. The "banking method" of teaching involves the teacher having all the knowledge and depositing it in the students' brains like empty bank accounts. The point of "liberationist education" is to encourage students to have a role in creating their own realities. I have a long way to go, but I am always trying to be the type of teacher who can facilitate that process.

2. SCAVENGER HUNT! Because I am actually a glorified camp counselor, and the weather is finally getting nice, I created a scavenger hunt for my students. It involved answering some questions and riddles and finding objects. One of the riddles was the following: Bring me the object that solves this riddle: What Has A Neck But No Head?

About half the students got it right ("A Bottle") and a bunch more said "A Shirt" which is sort of right, and I said it was okay. Some wrote "Teapot" or "Vase" which was less correct. But my favorite group of all presented me with this object:

Yep, that's a duck neck. They went to the store and bought me a duck neck to solve the riddle. While not technically correct, I thought it was such a creative answer that I gave them a million points. Only in China!


  1. First and foremost that scavenger hunt story made me crack up. Secondly, I'd love to talk to you about Pedagogy of the Oppressed and how Freire's theories jive with your experience or not...xox

  2. These sound like awesome classroom activities! (and I'm glad you gave a lot of extra points for the duck neck).
    I'd also be interested to hear more about your teaching experience rel. to Friere, and in general.