Friday, March 12, 2010

Good Teacher/Bad Teacher: Teaching English the Kryśka way

There are many methods for learning a language. Unfortunately, there are no magic methods. Part of my job is to balance out the methods I like to use and think are effective with the methods my students are used to and prefer. Most importantly, I want my students to learn English. You’d be surpriseimaged how many teachers don’t really care if their students learn anything, as long as they all enjoy the lessons and pay the bills. In order for my students to learn English, I have to put forth some effort to teach them, but my students also need to put forth some effort to learn.

How do I get my students to do what I want them to do?

When I taught in high school in the Village, it was pretty easy. Almost all the kids had their eyes on the prize – university- and didn’t want to do anything to jeopardize their good grades and future studies.

With adults, it is a little more difficult. Firstly, I use two teaching tools - proximity and physical contact. I did not make that up myself as some sort of an excuse to touch my students. I learned it at teacher’s college. The theory is that if you place yourself near your student and from time to time make light physical contact, the student’s performance will increase (and discipline problems decrease). This works in groups. In individual lessons, your student will just think that you are weird and wonder why you are sitting so close and touching him all the time.

Another method I use is rewards. The simplest reward I use is praise, but that’s not very tangible. I mean you can’t take it home and brag about it to your friends. One of my favorite tangible rewards to give would have to be stickers. I have smiley faces and “teacher” stickers with phrases such as “Cool!” or “Good Job!”. The most coveted of all my stickers would have to be the American flag stickers. They are awarded only for tests (not homework) with scores of 89% or better. Some of my students (adults) ask me before the test if they get an 89% or better, could they get their sticker “unstuck”. Usually, they want to put the sticker on their class book or computer.

Another kind of reward is the opportunity to give me homework, too. Yes, sometimes I allow my students to give me Polish homework and then laugh at my mistakes. I’m generous and self-deprecating like that.

If there are rewards, there have to be punishments as well.image Adult students are really reluctant to do homework and by reluctant, I mean lazy. No amount of explaining, asking, pleading, ordering, screaming or stickers will get them to do it. So instead I have to resort to punishment – punishments which I call “The Power of Public Humiliation”. They don’t teach that at teacher’s college, and it is a pity because I feel public humiliation as a teaching tool is surprisingly effective and highly underrated ;)

Punishment #1 – Students who do not do their homework, must sing a song for the class…with the classroom door open for the whole office to hear. Number 1 most selected song by students would have to be the very popular Kotek na Płotek with Happy Birthday coming in a close 2nd.

For the most stubborn of cases, I implement Punishment #2 –If your boss is paying for your lessons, you have to explain to your boss why you don’t have your homework, now, right this minute, with me by your side. That one works, but then they hate me. It’s a trade-off.

Sometimes I don’t have to resort to punishment. I just threaten them with the power of, “Your boss said…” It’s a kind of good cop/bad cop game or more like good teacher/bad boss, except what the students don’t know is that in most cases their boss didn’t say anything. It’s a bluff – insert evil laugh here…Wahahahahaaaa…

When all else fails, I bribe them…with baked goods. Do not underestimate the guilt-value of a homemade banana-nut muffin. I can easily get a month’s worth of homework out of that.

It’s not just homework that students don’t want to do. They don’t want to do grammar, either. Lately, in an effort to get some of my students to do more grammar, I have come up with a scheme which seemingly forces them to choose grammar exercises and like it.

How do I do it? It is ingeniously simple. It’s all about choice. I offer them 2 possible activities for the lesson, one being grammar and the other being much worse. They always snap up the grammar, grateful at having been spared the “much worse”.

“Much worse” is different for different students. For some it is a text to read, for others it is a speaking activity, but for the some of my students, it is the grammar exercise which is the “much worse”. So for those who hate grammar exercises, really dread them, I have to be a bit more creative with the “much worse”. Out come the articles on difficult or boring topics: Pregnancy and Childbirth: A Lesbian’s Perspective, The Inevitability of Gay Marriage, Valentine’s Day Vasectomy Discounts….you know, your basic Sunday morning reading.

I have one group of gentlemen who are very grammar averse and by grammar averse, I mean lazy. I knew that to get them to finally stop stalling, I’d have to pull out the big guns. Bam! Grammar exercises or New Circumcision Recommendations of the AMA. Exasperated sigh, my plan backfired. They chose the circumcision article, even after I explained what circumcision was. I gave my students the incorrect statistic that 90% of American males are circumcised which prompted them to ask in disbelief “19 or 90”. I wasn’t far off though, as the estimated rate is around 80%. Despite the painful topic, the conversation was quite good and my students learned some words they may never have had an opportunity to learn. How they will ever use those new words at work is their own problem.

Next time their choice is going to be between difficult grammar exercise and even more difficult grammar exercises.

No more fooling around!

PS When I took my first trip to the sea side, I remember that my new friend asked me, “Are all men in America circumcised?” I responded, “I don’t know. I haven’t checked them all yet.” ;)


Szeherezada Stiepanowna said...

Dobry pomysł z karami za brak pracy domowej. :-)
W mojej grupie (dorośli) to nagminne (bardzo częste). Niby każdy chce się nauczyć, ale lenistwo zwycięża.

Chris said...

Laziness is a big problem for every teacher and every student, but sometimes it is not even laziness. People are very busy, they have their lives to live, jobs to do, parties to attend, children to tend to. I do give my students a "freebie" - they can be "homeworkless" once a semester.

And here's an idea I sometimes use - I allow the group to establish the rules, meaning they set up the reward/punishment system. I just execute it. Maybe that would work with your group.

Rinonka said...

I'm sorry, could you be my english teacher? :-)
I've never had a single one, who DEMANDED something from me, or who punished me. Not that I am some kind of masochist, but.. :) I need to feel that I HAVE TO do something. If there won't be a person who will force me to do homework.. I just won't do it. I'm too lazy for that. And in every school I've attended I wanted to have a teacher who will LOOK after me and will made me to study. And in the end it was always 'up to me'.
I guess I started to jabbering (is that word correct? not sure), so enough from my side :)

AnetaCuse said...

I'm impressed with your methods.

Unlike in a school setting where you "have to" do your homework or you'll fail, I think paying for lessons can be both motivating and demotivating. "I'm paying therefore I should get the most out of it" attitude vs. "I'm paying therefore it's up to me whether I do the work or not." And then if someone else (like your boss) is paying, why would you do the work if your motivation doesn't come from within?

Chris said...

Rinonka- I'd be happy to punish you, anytime :)

Aneta - You've hit the nail on the head. That's why I've started to establish the ground rules from lesson one with those people who pay themselves. Later, I can always fall back on "this is what we agreed" or "this is what you wanted" making our agreement the "bad cop".

Of course, I allow my students to change the path of their lessons (more this and less that) but too many people want to just talk and expect to jump from pre-intermediate to proficiency in one year. Some people just want to talk and expect that they will get better at...talking. That's ok by me as long as they understand their own limits.

Szeherezada Stiepanowna said...

To jest uczciwe, Chris. Jak się jest zbyt wyrozumiałym, to lenistwo weźmie górę. Człowiek jednak potrzebuje jakiegoś bata.
(i poszła odrabiac swoje lekcje)

ds said...

impressed as well. I was and adult student and had quite a few good teachers, but NONE of them baked muffins for us! please tell you made this one up ;)

Chris said...

Nope, not making it up - I swear. The most recently baked muffins were last week. They went over well except with one of the guys who's on a diet.

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