Friday, February 11, 2011

Lesson #9 - Always be Explicit

I have some classes which need their instructions to be very explicit.  Usually these are junior classes (the twelve to fifteen year olds) who need to be reminded at the start of every lesson to get out their books, their pens, their diary, etc.  Once the kids hit senior status, you can usually assume that such rituals are already ingrained upon them, and that your explicit requests need now only be comments such as "write this down", "finish that for homework", and "no, you can't leave the classroom to get it on with your girlfriend".

There are some kids though, who still need the minor rituals. "Get out your novel" before we commence reading as a class, or "Divide your page into quarters...that means fold your page in half that get your ruler and draw a line down the middle in the other direction...yes...excellent!"  These are the kids who need to be told explicitly how long their paragraph should be, and that the name of the film we're studying has a capital letter...and can be written about in more than one paragraph.

Ah yes, it's the HSC (which is the big one in Australia, the one that decides whether or not you are allowed to enter a tertiary institution or not) and kids are still forgetting the name of a text which will ultimately be worth 25% of their final English result. I...being a giver...and knowing that about half my class has a very poor grasp of the language, let alone the course, have developed a super-awesome workbook with all MY notes in it, with pictures and techniques and spaces for them to restate their understanding of what has just been taught.  It's a 50 page monster, but it's the best way I've been able to a) give the kids a representation of what's happening, and b) make sure they don't lose everything in scrunched up piles of paper mache at the bottom of their bags...if they have bags, and c) I've found that kids are less inclined to turn something in booklet format into a fan or a paper aeroplane.

Anyway - let's cut to the story, I'm presenting a particularly animated lesson on what I refer to as 'the angry scene' in our film of study, and instead of stopping to make notes on the board whenever I think that something is particularly relevant, I direct the students towards the appropriate question on the appropriate page and insist that they note down the important facts.

Unfortunately, or fortunately, depending on your perspective,  my landmark for where students should write during this particular lesson was in relation to 'the toilet', a still from the film photocopied onto the page which showed a close-up of feet either side of it.  It was actually vital to the line of questioning, despite how it sounds.  As such, I spent much of the lesson saying things suck as "below the toilet", "above the toilet", "look at the toilet", etc.

So, while wandering up and down the room and checking on student progress, I become aware that one student appears to have a lined piece of paper in front of her, instead of the booklet like everyone else.  I approach her with confusion, and question her:

"Did you forget your booklet?"

"No, it's right here."

"So what are you writing on?"


"But didn't you hear me ask you to answer this question under the toilet?"

"Yes, Miss....I did."

True Story.