Out of the mouths of ‘students’: Conversations from the Suzhou classrooms

Yesterday I woke up to a group of people out in the courtyard singing happy birthday to Paolo. This is not anything unusual except that it was 5:30 in the morning! In my stupor, I couldn’t decide if they were still up from the night before welcoming the birthday in or if they just got up early to make the most of the special day. Either way it made me feel happy and writing this post today is special because my dad turns 89 today! Happy Birthday, Pa!

That aside, it got me thinking about the idea for this post.

What else have I heard over the last couple of days in our Suzhou English conversational classes that made me feel happy? Better still, what have my colleagues heard?

Allow me to take you on a little adventure where we discover some of the wonderful things our Suzhou students have shared, not only with us but even between themselves.

Suzhou speed dating

Scenario 1:

After speed dating style introductions exploring conversation patterns, we asked the students about their experience. One said that he thought the conversation was ‘excellent’ as he did not know the person he was speaking with and that now he felt they could become good friends!

This makes us happy as the students build their confidence in introducing themselves using the English language with other students.

Scenario 2:

A group of female students spy one of our facilitators taking off his Monash hoodie. One comments, “He’s just so attractive!” “Yeah I know,” says another, “even when he’s taking his jumper off!” I inquired as to how the facilitator had understood what they had said, only to be told the students had commented in English!!

This makes us happy as we have a rule that if we hear them speak other than English in class, they have to buy us bubble tea!

Scenario 3:

Pick up line to a facilitator on the first day of classes; “I have 2 tickets to the Avengers, would you like to come?”

Nice one!

Scenario 4:

Three students gossiping over a test instead of discussing the task at hand, suddenly realise that one of our facilitators has overheard them. Embarrassed, they stop abruptly and seem quite worried. Our facilitator simply replies, “Oh don’t worry, I’m just excited you’re speaking in English!!”

This makes us happy!

Scenario 5:

A young man and lady were overheard talking in class. The young man says to his partner, “and that’s why it’s really hard to talk to girls!”

Eh?

Scenario 6:

A student comes to English Corner demanding to see a particular facilitator. “Where’s _____ ?” She said she’d be here!”

They have their favourites it seems.

Scenario 7:

The sassy student who corrected the facilitator greeting the class with “Good Evening.”

“I believe it’s Good Afternoon.”

Now that’s confidence for you!

Scenario 8

During the interjection segment of the class, a facilitator is explaining the different emphasis on Awww (sad) and Awww (when you spy something cute). One of the students explains it so succinctly. “The first is when your boyfriend hasn’t replied to your text message and the second is when he has.”

Just beautiful!

Scenario 9

On our first day, we made it quite clear to the students that our conversation classes were not going to have tests or exams. And then we began distributing one of the tasks, a matching exercise, and a facilitator hears, “So much for no tests.”

Haha!

Last one

Scenario 10

One of the students in our workshops watches a scenario being played out by the facilitators around feedback and solving problems and says, “That’s so nice, can I work for you?”

Oh, and one more exchange not spoken but communicated on WeChat. This made us laugh!!

Bubble Tea

Thanks for reading ūüėä

Nervous but excited: Our first day

We got this!

Yesterday was our first official day at South East University / Monash in Suzhou. I left our hotel full of self-doubt and angst. I have never felt so nervous, even though teaching is what I have done for the last 33 years. The welcoming party was wonderful. We met the staff at the university who put on a lovely morning tea but our conversations soon came to an end as it was time for our first sessions.

Gulp – we’ve got this!

Here is Suzhou, we are privileged to be in spacious, well-equipped rooms, the natural light from the giant windows streaming in, everything up and operating AND the students arrive.

Oh what joy!

I’ve discovered that Let’s Chat comes naturally to us and once we start – well, there’s no stopping us. We have a great program and now we get to share it with our partners in Suzhou, China.

I’m with a great team of colleagues who are dedicated and determined to make this work. Our first day was a testament to that!

Greetings from Suzhou, China

It’s been a while since I posted but I feel it’s time to share some learnings again. It’s not that I haven’t been learning in all this time – believe me I have.

The beauty of Suzhou

I’ve been busy planning and writing in consultation with a great bunch of people from English Connect at Monash University. I’m currently writing from my spacious hotel room in Suzhou, China, where my colleagues and I will be for the next 2 weeks, facilitating English Conversational sessions with the students from Southeast University. I’ll be keeping you posted on a regular basis. This is an important alliance and one that I hope will be most successful and more importantly, make me a better learner.

We spent our first day in Suzhou getting our bearings and seeing some of the sights. It’s a delightful and eloquent city. I saw beauty in everything. I have many emotions. I almost feel helpless not knowing the language and with very little English¬†signs and explanations I am lost – but I will be fine.

Over the next 2 weeks¬†I know I will see, hear, feel, think and learn many new things. I can’t wait.

12 000 words

They say a picture is worth a thousand words.

Here are my 12 000 written over 2 days.

It always begins with food

Beach cross

Sunday morning rays of hope

Easter morning breakfast

Stones

Seeker

Eagle’s Nest

Inverloch

2 girls & a rock

My dad

Me & a rock

The end

Thanks for reading ūüôā

What if we took the ‘dis’ out of disability?

I often encourage participants in my workshops to forget about what students with disabilities can’t do and focus on what they can. We can use this to approach the learning, get them comfortable and then push a little so the students begin to use what they can do to strengthen what they can’t. What do you think?

Let’s have a look.

Take the term disability. I’ve spent the past eight months asking research participants to describe for me what they think this is – you can articulate what you think it is now…

For me, it’s a negative term – something that gets in the way.

By simply crossing out the ‘DIS’, it becomes a totally different word, ‘ABILITY’.

Why don’t we focus on that for a moment? ABILITY. What can we change, put in place, introduce, or challenge so that we focus on the student’s ability rather than get all twisted up about what they can’t do? How would your planning and delivery of teaching and learning look then? Allow me to introduce Julian. He is a boy in your class, non-funded, presenting with the following ‘disabilities’

Julian – a non-funded student

Let’s just say we changed our thinking and presented Julian’s ‘disabilities’ as ‘ABILITIES’.

What Julian can do

How would planning a differentiated lesson for this class be different if we focused on what they can do?

Take another word – dyslexia. By removing the ‘dys’ we are left with the word LEXIA which has origins from the Greek and Latin and refers to reading. (It’s also a raisin, but that just doesn’t suit me here). *clears throat* If we were to address reading, how could we encourage it to those who have dyslexia? I have a few ideas, you may have others and the more we can share the better it will be, as we know that not all strategies work every time, all the time nor forever and so having a full bag can be rather useful.

Here’s a few of mine:

  • Use sans-serif text where possible, that is – Verdana, Arial or Calibri¬†and left-align the text
  • Use visuals and have the child ‘read’ the picture, you might even record their voice and help them write the words alongside the visual later
  • Use audiobooks – now¬†there are 2 important points I’d like to make here
    • The child should not just be listening to the audiobook, but should also follow the text
    • You don’t have to spend $$$ to buy them – record yourself reading it or have someone else do it for you – parents, imagine if your child was listening to you read it on tape when you weren’t there in person?

Next word – dysgraphia,¬†by dropping the ‘dys’ we are left with GRAPHIA, the process of writing. I have used graph paper successfully with a number of students to help formulate their letters within the spaces and I suspect it would also assist with numbers. We should never comment on how bad a child’s writing is (yes – no matter how bad) as this will only lead to them refusing to write altogether. The way one can improve their writing both aesthetically and content wise is to keep writing, don’t ruin that process, instead try a few different strategies to get encourage them. Use their body to form letters, take photos and have them trace around it – lots of different letters make words, sentences and so it goes. Help them manipulate further with plasticine, writing on the board, or on a wall (put paper up first!) with chalk on the path. I like to challenge them by having them use their ‘other’ hand – it’s fun!

The letter T
image: comicphonics.com

Getting the idea?

Let’s try one more – dyscalculia, difficulty understanding numeracy. If we remove the ‘dys’ we have CALCULIA¬†– obviously closely related to calculus – you get the idea. How can we assist with this? There are many ways we can address it but one of my favourites is more for parents than Maths teachers…¬† it’s cooking!

via GIPHY

Imagine how many things we need to measure, count, estimate, time, weigh and plan? Trust me, the benefits out weigh the mess.

There are many others I haven’t shared but I’ll stop it here and take the opportunity to invite you to add to my list of ‘dys’ words made positive and even better – strategies to enhance them and my ‘dys’ words above. Please take the time to share an idea that might help an educator change the life of a child today.

Thanks for reading ūüôā