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Sunday, March 6, 2011

Troublesome and Intolerant: Part One

He would fit in well with my class!
Every teacher has one of those classes. You know the one I mean, the class that you come out of with feelings that range from slight dejection to outright depression. The class that makes you feel like a bad teacher because it doesn't go as you'd hoped. The class that makes you react in ways that you wouldn't have dreamt of doing when you were training and may have even got you thrown off the course. Now don't worry, I'm not talking about anything violent here! I mean reactions such as raising your voice, getting into useless discussions with students, sticking to your guns when you know it's best to change tactics or move on.

Every year there seems to be one of these groups to spoil your otherwise perfect timetable. And the funny thing is, that the class in question isn't a group of bad kids, their previous teacher thought they were a lovely group, but there is something invisible that prevents you from gaining their respect and trust. Maybe you started the year on the wrong foot, maybe they preferred last year's teacher, maybe they have just changed over the summer. Maybe, as teachers, we know that the year is not going to be perfect and that there will be one group that will ruin things and we unconsciously stick a label on this group in the first week. Yes, this is going to be my dreaded group this year! I would hope this wasn't the case, but it is a possibility.

For me, this class changes as time goes on. Once upon a time it was very young learners that made my life difficult. Four year olds that I couldn't keep on a chair for more than five minutes. This year it's a group of thirteen year olds. Hormones all over the place, these kids are giggly, touchy-feely (with each other!) and would be much happier if they were allowed to sit chatting in Spanish all lesson. It may not help that I am no longer a "playing games" type teacher. It certainly does not help that they are in that in-between stage of mental and emotional development. They want to  "play games" but they don't want to get up from their seats or actually do anything. They definitely don't want to "do the book"!

So, I try (I really do) to find more fun things for them to do. They have been reasonably responsive with a couple of lessons based around activities from the Timesavers Speaking Activities book of resources. They particularly enjoyed the drawing activity but get quite bored with the "opinion" type discussions. They all profess to prefer "grown up" activities like the previous type, but don't really have the maturity to do them effectively. Sometimes they come out with things they have seen on TV and show some interest, so last week I took in a simple copy of the summarised Declaration of Human Rights and the following lesson we looked at what was happening in Libya. They didn't complain as such about the content, although I could tell it went a bit over their heads. A few of the students had never heard of Libya. Only one knew where in the world it was and could easily locate it on a globe. I wasn't particularly surprised as Spanish education focuses on mainly just that: Spain. Spanish history, Spanish geography and so on. I'm sure I had never heard of Libya myself when I was thirteen, but the again it wasn't on TV twenty-four-seven. Very few had heard of Gaddafi, but when we read a short article and discussed briefly what was happening, they were at least showing some interest. Maybe this was because I had promised them a game after we had finished!

Some of the students have showed an interest in history. I'm wondering whether to try a few lessons on historical events. I'm not particularly well-read on history myself, so I would have to do some research first, but if it keeps them happy...

I am open to any ideas on how to keep this group motivated. My main concern is to get them speaking, as I can focus on vocabulary or language features that either emerge or that I can smuggle into the activity itself.
If anybody knows of any resources suitable for teenagers with an elementary productive level (but pre-intermediate receptive skills) please add a comment below.

This post is a two-parter - this is the "Troublesome" part. You can find Part Two "Intolerant" here.
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