Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Ask a Simple Question...(or a Day in the Life in My ESL class)

Over the Thanksgiving holiday, I gave my Advanced Conversation ESL students what I thought would be a simple assignment, one that would give them some much-needed time listening to English and would also provide breezy conversation topics for class--

I simply said they should watch a TV show/movie or listen to a radio program in English and report back.

As usual, things that seem simple get complicated for various reasons and the conversations that resulted were useful but not exactly breezy. I debated about whether to get to the book and group work first but decided to go with reports first and group work later. Since some students were absent, I let the reports go on a little longer than usual and determined that the next report would be timed (this means students have to edit themselves and think about what matters most). All in all, English was practiced and new vocabulary was explained and that is the main objective.

Student #1: She and her daughter went to the Redbox to get Love, which she said is the sequel to Honey. When the opened the case, the movie inside was not Love, but a filmed version of a Tyler Perry play. The student enjoyed the movie very much and found it inspirational.

Student #2: Put her glasses on and jokingly referred to this action as "middle age crisis" as she looked at her notes. It seemed that outside of class she had argued with Student #3 about whether or not the assignment was to listen to/watch an interview. She watched a YouTube interview with author Mary Higgins Clark and seemed to be reading a transcript of the article verbatim. I gently interrupted to remind her that the assignment was to tell us her thoughts about what she had seen.

Student #3: Watched a movie she called, "Tina Turner." She told a bit about some of the movie's pleasant aspects, but when she started to discuss the abuse Ike Turner heaped upon Tina, Student #2 got upset. Meanwhile, Student #3, smiling, continued to tell the story, recounting what happened when Tina finally left Ike. She ended by singing a few seconds of "What's Love Got to Do with It."

The other students sat there aghast. Student #1 asked if this was based on a true story and later commented that Student #3 was "a romantic."

Student #4: Spoke with great enthusiasm about "Walking Dead," which he watch online. This prompted a brief discussion about the existence of zombies. There was also a lot of talk of blood and shootings and Muslim students seemed scandalized by the details of a woman who ends up impregnated by another man (her husband's best friend) because she thought her husband was dead (he wasn't).

Student #5: Had been constructing a paper airplane during one of the earlier presentations. When he began to speak, I saw that he had done this to use it as a prop to explain a detail related to his story. I say his story because, assignment be damned, he announced that he was going to talk about "real life." And talk about real life he did. In previous classes, he has revealed his work as an army engineer for a Latin American country. He told of how a helicopter pilot he worked with and considered a brother was shot in the head during skirmish at a border. He was on the ground getting missiles ready to be loaded onto the helicopter. In the six hours it took to finish their tasks and arrange for the pilot's body to be picked up, there wasn't time to really mourn him, but they did drape a flag over his body. in the end, someone realized the pilot was still breathing.

The other students had a lot of questions and it seems that skirmish was part of an armed conflict that originated in the 1940s and was reignited in the 1990s. Everyone wanted to know who won. I said in war, no one wins. Student #5 concluded that unlike what happened in the 1940s, this time his country won the conflict (with 30 casualties to the other country's 1000) but they lost in a diplomatic sense because there had been international pressure trying to get both sides to end the conflict much sooner. Student #2 said it was "lose-lose."

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