04 September 2009

Teaching, Week 2 - Environmentalism and Democratic Process (Year 3, Day 10)

Be it here known to all that I severely underestimated my student's abilities in English last semester. They--both my students and their abilities--pretty much rock.

Last semester, we did a lot of simple grammar review and practice. Although I teach at a high level science college-prep high school (For reference, 75% of students graduate to the top tier universities in the country in the equivalent of Grade 11 in America. Not after. In.), my students' English skills are all over the map. It's not nearly as bad as my first placement in Pyeongchang (평창)--a rural town in Kangwon-do (강원도) with Olympic aspirations--but I still have a terrible spread between low intermediate and high advanced EFL learners. The idea with the grammar review and practice was to get everyone on the same page while creating lessons where the advanced students could expand upon the prompts given them.

Well, either that worked, or, like I said, the students were a lot more able than I thought and just shy the first semester. The past three lessons I wanted to see how far I can push them. Apparently, pretty far.

Our tripartite project, based on a similar lesson plan by a colleague, was to research, write, and debate a US$100 billion budget for the United Nations Environmental Committee. Each class researched different topics within small groups, among them global warming, air pollution, deforestation, and endangered species. Each group tackled one of the topics and, using the Internet, researched the causes and effects of each problem and possible projects that could help alleviate them.

When we finally got around to debating the budgets, the students threw themselves into it full force. We used a very simplified democratic model (raise hands to be recognized by the committee president to give an opinion on increasing funding for a project, decreasing its funding, or cutting it all together, then vote), but considering their actual democratic models, I was impressed with the amount of calm reasoning and negotiation they employed to get their budgets under the $100 billion limit.

My co-teacher commented to me after the first class that this kind of lesson is especially good for Korean students, especially ones with aspirations to be the future leaders of Korea. In their classes, they learn about democracy and democratic process from books and by listening to their teachers lecture them about it. He says that this leads to the sort of schoolyard rumble conduct the Korea National Assembly displayed in that video linked above. Actually practicing it in class beforehand, as we so often do in the states even when we are deciding something menial like playing inside or outside with the last ten minutes of class, will hopefully make these students better citizens in the future.

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