November 27, 2005

The Open Classroom

The Open Classroom
Jo McLeay posts about her students writing their family histories, interviewing their parents and grandparents, and blogging about it. Interesting stuff:
The family stories that my writing classes have been working on have turned out to be really interesting. With some students the learning was able to be integrated with the history subject they were taking concurrently, as they were doing family histories. It led to some rich learning opportunities. Because the stories were from the generation of the students’ grandparents or even further back, we had lots of cultures represented: Armenia, Ireland, Afghanistan, China, England, Wales, Holland, and Scotland to name some. In their reflection the students commented that they had learnt so much from their parents and grandparents in finding out about the earlier generations.

Prompted by reading that self-knowledge is the only basis of true knowledge, and that one iportant way to come to know yourself is to closely study your own family, I have started interviewing my students individually.

Before I could do this, though, I had to set up the classes so that students are working independently. This has taken a while, but in most of my classes it is now happening.

I blend into the interviews functions and vocabulary that students have been learning in class, but the main focus is on helping them to talk about themselves and their families, and me getting to know them through their family and personal history.

These interviews have been some of the most satisfying work I have done with students for a while. I only wish I had started sooner!

Some examples: I discovered one girl (who had been barely participating in class, always arriving late, and being often absent) was of Korean descent, that her father had passed away a few years previously, and that her grandmother had set up a craft shop soon after arriving in Japan. Both her parents are Korean, and she has quite an extended family here. She has been to Seoul many times to visit relatives, but speaks no Hangul.

Sarolta's recent posting reminded me of the possibly unsettling effects this can have on one's sense of identity. I told this girl about my own bilingual/bicultural upbringing and how grateful I was for it, despite the odd bullying at school.

A boy I interviewed told me he hoped to get a job using English after graduating, but has taken no steps towards realizing his goal (he's still a freshman). I will make inquiries amongst local people and try to get him an internship or at least a chance to talk to some Japanese people who do or have used English in their work.

One girl I interviewed who had always been very quiet, and not particularly studious, told me she wanted to become a translator!

Another thing I discovered amongst many students was a lack of self-knowledge. Many of them are quite incapable of answering the question, "What are you good at?" Some think they are not good at anything, but mostly they just don't know. Why is that? Limited experience? They have never been really tested?

These interviews have helped me consider the matter of education from a wider angle. I have been reminded of things of importance, some of which AJ blogged about a few months ago.

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