This is a learning curve

I think at last, we understand one another, Frodo Baggins”. Faramir said that towards the end of the second Lord of the Rings film. And so it is here too. My culture course has not gone quite as I imagined it would. My first class, the introduction, was fine, but that was really just who am I and a ‘getting to know you’ session. The second class, I had an idea for ‘What is Culture’, which sort of went well and also sort of did not. It was fine, all things considered, but I have two classes with two very different personalities. The first, a class of 14, are very quiet and will only respond if I pick on them. The second, with 21, are livelier and readily contribute to discussions or answer questions. In my third class, I thought it would be an idea to cover some US history. At the break time of my first class, however, a student approached me and told me that, basically, because they all did liberal arts for their gaokao (the gaokao is split into two – science and humanities), they had basically covered everything that I was talking about. I did not give them a test to see what they already knew (in hindsight I should have done). I took it on board, but equally I do not know what they have studied before. I ended with a discussion of the Roanoke mystery which was the only bit they did seem to enjoy and engage in. I then played a game for the remainder of the class.

In the second class, I explained briefly that someone had told me in the first class they had already covered this, but I was going to go through it anyway. I did, rather quicker than I had done in the previous class, and then we just played a game. I knew that it would be a difficult class, because it was not very interactive. I also knew that there is some western history in the humanities gaokao, but I did not think it was to the same extent that I had covered.

The next class, is about young people and I feel more comfortable with that although the planning is a little difficult. I sent out a document with more background information about young people in America today, so I do not need to include it in my lesson (and thus, it gives me something to include on their exam, whilst at the same time, I can summarise the document without going into detail). I also have some activities which hopefully will work well. Scouring the internet, I found a video of young people talking about the issues which are most important to them. I will include that, and get them to talk about it. I also have an activity that worked well last year when I did it with the freshers. This is about giving advice, and basically, I assign everyone a problem and they have an answer sheet. The students have to go around and ask eight others what they would suggest as a solution to the problem. I will amend this and make the problems more young people focused, but I think that might work well. I also have created a fact sheet about a US high school student. There was a video I found, and I have transcribed it, as well as adding my own variations to it. I will give them this and get them to discuss differences between their own lives and those of US young people.

The lesson is (more) interactive and hopefully will work better. The lesson after this is about education. Again, I will give them an information sheet to read and I will probably briefly talk about the US education structure. I have a couple of ideas for activities – one is a role play, and the other is a ‘select the best school’ activity. I may also do an activity around money which, again, I did last year (and at RDFZ). This involves giving them money and getting them to think about how they would improve the university. I might show them an admissions video for a US university and get them to think about the differences in US and Chinese universities. I also have plans to do education next semester, when we look at Britain. However, I think for that I could get them to think about US universities, British universities and Chinese universities and, picking the best parts of them all, create a new university. But that is for the future….

I wrote the above at the end of last week, before the class today. As it was, the class went pretty well. They seemed more engaged and also seemed to (really) enjoy the advice thing. They went and asked their classmates and came out with some interesting (and humorous) answers. Even the first class seemed to be more active. I thought it also worked quite well how they linked their own life to that of young people in the US. I will continue to tweak my education lesson, but hopefully it will have similar results as today. I think at last, I have begun to understand things a little better.

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