Wednesday, May 30, 2007

Passivity in the Asian classroom

By Dick Tibbets - University of Macau

One teacher described his feelings about his class:

"I was very frustrated by the (to me) astonishing passivity of my students. The difference between what they were learning and could have been learning had they been more active was so great. And their (apparent) lack of motivation drained mine greatly.

"I had seen a little discussion on this list and in books about the passivity of many Asian students, and I thought I was prepared for it, but its degree and perviousness to my efforts was a great surprise."

Bob's suggestion that teachers coming to China should be advised of the passivity of students is a pretty good idea. It can still get us teachers where it hurts even after years. One of my colleagues with 15 years in Macau, teaches business studies and has a number of exchange students from europe in one of her classes. The Europeans are starting to express resentment and frustration at the slow pace of the class.

They have a much better command of English than their Chinese classmates and are also willing to chance their arm. Responses have to be dragged out of the Chinese students and it takes ages to get a response for even the most basic question.

I'm lucky. I'd taught learners from over 70 countries before I came here so I was aware of 'the Asian classroom' problem and had a context to place it in.

As to what to do about it, it depends on the age and level of the students and on other factors including luck.

I do a lot of cajoling and wheedling. And I'm quite prepared to make sarky remarks about how well their Cantonese is coming on when I hear the wrong language in group work.

I run around a lot to monitor group work and keep them at it. Groupwork tasks need a conclusion but they also have to have an element of development to take up the slack.

I make it clear at the start that I demand respect as their teacher and that that respect must be shown by deeds not sirs. I explain why I want them to do things and I try and show how this has helped them learn. My weaker students have been learning English the Chinese way for 12+ years without much success so they aren't unwilling to try it my way, they just find it unfamiliar.

I use humour and wordplay at whatever level seems appropriate. Anything to get them to realise they are learning a language not a subject.

It works.

For some students.

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