Tuesday, September 15, 2009

"Aaaaahhhhh! Sheeep!"

I'm at a loss for how to best handle my after school class. Truthfully, I could bitch about it at great length, but that would be tiresome. In a basic sense though - here's what's wrong with it: I have the wrong mixtures of students. It's really that simple.

Okay, I should explain a bit. The after-school clubs for Korean public middle school students are supposed to exist to supplement their regular daytime learning. While many students' parents can afford to visit academies to practice in regular subject areas, most of the students at my school cannot - hence: after-school clubs.

I like the idea. I want to connect more with my kids, and this should provide an opportunity for me to do so. Problem is, not to be too melodramatic about it, but it's kind of set-up for failure. I wasn't given any guidance or suggestions on how the class should run, what the expectations were, or what had gone before. In essence - pretty much my summer camp experience. All I was told was that I would have two separate groups of mixed-grade and mixed level students for 1.5 hours on Tuesday after school, and the other group for the same time on Wednesday afternoons.

I've done everything from story-boarding animated shorts, to creating subject displays for the board outside of my classroom, to writing poetry. I have had mixed success. And why wouldn't I? What was intended, I believe, to be a class where students could practice their spoken English, becomes an exercise in frustration for us all. I have students in middle school grade 3 (grade 9) who could be on an English debate team, alongside students in grade 2 who are not completely familiar with the alphabet. What a great opportunity for role-modeling and mentoring, you say? No - these kids have just finished an entire day of school and are not in the mood for such positivity.

To combat this, I tried suggesting that we separate the group into two groups divided by speaking level - that way, the higher level kids could actually speak to me and to each other in the language they are there to practice, and the lower level kids can engage in activities that aren't way over their heads. No such luck - the time table was set and that was that.

Sadly, things won't be getting better in semester 2, as I just learned that student enrollment in after school clubs is way down across the board and I will only have one day in which to run my one club of 15 mixed-level students. Oh, good.

Well, I'm just going to try something crazy and attempt some kind of theatre stuff for semester 2 and we'll see how they take to that. Could be interesting.

In the meantime though, I'm going with what turned out to be a great go-to game for the ESL classroom. Yes, my nerdish friends, I'm talking about Settlers of Catan. Jenn and Chris inspired me to bring my set out to Korea for year 2, and since I got all decked-out with all the expansion hoo-ha around Christmas time, I'm packing a whole lotta Settlers heat... and I really don't care how geeky that sounds.

My after-school kids started with regular Settlers of Catan today, and if they're ready for it, we might introduce Cities and Knights in a couple of weeks. Hey - these kids are done with learning for the day, so this is a way for me to get them speaking English, which is really the whole point of the thing. The students all have their cost cards which require English to figure-out, and they need to trade with each other on a regular basis. This day, I was fairly lenient, but next week, I'm going to take a resource card for each time that they speak in Korean. "Ahhhhh TEACHER!!! My clay!!!" That's right.
There's something incredibly rewarding about introducing this game to people. Within 15 minutes, I had eye-rolling teens turn into rabid and ruthless sheep barons and wheat thieves. Sadly, I didn't feel comfortable making the usual wood references - even though my students would have had no idea why I was laughing. Still, it was hilarious watching them go bananas over the longest road. It's quite amazing how quickly they can take to the game - even in English class.

My students weren't the only ones who have turned though. A couple of weeks back, some friends and I went to celebrate the birthdays of our freinds, Maria and Lexi at Gungneung - a beach city on the East coast. Awesome get-away, even if the weather wasn't perfect. We threw the football and frisbee around, explored, tried to find a familiar breakfast, and when people were hanging at the minbak, getting a bit blue because of the gray skies, I asked if anyone wanted to play a game.

People looked like they would rather die, but they humoured me. They sat there stone-faced while I explained the rules, but within the same time frame that I gave my students, the light went on. People played in pairs, which added a completely different element to the game. I did this with my kids too. They started strategizing and becoming incredibly bitter toward each other. To the outside observer, it would have been curious at least to see a group of relatively cool adults speak in hushed tones about their strategies: "Well, if we build that way, we could exploit the unused wheat and ore that everyone else is ignoring." That's, right. Andrew and Mike in particular while deep in their planning looked like Bush and Cheney.

So, game ends and we head out for a birthday dinner, to drink, to the beach for fireworks and more drinking, and then guess what 10 slightly inebriated and sleep-deprived adults wanted to do?

Settlers until 3 am - punctuated by random outbursts of "Damn clay!", "Get that f$#@ing robber off my wood!", and "Mike... take a shower..." It appears that all people - drunk and sober, old and young, birthday and unbirthday, just dig on Settlers of Catan. Those are my kind of people. I felt like a proud father... or something. My students might not know what present progressive is, but I'll be damned if they're going to brave this dark world without knowing the value of securing ore and wheat production on a high-probability hex.


Kid Atomic said...

Man, I still remember the day you introduced that game to Ian and I at the old Cedarbrae lodgings. Oh, the times we had!

Jen Davies, MA, CCC said...

Nice-uh! Glad folks in SK are still enjoying a little Catan.

George Bailey Sees The World! said...

Yes - the times were golden. I should simply modify James Earl Jones' stirring speech from Field of Dreams and say that our lives have rolled by like an army of steam rollers, but Catan has marked the time...

Leo said...

I said Bush and Rummy, but it could definitely go down as a Cheney face, too.

I hear you on mixed levels, but will point out that in my after school program is the only place where the students ARE sorted by level. Oh, it's glorious!