I don't want to neglect my blog, and I've just had a very blog-worthy evening, but so blog-worthy that I'm too tired to write about it now. So instead, I'll give you all a short summary of what I've been doing in class lately:
Giving my students English names.
Well, I've been teaching vocabulary and phonics and all that good stuff, but I've also been spending a lot of time helping students pick out English names. Many of them have names already, but many don't, and even some of the prior-name-havers (yes, I'm tired) wanted to pick new ones... some at my request. It took a solid five minutes to explain to a boy that "Joy" was not a great choice, and then help him change it to Joey.
I had the students come to the back desk one by one and pick out a new name by telling me which letter they liked, and I would then list several English names starting with that letter. Of course, I went first to the English names I know best (those of my friends and family). The way I see it, this benefits all involved; they get English names that are actually used, and I can more easily remember their names. Most of them picked easy, popular names like Jenny, Amy, and Ben, but some were interested in more unique names like Andrea, Judy, and Darci.
The biggest challenge was getting someone to pick the name Aubrey. It's long, hard to spell, and harder to pronounce. But for every little girl that said she liked "A," I always tried Aubrey. It didn't work until one of my last classes of the week; a fourth grade girl said she liked it and wanted it to be her name.
I wanted to tell American Aubrey about Taiwan Aubrey, so I paid special attention to her that day. I noticed Aubrey behaving oddly in class, pulling her desk away from classmates and constantly putting her head down; she kept playing with rulers and didn't even have a book in front of her. My co-teacher Susan later told me that Aubrey was "retarded" and should probably pick an easier name. I don't think Taiwan has the same distinctions of "special needs" as we do in America; here, it seems, either you're normal or you're not. Aubrey certainly wasn't slow, and did not have Downs Syndrome. She was capable of paying attention whenever I reminded her to, but just didn't seem to be accustomed to focusing.
Today in class, I remembered Aubrey's name the best because it was one of my friends' names. So, when she wasn't paying attention to Susan's phonics lesson, I noticed. Susan was having the students say the example sentences as fast as possible, and most of them were really excited about this challenging activity. This was something beyond Aubrey's abilities, as she hadn't been paying attention enough to know what the sentences even were (and again, no book). I sat down with her and had her repeat a few of the words. She could do it. I asked her if she was tired, and she said no. I asked her why she wasn't listening or watching, and she kind of smiled, then pulled her chair forward and looked at the board.
After class, Aubrey went up to Susan, and I saw Susan reviewing the material on the board with her one-on-one. As she was leaving, Susan told her, "Next time bring your book to class." Susan then told me, "She just told me that she wants to learn English."
Now, you can tell me that naming kids after my friends is weird, but the only reason I paid such attention to this girl initially is because she had picked a friend's name. When you see a different 30 kids every 30 minutes, it's hard to tell if one or two of them are not paying attention.
Here's a photo of Aubrey, during one of her (many) looks back to my desk to see if I was still keeping an eye on her. She's a smart kid-- in the beginning of class when I handed out the name tags, I told everyone that I wanted their names facing me at all times. So when I moved to sit in the back of the class while Susan stayed up front, Aubrey turned her name tag to me.
As another (more brief) example, one of the students in a third grade class told me his English name was Tom. Anyway, when I explained the concept of a "class clown" to his teacher Amy, she said that Tom was their class clown. He's a little noisy and a bit of a troublemaker, and has had to forgo naptime to make up unfinished homework. He was the first student to pick up on the fact that I understand Chinese, and the reason I had to make the rule that I will speak Chinese outside of class, but in English class we only speak English (which he strictly follows and enforces). Anyway, I told him that my best friend in college was also named Tom, and now Tom comes to my classroom during breaks to ask me things about America, my American friend Tom, and how to say different words in English.
Obviously, my goal is to get the same kind of results in every student as I've found in little Tom and Aubrey. But names and American counterparts aren't going to motivate everyone... so I'll keep teaching them new things and giving them different opportunities to learn about English and America until one day, they all start wanting to learn English?
On a related but less serious note, almost every boy named John, Jon, Jonathan, or Johnny has requested a new name.