Thursday, April 12, 2007

English Class Student Pics

The pictures above are of my students in the lowest set in Form 1. They are the ones with the worst English skills. I teach them three times a week.

Last year, the school didn't put the students into sets. The excuse was that there weren't enough teachers to do that. That meant the classes were all mixed levels, with more advanced students mixed in with ones that were barely beyond the beginner stage. As you can imagine, it can be a real challenge to teach mixed level classes. If you tailor your lessons toward the better students, the lower students can't understand what is going on. You end up with a bunch of students looking back at you with blank stares. After that, they will either turn off, or act up. If you tailor the lesson toward the worst students, the better students will finish early, get bored, and will act up. You can give them extra things to do if they finish early, but then they will wonder why they are being given more work to do. If you try for a happy medium, then they all hate it! In any case, you have to spend most of your time with the lower level students, helping them or explaining things to them over and over. That means the more advanced students don't end up getting the attention they might need. Basically, in a mixed level class, everyone loses- the teacher and the students.

This year, after pressure from the Ministry of Education, and CfBT, the NGO I work for, the Form 1 students were given diagnostic tests, and put into sets. I was given the ones who did the worst.

Worst means worst. One of the boys ended up getting a 3 out of 100! someone else got a 13- well, you get the idea.

These kids are definitely more comfortable speaking Malay, and will try to do it all the time if I let them. Of course, I don't let them. I will say in my fake angry voice:

"Is that English?"

And give them my fake one-raised-eyebrow-mean-scowl.

My students even wanted to know how much Malay I understood, to see if they could communicate with me, and forget about speaking English all together. My reply?

"I've been living here for over two years. What do you think?"

Their reaction? The usual:


Sometimes I think "Huh" is their favorite English word.

Even worse than my students speaking Malay is their speaking Manglish, which is Malaysian pidgin English. That is because when they are speaking Manglish, they feel that they are speaking real English, and not some bowdlerized version of it. It doesn't matter that their word order is all wrong, their grammar horrible, and they are using a bunch of words which no native speaker would ever recognize. To them they are speaking real English! The real challenge of my job is trying to break them out of those bad habits they have from speaking Manglish. Hopefully, I can get them to recognize that there is a difference between what they speak, and what the rest of the world recognizes as standard English. If I can do that, then half the battle is already won.