Wednesday, February 18, 2015

My Cautionary Tale

My most embarrassing moment was the happened during the summer I was 14, my first week (and coincidentally only?) week at camp. We were playing four on a couch with one of the boys' cabins, and there was some kid in that cabin I had a crush on, a brother of one of my cabinmates. And I don’t remember what I did exactly, but I remember that I was acting really goofy and laughing uncontrollably, which didn’t strike me as like terrible or anything, until a friend told me I was acting like a fool. 

And I was mortified, of course. Not so much because of the random boy I had drawn into my spectacle, but because of what my friend said. I cared intensely of what my friend thought. She called me out on acting like a fool, and I was embarrassed like Meg from Little Women was when Laurie caught her putting on airs at a party. I cared very much that she thought I was making a fool of myself, and I cared about what my cabin thought, what the other girls thought. I had made myself that girl. Not in a 50s television kind of way. In a Mean Girls kind of way. You know. Kind of still makes me cringe.

I am reflecting on this because I did something similar today. And it was humiliating not just because of the amused bewilderment on the guy’s face, but because I did it in front of a room full of my coworkers, one of whom point-blank asked me why I was acting like a fool, and in that moment I was so thankful I didn’t blush and I hoped no one could see the sweat on my forehead as I tried to save face and laugh it off.

Why do I never learn?!

True confessions, though I don’t see myself as a flirty person, I also live in fear that I don’t really know myself. I don’t want to be that way. I want to see myself accurately. I want to understand who I really am and accept my fallenness and my neediness. But I second-guess that always. I am so confused by the things I think and feel. I don’t understand the things that happen in my own mind, and this is so frustrating because it leads to a lot of cognitive dissonance. Cos there are things my instincts want that my mind doesn’t.

But one thing I know to be true is that I’m an attention whore. I chalk it up to a mixture of factors, like being a first born and also, being human, but it takes a lot of work for me to call it what it is. For example, I kind of hate that I enjoy teaching so much, because part of the reason I enjoy it is I like commanding a classroom, and I like everyone asking me questions and following my instructions and laughing at my jokes and listening to my stories. That’s an ugly thing to admit, and I hate it because it’s often true. I can say that teaching is rewarding and missional and it totally is, but sometimes I don’t love it for that reason, sometimes I love it for bad reasons.

So you can imagine how this colors my interactions with people. I really believe that people are the most important thing, and I want to affirm people and serve people and see people because I believe that’s what I’m called to do, but honestly, sometimes I turn towards people not because I want to build them up but because I want to build myself up.

And that’s what makes flirting selfish, isn’t it? I don’t even remember the same of the kid I flirted with at camp. And my coworker, I can’t say I’ve ever had a serious conversation with him. We riff non-stop. This, actually, was part of my flirty faux pas. I think I said, “We have got to get better at having normal conversations.” It wasn't embarrassing because my actions potentially betrayed some veiled affection, no, it was embarrassing because I was caught trying to draw attention to myself.

I don’t want to communicate to my coworkers that I don’t care about them. I don’t want to be the person who is (unprofessionally) flirting with people just to make herself feel good. I want my coworkers to feel valued and respected. I want my coworkers to feel individual heard and noticed by me. I don’t want to have conversations based only on teasing and quick wit. And while I love love LOVE laughing with my coworkers, there seems to be an appreciable difference between laughing together and flirting. 

Flirting is not the greatest social ill or anything, but it’s not something I want to do. Not subconsciously and definitely not on purpose. And to be clear I’m horrendous at flirting, which is one reason why getting caught doing it is so embarrassing. I’m like the opposite of smooth, probably because I don’t flirt to be smooth, I unwittingly flirt because I wittingly want attention. But I think flirting is fundamentally using someone else to make yourself feel like you’re awesome, and, that’s not something I want to be associated with. And I don’t want to be that girl. You know the one. 

Though the shame was still hot when I relived the exchange two hours later, the embarrassment has already faded substantially by now. I wonder if I will remember this as an embarrassing moment once time passes. Hm. I make this mistake a lot. I can remember so many different versions of this situation, from high school, university, oh! Ugh, even from last summer. I wish I hadn’t stopped to think about it; this isn’t a fun game. But it’s a necessary one, right? Identify the mistake, repent of the mistake, move on, rest in grace. 

Jesus is shaping this attention whore into a validation giver. Jesus is making me less self-focused and more others-focused. I gotta believe that, even though these mistakes make me wonder. And His beautiful grace means that my testimony to my coworkers isn’t forever broken, and even if I’m that girl for the rest of my time on earth He can still make good things happen. Sanctification I’m sometimes still skeptical about, but on grace I am certain: my mistakes do not prevail over the power of His will. Thank the Lord.

Sunday, February 8, 2015

TV Show Listening Worksheets

I don't always think it's beneficial to use to use TV shows in class time because while it's definitely more fun for students, the learning objectives of these longer activities are not always clear. I usually reserve TV show activities for substitute lessons or test days. The following worksheets have been designed to teach phrasal verbs and colloquialisms, help students listen both for gist and for detail, and challenge students to make inferences based on character dialogue. Each episode relates too to the topic of the unit it's used in conjunction with.

My Latin American students get a kick out of this 44-minute episode because it features a murder on the set of a telenovela. The over-the-top accented Spanish in the episode gives them a laugh. The dialogue of this show is very brisk and peppered with pop culture references, so I use it exclusively for Upper Intermediate - Advanced levels.

I usually use this worksheet for lower levels, Pre-intermediate - Intermediate, because the questions are more fact-based and less inference-based, and can be answered even without hearing every line. And it's only 22 minutes. I usually also leave the subtitles on for lower levels on this one. It can still be a great discussion catalyst for higher levels, given that it hits on racism, protest, and why we study history.

I use this 44-minute episode as a lead-in to talking about interpersonal conflict, family drama, and conflict resolution. Gilmore Girls episodes are great for Upper Intermediate - Advanced levels because they speak so quickly and the dialogue is quite sharp and witty. I try to use with predominantly female classes; male students have reported being amused by it, but still find the show "girly."

I also use The Office episode "Conflict Resolution" with a rotating set of discussion questions because it is so on point for this topic, and the Upper Intermediate students really respond to the humor.

This episode is my lead-in to my lesson about small town Americana. (Usually part of a unit that includes dystopias/utopias, Shirley Jackson's "The Lottery," and socioeconomic status across the globe.) Over 44 minutes it shows some of the fun traditions small towns can have. The worksheet is simple enough to be used with Low Intermediate - High Intermediate, but in this case I leave the subtitles on, because the dialogue is quite challenging because of speed.

Admittedly, this is a movie, not a TV show, but I reserve this lesson for those class days where no one comes to school, either because of the weather or because of holiday traveling days. Our class blocks are three hours long, so I can comfortably show the whole movie while stopping periodically to check in with students in plenary regarding the worksheet. I've used this with the Intermediate level without subtitles.

Hopefully these worksheets can provide some ideas of how to use your favorite TV shows in the classroom. Please let me know how these worksheets can be edited or improved to hit on listening skills and target language!

Thursday, February 5, 2015

Paper Chain Discussion

Give each student a blank piece of paper.

Refer back to the prompt. Maybe it was a documentary segment they watched as a listening activity, maybe it was a news article they derived a key word outline from. I've used this activity after reading a short story, to generate discussion about its themes. 

Instruct students to create a discussion, comprehension, or interpretation question about the material and to write the question at the top of the piece of paper.

Set the timer. The level and complexity of the prompt should dictate how much time you allow them, but keep the pace brisk. I've found three minutes to be on point for the high intermediate -- upper intermediate levels.

When the timer goes off, pass papers to the left.

Instruct students to write a sentence or two in answer to the question written on the top of the paper. Again, set the timer, and again pass papers to left when the time runs out.

Then instruct students to elaborate on, support, or contradict the answer to the question. They should add more color and detail to answers they agree with, or explain their reasoning for disagreeing with the existing answer. Again, they should add one to two sentences.

Set the timer.

When the timer runs out, pass to the left. By this time there is a question and two answers on the sheet of paper. (You could continue and do three or four answers, but I find they get redundant past two.) Now instruct students to write a sentence or two that synthesize, summarize, or paraphrase what has already been written on the paper.

Since they have a bit more to read and because this task is a bit more complex, set the timer for a minute longer. (I upped it to four.)

Pass papers to the left. Explain that this is the last step and they will be peer-correcting the sentences on the paper in front of them. Use your preferred method for peer correction. I usually have students check for subject/verb agreement, spelling, and punctuation. Sometimes I have them diagram the sentences produced. You may also modify this activity to require inclusion of target language and have students check that the target language is present or used as you instructed.

I then collect the papers for class assessment, to see where I should focus grammar instruction for the following week based on what errors crop up most often.

I like this activity because it is language producing but also incorporates many skills concurrently. It's a great activity for the end of a three-hour block class because it moves fast, is short form, but allows students to focus on precision rather than quantity. This can be a catalyst to class discussion; often students will want to talk about some of the questions and answers their classmates supplied. 

Please let me know if there are any tweaks that come to mind that could make this a more effective activity!

Monday, February 2, 2015

Redeeming the time

I don't know how I feel about deviation from routine. Despite running on four hour's sleep, I was excited to brave the messy roads with my dad this morning. There's something exciting about being outside when everyone else is inside. It's the only thing I like about being up early. I was not excited, however, waiting on the chilly platform for my train to pull in. And I was not excited trudging the four blocks to my flat with snow in my eyes. I was not excited as I surveyed my already tidy room and wondered what on earth I was going to do today. Snow days, man.

Why do we do what we do? Maybe because we enjoy it, but not everyone is so lucky. I enjoy my work, but more in a this-is-a-pleasant-way-to-spend-my-days kind of way. Few are the tasks that are a motivation unto themselves. We do what we do, I think, because of the prize promised at the end, because of the transcendent worthiness of it. My work is meaningful to me, and that matters more to me than the thrill of diagramming sentences. The mechanics are not glamorous. The ideas that inspire the mechanics are. 

The announcers said of Julian Edelman last night how much they respect him as a player not just because he gets open, makes the catches, works the openings. They said he shows up at 5am and studies the plays and catches balls and works hard. Something about that stray comment clicked for me. Edelman is a superstar, for sure. But it sounds like he's respected more for his hustle than for his talent. 

Hustling isn't exciting. I'm watching all of these people head to work in the snow. I'm congratulating myself for being a commuter at large when both my work and school are canceled, but here are these people, headed to work with no fanfare. Business as usual. Braving the elements doesn't make you a hero. You're just going to work, like you're supposed to. 

And now this deviation from routine. I don't know how to feel about these deviations because I never know what to do with them. I'm terrible at redeeming unexpected downtime. But I'm alive, I'm awake. The snow has separated me from my casebooks and the papers I need to grade, but surely there's other work to be done. I'm rested, and it's time to work, like I'm supposed to.