31 October, 2012

31st October Continued...

[After carefully reading through the rules and policies of my school, I have decided to remove any pictures in which students are recognisable, just in case they have jumpy parents. I like to err on the safe side.]

So Halloween as a teacher can be quite fun. Being a South African, Halloween was never terribly big for me. It's not widely celebrated with us, though a few people use it as an excuse for throwing parties and getting drunk (so much like the rest of the western world, though on a smaller scale).

A few teachers had a crack at dressing up. Here are two of them:

I think this is the first time I've taught a lesson completely in costume. It felt good throwing off the shackles of school convention and letting my hair down. The only problem being a man with long hair is that to be considered "smart" I am forced to tie it up.

I even got out my gaming dice and allowed them some time centre stage.

My very first pumpkin carving. IT wasn't that difficult, to be honest. Only my tools (a thin craft knife and an extremely blunt knife) weren't the best. One could cut accurately, but wasn't long or wide enough to cut all the way through. The other was blunt, so had to be forced through the grooves made by the former. 

In the end I think both sides turned out alright.

And of course a tribute to the greatest thing to come out of the modern traditions of All Hallows Eve:

31st October

It's Halloween!

I'll be posting an update tonight or tomorrow with whatever pictures I can take during the course of today. Until then, here's something fantastic to read:

"It is Halloween this Wednesday and I, for one, cannot wait to put on my succubus suit and go creeping around the neighbourhood late at night banging on doors, shouting: “Trick or treat!”
The real sport starts when the homeowner presses his panic button. You then have seven minutes to break into the house, tie the occupants up, find a treat and get out before an armed response unit can shoot you in the head. The kids love it."

To read the full story: (posted on 28th October) 


26 October, 2012

On waking

In my dream this morning I was teaching a class; that or something similar involving directing the actions of a group of people. Upon hearing my alarm I instinctively began telling the group to hurry up and finish what they were doing. It's not that I didn't realise that it was my alarm to wake up. Rather, I was uncertain whether the dream would....
...and there my thoughts left me as I woke. Perhaps I was worried that the dream would become confused, its occupants unsure what to do now that I had left them. Would the dream actually continue somewhere else in absence of my presence?

I could tell from the outset that today was going to be one of those days where my mind never settles properly.

24 October, 2012

Discipline Methods Revisited

The Clip Chart
The clip chart is not as effective as I’d hoped it would be. It’s still proving useful, as many students get excited when they move up, but those students who are usually in trouble become accustomed to being low on the chart; so much so that it doesn’t bother them. Perhaps it would be more effective with a first language classroom.

English times and zones
As we are teaching bilingual classes where English is the students’ second language, we have designated English times. From the first bell in the morning until they finish regular classes (not including afterhours lessons/activities) the students are required to speak only English. This ‘English Only’ is restricted to the classrooms themselves and the passageway area directly outside the classrooms; thus they can still enjoy their breaks. Naturally this restriction is lifted during any lesson in which they are taught in Chinese, or if a teacher asks them a question in Chinese.

The principle has told us she likes the idea and so will be officially implementing it, getting proper signs made and announcing to all in the various assemblies that the areas outside all the bilingual classes are English only.

English Police Officers
This is another fun idea we’ve hit upon, and it benefits the teacher by passing some of the responsibility over to the students. Each week we assign a few students in each class to be English police officers. If students are speaking Chinese when they shouldn’t be, then it’s up to the other students to tell them not to. If they don’t listen, then they get reported to a police officer.
My police officers carry small books with them in which they write down the names of other students who won’t stop speaking in Chinese. Of course, if a police officer is caught speaking Chinese too many times, then they can be subsequently “fired” from their position.
One of the other teachers has found that her students were a little overzealous in their approach to using the books, so she replaced them with police badges which the students wear on a lanyard around their necks and proudly stick it in the faces of students who are not obeying the rules.

Chain link
This is an interesting idea which works well. It requires two things. The first is a little sacrifice on the teachers’ behalf, as they’ll be required to spend a little of their own money at some point. The second thing is to keep everything visible.
First you select something you don’t want the children to do (i.e. speak Chinese during English class, shout or scream, be badly behaved, etc.) and each time they do that thing the teacher will write a mark on the board. At the end of the day, the marks are counted up. If they have fewer than ten (a number which works for my class) then they get another link to their chain. If they go over ten, then they don’t. If they go over ten by an increment of five, then for each increment they lose a link to their chain (e.g. 15, 20, 25, etc.). The chain links are made by taking strips of paper and gluing/stapling the ends together.

You attach the chain somewhere where the students can easily see it and tell them that when the chain reaches the floor, you’ll give them a party. This could be anything from a lesson of only games to simply buying them some cake.
It’s important to start them off with several links in their chain. Not only will it be more impressive than one, but it’ll also motivate them as it’ll seem attainable. On the flipside it’ll also give you links to remove if they misbehave too much.

Fortnightly Rewards
A friend of mine who is a teacher at a cram school does something similar. He keeps a record of the students’ behaviour on the board. Every two weeks, if all the students are well enough behaved, then he takes them to a shop near the school and lets them choose anything that costs under a certain small amount. That alone is entertaining, because often he finds students clubbing their money together in order to get something nice they can share. It works out to be a fairly cheap way to buy discipline.

22 October, 2012

Retrospective Contemplation of Child Media

I remember when I was young and watching a television show that I was very fond of. It was Duck Tales and in the episode Scrooge’s nephews were having hot chocolate; however they were only given three marshmallows in their drinks. They were used to having four. This upset them and so they embarked on a quest to solve this problem. I don’t remember how they did that and whether it involved making money for their uncle or showing him how important it was to them, but the episode ended with their uncle making them hot chocolate with four marshmallows in each cup, thus restoring the status quo.
What struck me about the episode was my reaction to it. I still recall it clearly for it is one of my earliest memories of truly analysing a concept. I remember thinking about how the episode ended and, at the wise old age of nine, wondered how many children watching the episode would suddenly start asking for marshmallows in their hot chocolate. More specifically, how many of them would insist upon four marshmallows as the “norm” for such drinks. (Though I doubt I knew the word ‘norm’ at that stage)

This turned into a myriad tangent ideas: How much would this cartoon affect people? (For I somehow believed many of them would be more easily persuaded than me) Would they get annoyed if their parents refused them or would the parents be too lenient and simply give in to their children’s demands? Would children resent parents who wouldn’t allow it? Did the writers/producers of the show share my thoughts on the matter and, if so, how did they feel about influencing people? More importantly, would they care? Did they make jokes to each other about how it would boost the economy by getting people to buy more? All these questions flooded my mind and I couldn’t help but ponder them. Even now, I am occasionally drawn back to such thoughts, and with them the old idea of how much power words can have when used at just the right moment.

17 October, 2012

Taiwanese Weddings

Weddings in Taiwan have changed a lot since the early days. Whilst the Japanese still hold to a number of their old customs with regard to ceremony, the Taiwanese have dispensed with many of theirs. Some aspects are still the same. In heterosexual marriages it’s still the tradition for the woman to have dinner with her family and close friends the night before the wedding. Then on the wedding day she will be collected from her parents’ house by her husband-to-be who will take her to his parents’ house. There they couple will receive a blessing from the man’s parents.
The wedding ceremony is usually a quiet affair. The couple, usually with both sets of parents and occasionally others, heads to the marriage court where papers are signed. The major event, at least in terms of a celebration, comes later at the wedding reception. A large party will be held with many people invited. Each is expected to bring a red envelope with money inside. The names and amounts of money given are studiously recorded. Additional presents may also be brought.

Here we find one of the customs that foreigners might think strange. If a guest gives the couple money on their wedding day – say NT$2000 – then later invites the couple to attend his/her own wedding, the first couple are obliged to attend and to give the new couple twice the amount of money they were given at their wedding – so in this case NT$4000. This obligation is not restricted simply to the giver, but also extends to the giver’s family. So let’s say there’s a man with three children. He gets invited to the wedding of one of his children’s friends and gives them some money for the wedding (NT$5000). Later he invites that couple to the weddings of each of his children. The couple is then obliged to pay NT$10000 to each couple.

To balance this (or at least to stop it turning into a money-making scheme) there is a flip side to the tradition. Any money given to a couple that marries may politely return the amount of money to the giver, with no ill feelings formed between the two parties.

At the wedding reception the bride will arrive and leave three times, each time changing her dress. She will thus wear three separate dresses at the reception. I’m unsure as to whether there’s a set style, but from what I’ve observed there’s normally the traditional wedding dress, a ballroom gown and an elegant evening dress. The dresses are usually done by a single company who offer a complete package including makeup and photography.
It is usually this same company who does the photographs of the couple. Those photos (the usual photos done of only the newly-wedded couple) are not done on the wedding day, but rather before it; often up to a month before the actual day.

There are also various other traditions and it depends on the individual couple as to how many (if any) of these are followed. Here are a few I’ve heard of:
l   The groom’s parents provide the new couple with a house to live in, while the bride’s parents provide the wardrobe and dressing table.
l   The marriage bed has to be a new bed and there is some ceremony to setting it up in the home of the newly-weds.
l   A male child who was born in the year of the Dragon is asked to roll around on the bed. This is a blessing in hope that they will soon give birth to children.

The picture is a typical setting for the wedding reception, though it is for a much larger gathering than those I have attended. The table closest to the cameraman is where the bride, groom and close family members sit. Depending on the number of important people present, this is sometimes split into two tables. Then the other guests are distributed across the room. Behind the cameraman will be a small stage area where various people throughout the proceedings will come up to speak. There will also be a government official who will appear at some point to give them his/her blessing and to wish them well.
If nothing else, the Taiwanese (and indeed the Chinese cultures in general) are very people-orientated.