Wednesday, August 18, 2004

I've been kind of bummed about how slow my business has been lately, but perhaps there's a silver lining. I've decided to start teaching piano lessons. Yesterday I found my first student (and have at least 3 more who are intersted in talking about it). I've always liked teaching, but I've never taught piano before, so of course I'm a bit nervous about how I'll do. There's the balance between being too nice and being too pushy. The parent I met yesterday said her daughter had 2 teachers already. The first (and this is someone I know) was kinda pushy and discouraged her. The second was a group class which was so easy that the mother thought her daughter actually retrogressed. I think I'm capable of walking this line, but I guess I'll find out in practice soon enough. I think adult students would scare me less because I wouldn't worry so much about hurting their feelings. If an adult wants to pay for their own lessons, I expect them to be somewhat self-motivated and I imagine they want to be challenged rather than coddled.

Which brings me around to

Lessons from Ukraine part three:

My brother, the real academic scholar, encouraged me to make a journal of what I learned about teaching English. I did a little bit of this, but not as much as I had hoped before hand. I certainly found our three hour training session on Aquiring a Second Leanguage to be extremely helpful and reviewed my noted from that class during my week of teaching. Since I was teaching advanced students, I tried to teach them some of tht same material, since many of them I knew would also be involved in teaching English at some point.

One helpful thing, though small, was the use of a two hand model from prounoucing certain sounds. Native Russian and Ukrainian speakers have a lot of trouble with the "th" sound. If you use your hands, one to model the upper palate and teeth and the other to show the position of the tongue, it is very easy for students to see how to reproduce a sound. One of them also gave me the tidbit that for that particular sound, the person you are speaking to should be able to see your tongue.

The issue of how and when and how much to teach pronunciation was interesting to me, Dean Storelli, our ESL instructor, said we should not spend much time on it and not do any until after building some repore and listening carefully to the students. Most pronunciation, I suppose, gets picked up naturally through speaking and listening, and drills get boring and discouraging, and don't simulate real conversation. I did notice several in my class having problems with that particular sound, so we did work on it for five or ten minutes on the fourth day of class. One student in particular (Yaroslav) had learned most of his English through reading. His knowledge of vocabulary was excellent, not to mention that he was quite insiteful in many ways due to having such an inquisitive mind, but his pronunciation was horrible. Perhaps it didn't matter that much to him, since his English interactions were more textual than personal.

One comment that surprised me, and I heard it from more than one student, is that they liked learning English because it was "easier" than other languages they had studied. I think German was the next most common foreign language for them, and they found it difficult. I don't know why they felt this way, but it doesn't matter that much. It's good to know that some find English simpler to learn.

One of the things I found out about myself through teaching was that I'm not very good at trusting others with tasks. We had a lot of exercises in our text book that required the students to either work by themselves or with each other in small groups. I always felt hesitant about doing these since I felt like I needed to maximize my time in teaching them. Also since many of the students were not really close with each other, they were hesitant themselves about working in groups. I knew this sort of thing was necesary though. I knew that after I left, they would be getting most of their English practice with other Ukrainians and not Americans. One of the exercises was for the students, in gourps of four or five, write a horror story together. They had a list of possible story elements and settings in the text book. I gave them about twenty minutes. After about ten, I noticed them really working together well, which was very exciting for me.

The next day after that, I read to the class an interview with Graham Greene. It was a listening comprehension test of sorts. As I did it I started feeling the opposite of how I had before--the class was spending too much time listening to me and not practicing speaking enough. I guess it has to go back and forth a bit.

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