Several things have come to mind in the past few weeks. Last week I attempted to do something which was completely different at my elementary school…role-play! I gave them pictures of different scenarios and asked them to put words that they had learned to the scenarios. They were fairly simple things, two people shaking hands, waving, taking sweets, giving someone money. These kids have learned English for about three years now, for the past year it’s been once a week. Now I didn’t give it to them cold, we did some warm up phonics (no they can’t read yet) and then I and one of my mothers demonstrated with some other pictures.
It took a bit of time for the kids to get what we wanted. Now one class got right into it and volunteered to show off their skits to the others:
(Gives her a pen)
It’s not Shakespeare but it is them actually practising English rather than parrotting it back like the Private Teacher makes them do (every week). He isn’t in for three weeks so I’m making the most of it. The second class who has usually struck me as the best class sat there and refused in that special Japanese way to do anything. After some cajoleing by the homeroom teacher all the pairs did exactly the same skit as I had demonstrated to them. Some pupils sticking up their hands to ask exactly what we had said:
(Bump into each other)
‘Go ahead’ (Gesturing)
(Bump into each other again)
‘Oh I’m sorry’
‘Don’t worry about it.’
In the after lesson evaluation I admited that the task had been too difficult and too unexpected for the kids to cope with and that I should have lead up to it with some dialogues and practices. The response was that I shouldn’t have even bothered with that. Japanese children have no imagination I was told so it was too difficult for them. Excuse me? I must have imagined them playing outside in the playground babbling in the way of prepubescents everywhere and pretending random stuff. It’s this pesky Western imagination you know, gets in the way of everything.
But yes suddenly asking them to use their obviously nonexistent (please note the sarcasm) imaginations in a class which usually only asks them to repeat, over and over again was a mistake. It’s nothing to do with their imaginations but rather to the context, all children are context based and whether their Japanese or Western or Mongolian asking them to do something that usually they do in a different context is a difficulty, it’s one of those things that school teaches implicitly along with the rest of life taking usually about fourteen concious years or more to do.
It’s like the whole issue I have with the words stupid and ignorant. Which are not bloody interchangeable no matter what anybody says. As a child you can’t help your ignorance because you haven’t learned stuff yet. It doesn’t make you stupid. As a child there’s stuff you don’t know because you haven’t tried and if nobody asks you how are you going to know what to try? Its a matter of ignorance not of stupidity and it certainly isn’t a matter of lacking imagination even if your teacher is stupid enough to give you too much to do in a lesson.