Thursday, February 05, 2004

Black History Month for International Students
Well, I appear to have made myself sick. I shouldn't have said I needed a vacation. I cursed myself. As penance, I will actually talk about what I've been doing to teach my students lately, because it's actually not that boring.

At the ELC right now, we are running a One Book, One ELC project, linked to Black History Month, for which all the students will be reading Nightjohn. Last Wednesday, we had the kick-off event, which was a short discrimination simulation activity. When the students arrived at the designated room in the MSU Union, there were greeters at the door. If a student was shorter than Nigel, the teacher heading up the One Book project, they got to come into the room. If they were taller, they had a sticker put on their arm and were told to wait to the side of the hallway. In the room, the "nice" teachers were wandering around, talking to the students, getting them cookies and juice, basically being exaggeratedly gracious. In the hall, the "mean" teachers were telling the students they couldn't talk, sit, put their bags down, lean on the wall, or protest. If any student in the room noticed the students in the hall, the "nice" teachers just said, "Oh, they're doing a different activity. They're fine. Do you want any more juice?"

After 20 minutes, Pat decided that the students in the hall had come to the breaking point, and they were allowed into the room. As soon as they came in, they were offered cookies and juice as well, and almost all refused. Many of them were quite furious. We split into groups by class to talk about what had happened, and where do we see discrimination like this in everyday life. Pat, who is the student liaison/counselor person for the ELC, was careful to talk to all the students who had been in the hall, and apparently, my male student said he had been very angry, but felt better after he talked to me, so I guess I did a pretty good job with the debriefing. My female student in the hall is one of the lower level speakers in the class, but she still has a lot of good thoughts, so when she wrote in her journal, she indicated that she'd understood what was happening. The other students who had been in the room with the "nice" teachers for the most part hadn't noticed much was happening in the hall. For at least some of them, that made them feel bad once they heard from their friends in the hall.

This week, I showed the class the Brown Eyes, Blue Eyes video, so they could see the origins of the experiment, and perhaps gain a greater understanding of the concept of experiential education. I only showed them the first 3 parts, so they didn't see how the adults reacted to the experiment, which is more like what they went through, but I still think it helped them see a better context for it. Most of them thought it was a good idea for children to learn that way, but they were doubtful it could really work well with adults.

We've also been reading Nightjohn. The class is about halfway through the book now. It's a story about a slave girl who learns how to read from another slave, Nightjohn, who had escaped and come back to the South to teach literacy, but got recaptured. It is not an uplifting book, as it has rather graphic descriptions of the punishments meted out on slaves who tried to run away or were found learning to read. The class is going to have to read that part for homework this weekend, and I'm not sure how they'll react to it. So far, they have found the book rather challenging, as it is written in Black English, which, of course, they have never seen nor read. Honestly, I think this is all to the good, because it means they can't rely so much on bilingual electronic dictionaries.

They keep track of the number of pages they read, the time it takes them, any new words they learn, and thoughts the reading may have inspired in a reading journal. Hopefully, they will continue to keep the reading journal after we finish Nightjohn, and it will keep them reading things in English. The journal is part of their class grade, so I'm hoping it will enforce itself. Most of them have written things on their blogs about the video and discrimination, if you want to see what they are actually thinking. Some of them are rather erudite, in a non-native speaker kind of way.

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