Teaching, Learning and Acting

The lesson of the day is emotions. I’m hoping to add a few more complex emotions to my students’ repertoires (like furious or gloomy) and point out grammatical differences. Yes, the main character from Inside Out is “Joy” but you can’t “be joy.” You have to use “joyful.” The activity I’ve chosen is a good one – we learned it during a Conference workshop and I came across it again while browsing through lesson plans online – but I’m already worried. It involves acting.

The premise of the activity is this: students would receive a sentence, create an emotional spectrum for it, and then act it out in groups. A spectrum for “I love you” might go something like Neutral –>Friendly –>Like –> Really Like –> Love –> Crazy Love. I don’t remember how “crazy love” came about, but it made for a good acting challenge.   Ideally, this would be a really fun, light lesson. But it involves acting.

My high school girls are shy. Not quiet-in-class shy (they’re almost always chatty), but an as-soon-as-I-ask-who-wants-to-share-their-answer-the-room-goes-silent kind of shy. I inform a group that they’ll have to present their work and they often seem genuinely shocked. Sometimes they outright refuse. I think that’s also a respect issue. But Korean teachers have told me often enough that their actions are simply products of the Korean education system. “They aren’t good at speaking English.” “They just want to sit and listen (or sleep).” “They’re not used of speaking in class.” And here I was trying to get them to try acting.

It’s easy to become discouraged when you’re faced with a sea of blank faces, some refusing to participate, some perhaps not understanding how to. But I learned the value of silence as a Writing Center consultant, and I’m relearning it as a teacher. It seems to me that a certain amount of bullheadedness is also required. When faced with a stubborn student, I need to portray an equal amount of stubbornness – preferably called determination. But when faced with this stubborn student, there’s always a reason behind their refusal, anything from simple shyness to feeling under-prepared. I still remember how scary it was to speak up in high school French class, and that was in a culture that encouraged students to be active participants in their learning. So after a show of determination, a teacher needs empathy. As I get to know my students, I’m learning to make the right concessions. Maybe they need a little more time. Maybe they need to stand in front of the class with a friend for moral support. Maybe they really do need to be pushed.

I find my students are often incredibly true to their word. If a group insists on going third instead of second, I only need to remind them when it’s their turn and with grudging and nervous hearts, they’ll trudge up to the front of the room. Even to try a bit of acting.

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