some class periods are clearly sent from heavenly hands through a clear chanel into the top of my head from which i retrieve them – all safety gear in place, all understanding of the audience factored in, blood sugar, caffeination, and patience meters in good form.
then there are those lessons in which, rather than a lesson, one receives something resembling very closely a revolver with which one shoots oneself in the foot – not once, but several times, until, left to hop and yelp and bleed all over the room, the instructor becomes something of a circus act before which her students, mostly dumbfounded, try to come to grips with the scene taking place in front of them.
concretely: every pedagogical choice i made this afternoon backfired.
at the beginning:
i told them i wanted them to take a break from language & just close their eyes and listen… which they DID – it was nice to see a room full of 17 year olds with their eyes closed, just listening. i played them a musical clip in which they would not understand the language being sung – just contrabass & voice.
when the music finished, i asked them about the experience – what had they heard – and they gave me some good answers. the bass, the voice, the rhythm…
when i asked them to tell me how they could tell that the music had begun – what cued them in to the fact that the performer had moved from tuning the instrument into playing music – one student very beautifully articulated that it was when the sounds of the instrument started taking on some sense that we understood that the music had begun.
this, i gleefully pointed out, not having anticipated that we would end up on this idea, is a beautiful metaphor for learning a new language – at first we can’t even perceive rhythm in a new language – then we can… then we start to hear order… then we start to understand, and even communicate.
the effect of the no-language-close-your-eyes-and-just-listen introduction was that my get-your-students-to-TALK-class turned into a WHY-OH-WHY-WON’T-ANYONE-SAY-ANYTHING tooth-extracting mission!
rather than letting everyone be in that flow, i started to get a little frantic – ACH! – where’s the energy in this room!? participate!
oy. shoot. (ow!) shoot. shoot. (OW! ow…) ow.
[you can call me bleeding foot. but just for the rest of the day.]
tomorrow, as always, we start again.