Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Twenty First Century Style Teaching

Today was a momentous occasion for one set of Tajik students at the university in Khujand. My students at the university will have a test next Monday and we're supposed to get through a TON of curriculum before then. Well, I'm in Dushanbe for the week for the English Access Microscholarhip Teacher Training Conference that I planned and organized so I HAD to leave Khujand and be in Dushanbe. That obviously means I'm not in Khujand to get through the curriculum with the students. Before I left Khujand last week I gave them homework to do every day. They had homework for Saturday, Sunday (day off), Monday, and Tuesday. I told them I'd call them on Wednesday (when the conference was finished) and we'd have class via phone. They were all excited about it when I told them the idea and were intrigued about how such a method could work.

The university system is run by lot of dogmatic, old, Soviet-day reminiscing people who think people learn by rote memorization, drills, and putting words into someone else's mouth. And they micro-manage. When I talked to the head of the Grammar and Translation department at the uni he told me that I would teach by drills and memorization and he demanded that I change my accent to be a British one. After that conversation I refused to work with him. I'm an expert in my field and that's why I'm in Tajikistan; I'm not here to work like a Tajik. I'm here to bring new ways of doing things (gently) to the Tajiks because they can't all go to the West to experience it for themselves.

Before I left Khujand I informed the director of the department I work for that I would be out for the week but would still have class but, since I couldn't be in the classroom I would do it over the phone. That comment got a big fat eye roll from her. I wanted to shout at her "How dare you roll your eyes at my methods you archaic old hag?" but I refrained saying that and thought "It's better to SHOW her how effective this method can be." I'm not saying that the Tajik teachers should use this method because it would be abused but since I'm not a Tajik teacher and my schedule has me doing work in more than one places and more than one city, I think I should be allowed to use it.

Today I called one of my students about 2 hours before official class time and asked her to make sure everyone was rounded up and at the university. She said they were already on their way to the university and were looking forward to having class via phone later on. When I called ALL of the students who are usually there were there ON TIME!! There were 11 of them who showed up even though there was no teacher physically present, but I asked them all to be there, to be on time, and to have their work prepared and they did! I spent 1 1/2 hours on the phone with them reading a particulary difficult story from their curriculum and answering questions about it. I know they were all there because I heard all their voices and would call them by name to read the text or answer questions or define vocabulary. The text they read was really really difficult and even I had to read it 3 times to really understand what was going on. It was only about one and half pages of words, but the language was lofty and unnecessarily descriptive and most of it just confused the students. Because I called them on the phone, we were able to read the text together and discuss it and they understood it.

I ended up spending 1 1/2 hours on the phone with them and I could here that they were all in the classroom the whole time, participating, and listening. It was really an exciting day and they were so happy to still have class even though I wasn't physically there with them. It was a great breakthrough for the Tajiks and tomorrow will be another successful day of discussion.

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