Friday, 10 January 2014

Trying to talk about ourselves - very uncertain teens with app anxiety

I think it has been over a decade since I taught at one of the schools we regularly dispatch our teachers to; somehow my schedule has never worked out that way. So this current crop of students would have been in primary school when I last stood in front of the classroom.

Don't get too close to the board - infected with English!
Thing is, same reaction! Ultra quiet and it me?!

The first thing I asked the class to do was to access whichever app store was appropriate for their personal smartphones & see if they could find ChatterKid by Duck Duck Moose (all of their apps are super, by the way!). Thought it make take a while to download (it did...why on earth is Japan a wifi desert?!). A murmur of shock that they were being asked to use their phones, I think. Of course, one started playing a game and another one wanted to know how to get apps on her non-smart phone!

Knowing this was a quiet group, I figured starting with drawing a simple self-portrait of themselves might help overcome the anxiety of having a new teacher in front of them...but then there's the anxiety of being a crap artist to overcome! Anyone who has taught Japanese students will understand that the most important classroom tool for them is actually an eraser.

The exercise then is for students to add some not too personal information - birthday & name notwithstanding - such as things they love/hate/don't mind doing, a hobby (sleeping is not a hobby, is it?), faves (music, films, etc)...I can imagine European students complaining they don't have enough space to put everything down on this A3 print. Despite endless suggestions, hints, ideas (all translated by my co-teacher) some efforts were still rather bereft of, well, effort.

Girls get the sociable aspect of this
Now let's open those apps. "Oh, we had to download it?" Seems they just looked at it & admired the bright colours. One bright spark had actually managed to do as asked. Others hiding behind daft fringes or their scarves. Instructions repeated, reassured the thing is free...and shocked when asked to share devices with unsmart phone owners.

Now, I reckon if my four year old son can figure out the dotted line action is a prompt to draw a line with your finger, and that the red microphone button needs a push, and that the audible 3-2-1 countdown invites the user to start talking...surely an 18 year old ought to be able to do so and have something intelligent to say; ideally the info you just spent 30 minutes sweating bullets to write down?
Chatterkid app in action: non-starting learner.

I do wonder what it is about the Japanese education system that knocks the stuffing out of some kids' confidence, removes gumption and installs a default "don't do anything first" setting.

The problem with the minimalist production most students opted for is that the next stage, adding comments to each of their classmates' posters somewhat hamstrings variety. The posters were put up on the board for easy access - but you can see from the photo above nobody dared get within reading range! Somewhat predictably, the "I am sleepy" or "I am cold" statuses got "Me too" replica comments were banned = hurry up & be boring first!

I like this activity because it does focus on the students, and not the teacher. However, with a reticent group you really do need a lot of L1 help to get the job done. If I thought the effort would be appreciated, the next thing I'd do would be to upload all the videos and create QR codes OR try to use Aurasma & chuck in some augmented reality. However, one class a month kind of tells you the degree of ambition we are looking at here. I think I'll save my energy and do this with a group that is a bit more engaging & ambitious. Fair?