Thursday, June 19, 2014

A Typical Day in the Life of a Cambodian Student: Student Writing

            This term, I’ve changed the prompt somewhat in order to see what else I can elicit from them.  (My idea is to try out a different prompt every time I teach a different level.  Whenever I re-teach the same level again, I think I will re-use my old prompts.)

            The prompt for this level is: 
A Typical Day in the Life of a Cambodian Student
Imagine you are writing to someone who knows nothing about Cambodia.  They know nothing about what life is like for Cambodian people.  Help them to understand what life is like for the people here by describing your typical day.  For example, what time do you usually wake up?  What do you usually eat for breakfast?  Where do you go every day?  What time do you usually go to school?  What is your school like?  What do you do at school?  What do you do with your friends?  What do you do in the evenings?  Do you have any chores around the house?

These questions are just examples.  You may write down anything you want to about your daily life.

            (Google: drive, docs, pub, and a generic version for any country: drive, docs, pub).

            The student responses to this prompt are all written up over here.

            The process, and the ideological justifications for all of this, are the same as last time.
            The students handwrote their responses, and I then typed them up and posted them on the Internet.  I tried to change as little as possible, but I did fix any obvious grammar or vocabulary errors.  The students are then given the blog address, and the number that corresponds to their essay, and encouraged to compare their original essay with my corrections on the Internet.
            The ideology behind this project is that it hopefully gives the students an opportunity to use their English to introduce their country and culture to the wider world.  Although their English skills are obviously still developing, the idea is that they can get a sense of using their English for real communication now, rather than having the goal of meaningful communication be some distant object off in the future.

            The idea of writing up corrected versions of their essay, rather than red marking every thing, is that this is hopefully a more subtle way of drawing students’ attention to their errors.

            And since I’ve read Scott Thornbury’s Beyond the Sentence, I’ve also been taking his suggestions as more justification for this project:
            “Just as real texts and coursebook texts provide data for language study, so too can learners’ texts be exploited for the same ends.  In fact, there’s a good case for learners’ texts being the best resources for a focus on language.  After all, learner-produced texts are more likely to be closer to the developmental stage that other learners are going through. (p.155)

            And “The learner text is ‘tidied up’ before being made available to other learners. For example, errors are corrected and awkward wordings are reformulated. Yet the content—and ideally the flavour—of the original remains the same…What can be particularly revealing for learners is to see the two versions, the original and the edited, side-by-side and to make comparisons and notice differences. In other words, the awareness-raising process is self-initiated, rather than teacher directed” (p. 156)

            Since the essays for the whole class are all posted at the same place, hopefully the students will read not only their own tidied up essay, but also the essays of their classmates.


            I’ll write a few brief words here to help set these student essays in context.
            Cambodia has been developing very rapidly the past 20 years, and the lives of many of my students now are not all that dissimilar from their American counterparts.  This would not have been true 20 years ago, but it’s true now.

            Also, as with many 3rd world countries, there’s a big disparity of wealth over here, and the lives of the rich are very different from the middle, which is very different from the poor. 
            The school I teach at has the distinction of being one of the more expensive private English schools in Cambodia, so my students are not the poorest of the poor.  But they’re not the super-rich either.  (The children of the super rich are sent either to study abroad, or are sent to study at International schools in Phnom Penh, and already speak flawlessly fluent English.)
            Most of my students are somewhere around upper-middle class to middle-middle class (by Cambodian standards).

            The capital city of Phnom Penh, where my students live, is also much more developed than the provinces. And while my students lead modern lives here in the capital, many of the rural villages in the provinces look like life has not changed there for the past 100 years.  (If you picture the clichéd rice farming villages from all those Vietnam War movies, you actually wouldn’t be too far wrong.)

            As for the school situation:
            I teach at a private English school, which my students attend in addition to their regular education at a state school. 
            For reasons I’m not entirely clear on, many of the Cambodian schools alternate between morning and afternoon classes.  For one month the students will attend Cambodian school in the morning, and then the next month attend in the afternoon.  My own private school has a system set up to accommodate this, in which there is a morning and afternoon class that are run in synch with each other, and the students can attend either class depending on what their schedule is for their Cambodian school that month.  At my school, this is referred to as a “flip-flop” class—a term I don’t think is used widely outside of my school, but which has made its way into some of the students’ writing.  (My students often refer to Cambodian schools as “Khmer” schools since “Khmer” is synonymous with Cambodian.)

            …But all of the above being said, as always take everything I have to say with a grain of salt, because I have to admit to only having a very superficial understanding of everything that goes on over here.

No comments: