> Mrs. O'Neill's Blog: Me and the natives

Friday, October 19, 2007

Me and the natives

I’ve been teaching the Iliad and the Odyssey to classes this last while and – enjoying it too, somewhat to my surprise… Last week I had set students the task of writing a soliloquy for Achilles. They delivered their speeches this week, and to be honest I was flabbergasted by how confident they were. Considering that it is a mixed ability class, and that the Iliad isn’t an easy text, it was an eye opener for me. Only one pupil asked me if he could give his speech before a smaller audience, and even then he was willing to come in after class three days running to practice it before a small audience until it was ‘good enough’ to be graded. The point is, they took ‘the talk bit’ seriously.

I couldn’t help feeling that I have underestimated the role of talk up until now. These students have been giving speeches and talking before their classmates for years, and frankly, it shows. Added to that, many of them admitted not really understanding the Iliad until they had to imagine what Achilles was thinking, and then perform it.

Buoyed up with my success, I gave a somewhat disaffected student the words of the song ‘She moved through the fair’ and asked him if he would read it, not as a school text, but as if he had just found it on the ground. He read it in the stressed rhythm of a subdued rap poem. The hairs were standing up on the back of my neck by the time he was finished, and the class loved it.

I was brought back down from my American dream in the teacher’s lounge when I enthused about the speeches, and commented on the difference between American and Scottish kids in this respect. ‘The thing is,’ one colleague explained brightly, ‘You will notice a difference, because now you are teaching native English speakers…’


Christine said...

I've always thought one of the differences between my education and that of my children is the way they're taught to speak to groups and the confidence that instils. We just had to sit in our desks and keep quiet! No circle time, show and tell or talks to the class. But it seems the Americans are still light years ahead.

And could you ask your new colleague just what language it is that my children speak?!

David said...

Perhaps you could also point out that rather than people saying the Dutch speak with an American accent, you could say that in fact Americans speak with a Dutch accent!

America and Britain - Two people divided by a common language (WS Churchill)

Anonymous said...

What price an inspirational movie about a bunch of underprivileged kids whose lives are changed by a teacher who bucks the trend and believes in them...?

Is that sort of confidence misplaced? Obviously the school you're at now is slightly higher in the league tables than the Akadamy in Stranrear, but would you say that the students (pupils? not so much?) are hitting higher heights consistently across the spectrum? Are they just good talkers or can any of them actually write? How is their basic grasp of spelling and grammar?

Mrs. O'Neill's Blog said...

Christine - The students here quite often ask me to say something in my own language...
Thankfully it's not that often that the teachers do!
David -the divided by a common language thing is so true. Was it Churchill? I am using his speeches with my speech class right now.

Sid -not sure you can compare the two systems like that. My experience is pretty limited so far -but I am forming a few theories about it. Have seen written work both excellent and poor. Still trying to work out the patterns...