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Getting there


Tuesday, January 11, 2005

There I was all ready to begin the class snappily with my test, and one of the guys tells me the trains are running late due to accidents and suicides....I was handed at least five different train tickets, forgot to even check up the validity of the info on my way home, but anyway...thanked for the info and postponed the test, deciding to explain the objectives of the last presentation instead. Having recapped quickly on the three previous presentations, I explained about who the audience is, (world leader/ president etc., that the topic is free for students to choose, and that it's about being an economic advisory team with a mission! Gave some peer examples of topics from my Thursday class, and whipped up an outline of the presentation on the board. Groups are freely chosen by you, i said, are there any questions? One of the students asked how to make the groups, so I repeated that it was a free choice, and then as time was flowing by I started the test at 9:38, thinking that even with a delay for an accident 25mins was enough. Electronic dictionaries were allowed for the first half, which caused some surprise, although all my tests last term were open book, so I explained again that if you haven't studied the words, you can't manipulate them for a gapfill at the last minute. Then I asked students to put away the dictionaries for a final bash of rote learning, 15 items of J-E and E-J translation, and the full version of acronyms.

One student who had two train tickets (both lines delayed and therefore late) was given extra time to take the test while everyone else grouped up to brainstorm topics and who they wished to address, and we had a short break at 10:15 when the last student finished the vocab test. Groups gravitated happily into lots of five or six, so we have seven presentations, which should be just right for the last day. One student came to me with the news that he had to go visiting two companies he's interested in, so he wouldn't be able to come to the last two classes. I asked him to write me an email with the info in English, and to author the handout, in order to participate without actually being present.

After the break I set up the requirement that I needed a list of presenters names in order, and the author of the handout and the visuals, along with the group names, leader and topic, before students could then go to the computer room to brainstorm, research or work outside the classroom. (This was because the presentations are next week Friday, much sooner than the last times when it was after a full two weeks, and I wanted them to have a clearer focus of individual roles to speed up the process a little). Groups gave me a range of topics, opening up North Korea, Addressing the food problem in North Korea (Kim Jon Phil) , Increasing the consumption tax, Increasing tax , Pension funds (Koizumi), How best to support Tsunami victims (Kofi Annan), and Build legal Casinos in Tokyo (Ishihara). The last group toddled out at 10:48, right on time for the chime, after I had circulated and checked and probed for whether they realized that they are supposed to be giving concrete solutions and advice, rather than just describing a problem, and then okayed that they disappear.

I feel somehow a bit distracted, as though I'm not necessary, although of course I am. I wonder if I'm picking up on what they feel, being so used to teacher-led force feed the info type classes, or whether it's just me also exploring with this new way of teaching. The tsunami group was (I felt) rather rude, asking me if I knew about the whole thing, because I was pressuring them to try and clarify how they would argue about it. I don't just want a woolly list-up of what is happening, I want a problem-solving focus, and I couldn't get a feel for what aspect of the problem they wanted to focus on or had suggestions about. I kept saying that, but the question whether I was aware of the tsunami was repeated directly to my face...In other words bouncing the onus of my not understanding what they were on about back onto me, rather than rethinking about how to phrase it differently...major communication patterns happening, and I kind of walked right into the trap, saying of course I know about the tsunami, dishing up some facts from the Economist about the phenomenal amount of aid involved per person (800$ a head, well over 20 times the norm in previous international aid allocations) compared to other numerically greater disasters, be they natural or man-made (earthquakes in China and slaughter in the Congo, were the Economist examples.)

What I failed to remember is that admittedly the Economist says that the UN needs to work on speedier co-ordination, and that global standby teams for an emergency rapid response capability may be necessary. BUT They also say that issues of debt relief are not necessarily so relevant as in Africa, since the Asian area is thought to be moving beyond needing aid assistance, and that the aid money sent to tsunami hit countries will for these reasons probably be spent well and effectively. So I'm not sure quite what the problem is that they want to get on to Kofi Annan about....but I couldn't argue that with any conviction, not having the paper with me.... At any rate I can study a bit about these issues they have chosen with a view to counselling them on their presentations next Tuesday.