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Problematic Posters


Volunteering today at MNIC was good as always. As soon as I came into the classroom, the students were anxiously asking me questions about their animal projects. After they have gotten all the information about their animal group (what they have been working on lately), they next have to visually present what they learned on a poster. That was the task before most of them today.

It is hard at times because it seems that all the students want to ask you questions at once. I will be trying to help one student but there will be another student standing right next to me calling, "Teacher! Teacher!" What most of the students want to know is where to find a specific answer or what they "should write" for a specific question. For example, today, I was helping one student work on a question about describing the life cycle of his animal group (arachnids). He kept pointing out sentences in a book about spiders, but I kept trying to explain that he could not write just about spiders, but had to include other creatures from the group. I told him to read some of the pages and then summarize what he read. He looked at me confusedly, and then asked what sentence he should write. I told him that there was not an exact answer written out in the book, but that he had to create his own. He did not seem happy about my response and kept searching for the answer, asking me if certain sentences were correct.

I was talking to the teacher after class and I told her about students looking for one specific right answer in the text and she also voiced this observation. She said that in another of her classes, they were given a similar group project. Some students worked well, she said, but others decided that they didn't know what to do so they just sat there and did no work. When the grades came out, and those students received low scores, she said that they complained to her. They told her that they would rather just do book assignments instead so they could look and find the answers. They just wanted to see the question and look directly for one sentence from the text to answer it.

She said she wasn't sure if it was laziness on the part of the students that drove them to avoid the higher level thinking required by the group projects or if it was just a lack of understanding of the English language that pushed them to pursue the black-and-white questions and answers. I guess I am not really sure either. To some extent, I think it is both. I think the students are often frustrated with the confusion and just want to easily do the assignments correctly. I am not convinced that the students learn much this way, however. When I think back to my childhood, I know I probably did this. I am sure I asked a million questions because I wanted to make sure that I did the problems right and did well on the assignment. This is the same scenario, except these students are not young 7 year-olds - many of them are older than me.

I sympathize with them because I know how difficult it is to learn another language. I took Spanish for a few years in high school, and am starting up again next fall. I am sure that I will be inquiring quite often on conjugations and pronunciations. But I feel like by at least attempting to develop "higher thinking skills" in Spanish, I could learn so much more than I ever could seeking out answers plainly stated in a text.

(Image from http://www.eskimo.com/~lsatin/images/triangle_fire_medium.jpg)