“What does lethargic mean Mr Sansom?”. An interesting question from my class of Dutch fifteen and sixteen year olds who have had three and a half years of being taught in English as part of their bilingual education. Three and a half years of English and yet somehow they hadn’t yet come across the word ‘lethargic’. It’s surprising really because it is undoubtedly a highly appropriate word to describe them as a class. I was teaching them during the first lesson of the day (8.20 am-9.20 am). As a class they are completely up to date with their homework, the quality of the written and creative assignments that they do are, whilst generally not being truly memorable, certainly acceptable.
So why am I complaining? Well, as I pointed out to them this morning, teaching the class whilst not being difficult in terms of general order, does feel a bit like having your fingernails pulled out or maybe dragging a dead weight up a hill. It is painfully difficult to get an opinion out of them on anything, and as the subject I teach them is about unlocking opinions or art and cultural issues I find myself at a bit of a log jam.
So what’s going on? Well, a number of things probably:
· It is 8.20 in the morning
· This is a class of the more science related children, the culturally orientated ones are in a parallel class
· It is a class that is a mix of two classes from last year, a mix that somehow never seems to have come together
But I think for me, in my lessons, the problem comes down to a maybe extreme case of a common problem amongst fifteen and sixteen year olds. They simply spend a lot of time thinking and worrying about what their peer group thinks of them.
They are only too happy to make a remark under their breath to friends sitting in the vicinity, but outing and opinion to the whole group, certainly if it about the lesson material, seems to be a bit of a no go area.
I could just carry on, we’d get to the end of the year OK. But I like my classroom discussions, at least I do when I’m not having them by myself. Discussion is also good for their English and brings extra insights to the themes we are dealing with. The teaching challenge is there for the weeks ahead. Having taught them the word ‘lethargic’ today it is time to move on to ‘engaged’ and ‘contributor’.
I see the class twice a week for an hour, so there are opportunities enough to experiment with different approaches. I fact, I’m seeing them again today. However, by a strange twist in the roulette wheel that is a new timetable for the second half of the school year, I’ve ended up with the class on two successive days at 8.20 am. Sometimes the flow just seems to be against you!