This past Friday, I delivered the second in a series of three workshops on active learning. About twenty people attended, including Jeremy. We discussed the theories behind assigning group work, and then I demonstrated the Think, Pair, Share technique and the Pass the Envelope technique. I also explained how to do Socratic Circles and the ABCs of Reading activities. We had vigorous discussions about how to measure students when they do group work as well as how to engage all of them in the group activity. As with the last time I gave a workshop, we went over by about thirty minutes. I guess next time I should just say that it is a two-hour workshop.
That afternoon, Jeremy and I caught the school bus to the new campus where we helped assess our Freshman students. It seems that the English Department needs some formal way to assess all the students every semester. The Freshmen had been preparing to do a re-telling activity for over a week. They were told that they would listen to a story three times, and then they would have to re-tell it to two faculty members. When they arrived at the assessment, they were told they would listen to an informative text one time and then have to re-tell it. Almost all of them panicked. I felt very sorry for them—as did the other judges. Despite this difficulty, they managed to re-tell the information to us.
In addition to new professional activities, the season of saying goodbye has started. This is normal anytime you live in an expat community or a transient community. I haven’t lived in a transient community for quite a while, so I forgot about it. Last Thursday we had a dinner to say goodbye to two teachers from BYU, Jim and Wendy. They were some of the first people we met when we got here. It is hard to believe that their teaching is over, and they are back in the US now. We also had a lunch to say goodbye to Guilia, an Italian foreign exchange student who has become good friends with the JCCC students. It won’t be long from now that we will say goodbye to all our friends in Xi’an and come home too.
This week I said goodbye to my sophomore writing students. We ended the semester with “This I Believe” essays. I thought I would write one of my own and share it here.
I Believe in Second Chances.
I believe in second chances because I find I usually need a do over. For example, the first time I met my good friend Kelly Large, I picked a fight with her. Our mutual friends Genie and Kristie invited Kelly to church, and I was so jealous I pulled her hair and made her cry. (I think I was ten at the time.) Despite my terrible behavior, Kelly gave me a second chance. This led a friendship that lasted for years, and included spend the night parties, endless games of monopoly, and climbing on rooftops in the middle of the night.
Another reason I believe in second chances is because of my job as a teacher. Teachers get to see people on their worst behavior sometimes, but many of them improve if they are offered another chance. One of my favorite examples is the student who used to yell and leave the room whenever I gave a new Comp II writing assignment. He would go to the Writing Center, calm down, and sit with a tutor for a while. Then he would come back the next class and tell me I was right and he was sorry. Sometimes we need more than one second chance.
Sometimes we need to protect ourselves from people who take advantage of our good nature. But more often than not offering a second chance doesn’t cost us anything. The student who wants to re-do a paper is not really causing harm to me. The cashier who frowned and hassled me last time was probably just having a bad day, and trying the store again will probably not hurt me.
I recently read a quote from the gospel of Matthew. Jesus told a story about a man who had two sons. The first one was asked to go work in the vineyard. He said “no, I will not.” But later he did it anyway. The second son said “sure, I will go work in the vineyard.” But in the end he did not work. Jesus asked the priests which son was righteous. They said the first one, of course. Jesus reminded them that the tax collectors and the prostitutes were like the first son. They started out rejecting the right thing, and then they changed their minds. Jesus point here is that getting things right the second time around is much better than pretending to have it all figured out and getting it wrong in the end.
I believe in second chances. The second chance reminds us that failure the first time (times) is not the end of things. The second chance shows us that trying again is worthwhile. I believe in second chances. And I’m so grateful when someone extends one to me.
The word of the week is camaraderie, and we found it in several places. We have visiting scholars from Sweden who delivered lectures on “Doing Literary Research” last Wednesday and “Error Patterns in Swedish Student’s English Language Writing” this week. Both of the lectures affirmed my current beliefs and inspired me to keep writing and noticing patterns in my students’ writing. The added bonus was that we enjoyed the fellowship of the other teachers in our department. Because our schedules are so different, we rarely see them. Meeting them during the lectures reminded us of how much we enjoy spending time with them.
The other place we found camaraderie is at church—as usual. This week we got a lesson in how to add money to our bus passes as well as how to say the days of the week in French from our friend Deo Adonai. After the service, we enjoyed our “lemon waters” and had dinner at a Muslim restaurant with Deo Adonai and our new friend Jado. They continued our French lesson as we ate lamb on a stick and my favorite bread. I left feeling very encouraged.
In addition to enjoying my colleagues and church friends, my freshman brought me joy again this week. They were working on the final “s” sounds in English (S, Z, EZ), so we played a modified version of “I’m going on a picnic and I’m going to take…” We turned it into “Frank is very busy. Every day he….” They had to come up with present tense verbs to continue the pattern. The students did a good job of coming up with (and pronouncing) present tense singular verbs. But I managed to go last and remember twenty-four activities that busy Frank did. It was awesome.