Teaching from the Bottom of the Totem Pole #5: Story Time

27 Apr

At the begining of the semester my school (along with almost all other Korean public elementary schools) received new English textbooks. Most of the material remained the same from last semester (aside from the characters receiving much needed make-overs), but for the fifth and sixth graders more material was added to each chapter to accommodate for a third English lesson per week (last semester students attended only two lessons per week). Instead of the usual four sections per chapter, there is now six.

One of the new sections is “Story Time”–short and simple tales that are in no way related to the topic of the chapter, but somehow contain ESL value.

Even though I hadn’t actually looked at the stories in each chapter I figured Story Time would be a worthwhile addition to the lessons. My thinking was that it could provide the students with more opportunities to work with the language in a textbook that, like it’s predecessor, has its fair share of grammatical errors, awkward dialogs and chants that–while sometimes catchy–often contain little more than inordinate sounds mixed in with key sentences from the chapter (the first verse of a chant we sang last week literally contained the “words” “wah doo warry warry wah, wah, wah”).

Unfortunately, Story Time has ultimately failed to impress as an addition to the curriculum.

Why?

Let’s take a look at the Story Time from the fifth grade text. It’s entitled “Who Am I.”

Chapter 1:

So we have Hamin and her happy family enjoying some quality time. Fair enough. As is the normal routine, I ask questions to the students about what they see in the picture  before finally reading it to them and asking follow-up questions to check for comprehension. Obviously in this case one of the follow up questions would involve having the students guess what (or “who”) the particular object is. Not a bad framework, but why not make the clues a little less vague?”Hamin likes me very much… I am with her family all the time.” Hell, that could be anything. One of my students guessed it was the stuffed bunny on the shelf (SPOILER ALERT: it’s the TV).

Maybe some additional clues are needed in the story. If nothing else, it would at least make it more interesting. The vagueness of it all made me think more in depth about Hamin’s family which raised several questions related to the Hamin’s family, assuming she’s Korean. Bear with me.

First of all, why is Hamin and her family spending all their time with the damn television? Shouldn’t they be out enjoying all the community has to offer; visiting on of Korea’s many festivals. Does this story take place on the weekend? Shouldn’t Hamin being doing homework or attending one of several Hagwons? Instead of watching TV, shouldn’t Hamin’s parents be teaching her the value of studying hard so she can become an important figure in Korean society, like a doctor or a foreign diplomat? I wonder how good her English is.

But Maybe I’m over thinking this a bit. While my students weren’t extremely interested in the story, they were eventually able to guess what the object was, which provided a minimal sense of achievement on my part, and even though it was boring, it still managed to eat up a reasonable amount of time. It’s not perfect, but I’m still willing to give Story Time another shot.

Chapter 2:

Here, we have Hamin watching television with her dad. They are so entrenched in the show they’re watching they can’t even stop to use the bathroom or even notice Hamin’s mom standing in the corner.

Before I can begin with preliminary questions about the what the students see in the picture, a boy in the second row raises his hand a frustratingly tells me “It’s TV again!” Shit. It’s only the second installment of Story Time and they’re already bored with it. I don’t blame them. Why the the hell should they care about anything else in the story when they’ve already solved the riddle? It’s not like the story contains a lot of depth, and it’s not even realistic.

I refuse to believe that at eight o’clock Hamin and her dad are already dressed for bed in their pajamas. Again, assuming this story takes place during the week (and really, even if it doesn’t), Hamin’s dad would be out eating kalbi and pounding soju with his work buddies and Hamin would be slaving away at some after school academy.

The story leads us to believe Hamin’s mother is concerned about the health of her eyes (and apparently her English language ability) and this is why she doesn’t want her watching too much television, but then we pan to the bottom of the page and see that she only wants Hamin away from the tube so she can indulge in her soap operas. She assumes Hamin is in her room preparing for mid-term exams, but really Hamin has cast her textbooks aside and is instead kicking ass in game of Starcraft on her computer.

During the lesson I try to remain enthusiastic and stretch to stretch the time by asking redundant questions:

“What does Hamin’s Mom do a lot of?”
“What is she doing while she drinks her tea?”
“What does Hamin and her dad do all the time.”

Sadly, I think the kids sense the feebleness of my efforts and completely shut down. This time the Story Time segment barely lasts 10 minutes.

My co-teacher and I discuss plans for the next Story Time and decide we should use different stories of our choosing and scrap the ones from the book. Or at least I thought she wanted to scrap the ones from the book.

When the  Story Time for chapter three rolls around it is decided that I will still teach the story from the book, but my co-teacher will teach a different story.  I’m nervous because I don’t want my students to turn on me for dragging them through another account of a day in the life of Hamin, but am pleased that I don’t have to make it last more than a five or six minutes. As I ask my student to open their book to the Story Time page, I met groans of disgust. Again, I don’t blame them.

Chapter 3:

At this point My Kids couldn’t care less about Hamin or any of her family members. They don’t give a a shit about her stupid music shows, or why her mom is crying or what the hell that round thing is near the leg of the coffee table. The story doesn’t provide any information in the form of a hint or clue about “Who” the object is, but this doesn’t matter because they figured out a long time ago that it’s the fucking television. They hate me for putting them through another Story Time and I hate myself for having to do it. Even worse, after I finish the story my teacher swoops in brandishing a colorful Eric Carl story book put to video.  I quickly try to make some funny dance motions to go along with the story (and in turn reclaim my title of “fun teacher”), but it’s too late. I’ve lost them. I cower in the corner and wait for lunch time.

We haven’t made it to the Story Time for chapter four yet, but I’m praying my co-teacher will have mercy on the students and I and not put us through it. In the fourth and final installment of “Who am I” the “who” is formally revealed using sub par grammar and all is right in Hamin’s house:

I’d like to think it could be worse, but I doubt it.

Ciao,

Kimchi Dreadlocks

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4 Responses to “Teaching from the Bottom of the Totem Pole #5: Story Time”

  1. 3gyupsal April 27, 2011 at 11:01 PM #

    Yeah, that sucks. I’d really like to know how to pronounce Hamin’s name. I can think that it would be Ha-min or Hay Min. Unfortunately the latter is often spelled “Hye-min” which prompts the uninitiated to read “hymen.”

    On another note, I don’t see why schools don’t bother looking at what books are popular for kids in America or England and just buying those story books. When I was in preschool through fifth grade, I enjoyed nursery rhyme and the time when the teachers would read to us. They could figure out material that is appropriate and interesting and try to incorporate that.

    Or…for fuck’s sakes learn about the cat and the hat, and other nursery rhymes for young kids kindergarten and first grade. Those were actually designed to help kids learn how to read. I asked some college very fluent college students to think of some words that rhymed with “cat” and they came up with “dog.” Ahh phonics is an unpracticed art here.

  2. wetcasements May 4, 2011 at 7:36 PM #

    Just show them this video:

  3. Coco In Korea May 20, 2011 at 10:13 AM #

    This article was pretty funny. Last year when I taught elementary school there was no ‘Story Time’, so luckily I was able to escape that. In middle school however, I have to make a 45 minute lesson out of two to three sentences. The Korean English curriculum NEEDS to change.

  4. Bingo July 14, 2011 at 6:00 PM #

    I teach that series of books as well. The writing is beyond diabolical, the stories are weird, the dialogues in the animation bits make the characters seem like retards, there’s loads of very strange Konglish nonsense, and those songs and chants are ridiculously stupid. The kids just start laughing at the demented dance moves and weird gestures the characters get up to in ‘songs’ and other animation bits.

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