This week my American Culture students have completed their final projects for second semester--a debate in English on one of four current controversial topics in America: same-sex marriage, affirmative action, standardized education, and health care reform. They've been researching their topics in groups of three or four for a couple months and preparing for the debates. Part of what I HOPED they would learn was the spirit of American discourse--the ability to argue ideas freely and fiercely, but then go back to being friends again later.
Trouble is, Korean students are both too competitive AND too cooperative for assignments like this. They hate working in groups because they think it'll make their individual grade go down (the worst students refuse to participate in the project and just study individually for the test and end up with the same grade as their group members having put in no work--you have to design group projects to work against this tendency), but at the same time, once you get them to work together, they don't want to compete in teams. My co-teacher and I have worked all year to get these kids to value cooperative learning and group projects. So now they do. Great! However, it caused one kind of unexpected problem.
About half of our students worked WITH their opposing team to script the whole debate, including points-of-information (POIs are moments where you interject a question or a point into the other team's assertions to get their response) and counter-arguments. It wasn't bad, it was just... not a debate.
Overall, though, they did a great job. And they were (rightfully) very proud of themselves for this accomplishment. It's not easy to have a debate in your native language, let alone in in a foreign language. Especially in a culture where open conflict is kind of considered rude. I'm very proud of them.
In my conversation classes, William and I have been grading our final projects--a powerpoint presentation for the first graders and a mock trial for the second graders. So far, the powerpoint presentations have been ok--great powerpoints, not so great on the presentation skills. The mock trials, however, have been hilarious. The kids are putting students at school on trial for possible school infractions (cheating and bullying) and have made evidence and played witnesses and lawyers as they try to convince their peers of a classmate's guilt or innocence.
The funniest moment was when a young man in the Chinese major class who was playing the roommate of the defendant (accused of cheating) was being cross examined:
Lawyer: Please describe your relationship with the defendant.
Witness: We are roommates.
Lawyer: Are you close?
Witness: Sure. We sleep together. (The whole class starts to chuckle) And we... take a shower together! (Everyone bursts into laughter)
Thing is, I don't think the kid understood what that sounds like. In the dorms, they have locker-room style showers, and he probably meant that they sleep in the same room, but you know... when your language skills are imperfect... it just sounds funny.
Some days, I love my job.