On your marks

That’s over and, pretty much, so’s the weekend.

I managed to finish off the rest of PAL 2’s tests today. Since most of them are getting the equivalent of a C in the Core exam (which is the highest mark they can get), I’m going to switch to the Extended exam next time.

While I believe they should do well enough in reading at Extended level, I think they might not do so well in their writing. Once again, as I was dishing out ludicrously good marks for writing which was so reliant on clichés, I kept wondering whether I’d give the Content or the Language a mark above a five, and the answer was, by and large, no.

I seem to have polished these tests off rather more quickly than last time, which is a relief. I was still working on them late into the evening last time.

I did do some shopping today, espying Concubine 太太 as I went into Baoli. It’s been a little more pleasant over the past couple of days, but not to the extent that I’d wear a skirt so short that I’d expose my knickers if I bent over, went up stairs, or got out of any sort of car. Yes, it was Dress-like-a-Porn-Star Day again, and Concubine 太太 wasn’t alone.

Teaching English in China Overview

Oral English.

Teaching English in China Overview.

I thought I was a cynical old bastard about the inGlorious Motherland and all its horrors, but this article must’ve been written by some member of the Tea Party by the sound of it. Instead of writing such a long, vituperative rant, the author could’ve written, “EFL teaching in China: don’t bother”.

The article does blithely ignore the fact that not everyone’s lives go quite according to the usual plan (viz., school → university → career → death). It seems to imply that anyone who comes to China to do EFL teaching in their late 30s onwards is an abject failure or some sort of degenerate who will never escape. (I wish that I didn’t agree with the escaping part, but sad to say, I can agree with the part about the degenerates who end up here; I’ve met a few too many of them.) I dislike being labelled a failure because I live in a world which values football-kicking halfwits ahead of academic overachievers.

I also notice that the article is mainly about teaching the infamous oral English and has nothing to say about programmes like the one I work on at the moment.

Overall, there are perhaps parts of this article which are worth considering, but the tone sets my teeth on edge.

More marking

Yet another monthly test.

Thanks to a minimal amount of invigilation during this latest bout of monthly tests, I managed to mark all of PAL 1’s papers yesterday although I did almost nothing else in the course of the day. The results were pretty much the same as they were last time, but that was to be expected.

The writing was also much the same as last time, which means dull, repetitive and unimaginative. My campaign to try and get them to be interesting in their writing seems to have failed somewhat. I had quite a few of them inform a friend that among the items they should bring with them on holiday were clothes and a toothbrush. Most merely told their friend to bring clothes; a few advised the friend to bring warm clothing because it’s getting cold here; one said that it was necessary for clothes to be brought because his own wouldn’t fit his more sizeable overseas visitor.

The other writing exercise was about the benefits of a good teacher, but students were unable to frame their response in an appropriate style. Quite a number wrote a letter instead of an article, which I was expecting. A few babbled on about their parents being their teachers, and some about their teachers being their (substitute) parents, who teach them how to behave and how to be men. (I think that means “adults”.) I’ve seen this sort of thing before, and it gets no more interesting on repeated viewings.

Will PAL 2 have done any better? I doubt it.

But first, I need to go and pay the electricity bill which got stuck to my door this morning.

Afterwards. There was only a short queue in the State Grid building, which had lengthened by the time I paid because the clown boy ahead of me had a bill of ¥1176 (哎呀!) which he paid using ¥10 and ¥20 notes. What a genius.

It is not inevitable that the EU – or democracy – will survive this mess | Comment is free | The Guardian

It is not inevitable that the EU – or democracy – will survive this mess | Comment is free | The Guardian.

Another doom-and-gloom article about the alleged failure of democracy. Is Europe now headed into the Age of Benign Dictatorships? Unlike the inGlorious Motherland, people could still criticise the government, who would then tell them to bugger off. Oh, hang on. That’s the current system, which is occasionally punctuated by another election after which nothing ever happens.

As I might’ve mentioned, I happened to stray back to the Political Com­pass just recently (where I’m still a left-wing liberal). Your average pol­it­ic­ian in a democratic country seems to be a right-wing authoritarian, who’s only a couple of steps short of declaring themselves President-for-Life, and then turning their governance of the country into a family firm. Mmmm. Does that mean the Arab world has become Europe and Europe will be­come the Arab world?

What am I going to do now?

I ought to be doing something.

I’m wondering what to do. I have my quiz for AS3; I did all today’s planning yesterday; I have nothing to mark and no Learner Diaries to deal with. Perhaps I should just amuse myself because we’ve got tests at the end of the week, which will mean an interminable pile of tedious marking. Tomorrow will be self-study class, which means there’s no need for me to do any planning until the end of the week.

Oh, there is, of course, the IELTS and SAT training at the end of the week. Why IELTS? I’m not even doing IELTS, which I’ve taught in the past anyway. SAT training would be more useful, but the book makes me cringe with its ridiculous advice about writing English.

Reliance on the verb to be in any of its eight parts… makes your writing sluggish and unclear. (The Official SAT Study Guide, p. 108)

But the example sentence, which is (Oops! Mr Bamboo said “is”) clumsy and dreadful, contains one instance of the verb to be, and it’s (Damn! Mr Bamboo did it again) obligatory. The sentence is (My apologies) poorly controlled, but it’s (I hope you didn’t see that) not as bad as the driveltastic (it’s [Oh dear] a word) advice which subsequently follows it.

Actually, for my little darlings, such advice (no passives; mind those abstract nouns; death to the prepositional phrase) isn’t of much use. They still struggle with coherence and cohesion, and the right tone. They still struggle with the idea of originality because they rely on knowing the right cliché for the right occasion. They still cannot grasp that they really need to plan what they write and that they need to focus on that plan.

In truth, they aren’t at that level anyway. Most of them are intermediate level users of English and thus lack adequate competence in the language. Even the best of them, who have got 7.0+ in IELTS or 100+ in TOEFL, make fools of themselves as readily as the rest.

I’m more inclined to give them stuff from a book called Reading Techniques, which is for upper intermediate learners, or Academic Vocabulary: Academic Words, although I’m already using Advanced Vocabulary in Context. I’m still looking for that third thing in the AS classes now that I’ve abandoned TOEFL. After the training, I might make it SAT English in spite of my better judgement.

Anyway, I have teaching all afternoon (bah!) and want to go off a little early so that my lunch can be a little more leisurely.

Seeing a car park

Another tale of motoring stupidity from the Empire.

Since I don’t see PAL 2 until a bit later this afternoon, I thought I’d take my shopping home and have lunch while I was there.

I then headed back to school via the usual route and noted the large number of cars which were parked on the edge of the cycle lane along 香榭路. A Volvo hatchback (a C30; starting price £14,995) was trying to join them, but finding nowhere to park. As I followed it thinking, “What a complete plonker”, some woman came up alongside me on a bike and as the car slowed down, she would try to get past on the right-hand side, but never had enough room to squeeze by, nor the brains not to attempt such a manoeuvre.

When the woman finally overtook the car, she rode straight into some Post Office workers on their electric scooters coming from the opposite direction, who seemed to be paying no attention to the car at all; and when I say “rode straight into”, I mean it. Neither she nor the woman on the scooter appeared to see each other.

At this point, I skirted round the car, past the Post Office workers, and carried on. When I reached the end of that section of cycle lane, I noted that the stupid motorist wouldn’t be able to get through because some other four-wheeled genius had parked just a bit to far over. Since there was nowhere for this woman to park her car, she would have to have reversed down the entire cycle lane, thus managing to be an annoying halfwit in both directions.

Meanwhile, when I got back to school, the school’s lunchtime radio was blaring out. Peter told me that the room where the control is is locked, and the person with the key is off somewhere, which means that nothing can be done about the stream of noise coming from the PA system. (Ah, they must’ve found the keeper of the keys; silence reigns again.)

There’s also some sponsored event here at school today. Not sure what exactly, but it seems to be something cultural. There’s a big sign up at the gate and coloured flags have gone up around the school.

Maths challenges are one thing

But what about an English Challenge?

I’m kind of passing through after being reticent for the past few days. I’ve thought about adding an entry, but I haven’t been feeling inclined, or other things have been claiming my attention. In local news, John the Maths Teacher had 121 students line up in front of the clock at school so that he could get a picture of them at 11.11am on 11.11.11.

That’s one of the few dates which the Americans don’t mess up. A whole bunch were all excited recently about 11.1.11 even although that happened months ago.

One of the amusements for our little darlings has been the UK Maths Challenge, which got me thinking about some sort of English challenge which I could post on this website of ours. I was thinking of something like paraphrasing a sonnet (AS) or answering some reading comprehension questions about one (PAL). I want a text which is short and self-contained and which require intelligent thought to comprehend. It’s an idea that’s been bobbing about in my mind for the past couple of days and will almost certainly be as popular with the little darlings as a birthday made from turd; but it may get some sort of response from some of the students who think that the sun of the English language shines out of their arses.

More likely, it won’t get any response at all because they don’t want to face up to reality, viz. the inferiority of their language skills even when they get 110+ in TOEFL.

As I’ve said before, A*s in maths are so common here that they’re meaningless as a measure of the academic prowess of students. The list of students who did well in the UK Maths Challenge also included the names of some complete nitwits whose English is appalling.

Of course, their English might not be that bad, but if they behave like little bastards in class, it’s hard not to conclude that I’m dealing with some imbecile because I have no positive interaction with the halfwit in question.

We are trying to do something about improving the attitudes of students as they progress. The A2s have continued the tradition of absolute arrogance, which has them doing what they please without so much as a proverbial by-your-leave, and quite a lot of this term has included Adrian or Fred coming into the office after class and reporting how few students they had in class. Students can only pull this sort of stunt with the permission of their Chinese tutors and our approval. It’s not an issue for PAL, but there have been one or two instances of AS students disappearing.

I’ve still been wondering about what to do with the AS classes. I’ve more or less abandoned TOEFL, but I am keeping Advanced Vocabulary in Use and Listen to Learn. I need something for reading and writing, but I’m not sure what. The problem with TOEFL is that the AS classes have been getting it from elsewhere (in school and outside), or they’ve done with it and I’ve been wasting my time doing it. I was led to believe that it’s what they’d want even although I didn’t want to teach TOEFL myself.

Ironically, we have some TOEFL and IELTS training coming up, but I just don’t see the point. With any luck, we can drop IELTS and TOEFL altogether next year and deal with something different in class so that we’re not always an also-ran in the proficiency exam race.

Passing through on a grey day

And there are comments, but they’ll have to wait.

I don’t know how long my Internet assistant will last, but it’s utterly hopeless from home at the moment because the connection is complete rubbish. For the past couple of days, it’s been cutting out repeatedly. I’ve been hoping this is because the workers are upgrading the infrastructure, but that supposition is based on a large reel of thick cable near the bridge just past the hotel at the weekend.

The weather has turned grey and a bit damp although I was expecting a great deal more rain than we’ve had so far today. I seem to have a knack for looking out of the window, believing that it’s dry, and then going out and finding that there’s light rain. I’m tooled up for the occasion in case things turn unpleasant. Yes, I know this is utter trivia, but I don’t have ready access to WordPress any longer and don’t always have something mind when I turn up here.

There was a story about some Mercedes-Benz driver somewhere in the Empire who deliberately crashed into a bus because he was fed up with them getting in his way. Typical Chinese Merc driver, I’d say, but let’s be honest: Chinese motorists are all appallingly bad; and anyone who drives a Merc here is bound to be an arrogant slimy little turd.

I’m hungry and I want to post this so that I can find out what these two supposedly legit comments are. I had quite a monstrous spam comment on my Live Journal blog the other day, but what it was hoping to achieve, I don’t know. It was as if someone had tried to append an entire blog entry to my blog entry.

Time for a stew

90% humidity.

I know it’s been uncomfortably humid today, but until I looked at my hygrometer just before, I had no idea how humid. It’s about 20° in the bedroom, which might have me donning a jersey under other circumstances, but I’ve had a jersey on in class today and have stewed as a result.

I gave AS3 a quick quiz this morning, mostly on vocabulary, to which they paid no attention, the result being two out of ten correct. One of the correct answers was the name of the Greek PM, George Papandreou, but that was a complete and utter guess.

Because the Emperor has been in Europe, I asked questions about the financial crisis in the Eurozone and asked what Greece was probably going to have to do. The choices of answer included “Become part of Germany”, “Rejoin the Ottoman Empire”, and “Sell the rest of the Parthenon to the British Museum”. I think this question was answered correctly because they’ve never heard of Germany, the Ottoman Empire, or the Parthenon, and thus if they don’t understand something, they probably assume that it’s the wrong answer.

I’ve taken to reading Commando comics online first thing in the morning because that seems to be about the only time that I’m able to see them on screen. At other times of the day, I get large amounts of wheel spin, but I don’t know whether this is because of problems with issuu (who seem to use a Flash-based viewer) or whether it’s the rubbish Internet connection in Jinma (actually, it doesn’t seem to be; I had no better luck using the school’s much faster connection) or whether it’s interference from the Imperial Institute for Advanced Paranoia and the Inhibition of Thinking. It is a bloody nuisance, though.

The reliability of my Internet assistant has been inconsistent, running well enough yesterday for me to watch a 20-minute TED lecture on YouTube, but collapsing faster than the English batting attack with just as much regularity. As usual, I’ll have to hope that I post this entry just at the right moment. (And right now can’t delay; no, too late; there goes the connection again.)

I see the US is accusing Russia and China of being the top cyberspies, but the news must be the accusation. Does that mean that the US is ranked No. 3? [Er, I don’t think the Americans are probably spying on themselves. –ed.]