Tag Archives: EFL teaching

The End of the Current Era

Achievements 3 – Progress 0.

It’s over three and a half years since this year’s A2s started at school. Quite a lot has changed in that time – two permanent CPs, two temporary ones, further expansion of the centre, and an ever-shifting group of teachers. When I look back, it seems like a long time, and yet, paradoxically, the past two years seem to have flown by with proverbially indecent haste. May and exams have suddenly arrived before we’ve had a chance to blink.

This is the first occasion when I’ve mostly taught the same group of students for three years. In the past, I’ve normally declined to deal with the A2 classes.

[H]im on innan oferhygda dæl
weaxeð ond wridað

as the Beowulf poet wrote. But if this year’s classes have one distinction, it is that they were generally far less obnoxious than students in previous years, although A2(1&3) took it upon themselves to stop bothering with my class some time ago.

Normally by the time we get to the final assembly, I notice that my former students seem to look a little older and a little more mature. Not so this time, apart from one or two. What I started with in PAL or gained in AS still looked pretty much the same.

Certainly, I get little sense that my students matured as people. The immature boys were still behaving like infantile 12-year-olds even after three years; the cipher girls were still ciphers, living in terror that I was going to call on them to answer questions and be articulate. While their results were adequate, neither of my classes really seemed to have much spirit.

We had the final assembly for them yesterday, both A2 and IB2. It was the usual affair, which meant that 96% of the entire ceremony was in Chinese and our alleged role in their education was probably largely forgotten. The speeches lasted an hour, which were then followed by the customary audio-visual cacophony. The IB2s’ efforts were pretty decent, but the A2s’ video paled in comparison. I sat watching and every so often, I’d see the face of a student I’d taught for three years and wonder what their name was. The ciphers had already started vanishing from my memory.

I missed out on the handshaking because it got to a point where I needed to go to the loo, and by the time I got back, it was too late for me to worm my way on stage because the process had already started. I didn’t mind, and didn’t feel I’d missed out. As I also predicted, none of my former students sought me out for photos, or even came to say goodbye; but the year is fizzling out as it always does and I’ve been through so many generations of students over the past twelve years that any sense of nostalgia has long been dead and buried.

No, I’m looking ahead to the future, although quite what I’m going to get landed with I don’t know for certain. The original version of the timetable has been scrapped because of changes to the changes, but I may have fewer teaching hours next year. On the other hand, I’ve said I’d be EE co-ordinator, although I’m not sure how much extra work that entails. I suspect it’ll veer between some periods when there’s a lot to be done, and others when there’s only a little.

Now, where’s the end of the term, and can it arrive a little sooner?

Burnt offerings 2014

The return of Qingming.

Nothing kills of the anticipation of a long weekend like a pile of exam papers, and once again this year, there are piles to be marked in the after­math of the mocks this week. I’m already a little ahead on the marking, having dispatched the A2s’ reading papers in a day, although that’s not quite the feat that it appears to be. I also made deep inroads into AS1’s reading, and that is a feat because there are five texts, and the paper is a bulky, clumsy thing to handle.

The exam this time has also been different because we included a writing paper. Normally, to spare ourselves a good deal of bother, we set some recent text type as the writing so that we can mark it beforehand. Although I like splitting things in this way, such exercises are only partial tests of the students’ ability to produce the text type correctly because they’re only dealing with a single type and don’t have to do it under exam conditions.

Although I told the classes to focus on the topics which we have covered in class (Health and Cultural Diversity), A2(2) mostly chose the Cultural Diversity topic or the Science and Technology one. The popularity of the latter was because the text type was blog/diary entry, which is no doubt regarded as an easy option because of its supposedly amorphous nature. A2(1&3) split themselves roughly evenly across four of the text types, but had the brains to avoid Leisure, which was a pamphlet giving advice and thus something akin to guidelines or instructions.

AS1 favoured the nature vs. nurture question about homosexuality; the blog entry reacting to newspaper reports alleging that Justin Bieber is gay; and the review topic (“review the film of the book”, meaning To Kill a Mockingbird; answers – anything but). The other two topics got a smatter­ing of attention.


A musical interlude.

When I saw that the exchange rate had improved in my favour, I went on a music-buying spree.

  1. Garden of Early Delights (Pamela Thorby and Andrew Lawrence-King; Linn Records) – this is an album of early Baroque music which includes some fairly familiar pieces (in fact, the only name I don’t know is Johann Schop), and combines the recorder with the harp.
  2. The Nightingale and the Butterfly (Pamela Thorby and Elizabeth Kenny; Linn Records) – Thorby unites with a lutenist on an album of French pieces from the late 17th and early 18th centuries. This is mostly new music from composers who I have previously not heard of (e.g. Charles Dieupart, Louis Caix d’Hervelois) or who were only slightly known to me (e.g. Robert de Visée).
  3. Locatelli, Concerti Grossi, Op. 1 (The Raglan Baroque Players; Hyperion Records) – I don’t often go to Hyperion because they charge VAT regardless of your point of origin, but the exchange rate was a little more benign than it has been. I had previously had a single example of Locatelli’s output prior to this and bought several albums all at once.
  4. Locatelli, L’Arte del Violino (The Raglan Baroque Players; Hyperion Records) – This is Locatelli’s Op. 3, which is the composer showing off his technical skills with the violin. It is not, though, one of those works of this nature in which all sense of musical quality is abandoned in favour of some clever screechy sound which very few violinists – apart from Locatelli – could achieve.
  5. Locatelli’s Op. 4 (The Raglan Baroque Players; Hyperion Records) – This is a combination of six Introduttioni Teatrali which, according to the accom­p­anying booklet, have an obscure history. The remaining six Concerti are just as obscure with no clear reason why they were included in this publication.
  6. Locatelli, 10 Sonatas Op. 8 (The Locatelli Trio; Hyperion Records) – Like Op. 4, this is a mixed bag, being a combination of ten violin and trio sonatas which, as the notes say, was contrary to the usual practice of six or twelve pieces of the same genre.
  7. Marin Marais, Pièces de Viole du Second Livre (Markku Luolajan-Mikkola et al.; BIS Records) – Having quite liked Marais’ Pièces de Caractère, I thought it was worth trying some more music from him and filling in a gap in my musical arsenal.
  8. Marin Marais, Pièces de Viole du Cinquième Livre (Wieland Kuijken et al.; Accent) – This album includes a piece which was inspired by the oper­ation in which Marais’ gallbladder was removed (Le Tableau de l’Oper­ation de la Taille). I was listening to the album when I heard what sound­ed like someone speaking French. I thought it was coming from outside, but it was commentary accompanying the music.
  9. Rameau, Pièces de clavecin en concerts (London Baroque; BIS Records) – This is an album of six concerts which are largely character pieces, although it’s often impossible to tell who in Rameau’s circle they refer to. The first concert is probably a tombeau, a genre of which the French seemed to be particularly fond. There is some overlap with Rameau, Complete Works for Harpsichord (Trevor Pinnock; crd).
  10. Italian Lute Music G.G. Kapsberger – A. Piccinini (Konrad Junghänal; Accent) – Lute music always gives me a sense of warm summer afternoons when the sun is setting, the light is just so, and the world is quiet and comfortable.
  11. Telemann, The twelve Fantasias for Transverse Flute without Bass (Bart­hold Kuijken; Accent) – This is another album in which “fantasia” has been misspelt in the file name. Probably it’s just a typo, but it smacks of a lack of attention.
  12. Telemann, Trios & Quartets (Epoca Barocca; CPO) – What is says on the box. Unfortunately, the accompanying booklet (an occasional inclusion from CPO) is cut off at the end of the first page of the German section, which means there. The CPO website is barely any more enlightening. This seems to be chamber music for the musically inclined burgers of Hamburg to bash out of an evening.
  13. Telemann, III Trietti metodichi e III Scherzi (Parnassi musici; CPO) – These are light pieces which Telemann published in 1731. The CPO website says they are “full of dancy swing”. CPO must’ve been on a budget because the cover for this album is the same as the cover of Telemann’s Complete Violin Concertos Vol. 4.
  14. Hotteterre, Complete Chamber Music Vol. 1 Suites Op. 2 (Camerata Köln; CPO) – This is a very recent release from CPO and marks the first in a series of four CDs from Camerata Köln. I haven’t listened to the album properly yet, but it is very chamber music in style.

My attempt to acquire Boismortier, Flute and Harpsichord Sonatas Op. 91 has been unsuccessful. I downloaded an album from Presto Classical, but what I got sounded late 18th century. I then had a listen to samples of the album on line, which confirmed that what I had was probably something by Haydn. I’m waiting for Presto Classical to let me know when the actual album will be ready for download.


The Sekkereterry of Stayte for Edgercayshun.

Last year when the PISA report came out, much was made of the results which showed that Asian school children were geniuses and British school children were barely able to hold a pencil without stabbing one other person (including themselves). As was observed at the time, the quality of life for Asian children is generally dreadful and, in the case of China, the results were based on children in Shanghai. Michael Gove wants GSCEs pegged to results in China and other successful economies from 2017.

As I’ve observed in the past, Chinese school children are good at anything a computer could do, but rarely good at anything else. Maths – tick that box; Physics – tick that box; Chemistry – tick with less certainty; Biology – don’t tick it at all because the language is beyond them. Arts and Humanities subjects? Not likely.

Even the dimmest students here can still do maths with a reasonable degree of competence, but only a few of them are capable of doing Further Maths according to the Head of the Maths Department at school. While they may be good at maths, that doesn’t make them intellectual giants. Anything requiring imagination and creativity is beyond all of them unless they’ve been taught some sort of procedure for mimicking something just as they are taught procedures for writing TOEFL and SAT essays.

I wouldn’t be at all surprised if Gove’s favourite sci-fi characters are the Borg from Star Trek and the Cybermen from Dr Who, both races of soulless cyborgs who can solve maths problems in the blink of an eye, but haven’t got a milligramme of creativity or joie de vivre among the lot of them. The man seems to want Borg school children rather than human beings.


Bloody China Mobile.

I’m regretting the recent switch to China Mobile. The latest wheeze is that all .co.uk websites have been blocked. I’d been on Presto Classical the other morning, but couldn’t get on it in the afternoon without Astrill. The same block (or, impediment) seemed to be affecting music sites in general, but I found, for example, that The Register was also out of bounds. .org.uk sites seemed to be partly affected. At school, which I assume goes through China Telecom, there were no problems with any of these sites. Great­fire.org claims no blocking, either. I suspect this may be some sort of filter­ing cockup. Something to do with a DNS update?


But at the end of the day…

I need to get on with some marking.

Finally term ends

Three days late.

On Monday morning when I went to school, I found the back gate was locked. When I parked my bike, I found the gate at the top of the stairs was locked, and I noticed no obvious activity over at the main school, which made me suspicious.

I’m told that we were the only ones at school because the headmaster had had a tantrum. According to the contract, we are permitted one religious holiday off (which is ironic because I’m an atheist), but it seems the headmaster thought we should be punished for daring to have a significant holiday off. He was also in a frightful bate because the students who went to Yunnan with Habitat for Humanity in November had not sought his permission to go (which, quite probably, he would not have granted).

We know that the headmaster doesn’t like the presence of an international programme at school. I don’t know whether he’s a xenophobe, a nationalist, a racist, or quite what. Quite possibly all of the above.

Although classes have been a waste of time this week, we’ve still had quite a bit to do because the start of the second term is going to be insanely busy with the individual orals, the written assignment, and the IGCSE speaking. For the first four weeks, at least, I’ll see AS 1 now and then, and the A2 class, er, whenever. We have about a month (a week here and a couple of weeks there) to get through the rest of the IB English B course.

Like last year, this term vanished with indecent haste. Next term is likely to do much the same. The mock will be upon us before we know it, and the finals before we’ve even recovered from the mocks. Lots of dead time, including the final couple of weeks of June, which are always a complete waste of time.

New Year, New Learning

Thirty years late.

This weekend was half busy in that I spent almost the entirety of yesterday marking my way through my Extended Essays. Knowing how many marking criteria there are (eleven), I marked them all one criterion at a time, which may not have sped things up, but it did mean I wasn’t having to keep eleven things in mind all at the same time.

I note that none of the criteria really covered the matter of the accuracy of peripheral facts. One student stated there were two world wars in the 20th century only to shift them back to the 19th century. None of the criteria seemed concerned with grammatical accuracy beyond appropriateness, which meant that some nonsense had to be allowed to pass. Nor were there any penalties for improper use of paragraphs. Once again, the IBO seeks to flatter.

The main problems tended to be with peripheral issues such as the abstract, the introduction, and the bibliography. The last of these lost everyone marks because in spite of being told to use the Harvard Reference System, it was not properly implemented. I had even warned one student to change the bibliography in her first draft, but to no avail. The final draft contained the same bibliography.

Where Saturday was busy, Sunday was deliberately idle. I spent quite a large chunk of the day on YouTube looking for music videos from the early 80s and creating playlists. I’ve been after pieces of music that I liked at the time, but never felt inclined to buy the album. I’ve also been tracking down pieces of music which I liked, but about which I knew next to nothing at the time.

Thus, I found that UB40’s song Food for Thought, which has a memorable sax riff, begins “Ivory Madonna, dancing in the dark”, and not “I’m a prima donna…” I had thought the song was a dig at Thatcher. I didn’t know that Making Plans for Nigel was by XTC; or that Johnny and Mary was sung by Robert Palmer and is supposed to be about a couple of mimes; or something. I thought it was some melancholy piece about someone who’s mentally retarded or perhaps suffering from the consequences of drug addiction or a car crash. And his name’s spelt Jona Lewie.

I also happened to bump into a video of hits from 1986, which reminded me why I gave up on contemporary music at about that time. Glam rock had returned, it was an age of saccharine ballads, and rap was starting to blight the scene. It was also the time of feat. songs when, I think, we were all meant to fall about in orgasmic ecstasies about the union of two great musical egos… Sorry, artists. All right, it seems to have worked sometimes – Bowie and Jagger, for example. This also reminds me of Dire Straits. Must go looking for some of their stuff.

The Saturday Ramble

Waffle with everything.

It’s been a long time since I wrote one of my rambling, ephemeral Saturday-morning posts, but for the first time in a while, I don’t have to concern myself with other business – typically something school-related.

The monthly tests were last week, although it feels a longer time has passed. A week ago I was marking AS1’s reading tests; on Wednesday, I ploughed my way through A2(1&3)’s reading tests; and on Thursday, A2(2)’s got the same treatment. Because we had students away doing SATs during the tests, there were a couple of strays to be dealt with, but unlike quite a few of my less fortunate colleagues, I don’t have these things hanging over my head this weekend.

However, lest it be thought that this situation is all silver lining and no cloud, I had the A2s write their embedded interviews yesterday, and AS1 write its reviews of The Social Network. The former had had all week because it was the last round of the interactive orals this week and I’d set them the task of writing the embedded interview while I was otherwise engaged. Some had completed the task, and quite a few had rewritten the transcript interview, which is a text type we did last year; but I insisted that they should finish the writing partly because they’d had all week to do it. I had AS1 write their reviews immediately after they’d watched The Social Network because when last year’s AS classes did the same exercise as homework, they plagiarised other reviews en masse and I abandoned the whole thing. However, these things can wait. I’m having my weekend.

I’ve been keeping half an eye on the trial of the Grillo sisters, who have just been acquitted of committing fraud against Charles Saatchi and Nigella Lawson. This is not because I have any particular interest in the case, but because the embedded interview was part of the food-themed section of English class. The task for the A2s was to write up an embedded interview with a celebrity chef. Lawson comes into the story because I happened to use a couple of interviews with her as additional examples.

My contract has been renewed and I’m even getting a modest pay increase. I thought that those days were over because I’d hit the top of the pay scale.


The new toy.

After Linda replaced her stolen phone recently, I decided that it was about time I did the same. This was not because the phone was ailing, but because it was ageing. Since Linda had bought a Nokia Lumia, I decided to do the same, and headed off to Suning Plaza, which is just across the lane from Parkson. They may have been having a sale because the phone I bought, a 920, was ¥2,399 here, but in the shop in Chengdu, Linda said it was ¥3,000.

The Lumia 920 is a WindowsPhone running WP8, and where I think W8 (or its derivatives) is a dumb idea on a laptop or PC, it works on a phone or tablet, although not everything is obvious. For example, there’s a screen view which shrinks the screen and allows you to swipe through recent places. According to the manual, you hold down the left arrow key, although I have no idea how I’ve done such a thing because I’ve only managed to bring up that screen by accident on previous occasions. The screen also rotates from time to time, but that seems to be a matter of holding the phone in the upright position and turning it sideways. It does happen at odd moments, though. Nothing in the manual about this function, which I assume is a more recent addition to the device.

The phone came with the usual Nokia apps such as maps, music, etc. Because of the link with Microsoft, the phone came with the mobile version of Office home and student edition. One Note has a separate tile, which is probably sensible since it’s apparently the phone’s notebook. As far as using Office productively goes, I’d say that it’s wishful thinking. It’s all right for reviewing documents in Word, Excel, and Powerpoint, but the size of the screen and limited functionality of these programs makes creativity awkward – something done out of necessity. In addition to these apps, I’ve also installed Adobe Reader, Kindle (hurrah! And the text is much better on the phone than it is on my Kindle), and Google, which seems to have some kind of built-in browser although I can’t get Chrome without being redirected to the Chinese Nokia website – any attempts to get Chrome from elsewhere get blocked. I’ll just have to tolerate IE10.

It was fortunate that I already had an MS account when I got the phone and that I happened to have the password with me. Office comes with SkyDrive, which is not a service I use half as much as I ought to, although there are still quite a lot of pictures there from the days when my blog was on Spaces.

The phone also forced me to buy a wireless router about which I was a little wary because I expected to find that I should be coughing up more money for a second connection to the outside world. As it turns out, that wasn’t the case. Nor was the router exactly expensive. I was expecting the price to be several hundred 元, but it was a mere ¥100. The first problem to overcome was the installation because the instructions were only in Chinese; but after a little guesswork, I found that the first part was irrelevant because it was to do with setting things up through Control Panel. The other part involved going to the router’s IP address and setting things up through a page which, I assume, it embedded on the device. This, too, is solely in Chinese, but I overcame that as well, and have had WiFi ever since. It became clear that I needed it after I found that the Nokia Suite software for my old phone didn’t interact with the new one.

There was also an app allowing PCs and laptops to chat to the phone via a USB connection, but it has very limited functionality. For once, Bluetooth seems to be a better option.

I opted for the 920 over the 925 because the reviews suggested that the former was better value for money while the latter was expensive and added little. So far, I have no real complaints about the phone apart from its occasional bursts of quirky behaviour when I do something with it that I wasn’t intending to do.


0 to the far side of the intersection faster than an Audi R8.

I’ve already had one run-in with a tardy Audi R8, and now I’ve had another. I was waiting to cross the intersection to Baoli. On the other side was a black Audi R8 Coupé oozing coolness. The light went green and I dashed off. It was not until I was nearly on the far side of the intersection that the wide boy in the Audi decided to rev his engine, which made a considerable amount of noise, and out-accelerate everything else – embarrassingly late. Perhaps it was turbo lag.

While we’re on the streets of Wuxi, the 中山路-县前街 intersection remains a mess. The road surface is wet and uneven, and heavy metal plates, which bob up and down as vehicles pass over them, remain strewn across the road. There’s no sign of anyone doing any work on it at all.


The winter solstice.

Today’s Google doodle claims that it’s the first day of winter. Where? Where is it the first day of winter? It sounds like a Hallmark anniversary. It is the winter solstice, though, and bloody cold to boot.

Splice me main clause, Mr Christian

I think there’s some grammar in there.

I generally avoid teaching grammar,1 which is, in my view, the domain of Chinese English teachers. I do occasionally deal with word formation to test and enhance the vocabulary of students, but I don’t have much to say about the rest. Syntax mostly gets dealt with in feedback on writing tasks, and phonology when students start referring to Scout Finch as Scott.

This year we have a departmental grammar initiative according to which we cover a different aspect of grammar with which students typically have problems. I’m dealing with comma splices, fused sentences, and sentence fragments

Comma splices are sentences which are ended with a comma instead of a full stop. Fused sentences are adjacent sentences which lack any mediating punctuation. Sentence fragments are standalone  phrases or subordinate clauses.2

I trawled the Internet for exercises in these things, but was dismayed to find that many of the exercises for comma splices were little more than a matter of replacing the comma with a full stop, and those for fused sentences were solved by adding a full stop in the right place. A few exercises were a little more sophisticated, requiring students to combine sentences with an appropriate conjunction. By and large, though, this wasn’t a matter of grammar, but, in fact, punctuation.

Punctuation is not part of grammar even if such marks have a system of use. Like writing with which it is associated, it is artificial and doesn’t affect how English grammar is described.

Where native speakers might butcher punctuation, this is not to say that their actual sentences are ungrammatical. The omission of the comma in the previous sentence doesn’t make it ungrammatical; nor does the omission of the full stop; nor the presence of a comma in place of the full stop. The presence or absence of such marks depends on the situation. In the sort of writing my pupils do for me, I insist on the conventions to be correctly applied whether the style of writing is formal or informal. If they were on some online forum, punctuating every sentence with commas, it is of no concern to me.3 In other words, what is appropriate in the context?

In the case of comma splices etc., has punctuation been mistaken for syntactic failings? Possibly not.

I recalled something I had read about the limited scope of use of Chinese words for “and”, and after a little investigation, I found that they can only be used to join NPs.4 Thus the comma splices which occur with depressing regularity in students’ writing may be a consequence of this. While it’s possible to say “The cat and the dog” in Chinese, it’s not possible to say “The cat saw the dog, and the postman saw the cat”. Many of my students would write

The cat saw the dog, the postman saw the cat.
The cat saw the dog. And the postman saw the cat.

The second sentence is probably more advanced than the first in that the student knows that there should be a conjunction there, but still doesn’t understand properly that the two clauses can be joined directly together.5

Thus this would appear to be a matter of syntax, namely the use of “and” in English.

Fused sentences, as described above, are actually quite rare in the writing of Chinese students, but they do write sentences which are fused in that two main verbs occur in the same clause. I ought to keep a running record of these things because I strongly suspect they are Chinglish. Some may be 的 or 得 constructions; quite a lot could probably be fixed with a relative pronoun. This, too, is a matter of syntax.

Sentence fragments, on the other hand, do seem to be a matter of punctuation, the worst of which is the all too frequent abuse of “because”. Where I can understand how differences in Chinese and English grammar can lead to errors in the use of “and”, I find the misuse of “because” puzzling.

There are differences in the use of “because” and 因为. For example, Chinese conjunctions are often in correlative constructions which sometimes spill over into English so that I get “Although…, but…” constructions following 虽然… 可是… constructions in Chinese. However, I can’t recall seeing “Because…, therefore…” (因为… 所以… in Chinese) in any piece of English writing. I wonder whether 因为… 所以… is more common than “[main clause], 因为…” in Chinese, and thus it’s a habit for Chinese students to treat “because” as the start of a new sentence in English regardless of its relationship to any adjacent clause; but I have no definitive explanation for this perpetual and plaguesome error.

Notes

  1. By “grammar” I mean the whole system and not just “syntax”.
  2. This may be true in some cases, where the clause appears to be a well-formed sentence in its own right. In other cases, the main clause is adjacent, but the wrong punctuation has been used.
  3. All right, it’d annoy me because it would be a display of ignorance and casual indifference.
  4. Words for “and” in Chinese are 和 (hé), 跟 (gēn; also a preposition), 同 (tóng; used in southern China), and 与 (traditional 與; yǔ; literary). I surmise that these were perhaps all prepositions, which would account for them being restricted to co-ordinating NPs.
  5. It’s also found quite often when “but” is used, and quite probably for the same reason.

The curtain twitches

“Five minutes, Mr Bamboo.”

We had the start-of-term conference last weekend; or perhaps because last year’s conference was so popular, we held it all over again. There were some minor dif­fer­ences. This year’s big ideas were to extend the philosophy of the IB programme into other programmes (a box which I started ticking last year), and homework.

I don’t think we’ve ever given homework obsessively. I know I don’t, and I don’t need to. Do I run out of class time? Occasionally. Am I going to have the time to deal with the homework which would be a consequence of such a situation? Almost certainly not. I have an idea how I’m going to satisfy this requirement without irking my little darlings or myself.

We’ve been back at school this week, but things are still settling – at least in English. My IB class is a mixture of students from Fred’s and Michelle’s classes, which has created a problem, viz. Fred’s students haven’t been through An Inspector Calls (which I’ve been reading over the past couple of days). We have a solution of a sort.

The AS classes are also a little in the air as I try to get the right students into the right class. At the moment we have two HL classes, which means that there’s quite a number of self-deluding students who should be doing SL. I’m hoping we’ll be able to shift them into the latter class where they belong and where they might do well enough not to embarrass themselves.

We also have no spare copies of To Kill a Mockingbird, which is unavailable on Kindle, and not something which I’m likely to find in my local Xinhua Bookshop. I’ve read a couple of guides about it, but I can’t exactly go into class and talk about them. Perhaps I could get students to spend the first few lit. classes drawing pictures of Scout, Jem, Atticus, Boo Radley, etc. Or I could ask them what they think happens in the book, which they probably won’t have read yet – just like me.

But last week it was February

I’m sure it was.

And so the 2012-13 academic year comes to an end. Although the final two weeks dragged on, the rest of this term seemed to whizz by, mostly in a shower of rain. I know that in other years, spring and early summer have been grey and wet, but this one seems to have been greyer and wetter.

The PAL classes this year contrasted starkly with each other. Normally by the end of the year, any difference between them is very slight (and vanished entirely last year). This year, the gap between them had increased by the time of the mocks back in March.

To make things worse, in spite of me explaining to them how they could choose an appropriate class for IB English next year (A and B → HL; everyone else → SL), most opted to do HL. When I surveyed the classes, I thought a roughly 50-50 split was more realistic.

The AS SL classes also contrasted with each other, although not to the same extent as the PAL classes. AS 1&3 seemed to be inhabited by students who were, with a few exceptions, lazy and indifferent. AS 2, on the other hand, was inhabited by students who should’ve been in the HL class. As a consequence, the flattering benignity of Paper 1 (reading) resulted in unrealistically good marks, although Paper 2 (writing) tended to throw some cold water on that.

We were given next year’s timetable yesterday. I’m continuing to A2 with my cur­rent AS classes. I’ve also inherited Fred’s HL IB English class, and will be teaching one of the AS HL classes, although I don’t know what the composition will be. I assume that it may be a mixture of this year’s PAL 1 and 2, but there may also be some new students. As far as I’m currently aware, we’re not going to have a third AS class, although considering how full the PAL classes were, a few extra students would stretch them to breaking point.

Things are going to be busy because of all the internal assessment that we’re going to have to do, and unlike a lot of schools with IB programmes, we don’t just have a few students to deal with.

Not everyone is returning, of course. Daniel got his marching orders and is off to an international school in Shanghai. (“I want to go to Xiamen,” said Daniel. “Here’s some money,” said some people with money. “I love Shanghai,” said Daniel.) Luca, Kam, Ken, and Fred are all going elsewhere. Fred’s off to be the CP at Tianyi, which leaves the spot for English HOD open. Eduardo announced that he wouldn’t be returning.

So what am I going to do now? I do have books to read and DVDs to watch. I thought I might have a go at learning (about) Old Persian. I’m off to see Linda (natch), but the cost of getting to Chengdu is putting me off thinking about Hong Kong.

Open to negotiation

Easy? Moi?

As I was going into the Far Eastern at lunchtime, the woman was just leaving. The slogan on her T-shirt said, “I’m not easy, but we can discuss it.”


Tinkering.

I’ve been editing some of the very early entries here, partly to fix the formatting, and partly to add tags, which Spaces did not have. I have been wondering about deleting some entries, which were ephemeral even when I wrote them.

I’m also wondering about adding a page with links to the most frequently visited entries, although I don’t know whether that will help or not.

I haven’t been editing everything, but have generally focused on the entries which seem to be worth the effort.


Bzzz… Bzzz… Kssshhh!

The term seems determined to fizzle out once again. Classes have been cancelled next Wednesday because of some sort of universities recruitment fair, although I don’t know what this has to do with us.

We’re having a final assembly on Tuesday, but the Friday assembly, which we heard about earlier today, turns out to be one of those student faerie stories.

We’re going to be having our staff dinner at Province on Monday.

Once again, the end of the term drags on long after its use-by date has passed.


Speaking of tall tales.

Somehow the little darlings have got hold of a copy of a draft of next year’s time­table which they think is the final timetable. How did they get this? I have a theory how they might’ve got it.

I’m hoping that I can avoid doubles split by lunch so that I’m not having to rush to get lunch, get back here, and have it before class.

As far as I’m aware, I’m not teaching PAL next year, but the details of what I’m actually teaching have yet to be revealed.

Divine smiles

The benevolent face of the gods of pedagogy.

It seems that the gods have smiled on us suffering mortals, whose term has dragged on beyond its tolerate-by date. We have Friday off. Why? Don’t know, but in one respect we’re lucky because we subsequently heard that the main school was going to be back on Sunday. It was noted that we, on the other hand, would be unavailable to hate the main school for stealing time from us again.

But the gods decided to gild the lily because next term doesn’t start till the 20th, which is now two days on from the original date.

This has been a tryingly long term overall, which was made worse by the eight-day week following New Year. Even two weekends later, I’m not sure we’ve recovered at all.

The term has also been trying because it seems to have been characterised by one thing giving way to another. Thus, for instance, it took me a month to mark some writing because every week there was something else which demanded my more immediate attention. I don’t seem to have done quite as much as I was hoping, but perhaps that’s an illusion. Possibly, I’ve done as much as ever, but I don’t feel I’ve  done a sufficient amount of it.

Perhaps part of that feeling stems from groping our way through the first term of actual IB teaching. Perhaps part stems from PAL 2, whose academic performance is a concern, which is not helped by changes to the exam which mean that students will probably have to do that little bit better to achieve the same sort of marks as previous years. (I don’t know how the grade thresholds will affect things.)

I also signed the new contract today. Quite a jump in my pay on this occasion, and there’s now a new package which includes the cost of two flights a year. None­the­less, the amount I’m being paid is going a mere step below the top of my scale while being somewhat south of the scale for teachers. While I’m not greedy, this continues to be an insult to how long I’ve been doing EFL teaching and the higher level of my academic qualifications.

After some improvement in recent days, the smog worsened. It started out clear, but the cloud came over, the smog built up, and the day turned chilly. I won’t be sorry to see the back of this dirty and disgusting place for a couple of weeks. Like many of the other reprehensible things about China, the government will make a lot of noise, but achieve nothing because there are too many indifferent, pyjama-wearing barbarians to contend with.