Friday, December 7, 2012

Integrative learning

One of the teachers at my school has quickly become a role-model for me. She's very natural in teaching and managing her classroom, and does an especially good job of expanding her lessons for the younger students beyond their textbook. To help them connect their grammar and their overall theme of the US, she made up a foreign exchange student named Cilly who is spending a year abroad in the States. Cilly began in New York (their first chapter) and then traveled to Texas (their second chapter). Every time they learn a new concept, grammatical or thematic, she has them write a letter between Cilly and her friend back in Germany. This seems to work pretty well, and I've noticed they're better and more comfortable than the other class at using the grammar they learn when talking with me.

Of course the family they made up is a rundown of every American cliche ever. Upon arriving in Texas Cilly starts a homestay, where she lives with a blue-eyed, blonde American family. The father of the family is a lawyer, the mother a teacher. The daughter is a not-very-nice cheerleader named Emily and the daughter's boyfriend, Jake, is the captain of the football team. The twin younger sons play in the school's marching band; one is shy and the other is a "playa," according to my class. Cilly likes the "playa" twin, but thinks the shy twin likes her. They also have a cat and a dog, but oddly enough, no guns. I find this whole family uproariously funny. The students take it very seriously and can't understand why I would laugh.

My teacher for this class is very clever and had her eleventh-grade class practice their grammar and new vocabulary by writing an installment of the story for the eighth-grade class. So, having settled into her homestay, Cilly experiences a homecoming dance. The mother informs her that "y'all need to go shopping today" (I was impressed by this correct usage of Texas speech) in order to buy a dress and, under duress, Emily takes Cilly along. While the two are trying on dresses Jake shows up, because there's nothing high school football players like more than going dress shopping with their girlfriends. But, in a stunning turn of events, he sees Cilly from behind, thinks she's Emily, and compliments her dress. Emily overhears and flies into a jealous rage. Specifically, she's angry that Jake mistook Cilly's "elephant legs" for Emily's own slender ones. Great drama ensues.

Let me tell you, if high school homecoming dances came with that kind of show, I'd have actually gone to them. Soap opera story notwithstanding, the project is a fabulous way for both classes to practice what they've been learning, and I hope to use a similar tactic some time in the future. Perhaps the twelfth grade class can write about Cilly's spring break, which will naturally be to Mexico to get very drunk. I would hate to interrupt the cliches this late in the game, after all.

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