Thursday, November 15, 2007

Competitions: English, Easy Go!

****Gong Jheng Elementary 2007 English Easy Go Reader's Theater Group****

Competitions are a major part of school life here. Students are frequently involved in oral speech competitions and presentations of various sorts, encouraged to memorize all their lines and work on presentation, include formal bows and welcoming gestures. Some few it as a chance to intensely learn about one aspect of a subject. For others, it's a personal drive to be number one. Where the drive comes from is debatable, as behind every good speech competitor is a doubly-so fervent set of parents.

I was a judge at a 6th grade public speech competition in my Elementary school the other day, and being a teacher at the same school I was able to see part of the process leading up to the final 3 minute talk. 2 months ago I was asked to write a series of short sample essays based on prompts, so that students could have a sort of rough rubric. I was set to present these to the competitors (2 students from every 6th grade class = 22) and spend part of the lunch break brainstorming additional topics.

Most of the students came armed with complete essays. Most were written by fluent older siblings or foreign cram school teachers. One was printed with a date whited-out up top and a blank for a name in the introductory sentence. I realized quickly that this competition had little to do with writing.

The essays they had were all very difficult, grammatically, and contained a lot of tough metaphorical language. The following weeks were spent memorizing their speeches, which they then tried to reproduce word for word, pause for pause, long vowel for long vowel on competition day.

Asked to speak to the students as a group after the competition, I took the time to tell them that they had excellent pronunciation, and demonstrated a clear ability to use the language from a technical standpoint. Their weakest point was presentation. This applied to to those who dressed up, broadcasted a booming voice, had timed and rhythmic hand motions to accompany words, and even whipped out props like the Elder Wand and Resurrection Stone from the latest Harry Potter. There was zero audience connection, despite all the time devoted to the presentation aspect. I told them that they should think about what they want to convey to their audience, and try to figure out how to win us to their side, make us their friends during their talk. I told them the most important thing is certainly not word for word repetition.

I also asked one of the other judges to translate for me. I'm positive the kids didn't catch the gist of everything I said. The judge consented to me, but conveniently left out the point about memorization and natural connection. My comprehension is lousy, but I can understand enough Chinese to tell whether the gist of a sentiment is passed on or not.

So, that's a bit about competition culture for an introduction. Two weeks ago, Yilan County hosted the Fall portion of their annual English, Easy Go! Competition(not sure about the punctuation on it; never really made sense to me). It is open to all schools in Yilan County (maybe about 35 participants?) and the Fall session includes a Reader's Theater competition and a Song and Dance Competition.

Gong Jheng Elementary had been practicing a Reader's Theater performance for a long time. Again, priorities seemed slightly askew from what I would consider important for Reader's Theater in English. I would have spent the time emphasizing each students individual English ability by offering more complex dialogue and a greater depth in characters (more emotion). Our school rented costumes. "Rabbit and Turtle New Running Race". It was pretty cute though, and the kids did a great job. 3rd place for this part. The school also took 1st in the song and dance competition with "I Just Can't Wait To Be King" (the competition was divided into large and small school heats - 1800 kids makes us a large one). Here are a couple of photos from the event.

****A Not-So-Excited Rabbit****

****Monkey and Turtle-Bride (Kevin was the Bride)****


****Back on the Bus****


YuTzu said...

You were right...the competition was never about truly encouraging the kids to demonstrate their English proficiency, but more to put on a "good show" for the others.

You reminded me my last student before I quitted my English teaching career. Lilian was a 2nd grader who studied language arts and social science in English with me and she's an absolute darling. She had to do a chanting contest at her elementary school and we picked a text together with some slangs. Of course, it's not the standardized English text for most Taiwanese elementary school teachers. I remembered Lilian came to me after her competition crying " I don't understand...why did the teachers say I have good control of the flow of the presentation and they liked the variety I presented, but I did not win the competition?" Her home teacher at the elementary school only told her that she should spend more time on preparing her outfits and theatrical skills...I was really disappointed, but not with Lilian of course.

Anyway, I like the stories you share. Keep it up Dale!!:)

ps: Have you received the tix?

Sandy 何聖欣 said...

I enjoyed your insight and your pictures. I judged a high school speech contest once and one student started the speech with a 2 minute skit in Chinese (which I didn't understand) and others used a friend as a prop or helper. I expected individual speeches. My college here in the south will have a joke telling contest soon, and I can't wait to hear how that goes ;).

cfimages said...

That last photo of the bus is creepy.

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