Focus on Common Courtesy Badly Needed

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Normally I would not use the Flensburg Files as a podium to express my political views or opinions about a political theme. In fact, the last time I grilled a politician because of a scandal was back in 2011, when Karl-Theodor zu Gutenberg had to relinquish his post as defense minister and leave the Christian Socialist Party in Bavaria amid a plagiarism scandal involving a doctorate he wrote while at the University of Bayreuth. However in the past 24 hours, this author, after having read two articles involving the Germanwings tragedy a week ago, had to put on his boxing gloves and put in his mouth guard because of the content of the articles that were just out of this world.

We’ll start off with the column written by a student of the Joseph König Gymnasium (German for our American high school) in Haltern, located in the German state of North Rhine-Westphalia. This was the school where 16 students and two teachers, plus some Spanish foreign exchange students from Barcelona lost their lives in the plane crash. While I will not go into detail describing the events that happened in response to the plane tragedy, I will sum it up in two sentences: School was let out early when students were informed that their teachers and friends were not coming back because of the crash. Then the media came hoarding in, ruthlessly and with no regard to the feelings of the community affected, just to squeeze out the information possible for the sake of reporting it to the news channel that is striving for better media viewing ratings, even if the information is distorted. This made me feel disgusted and reminded me of the Oklahoma State football coach Mike Gundy and his tirade on the media for falsifying information about one of his players in 2007, as seen in the video clip below:

While the first article was published by the Guardian in the UK and pretty much sums up the incident that is comparable to the swarm of media encircling the estate of Michael Landon, who died of cancer in 1991 (Landon, as you know, played Charles Ingalls in Little House and Jonathan in Highway to Heaven), second article published by the Star Tribune from my home state of Minnesota got my blood boiling, my hair raising as high as the skyscrapers of Dubai and my head tingling with rage. In this article, former Minnesota senator Michelle Bachmann compared US President Obama with the deranged pilot who brought down the Germanwings plane, crashing it in the Alps near Nice in France! This comment, stated by a deranged dame with no regard to the feelings of those affected by the Germanwings disaster, let alone the President of the US! With comments as barbaric as this one, you would think she would be locked up in the psychiatric ward of a mental hospital, diagnosing her as suffering from dementia or schizophrenia, right?

Well the point behind the two articles is this: We are living in a barbaric world, where everyone is fighting to get the recognition needed, gratifying himself and those he is serving. This even means using a tragedy like that of the Germanwings disaster as a weapon to defame someone, which is a crime in itself. There are times I am happy to be a teacher of English and not a journalist because I feel for the people affected right now, because they are getting the brunt from both sides. If there was a chance to go in front of the media to express my disdain towards the media in response to the events  unfolded, it would be this:

“If you are trying to get the attention that you have been craving, be prepared for the biggest disappointment in your lives because you will never (ever) get it. My parents tried to get me to become successful just by getting me to correct their mistakes (by playing American football in high school instead of singing in choir) and restore the family reputation. Do you know what happened? It failed miserably. I quit because what I did was NOT me. I wanted the microphone and play my tune for my benefit, which is the happiness that trumps any amount of money and recognition others are striving for.  So stop your harassment of my students and colleagues for the sake of money and fame, and let them be. We have to work this problem out ourselves and do not need your camera and microphones in our faces. We will do that job ourselves, and when we are good and ready to do so. Thank you!”

With as much fire as what Mike Gundy did, it would get the message across to everyone who shamefully used this tragedy for their benefit. It is time we start reintroducing common sense in our society, because we have hurt too many people and at the same time, lost our own identity to a machine that is invisible but is eating us alive by the minute. We need to look at the people out there whom we are affecting by our actions and decide, with some thinking and efforts, whether the things we’re doing will be helpful or harmful to them. 90% of the time, what we are doing because we think it is the right thing to do is, in reality, not what the others want. We sometimes misinterpret the feelings of others and assume or even classify people without even sitting down to talk to them, and even help them. Sometimes our assumptions are done because we too are unhappy with what we want in life. It is time we put an end to this senseless act and start listening to others, thinking about their feelings and putting the others in front of our needs. If they do not want to be interviewed about a disaster and the loss of their own people, then you respect their wish.  If they do not want to be followed for the sake of getting a news story, then you respect their wish. If they want to be left alone, then you respect their wish.

I hope, for the sake of the people affected by the Germanwings disaster, that the people, who have ruthlessly tried squeezing the information out of the victims’ families and friends, who have used this disaster an an analogy to name and shame politicians, and who have debatted about the causes of the disaster on the social networks, that this message is made clearly and in a language we both understand. It is time to sensitize ourselves to situations like this one and look and listen to others instead of shutting ourselves inside our bodies, treating it like we’re drivers in a car battling other drivers for a share of the highway.  It’s time to know when to take action and when to stay out. Only then will the people affected have time to digest what is going on by themselves, let alone decide when it is right to talk about it, and with whom.

Thank you for respecting this wish.

 

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In School in Germany: Story Cubes and Index Cards

In teaching, there is a golden rule to keep in mind: A teacher is a natural if and only if he is constantly creating new activities out of things that he has in his possession. A nature boy with a creative talent is a teacher at heart, just like the Nature Boy Ric Flair and professional wrestling. This is where the Story Cubes and Index Cards come in handy. A set of mobile materials to take with you to class to use for any subject, including foreign languages.  An overview of both are presented here.

STORY CUBES: 

Created by Gamewright Inc., the game features a set of nine die, each having a picture on there. There are three different games to choose from: regular, action or travel.  The object is to create stories or provide sentences using the pictures that are given after the die is rolled. It can vary from once dice or more, and the number of participants can vary. I found the game during my trip to Iowa with my family last year, while visiting the Living History Museum Complex in Des Moines, and since then, I have not regretted buying them, for students have taken the opportunity to learn new vocabulary and improve grammar through several activities. One can create as many stories as activities, including the ones provided below:

FINISH THE STORY:  Using one or more die, one starts a story based on the pictures provided on the rolled die. After one or two sentences are said, the next person picks up where the first one left off. Each player then adds to the story for one or two round until the story is completed. The advantage of this game is to learn new vocabulary, while improving on communication skills.

GRAMMAR CHECK:  Focusing on a certain grammar aspect, like direct vs indirect speech, adverb vs adjective, or even asking and answering questions, one can provide some exercises with Story Cubes. Some of the exercises I came up with include the following:

TRADING AND SWITCHING: In pairs and choosing one grammar subject, the first person writes a sentence, whereas the second one converts it.  This goes well with (in-)direct speech, adverbs vs. adjectives, or when working on questions, where one says the answer and the other asks the question.

ESSAYS: Using one or more pictures on the die, you can construct an essay, focusing on one or more grammar topics.

MR. SPONTANEOUS: Rolling one or more die, the teacher can present a task for the student to complete verbally. The same applies if it is student to student.  This includes asking questions, filling in the gaps using verb tenses and the like.

MAKE A DECISION:  Using the picture on the die, students can create a situation and have the rest of the group decide what course of action to take.

ASQ:  Using one die, you can roll a picture and ask someone a question. How it is done is up to the person rolling it, but it can give the person(s) asking a chance to provide some interesting answers and encourage them to speak.

 

INDEX CARDS:

In comparison with the Story Cubes, using index cards for foreign language teaching encourages the participants to be more flexible with their way of communication. There, students can choose a card and start a discussion, pending on the two forms of frontal teaching that is used here:  the closed form (where a student completes a task exactly the way it is mentioned on the card), and the open form (where a student can freely express himself as long as it is within the certain category). Then there is the hybrid version, where both forms are used in an activity. Examples of how index cards are used for certain exercises, based on some exercises I developed for my English cards include the following:

Finish the Story:  Choosing a card from a deck provided in the middle of the table, your story starts with what is on the card. After the first sentence, you add your sentence and then the other players. The story goes a couple rounds before it ends with the last sentence.

Make a Decision:  You pick a card with a situation which you have to solve on your own. However, other players may have different ideas on how to solve the problem.  Good practice for those who are pursuing business careers and need some additional vocabulary for this purpose. But it is also useful practice for those loving to travel and need some help with English before ending up in a situation seen on the card.

Favorites: This is one of the most open-ended part of the card game as you have an opportunity to talk about your favorite thing, pending on the subject. Sometimes just by presenting general topics as an ice-breaker on your first day of class does the trick.

Telephone Dialogs:  Useful for practicing telephone conversations, a pair receive a situation where they have to construct and practice a dialog. Useful for  pronouncing words and learning new telephone vocabulary. Good for people who need English to communicate with other Anglo-Saxons.

Media:  This one features the lone hybrid form of index card games I’ve developed so far. It has three categories featuring the favorite medium used (favorite book, movie or computer program), specific questions pertaining to media (like reality TV, obsession with facebook, etc.) and personal opinion questions to share with your players (like the last time you visited a concert, favorite musician, etc.) The cards are differentiated with colors and symbols. Mine was differentiated with three different colors and the themes dealing with campfires. Useful when you want to talk about media or are pursuing that career.

 

These are only a few examples of how a teacher can make use of these two materials. They are useful when you have little time to prepare for your class and need something quick and spontaneous. Pending on how open or closed your style of frontal teaching is, nevertheless these materials are a hit when you want to encourage your students to communicate both in writing as well as orally. They’re small and compact, but they are very handy and you can do a lot with them. It is just a matter of making it creative, useful, and fun. Especially when it comes to learning a foreign language, students can benefit from producing sentences more correctly and learn some new vocabulary. This is something that I as a teacher can take comfort in that fact. 🙂

Link to the Gamewright page and Story Cubes can be found here.

In School in Germany: Teaching Method- The Chalkboard

Here’s a question I have for all those learning a foreign language, in particular those teaching English in Germany:
Apart from the teaching book (German: Lehrbuch), what type of medium do you use for teaching foreign language classes, and for each medium, how do you use it?
As part of the series on my practical experience in a German Gymnasium, I will present some media that I and others have used, plus all the advantages and disadvantages that go along with each one.
I’ll start with our traditional use for the classroom: the good old fashion blackboard
Dating back to the stone age, the chalk and board was the earliest form of communication, as cave people drew pictures and used hieroglyphics on small tablets and rocks with certain forms of chalk or stick to explain stories and provide information that was important to them in their time. Many of these hieroglyphics still exists today- withstanding the test of time- and have been protected as historical sites.
Over 200 years ago the chalkboard was the only medium used in the one-room school houses and institutions of education, with many pupils having their own tablets to use for their assignments, whether it was for arithmetic, spelling or the like. When looking at the scene from the TV-series Little House, you can imagine what school life was like back then in comparison with right now.
Despite the advances in technology, with the white board (with text marker), the Smart Board (with electronic pens), TV and internet and other forms of 2.0 technology, schools nowadays still stick to the chalkboard as the main medium for teaching, especially when it comes to teaching foreign languages.  From the teacher’s point of view, there are many benefits and drawbacks to using this form of medium, many of which I’ve seen so far despite being in Gymnasium for a few days now:
ADVANTAGES:
Drawing diagrams, mind maps and pictures:  Many Americans know John Madden, the former sportscaster and commentator whose signature for all American football games for four decades was the usage of the electronic TV board, where his scribbling and descriptions could be seen on TV.  For those who don’t know him, here are a couple examples:

His source of inspiration: the chalkboard. For teachers who love to draw, the chalkboard for them is a lover’s paradise. You can make use of drawing diagrams, images and the like and still manage to capture the attention of the students and have them learn something.
Vocabulary:  This is useful, especially if you are teaching a foreign language class, like I am doing with English. There are two benefits of doing this: 1. To provide the students with information about the word’s meaning and 2. To help them with their pronunciation. In this case, I usually write the word down, have the students pronounce it and, if necessary, place accents on the syllables that are stressed in these words. This way, it helps students know how to speak it correctly, esp. as in some languages, like French and German, the way of pronouncing it is different than that of English.
Facts and points about theme:  For subjects like history, social studies and natural sciences, having these facts on the board provides a students with an opportunity to learn about the theme, let alone write them down in their notes to use for their exams. A classic example of how this works is with the Potsdamer Conference, where the key points would include the participants and their views on the future of Germany after the Fall of Hitler, a plan for the country (which was partitioning it into four sectors), and the Start of the Cold War, where Truman and Stalin had their first of many altercations to come in the 40-year conflict, using Germany as the chessboard.
Organization: Through mind-maps and outlines, organizing can help guide students through the agenda without getting lost.  Sometimes it serves as a complement to a presentation.
Games and interaction: I find this one to be the liveliest as far as the use of the chalkboard is concerned.  Whether it’s Pictionary, Hangman and Wheel of Fortune for foreign languages, Jeopardy for other subjects and other activities, one can make a session  an enjoyable experience with this method as it encourages students to test their skills and learn new things that are considered useful in the future.
DISADVANTAGES:
In spite of the advantages of the chalkboard, there are some drawbacks to using this traditional method, some of which I’ve observed so far in my observation of the classes so far, others from my own experience.  For example:
Handwriting: While doctors lead the pack when it comes to sloppy handwriting that is illegible, teachers and sometimes students are in a distant second place. While the advantage of practicing their writing is clear, sometimes the handwriting can be difficult to read. Whenever the student asks you what it is on the board or says that he/she cannot read it, then it is not a good sign.
Time consumption:  The biggest critique to using the board is the time consumption, both on the part of the teacher as well as the students having to copy the info on the board. Unless you integrate it into your Frontalunterricht, writing down the info to allow students to copy can take vast amounts of time away, unless you leave some space aside to write down some more topics.
Space: While the chalkboard may be big enough to write down everything you want, making sure you have enough space to write is something the teacher to take in mind. There may be lots to write down for the students, but if the teacher runs out of space and has to erase some information from the board, it might put some students at a disadvantage if they had not taken down the notes from the board prior to it being taken off.

Balancing out the positives and negatives, there are many ways that the chalkboard is being used in the classroom in my observations. One is for writing down facts and allowing students to copy the information. Another is for the purpose of providing questions in connection with the reading materials. Then you have the vocabulary words and grammar, which is useful, even when you give the students the chance to write down the answers.  And some diagrams and outlines have also been used in connection with the lessons in the class.  However, despite the chalkboard being the “sole medium” for teaching, there are other forms of media that can be used to make teaching more effective, and even enjoyable too.  There’s the overhead projector- useful for outlines, diagrams and questions and vocabulary lists. There’s the computer with various programs that are useful for learning.  And sometimes when your students don’t like writing and copying down info, there is the old-fashioned worksheet that has everything the student needs for the next subject.  How a teacher plans his courses depends on the subject, what forms of media he/she is comfortable with, and how interesting can a topic be with any sort of media.  The chalkboard will never die off and will be used many times, but with the advancement of technology in the classroom, we’ll most likely see this traditional form of media become a complement instead of the norm.
How so?  In my case, I use the chalkboard for gaming purposes, such as what I’ve mentioned earlier in the article. However, even more useful are the vocabulary words not only for defining words but also for pronunciation, all written in a small box reserved exclusively for that purpose. And yes, one should add some grammar examples to help students with their exercises they are doing to better their knowledge of foreign languages.  There are other ways of using the chalkboard for complementary purposes, but these are some that can be tried. Yet if one needs to write extensively on the board, put some time aside before class, so that more time is needed to interact with the students. Only then will it will be effective and useful.

 

 

 

FRAGE FÜR DAS FORUM:
What is understood by Frontalunterricht?
a. The teacher stands in front of the group and talks to them about a topic.
b. The students listen and write down the info presented by the teacher.
c. There is a presentation involved
d. There is little room for discussion, only question and answer sessions.
e. All of the above.

Place your answers down in the comment section here or on the Files‘ facebook page. In addition to that, how do you use the chalkboard in class, and do you agree with the author‘s suggestions? Add your comments as well and we hope to have a discussion going. 🙂