To begin with, I have to admit to being very enthusiastic about this unit’s assignment, as it relates to my most aural and creative self. It was my first time making a podcast, too, and I thoroughly enjoyed the process.
In our previous unit, the discussion about teaching for understanding brought me questions about the effectiveness of my performance. As an EAL teacher, I deal with a number of variables in my classroom, from students’ reading comprehension to issues about motivation and self-esteem. Checking for understanding is vital for any classroom, but especially in one like ours, where low language skills can create further gaps. Even when students can read, that is, decode, they may demonstrate difficulties in making inferences and reaching layers of text that go beyond their understanding.
Educational life at an international school usually means that students come from distinct cultures, which brings us to the topic of misconceptions. I found great value in reading about it from a scientific point of view and how to address them in our last unit. Consequently, for this assignment, I decided to test the hypothesis presented by the Private Universe video we watched and discussed. Here’s what I thought:
Because our students have been engaged in inquiry-based learning for this quarter, our grade-level team has been working on presentations about diverse topics relating to population issues in India. It is what we call “The Population Project” and it encompasses the entire period. By engaging in it, students will gain a new understanding about the country that is currently hosting them and will be invited to think about ways in which they can get involved and make a difference. If you’d like to know more, take a look at the blog the eighth grade team is maintaining.
Since I was one of the presenters last week, and my topic, Gender Imbalance, was one that raised not only questions, but eyebrows, I decided to talk to a couple of my EAL students after the session, in order to see what kind of information they had retained. In this podcast, I’d like you to notice that the first students to respond to my questions, who I will respectively call G. and T., are eighth graders who had just taken part in my session (please see the presentation here). G. is Italian-born and recently left the EAL program upon being recommended for mainstream Humanities. T. is a Japanese student who is currently enrolled in the intermediate EAL class. So that I could draw a comparison and learn more about misconceptions, I also interviewed B., the third student to speak. She is Korean-born and currently attends sixth grade Humanities and the advanced EAL class. Listen to the three of them below and then read my conclusions. Let me know if you agree!
First of all, one needs to recognize the ability of some learners to retain information and reproduce parts of it as confidently as the first student in this recording. G. has repeatedly demonstrated a keen ability to speak in public, exhibiting a very interpersonal self. Furthermore, G. is an analytical learner whose higher order thinking skills tend to go beyond the ordinary in dealing with subtext and motives. Upon learning the first question of our interview, G. immediately put on her thinking hat and started making connections. Interestingly, when she’s asked about the definition of gender imbalance, her linguistic inclination leads her to talk about inequality, as if the latter offered a stronger and clearer explanation of the issue. She proceeds to explain how, in some countries, women live in the shadow of men. G. goes on to say that the reason for this is cultural and comes from “[…] what [individuals] are taught when they grow up.” She also mentions that it’s “[…] expensive to have a daughter” since parents have to “give a lot of money when they get married”. Although the proper word, dowry, escapes her, she is still able to circumlocute that one of the main reasons is the financial difficulties that a daughter might represent for a family in order to keep up with tradition. It seems evident to me that G. has retained the key aspects of our discussion.
T. is a hard-working student who recently moved from a boarding school in China. He’s been achieving both academically and linguistically, though he struggles with collaborative tasks –such as initiating sharing one’s thoughts or contributing– due to a strong intrapersonal and reserved style. He wasn’t particularly willing to participate in this interview, but accepted upon a session of positive reinforcement of his recent achievements. The question about gender imbalance prompted him to go straight to the point: “It’s the unfair treatment between males and females.” His first misconception appears upon attempting to explain the reason for this social problem in countries such as China and India. He believes that their developing status increases the need of men to build “structures” which require “power and strength”, for which the latter are “more useful”. My perception of this student leads me to believe that this is both a preconceived notion and a non-scientific belief, since his background is deeply rooted in the Japanese tradition, where patriarchism is the norm. The deeply-rooted male stereotypes also play a role in his understanding, causing him to reciprocate the theory that men have more strength for construction labor.
The last student, the sixth grader from Korea, is a mature and successful student. She immediately accepted the challenge of being interviewed about a topic she did not receive prior scaffolding for. In the process, B. reveals her idea of imbalance as meaning either a preference for boys or girls, without, at first, identifying it as a problem. She then proceeds to think about why this happens, which leads her to the idea of financial stability. B.’s preconceived notion is evidenced in her reasoning. She mentions Korea and China as places where families tend to favor boys because they will provide them with a “happy old life” and be a “[…] source they can depend on when they are old”. This student is also the only one who talks about the consequence for this problem, although the same question was posed to the other two, but was left unresponded. “There will be problems for the next generation”, she argues.
I was impressed with the responses of these students: On one side, the depth with which G. perceived it, despite the abbreviated briefing she had just experienced, and on the other, the difficulties to express an opinion for T. and the juxtaposed ease with which B. expressed hers. As expected, the latter had ideas which can be easily linked to the active patriarchalism with which they were brought up and see the world. Now that I have listened to them, it is my responsibility and desire to address these misconceptions with dedication and patience, understanding and respecting where they came from.