It is true that our classes are filled with differences but we tend to focus only on the level of English of each student, and placement tests are there to prove it as an attempt to group people in somewhat the same level. But it is not how much grammar and vocabulary they know that shows how different they are, but who they are.
Thinking about diversity, something I am reflecting on this week because of my studies for the new B.A I am taking (Computer Science for education), I decided to discover how a group of students in their third semester of English differ in their taste for music.
In a group of 9, 8 listens to music on a daily basis. One of them listens to songs in Portuguese more than in English and most of them seems to listen only to songs in English. I decided to do the following as a way to find out their music preferences to help me decide which song we would be using in our next class. I’m not a very musical person, so music doesn’t visit my classes very often as a teaching tool. But here is the thing. If students matter and in order to learn something, they have to be engaged, their preferences need to be taken into account. Okay! I haven’t done that when it comes to music mainly because I find it hard to really bring songs that will engage everyone. Another problem is that music is used as a language learning tool by just a few of them. Most of them just like listening to it without bothering to learn the language.
Now, I know that handing this to students choice and not mine is like entering in a mining field. I might get a song that some wouldn’t think it would be appropriated. But songs reflect who they are and how they feel about the world around them. It also reflects their doubts and frustrations as well as their expectations and dreams. How I am going to prepare the tasks and deal with the song that comes up is problem for me as an educator to solve. IMHO there is no such a thing as bad music or good music as music reflects more than just music, it reflects one’s culture.
I asked students to line up one beside the other and told them:
If you like the song, one step forward.
If you don’t, one step backward.
If you can’t decide, stay where you are.
This was a group of students with a year of studying in English. So, I kept instructions simple and modeled for them moving myself forward and backward and asked them to repeat the instruction while moving or not after me.
I sat back on my desk and played this video.
I took notes of the songs and number of people who stepped forward. Among 50 songs only one made to the common list and supported by only 8 of the 9 students.
The winner is:
They loved getting out of their desks, being able to give their opinion on something while listening to music. Three words come to my mind when I think of the system and why we have so much trouble engaging students in regular schools.
one size fits all
I’ve been there and I’ve done that myself. I know.