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You Can Lead A Student To Videos But You Can’t Make Them Watch

, , , , , | Learning | January 27, 2022

I am a subject-English teacher in China. Our program is designed to be college-prep for students who want to study abroad and is pretty advanced. However, as many as two-thirds of our students come because our program bypasses the Gaokao, a high-stakes nationwide test that pretty much determines your role in life — whether you will be a millionaire business tycoon — or a street sweeper, and they want to avoid getting a low score. Many such students also lack the English skills to do well in our program, but they come anyway. And because of the health crisis and increasing difficulty of international travel, our enrollment is way down, so the school administrators won’t turn them down.

As with much of the world, this year has been challenging! China has a new “zero-tolerance” policy that, if there is even one case of the [illness] in town, entertainment centers, government offices, and schools will be shut down. Because the restriction is so tight (and with good reason), we have spent more time locked down than in the school building.

This, naturally, is leading to online fatigue from the students, who are suffering from a lack of attention. When you combine this with the fact that Chinese classes are tracked, I am not teaching in their native language, and there’s a cultural stigma against asking the teacher a question until well after class is over, you can imagine that there are a lot of students, especially in the lower-ranked classes, who struggle to complete assignments.

However, I work hard to overcome this and have even worked out ways to demonstrate to the students how to do their work online, setting up elaborate systems to suspend my phone over the table while running the mobile app of our online class so that I can use both hands to show them exactly what to do for the assessment. And then, the next week, when we come back in person, the students say they have no memory of ever having worked on that assignment, mostly because they sign in, mute their computers, and then do whatever they want. I have caught them playing guitar, playing video games, teasing their cats, singing to music in their headphones, reading books, and sleeping when I put the app back on camera view.

It’s important to note that the subjects I teach for first-year students are Study Skills — basically, how to be an independent learner and how to pay better attention in class — and Computing I.

For the above-mentioned retaught Study Skills assignment, I was still getting way too many questions about things they insisted they understood when I taught them in class, so I took time to edit and make a video. During the video, I also told them they needed to stop playing around during online class and start paying attention. That is, they needed to show better study skills. I posted it in the class chat with more admonitions about paying attention in class and pinged their homeroom teacher.

And then, this conversation happened.

Student: “Teacher, I wonder when I should hand the [major assessment] homework to you?”

Me: “What did I say in the announcement to the class?”

Student: “Sorry, Teacher, I didn’t catch it. Is it next Tuesday?”

Me: “It’s at 2:10 in the fourth video clip — a video in which I repeated several times that you need to be paying better attention.”

And then, there was silence for about an hour. Then, he came back with this.

Student: “Teacher, I have another question. How did you do the chart you showed in the video?”

Me: “Which, the [assignment] charts? I have now taught that twice in class. Each time, it took the whole class period.”

There was no answer. I was pretty irritated, because I walked around and watched them fill in the charts and asked repeatedly if they understood, and they all said yes. And now he was asking me to reteach it again, over chat.

Me: “Did you find the answer to the first question?”

Student: “Yes.”

Me: “And what is the answer?”

Student: “June thirtieth.”

Me: “Wrong.”

He sent me a video from two months ago in computer class — yes, the entire file. Then, he sent me another whole video from three weeks ago in computer class.

I sent him a picture of the group chat where I posted the videos, with the correct video circled.

Me: “This video. The fourth video I sent today, in the class chat.”

He responded with another video.

Me: “I sent four videos and several announcements. Did you listen to any of them?”

He sent another Computing I video from two weeks ago.

Student: “Of course.”

Me: “Then why are you sending me these videos? They’re not even part of study skills. They are for computer class.”

Student: “Okay, I got it.”

Me: “When you find the correct due date, let me know.”

Student: “The next time I have class.”

Me: “Correct. Thank you.”

I am quite certain I will have to sit down with him and go over the Study Skills charts once we’re back in person in a couple of weeks.

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