Working with a textbook is both a blessing and a curse. On the one hand, it provides exercises and prompts around a theme or a unit, so lesson planning is much easier. On the other hand, many of the units or individual exercises are not fitting for my students’ level, or they are awfully boring. This week’s textbook lesson had an interesting topic about future plans, but the textbook exercises would have been too hard (and let’s face it, too boring) for my students.
Luckily for me, I am responsible for teaching the writing section of the textbook to my second graders, while my co-teachers teach the reading and vocabulary sections. That means I have a lot more leeway to adapt the material or substitute my own exercises for those in the book. So this week, I did exactly that.
“Pick up your textbook,” I said to each class after ten minutes of doing the textbook exercises. My students looked at each other. “Go on, pick it up. Pick it up. Now close it. Put it down. We don’t need it.”
The girls’ classes cheered or threw their textbooks on the floor, while most of the boys’ classes shrugged or showed quiet smiles.
I opened a web browser on my computer, which piqued their interest a little more. “Do you know Humans of New York?”
None of them did. So I explained that “Humans of New York” was a blog and Facebook page in which a photographer took pictures of people he met on the streets of New York City (or other places in the world) and asked them questions about themselves. Sometimes, I said, he asked kids and teenagers about their future plans. I showed them the adorable future mailman. I showed them a girl who wanted to be a chef. And then I explained that we would be making our own version: Humans of Gimhae Jeil High School.
The students wrote short paragraphs about what they wanted to study in college, what career they wanted and why, and what their greatest difficulty would be in achieving their goals. Then, I collected their paragraphs, put them into binders labeled “Humans of Gimhae Jeil High School,” and placed the books in the English library.
The students were interested in writing about the topic, but I was more interested in reading what they had to say. I wanted to learn more about their goals and dreams, and this was (admittedly, a selfish) opportunity for me to spend a lot of time discovering more about my individual students and seeing patterns in what they wrote.
I learned that my students want to study psychology, education, engineering, Korean, linguistics, English, computer science, Spanish, design, economics, media, art, and Japanese.
I learned that my students want to be engineers, bankers, occupational therapists, counselors, teachers, flight attendants, nurses, doctors, cyber security officials, chemists, soldiers, pastry chefs, interior designers, psychologists, and forensic detectives.
I learned that they feared their grades were too low or their test scores were not enough; that they thought they had many rivals and competition; that they knew they had to study hard to succeed; that they worried they would not do well in school or their future jobs because they speak very little English. I learned that many of the girls were afraid they weren’t pretty enough for the jobs they wanted.
And I learned that I had never fully appreciated my students’ depth of thought (nor they mine, I’ll wager) because of the language barrier and strict adherence to the textbook. But for the “Humans of Gimhae” class, students constantly asked questions. How do you spell “cyber”? What is the English word for uisa? Dictionary, please? Their writing was so much more personal and relevant than writing about their role models or what made them angry. I realized the more they could engage with critical thinking and self-expression, the more they seemed to enjoy the class. And, I noted, their writing was much better, too.
I have nearly 300 of these “Humans of Gimhae” mini-stories in the English library at school. Below, I chose a few that resonated most with me, and that I hope will with you. I removed the names, but noted whether the student was male or female.
On Women in the Workforce
On Aspirations, Motivations, and Fears
On Students Who Will Change the World