Saturday, December 19, 2009

The presentation

I might as well share about my presentation since I had asked everyone for advice. I needed to find an interesting cultural topic.

Well, I prepared a few ideas, and the one that my teacher approved was a description of the U.S. school system. She encouraged me to find interesting contrasts and bring in school photos.

I know, it sounds boring... but the school system in Russia, like queuing, is one of those key factors that serves as an instrument for studying culture.

On the day of the presentation, I was last to go...other topics included vodka, Russian rock music, an Irish film review, and a discussion about teaching English abroad. Yes, I had definitely chosen a "boring" topic. But it generated a bit of discussion. more/-

My conversation teacher and classmates, at our end-of-semester tea party:

We got our grades immediately after the presentations, and I could write a whole dissertation on the grading system alone.

1) She announced our grades ALOUD! A major no-no in American culture, at least. When I was in school I was barely aware of any of the grades of my classmates, except for some of my closest friends.

2) We had not been given any criteria for the presentation...just, talk for 20 minutes, make it interesting. Yet when she was announcing our grades, she made comments like, "_____, you made two get a B." So it turned out we were being graded on grammar.

3) She compared us to each other! ___________ did better, _________ did worse, _____________ did the best, etc. I took the opportunity to explain in my presentation that American students are not compared with each other, nor praised/criticized much in front of others. She wondered how students were motivated if they weren't constantly reminded of their need to perform in a group. I suppose we do have a ranking system in the U.S., but it certainly isn't used as a stimulus for daily performance.

The next day in class, the teacher took my idea and did the same thing with the Russian school system, describing each level from preschool to university. As usual, I was shocked by the differences! I don't really know how to put it into words, but it is just a difference in mentality, with the Russian system being more regulated overall. To me it is unusual for there to be so much uniformity. However, I know that their system has a good reputation. My classmates said that the Russian system is pretty much like the European one, so I was the only one wondering why I wasn't taught proper handwriting and grammar in elementary school.

I did find it surprising how proud my teacher was of her native school system. Of course, it does employ her, so she must like it. :) But I could never say that I support a certain approach 100%. There are always pros and cons. For example, the American system is rather disorganized in comparison to others, but the flexibility means that students' individual needs are better met.

Part of our group with our Lexicon/Phraseology teacher:


  1. so, what WAS your grade?! :-)

  2. I hope you will share some of the details of the Russian school system!

    I very much appreciated your comments to the post I wrote about Sergei's troubles in school. One of the things I noticed and that made me feel less crazy was the back and forth and all around way you approached it.

    For example, you pointed out that Russian children can get bored in U.S. schools because the curriculum is less rigorous.... Sergei and Ilya were both shocked at the lackadaisical approach to discipline and behavior. So, I think there is a weird disconnect for them - there they are with the best behavior and the most disciplined approach to schooling - but without the basic tool (language) to succeed! You wrote about Sergei and other Russian kids in the US: "So they yearn to be challenged, but at the same time can't keep up." Sounds crazy, but I think it is so true. They want to see that their determination and self-discipline could lead to success - but it doesn't - because our system does not take advantage of their readiness. Instead of giving them work that would challenge them, they are expected to just sort of sit there "doing their best" until they SOUND fluent, then they are graded as if they ARE fluent. It is crazy.

    Did you discover what it is about Russian students that would better enable you to teach them?

  3. Wow! I can't believe they grade people that way!! That isn't teaching them a standard of perfection but, just trying to be better than the next kid. Definitely not biblical either.

  4. I got a good grade.

    Annie, that is a tough question, because I have definitely made observations, but it is very hard to change one's mindset! I suppose my Russian students would prefer more memorization, so they could feel like they're making progress. That's why it is better to teach adults, because I can experiment a little on them. :) But the kids need more predictability...

    I definitely have trouble with discipline because I do not like to raise my voice. In Russian classrooms it seems that they use intimidation or threats to calm the kids down. Usually I am too shocked by the rudeness to react, which to students may seem like weakness. And for orphans especially it is a blessing for them to be disciplined properly and not simply ignored, but it is hard to find a way to do it peacefully.

    Lizzi, I'm not sure what way is biblical, but you could argue that all systems use some kind of motivation...even if students are getting individual points or prizes, they are always given on a scale, with the more successful students receiving more of a reward. It's just that we don't necessarily announce the results.

  5. Ahh...Liz, off the top of my head, the Russian educational system is really "survival of the fittest" in the most unhealthy form of it. There should be something good about the system, but I can't think of anything. Some teachers are amazing, and they manage to teach you in spite of the system.
    I would be interested to hear (in person, if possible) about your presentation.

  6. Hmmmmm, okay. I hadn't heard that version.


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