Conjunction Junction

Since I mistakingly overlooked World Teacher’s Day, I thought I would remedy such oversight with a post on what it is I do exactly.

I’m labelled a “Teacher Trainer” with the Peace Corps. This means I work with teachers to improve methodology, English speaking and writing ability, and to help them come up with more communicative activities they can insert into their lessons. I meet with all 24 of my English teachers once a week for two hours. We usually split it up so that one half is writing, one half is reading.

I decided one fateful day to examine conjunctions. After reading their pre-test essays, I noticed that they struggled with when to use conjunctions. I figured a good activity would be to give them some sentences with errors build in, and to have them correct the mistakes for practice.

It seemed simple enough, but rarely are those words that forecast success.

The tenacity with which those teachers attacked the sentences was something that can only be akin to beasts tearing into flesh. Their zealotry was admirable at first, but I noticed that they were careening off tracks, unable to control themselves.

These are what we were supposed to stay on, metaphorically speaking.

The lesson topic was conjunctions. I figured all the time we spent on using conjunctions, describing conjunctions, and making sample sentences with conjunctions would help to alert them to the fact that the sentences with errors would contain errors in their use of conjunctions. What may seem so obvious to us, the task makers, may not be so crystal clear to our wards.

Arguments broke out over the use of “their.” Many thought some of the samples were correct when they were incorrect. Everyone was talking over each other. What hell had I unleashed?

I thought the way I structured the lesson made sense, and the execution went well until the error correction activity. Had they never done something like this before? Was I experiencing them learning the rules of this particular game? It was dizzying, and ultimately left them dissatisfied, with longing looks of “Why, teacher, why?” painted grimly on their faces.

I don’t think even School House Rock could have gotten me out of that one.

I assume they had never done this before. I tried again next lesson as a review, and it went much more smoothly. I told them flat-out that all the errors were with conjunction usage, and everything else in the sentence was fine. I had one teacher go rogue and try to argue that the entire structure of the sentence was wrong, and that it should follow the formula she had been taught since the fifth grade.

I told her that it was OK, and to just focus on the conjunctions. It felt almost as bad as saying “Because I say it’s right.” I hate stifling the conversation like that, and not clarifying things for students. The clarification probably would have confused everyone else, though. How do I know that’s right? Because I say it’s right, that’s why.

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