In my last post, we discussed the Chinese student’s curious use of eyeglasses. This was within the context of being asked to answer a question. Upon reflection, I realized that I had passed over some behaviors that may be of interest to those not acquainted with the Chinese student.
It is worth noting that the teacher must call on an individual student in order to get an answer. If the teacher is foolish enough to ask a question to the class at large, he/she should not be surprised at the deafening silence which will be their only answer. Silence and 80 blank stares. Ease or difficulty of the question is not the relevant factor, as you might expect. Easy questions get as little response as difficult ones do. This is behavior #3. Never volunteer for anything.
If your class has a few motivated students, they might—very quietly, under their breath—answer the question, but you often won’t be able to understand what they said. It will be said too quietly in a noisy class or everyone answered at the same time, effectively cancelling each other out. The teacher will ask them to repeat their answer, but the same problems will often reoccur. It becomes like a bad call and response sequence: What’s the answer? xxxx. What? XXX. WHAT? x. It’s not nice repeating stuff. Students get irritated if they have to repeat too many times. Teachers also get irritated and either manages to read someone’s lips or gives up and calls on an individual student to answer.
This issue could be resolved through the simple classroom management tool of having students raise hands to answer questions. However, the concept of raising hands is completely foreign to most Chinese students and they will not take to it. No matter how hard you try to make them. This is behavior #4: Non-existence of hand-raising. I believe it to be closely linked to behavior #3. If you never volunteer an answer, it follows that there would be no need for a system to orderly hear the answers.
Calling on individual students to answer is then the accepted (and expected) way of running class. When you call on a student, there can be a delay as students process the name. Was that my name? Was that my friend’s name? Chinese students take good care of each other and will wake up their slumbering classmate if their name is being called.
In China, a student is expected to rise to answer a question (behavior #5). I find this a very time consuming behavior as it seems to require a lot of shifting of bags, books, and water bottles. Something inevitably falls and is picked up. When the student is finally on his/her feet, they’ve maybe forgotten what they are supposed to be saying, so the teacher will need to repeat the question. And if the student’s answer is just “Sorry, teacher” or “I don’t know” it just seems like a lot of wasted time and effort as they reverse the process to sit back down, metal water bottles clanging and pens pinging off the floor.