I think tests are meaningless. Students cram right before (or make a cheat sheet) and the minute the exam is over, the promptly forget just about everything they learned. But I’m a teacher and need to play in the system that requires final exams. But instead of a test, I always try to make my finals unique. For instance in writing class, their final exam is to write, and then make, a movie. Then we all watch them in class. In history class they had to make a diorama and give a short speech about a famous person and their famous last words.
But this semester, I taught British and American Culture, and for months their final exam stumped me. What could they do? For their midterm they had to do group presentations on different musical genres such as reggae, dubstep etc. As interesting as some presentations were, “Elvis” came to class to visit for example, others were equally disastrous. (Playing Celine Dion to represent ‘Oldies’ and Vanilla Ice being a representational artist of ‘Rap’ for instance.)
I mean, the whole idea of the class is that they don’t know much about western culture, so what can they teach me? Then, I thought about they way I have learned about cultures in my life. It wasn’t through class or books, it was through experience. After college I traveled around the world for about 8-months and in that time I learned way more than my four years at college. So experience is the best teacher in my opinion.
But how to have a western style experience in China? Then, one day it hit me. While living in China I try to experience and be involved in as much Chinese culture as I can. But sometimes I need a break, and just want to eat a normal sandwich or a big juicy burger, talk to foreigners using slang and pop culture references, and drink Twinning’s instead of green tea.
So I have had western style experiences in China and I realized, with a little work, my students could too.
I created a three tier ‘experience’ system.
1st tier, which they would get a grade in the 80′s, was to do something western in the city the school is located in.
- Eat a sandwich at Subway
- Go to Pizza Hut
- Spend the day with a foreign student and do what they wanted to do
2nd tier, which they would get a grade in the 90′s was to go to Hangzhou, the nearby big city with an expat population.
- Go to Eudora Station or Vineyard for an American meal.
- Or for fast food: Subway, pizza hut, or McDonalds (KFC was not allowed as they already go there often, and KFC in China is different than the west)
- Go to Panchos, a mexican restaurant.
- Go to Costa Coffee or Starbucks. Try a coffee or hot chocolate.
- Go to Maya, a bar popular with foreigners.
- Meet and talk to a foreigner using English to communicate
Then there was the 3rd tier which would result in an instant 100.
- Go to Shanghai.
Shanghai, one of the worlds most famous cities, is a quick two and a half hour bus ride from here, and yet most of my students have never been. Something I think is a shame. But, to be honest, I didn’t think anyone would take me up on my offer. While I gave them a month to finish this assignment, I figured they would all stay in town, or go to hangzhou, places they are comfortable with.
To my surprise, immediately after class a group came up to me. “Becky, can you recommend western things to do in Shanghai?” Yes. Yes I can.
I made a two-page list which included english language bookstores, western restaurants, interesting neighborhoods to walk around, shops with foreign goods and even a couple of bars to try. After those students asked me, then another group asked me for the list, then another, then another.
Over the course of the next several weeks more and more students told me they were going to Shanghai. Even students who already accomplished the goal locally, changed their mind and went to shanghai too! And pictures and emails began pouring into my inbox with students telling me about their adventures.
We arrived in Shanghai on Friday evening when the city was immersed in scene of debauchery. There were crowded people on the streets and it was quite lively, just like daytime. We couldn’t control our excitement and that we wandered for a long time and almost at midnight reached our hotel.
One boy ate at an American restaurant, and had a burrito and nachos while his friend had a burger.
The food was good. The ambiance was good. But, how can you not be fat having this kind of food all the time??!! You chubby westerners!!
And my students didn’t just have the experiences, they had fun with it too.
One boy went to a mexican restaurant.
The atmosphere was great and warm and there were lots of Mexican stuff surrounded, such as Mexican flags, hats and a beautiful Mexican girl [Actually a mannequin.] You can see that I kissed her and she barely had any emotional change. How sad I am!
Then he included a picture of him kissing the mannequins cheek.
Of course, not everyone liked the western things. One boy said this about his Subway sandwich:
It is impressed to us. But only to the feeling of tasting western food, frankly, I think I don’t like the taste of sandwich. Even I think there is no some special taste in sandwich.
But liking it wasn’t the point, trying something new was. And a lot of my students got that.
After coming back from Shanghai one of my students wrote:
It was really an unforgettable experience! Becky, I love your creative and crazy ideas for us! Becky, Thank you!
And that’s the thing, sometimes my ideas are a little crazy, especially compared to their other typical classes. But for a crazy idea to work, you need students who are creative and fun to make them happen. They could have all gone to Pizza Hut or McDonalds and just turn in boring pictures or essays. But instead they all took my basic idea, then went wild with it, making it their own and having their own unique experiences they won’t forget anytime soon.
As a teacher it makes me feel really proud. That I can not only teach them facts and information, but I can help them become more independent (it was the first time many even booked a hotel. “How do we do that?” several students asked me), and more experienced. And I’m so proud of them for the way they willingly and excitedly took on this project. Out of 120 students 54 went to Shanghai. Almost half!
Best. Final exam. Ever.