It is one of my most hated bugbears, but which seems all right with people. I can tolerate shyness because some people are really timid. However, answering like a Neanderthal, which, by the way, is my most hated bugbear, is something that shouldn’t be tolerated at all. Isn’t being able to carry a conversation or argue with confidence and logic a part of the reason why one goes to school? It has become a rarity these days to come across someone – millennial or not – with the gift of the gab because what you get, I’d observed, are monosyllabic or incoherent answers, signalling that speaking is moribund. Looking for a person with the gift of the gab is like looking for a charging station in a remote area. In this digital age, we look for someone who can answer simple questions and return simple greetings.
I am reminded of a student – not one of mine – who knocked, entered half way through the door without so much as a by-your-leave, and flourished the book she was holding.
Me: “Good morning. How can I help you?”
Me: “Who do you want to speak to?”
The student then dropped the book on the desk near the door and left.
Another incident went something like this, as I walked to the canteen:
Me: “Hi. Are your exams finished?”
Me: “Are you done with your exams?”
Fortunately, a friend of the student came to his rescue and answered that there was one more exam to go before they could call it a day.
It is cases like these that push me to want to take a semi-permanent leave from the world and be a hermit in Bali or Ora Island. It is unthinkable in my world to say “I don’t know” or “Huh”. If I genuinely don’t know the answer, I extrapolate. These times too I ponder on the importance of connecting when people are so disconnected. However, after spinning class, I am lucid and remember my duty to break bad habits, push students out of their comfort zones, and to make them speak with assuredness.
What is my solution in ascertaining that my students don’t look like the cat got their tongues? I go old school, baby. Holding steadfast to the philosophy that one must read in order to speak or write, my grade 10 International Program students at Global Prestasi School, before they all sit for their IGCSE exams from April to June, write a research paper in their English class – my class. I guide them through the whole process – topic, thesis statement and line of argument, note-taking, topic and sentence outlines, bibliography, interviews, and the drafts. Each step is monitored closely and each paper marked meticulously. They’re also constantly reminded about the repercussions of committing plagiarism and missing deadlines.
Writing, to the amateur, can be a daunting task, but it is not impossible. Professional writers can write an article in an hour or an academic paper in a few days, but this skill comes with aeons of practice. However, my students suffer from the delusion that writing a research paper can be done overnight, so they stupidly cram the night before falsely believing that their physical exertion can compensate for weak thesis statements, shoddy prose, jumbled up structure, and incorrect paper and bibliography formats. This over assuming attitude is dovetailed with a presumptuousness that the panel of judges for the oral defence won’t read their papers. Once the second draft is completed, each student undergoes an oral examination for 25+ minutes to test the soundness of the arguments, probe how he/she thinks, establish if he/she is the actual author, and, lastly, build the confidence in speaking before strangers while defending a stand. The oral defence is the ultimate preparation for the Cambridge Speaking exam wherein they are tested on their ability to answer logically and grammatically apart from pronouncing well. Moreover, it prepares them for the numerous interviews they will undergo while applying for admission to universities.
I have been chagrined at some of my students’ failure in the research paper oral exam due to their behaviour particularly of their underestimation of the judges. And this is despite my forewarnings and the students before them. But some students have also done me proud as they held their ground before the stern judges and their barrage of questions. They certainly weren’t and won’t have to be asked, “Cat got your tongue?”