Friday, February 27, 2015

Spock and ESL

The second time I went to China it was as a teacher trainer and one of the courses I taught to the Chinese teachers of English at the university where I worked was about intercultural communication.  I thought: What better way to start than by showing an episode of Star Trek?

One of my favorite episodes is Devil in the Dark, the one where Spock does a mind-meld with the horta.  I had to provide a lot of background knowledge so these teachers, who'd never even heard of Star Trek before, would be able to appreciate the plot as it unfolded.  I implemented the lesson and at the end of the class, everyone understood how unfamiliarity creates fear of "the other" and can easily lead people to jump to incorrect conclusions that can have negative consequences in the classroom as well as in general.

Years later, when I was teaching an in-service course to teachers in my school district about our diverse student population, I used a variation of that Star Trek lesson to show how stereotyping students based on their ethnic background can have deleterious effects on teacher-student interaction.  This time, I didn't have to give any background information because everyone was familiar with the show.  After watching the episode, we discussed the implications for classroom teaching and how important it is to gather as much information as possible before reaching conclusions about students' behavior, because what we think is going on may in fact have a completely different explanation.

Thank you, Mr. Spock, for inspiring my teaching and for helping other teachers understand human behavior a little better.

An important lesson taught by Mister Spcok
Photo by Zennie Abraham; source: Flickr
Rest in peace, Leonard Nimoy.  LLAP.