Christmas 2016: Making Cards and Singing
Christmas time is Vietnam is even less of a special time of year than it is in China. I am actually grateful for this. In Vietnam, there are no dance performances that need to be prepared for. There is no massive event that has to be attended. There is no ridiculous falling out with the school management who wants to host a dinner for the foreign teachers but only tells us in the days leading up to the Christmas, long after we have already made other plans with other people.
In Vietnam, Christmas time carries no meaning. But in the classroom, Christmas serves as an opportunity to share a little culture with the students. In the EFL classroom, culture should be emphasized as much as possible. A language is not a series of multiple choice questions. It is part of a livelihood of a group of people that the students are unacquainted with. As a teacher, it is my duty to acquaint them with that culture. Understanding a few Christmas traditions will do more for their lives abroad than making use they always use the right modal verb.
So this year, I did something simple and I did the same things for each of my classes. I taught them how to make Christmas cards, played Vince Guaraldi's "A Charlie Brown Christmas," and then I taught them how to sing "Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer." It is important to use music and activities that I never tire of and, for me, these are them. Christmas music has seeped into my cognitive chemistry. The jazzy sad version of Christmas tunes that are found through out the Charlie Brown Christmas album is something that I want the students to experience. Christmas is a low key holiday. It is a time for reflection and quiet. My role as a teacher is not to appeal to the lowest common dimoninator of their child-like behaviors. My job is to elevate them to higher standards. Jazz music is jsut the thing for that.
Christmas is not about them. This is not because they are Vietnamese. It is because they are children who reap the good fortunes of a life with all of their needs met. Christmas is not about indulging all of their wishes. It is about giving something.
The students are aware of Santa Claus. He is the guy who gives you stuff. But as one class of 13 year olds became excited as I set the colored pens and construction paper on my desk, I had to quiet them down. I paused the smooth jazz for a moment to tell them that they have been lied to over the years. Christmas is not about getting stuff. In the larger picture, every day for you guys IS Christmas. Christmas is about giving gifts, not getting gifts. It is about being grateful for all of the treasures that you have and feeling the love as you huddle together with loved ones away from the cold.
In Vietnam, they do not exchange gifts for Tet. They just get red envelopes with money in them. It would be ridiculous for a child to give some other family member a similar gift. But, on Christmas, it would not be unusual at all for a child to give a gift to a sibling or other family member. The exchange for Christmas is meant to be reciprocal. I like to think this is to help teach the idea that, "t is more important to give than receive."
This is an activity for all ages and all ages ought to experience it. The holidays are a time to get creative. Whether that involves decorating a Christmas tree our picking out the ugliest Christmas sweater, the holidays are a time to be expressive.
Art projects while listening to music has the power to relax anyone. The stress of completing classroom activities melts away as students get lost in their own process. I just have to manage the activity, keep the desk of pens organized, and make sure people are finishing on time.
During the second half of class, I taught them how to sing, "Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer." This has long been my favorite Christmas song. I remind them about Santa and let them know about his reindeer. Some of the students know about Santa's reindeer but none know that there are in fact eight of them. Then there is the little known 9th reindeer. He was not liked by the others because he had a funny red nose. But later he would be the hero of Christmas because he helped Santa guide the sleigh because that red nose was really a light. Ever since he has been well known by all. And this is the song.
We listen to the Gene Autry version so that they can get familiar with the melody. I write the lyrics on the blackboard as they listen and then I sing in for them. We then sing in a repeat-after-me fashion. Then I have them try once.
I understand that it takes a lot of practice to get the feel of a song. We go through this process and most of the students can get a handle on it. Some classes are better at singing than others.
I firmly believe that singing English songs is a great way to improve fluency. There are a lot of new words to learn and you must understand the melody of the song in order to sing it. It will teach students to understand the melody of English, which couldn't be any different from Vietnamese.
I had the students practice in a variety of ways. They did a great job. I had all of the classes do this but did not record all of them.
The key to teaching on Christmas is for the teacher to pick something he will not get tired of. Christmas means nothing to Vietnamese students and it can a little off-putting to share a festival that holds so many childhood memories for me but find that the students only care about candy and not having to study. School is about learning. At the very least, the students learn that they have to maintain a level of good behavior at all times. At best, when they study abroad they will be a little bit more familiar with some of the customs and traditions of their new home.