Lee Kwan Yew or Lee Min Ho, What Students Know

Last week, I asked my students if they–in their generation, since most of them were born in the year 2000 and so–are aware of Singapore’s founding Prime Minister Lee Kwan Yew. In some of the classes, I spelled out his name on the chalkboard. In other classes, I simply mentioned his name verbally. Nevertheless, in all of my classes where I mentioned Lee Kwan Yew, most students associate his name with the South Korean actor Lee Min Ho.


Before I mentioned Lee Kwan Yee to them, I was discussing about the need to look for and maximize the opportunities that are available to them right now for their career. We were talking about social and political changes, and how the opportunities we utilize can affect our future. When I was spelling out the word “opportunities” on the chalkboard, there were others who seriously thought I was going to write “Oppa” with allusion to “Oppa Gangnam Style” and to the term itself, which in South Korea is a term used by a girl to refer to a man older than her (but not ten years or so) as a word of respect. This is because they always watched Korean movies, not the translated ones but those they can watch online in their original language–only with translated subtitles. Prior to the start of this semester, I saw posts of different students–and even my own cousins who are already college graduate working professionals–them wanting to watch Korean movies! This may be an indicator of how their minds process words and social phenomena in their cognitive development, as well as what we can expect of the constructs they have formed prior to coming to class.


When I am communicating a point, making analogies, and even cracking a joke, sometimes I make reference to movies I have watched (e.g. Star Wars, Lord of the Rings, Chronicles of Narnia, Indiana Jones, Elvis Presley movies, et cetera) or songs that became my favorites while growing up (e.g. songs by Elvis Presley, Engelbert Humperdinck, Frank Sinatra, et cetera). Sometimes, I would make allusions to the late actor screen named FPJ! However, I realized that some of my students could not anymore relate to my concepts, thus fail to grasp the understanding of the concepts I am trying to share.


I could simply dismiss them as “uncultured” or that they lack fine, sophisticated taste in their choice of art (although I must admit that some of my choices also belong to what certain Filipinos call as “bakya” crowd during their time). However, this presents to me a challenge of what they actually know due to their collective experiences, which after they have processed them, affect their cognitive processes and value-systems they bring and operate with in class.


To balance my previous examples, I would also like to state that there are instances when I am talking about a particular topic, however students connect or relate it with another concept or topic that is not directly involved with what I am discussing but they find it easier to understand, remember, or memorize our topics if they relate it with those concepts they see can relate it to, whether because of their reflected experiences, similar spellings, similar uses, and somehow with those they sound alike.


All of those are said to point out that I have in my classes students who are born in the 21st century, and even if I am at least five or six years older than them (because I was born in 1995, and that year still belongs to the 20th century), I observe in my classes the reality that they are different than me.


Before, I remember, I get upset when my teachers in college do not know how to use the technology we were using from 2008 to 2012. However, today, I found myself asking my students to help me use technologies that were updated or being used by them today.


I think it is a challenge for both learner and teacher-facilitator to assimilate a concept, accommodate it so that both older and newer concepts can make sense in their proper context, and achieve a state of equilibrium–although at some point of those three processes, there may be a state of disequilibrium.


Right now, I am asking myself on how I would impart the concepts I must teach them this week, based from the cognitive processes or concepts they have manifested to have known or not know. This might be a good scaffolding experiment or endeavor if I would teach them the basic concepts first before moving on to the next. More so, I believe I must see their Zone of Proximal Development to know how to bring them to the point I want them to be in from where they are now. This is why there are days when I simply ask students to share what know without any harmful consequence to their grades. If there are wrong concepts or associations, I may then insert concepts that either implicitly or explicitly say to convince them to accommodate a new knowledge or understanding.


Pedagogy in facilitation may sometimes need to adjust to what the students actually know rather than surprise them with concepts without tapping their current knowledge, whether or not what they know is directly related. I am still amazed how people can possible learn new concepts based from other concepts that a scholar may find it hard to relate them. I think I have to read more research or studies on this.


If, with a clear conscience, I can watch the movie, see the photo, or hear the song that affect their cognitive processes, I would–given that I have both time, resources, and willingness to do it.


Generally, I must always know where students are coming from and reach them out from there. The kinds and forms of produced art and literature (e.g. movies, song, paintings, origami, et cetera) they like or have been exposed to may help us know their mental processes, or at least the background where they are coming from.


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