When Yelling in Class Is a Good Idea

August 1, 2019 — The student stood alone on a hill on campus, a few hundred feet away from the rest of her Summer Session classmates, and listened as they shouted questions to her at the top of their lungs.

“Who is your idol?” 

“Where do you want to travel?”

“What is something you are happy about today?”

Slightly embarrassed, she shouted back, at the top of her lungs.

“My idol is Taylor Swift!”

“I want to go to the United Kingdom!”

“I hurt myself at [Bromley] Adventure Park so I don’t have to go to yoga!”

Marian Kelner, the lead teacher for this advanced ESOL class (English for Speakers of Other Languages), said the activity was designed to instill confidence in the students, who came to NMH from China, Japan, Taiwan, and the Ivory Coast. “We noticed that some of them were having trouble speaking up in class, so we’re exaggerating the idea of speaking loudly and expressively,” she said. 

Kelner has taught in NMH’s Summer Session for more than 20 years, and has called upon students “to yell at each other” in past classes, too, she said. “Most of them seem to enjoy it. For some of them, it’s the first time they’ve ever shouted, even in their native language, certainly in English.”

This summer, the reaction among the students was decidedly mixed. “I liked it. It was kind of fun,” said Shoko, a 16-year-old from Japan. Amber, 16, from Taiwan, was not a fan. “I just don’t like shouting,” she said. Suki, 13, from China, fell somewhere in between. “It was interesting because we got to know about other people and we got to practice being loud, but it hurt our throats a bit,” she said.

Naina Horning, a teaching intern in the class, explained that one of the overall class goals he and Kelner are pursuing is to change how the students relate to language. “A lot of them are used to a drill style” — memorization and recitation — “and that is important, but it’s only one piece,” he said. “The class is an introduction to thinking reflectively and contemplatively in another language.”

“We could give our students grammar worksheets to do and they’d all get a 100,” added Kelner. The idea is to “use language in different ways and to develop as critical thinkers, observers, and connectors.”

On that grassy hill outside their classroom, the students braved their embarrassment and impressed one another, just a little. 

Suki found the process “quite shocking.” Some of her classmates “are very quiet,” she said. “I thought, ‘This will be hard for them and they won’t be able to shout very loud.’ But they did it.”