Saturday, June 4, 2011

TV in South Africa

Unlike the vast majority of volunteers, we watch a lot of South African TV. This is mostly because we have a TV in our bedroom. We had never planned on buying a TV when we decided to join Peace Corps a second time around, but when we arrived at our fully furnished house, there it was (along with 3 couches, something most volunteers also don't have the luxury of in their PC abodes). Now, we are both extremely happy that we've had our TV, not just because of the hours of entertainment it provides, but because it has helped us to integrate into our community and to be more effective at our jobs.

We get the 4 free channels (our host mom has a satellite but we did not pay to get a second box so we only watch satellite TV very infrequently) so it's not like we have a lot of programming to choose from. Most of our students are also too poor for satellite TV so that's also what they watch. Usually in the evening, we watch Oprah, our favorite soap opera Rhythm City, the news and possibly something else if there is something good on (for whatever reason old seasons of American reality shows...Survivor, Amazing Race and American Idol lately...are the most entertaining to us). Oprah we most only watch in the winter because it's on at 5:30 at which point it is too cold to be outside any more while during the summer we sometimes stay outside chatting with our host mom til 7 or 8.

Watching the news has really helped us to understand what's going on in South Africa. Yeah, we could look up news online, but the news we see on TV is the news that most people are hearing so it becomes part of the collective consciousness. We often have conversations the next day about the news with teachers and other adults that we run into. It has helped us to learn more about the South African government, politics, and important people (hence why we were very excited to see South Africa's Police Commissioner Bheki Cele at the basketball event. He is on the news almost every night.) It also makes our favorite South African TV show "Late Night News with Loyiso Gola" (which is trying to be like the Daily Show) a lot funnier when we know who and what he is talking about.

Having background in ESL and sheltered instruction, one of the things I know is most important with teaching in a second language is accessing background knowledge to help kids connect that to what they are learning. I have found background knowledge kids have of life in the village a little bit helpful (teaching about mammals, I got kids to think about which animals give birth to live young for example), but I've found knowledge of TV shows even more helpful as it is shared by almost all of the kids and it helps even struggling kids to get the context of things that are farther from their own experience. Recently, I taught a lesson about the elements of a story (setting, plot, characters, and theme) and explained that not just stories that you read have these elements, but TV shows and movies too. I got kids to identify these elements on the most popular soap opera, Generations, before moving on to a story they had read. To explain that sometimes characters can be animals instead of people, I got them listing the characters on the cartoon "Skunk Fu". To discuss theme, I had them identify the theme of "Captain Planet" which was a great example because it's so obvious. Then, it was a lot easier for them to look for the theme of their story which was also pretty in your face, but is daunting to kids because it requires reading.

Anyway, even if had watched Captain Planet as a kid, I wouldn't know that it was on TV on Sunday mornings if I didn't flip through the channels. We don't usually watch movies on TV because why watch a movie filled with commercials when I have 100s of movies at my fingertips, but I always make a mental note of what movies they are showing each week because you never know when one might make a good example in teaching or just a good topic of conversation.

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