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Sunday, Oct. 29, 2000


No shortage of fruits and vegetables at university

The first thing I do when I have a new class of university students is separate them into fruits and vegetables. This is because when you stand up at the podium and look out at a hundred students with black hair and black eyes, it's like addressing a crowd of straight pins with black heads. It's practically impossible to remember all my students' names unless I divide them into fruits and vegetables.

In secondary public schools in Japan, the students have to wear name tags. In addition, I've seen some high-schools give teachers large photos containing head shots of all the students in each class. This photo corresponds to a seating chart, so that teachers can identify students according to where they are sitting. But no one wears name tags in university classes, where the classes are often much larger. I've heard of university teachers who take Polaroid photos of each student so they can learn their names.

But the fruit and vegetable technique is much simpler. You don't need photos or seating charts. It's so easy, anyone call learn all their students' names within a week or two. It just requires a shift in, uh, perspective.

First, look around the classroom and find the guy with the big, round face. He's the pumpkin of your class. Now look for one with sprouting a tuft of hair. He's the carrot. Look for the girl with the dimply face -- she's the potato. The one with the shiny face is the apple, and the one with the blushed pink cheeks is the peach. You'll find that almost all students bare some kind of resemblance to a fruit or vegetable.

Once you've chosen them well, draw a simple picture of the fruit or vegetable next to the person's name on the class list. Every time you read the roll call, match the fruit or vegetable drawing with the face, then look at the name. You'll be able to call out the person's name while looking straight at them. All your students will think you have learned all their names in the same amount of time it takes to make up a grocery list.

Keep your grocery list in front of you for the first week or two for reference. Constantly connecting the student with their name and fruit or veggie type will reinforce their name each time and soon you won't need to look at the list at all.

I admit that not all people fit nicely into these categories, so feel free to throw in a few more appropriate drawings as needed, such as Mack Truck, bird nest or rain drop. For some students, such as those who sleep in class, inanimate objects such as desks or sofas work well. I discourage the use of animal names, however. It's just too risky for the imagination. One-horned rhinos and boa constrictors don't belong in the classroom.

Besides, rather than thinking of your classroom as a zoo, it's much better to envision it as a garden or orchard you are nurturing along. Your students start out green, but they will mature and ripen. At harvest time, they will be picked by some multinational company or perhaps an engineering firm where they will bestow their nutrients and minerals upon others.

Some students, however, will not make it. They'll wither and eventually stop coming to class. When this happens, as it inevitably does, just blacken in the vegetable or fruit as if they have rotted and are no longer in the garden. Other students will wait until after graduation and rot in the cornucopia of life.

I further discourage classifying students as houseplants or moss. Houseplants because the names are too long -- Bougainvillea, Christmas cactus -- and moss because it's too hard to draw.

Years later after graduation -- the harvest -- when these students come to see you, you'll be surprised that you may even be able to recall their names as well as their role in the food pyramid. And you can proudly say, "I remember when you were just a sprout."

Visit the Japan Lite home page at www.amychavez.com or e-mail comments to: amychavez@mailexcite.com

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