Thursday, October 6, 2011

classroom manipulation =)

This year I have been trying to mix up some things in class and restructure what we expect from the students… this has included assigning a lot more assignments. But in my first year of teaching I learned that students may hate to do exercises but if you give them a fun assignment more often then not, they actually enjoy doing the assignment. So at the beginning of the school year I sat down and made a list of goals for each of my classes. For example for my 5th grade class my goals were to have 10 minutes of pupil to pupil speaking each class and to give them one project every two weeks. My 11th grade class has to give one 3 minute presentation every 3 weeks on different subjects. It sounds like pretty standard stuff for most Americans, but let me tell you this is not standard for the English classes here. Mostly the students are given written exercises and poems to memorize and that is all.

So one of the interesting classes I taught this week was for my 11th graders. I began the class with a recipe for hot cocoa. They had to read it and tell me what it was and what it was for. Pretty easy. We then spoke about what words we knew for cooking, reviewing some words but adding some 20 new words for them to learn. I told them it was very important for them to learn the new words because they would have a test of sorts… so at the end of class I split them into groups and gave each group a recipe for a different type of cookies. I told them their assignment was to bake the cookies in groups and bring them to the next class. Of course the girls were so happy!! They thought it was the best assignment ever!! The boys at first were happy too asking “we will eat cookies on Monday?” I laughed and told them they can only eat cookies if they bake them! Of course this brought on a huge debate. The boys told me how Armenian men don’t cook and how it’s humiliating to have to cook. I laughed at them and told them that it would be fine, they could all get a zero in the grade book for the assignment. To be honest some were perfectly fine with that, but one of my best students is male and the only good grade he gets in school is for English, so he was not happy. He debated back and forth with me how he couldn’t bake. I told him he didn’t have to do it alone, he would have a group and girls would help him. The boys pouted some but then one bright boy realized this would mean he could go and hang out with his beautiful classmates. I could see the bell go off in his head. I will help, Miss Alyssa he tells me. He turns to the girls and tells them that his family has a chicken farm and he can bring the eggs, so who would like to have him in their group. Well once the boys saw him step forward they all wanted to be in a group and this soon became the best assignment they have ever received. I have to say I am looking forward to eating cookies on Monday!!

Another fun thing we did in class this week was a spelling bee. The ministry of education in Armenia now requires that we test our students in dictation, something my counterpart never does. She told me that she would like to work on dictations and so she wrote the paragraph on the board for the students. This of course prompted an argument between us, as I pointed out that they wouldn’t learn just by memorizing. She told me that they cannot write and they cannot spell so she has to do it this way. I sulked for about an hour and then I had an idea. We could give them the words in the dictation as spelling words, and make a spelling bee out of it. This way we can be sure they know all the words, but they will also have to use listening skills. I have to say she became very excited for it and so were the kids. We gave them the words and told them that we would have a spelling bee and so they should practice the words. The next day in my 4th and 5th grade classes we had a spelling bee. It was a lot of fun! My children love competition and they especially love to earn new stickers in the sticker book!! It was fun to watch them stand before the class and spell words. It allowed for students who are weak in other areas and usually don’t shine in English to shine a bit. The funniest thing was that in my fourth grade class the third word I chose ended up knocking out half the students. The point was to start with easy words and work up to difficult ones, but apparently all is a very difficult word to spell for TEFL learners!! Some of my best students got knocked out!!! I love that I have the opportunity to see a problem and find a creative way to fix it. I am not saying all my students wrote fantastic dictations, but you know what for the most part they were pretty impressive. Spelling is difficult even for English speakers!!

Now if I could just get my two problem classes up to a level where we can do fun activities, I would be the happiest teacher in the world!! For whatever reason my 6th grade class just cannot focus this year and refuse to speak any English. My goal for them was to give a book report a month but it seems impossible because they cannot speak about what they read!! And then there is my 9th grade class that are just monsters, I cannot even hear myself speak in that class… One step at a time =)

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

The future belongs to those who believe in the beauty of their dreams.

Last school year I had the pleasure of nominating 3 very strong, smart, outspoken and passionate young women to attend Armenia’s GLOW camp. GLOW stands for Girls Leading Our World, and is a Peace Corps initiative camp that teaches women to be leaders and to talk about challenging topics. I was beyond excited to see that not only one of my students was selected to attend the camp, but all three. The week of GLOW camp I received text messages from fellow Peace Corps volunteers informing me that my girls were amazing and perfect selections for the camp. I burned with pride, not because I felt that their characters were in any part my doing, but because in just a year I had watched them grow and knew that they would come back from this experience changed for life.

And I was right, my girls came back from GLOW camp excited about life, ready to face new challenges, and ready to share what they learned with their peers. I talked to the girls about what they learned, and with a relentless passion they discussed issues such as HIV in Armenia, women’s rights, trafficking and education. They had learned so much but now they were in the position that they wanted to learn more, but none of these topics are discussed nor taught about in Spitak. We live in a conservative town, where most, not all, but most women marry young, have children and struggle to help support their family. Women are only beginning to see that they have other options. They know of course that they can teach, as nearly all teachers are women, but they are beginning to see that they don’t have to rely on a husband. Spitak has at least two women police officers, sure it is uncommon and often I hear other women complaining about them, but they of course have opened the door for girls to think outside the box. Many of my female students express the desire to be doctors, though they tell me that they are afraid no man will marry a doctor because she will make more money than him… so as you can see Armenia is in a time of change.

After spending my summer talking to these students and other young girls who frequently would come and sit on my porch and spill their hearts out to me, I became very passionate about founding a young women’s club in Spitak. A place where they can learn, discuss, and debate important issues facing young Armenian women. A place where they can learn about career and university options, and find mentors to help them along the way.

As I thought about what I wanted to do with my final year in the Peace Corps I decided that I must work with the YMCA on this project. I contacted them and was happy to learn that they two had been thinking of this subject and that they loved my ideas and wanted to work with me. We held a meeting where we discussed the club, the setback that we would face, the sensitivity of the subject and the opportunity at hand. I told the YMCA about my three students that had learned so much about women’s issues and suggested that they attend our next meeting.

It has been 2 months now that we have been planning our Young Women’s organization, and during this time I have been amazed with the way my girls have stepped up and became leaders of this group. They are now in charge of almost every aspect, and have shown so much passion in it. At first I saw this group as my baby and was a bit reluctant to give up so much of the power to a group of young girls, but now I can see that nothing makes me happier than to watch my students grow. To know that I have taught them, I have counseled them, and I have in a very small way shaped some of their thinking and now they are taking that and running with it. They are such organized, passionate and compassionate leaders. They express their ideas so completely and respectfully that I cannot help but to sit back at every meeting and beam with pride. In the next week or so we will host 30 to 40 young girls in Spitak for our very first meeting, and I am so excited to see what will happen. We do not have the option to fail, the young women here need this, and we may never again be given the opportunity. So we can only work hard, be sensitive and encouraging and hope that little by little we can help these girls to understand that they can be who they want to be. That who they are need not be shaped by the opinion of what men think they ought to be…. I look forward to stepping outside my English teaching role in Spitak and working with young girls to help them understand that they are the future of their country.