Adventures in First Grade


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August 15th 2010
Published: August 23rd 2010
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Class 1Class 1Class 1

A look at the classroom and most of the kids.
got a few more blogs in the mail from sher this week. she'll be posting live from vila (i think) here in a few weeks, so keep an eye out for that! classes at pitt start tomorrow. eighteen hours of history and politics classes aren't quite first grade, but i'm sure there will be plenty of adventures this semester. hope you all are doing well and enjoy this blog. just a few more months, and s & j will be home. =) take care--

b

1 July 2010

A few weeks ago, the first grade teacher here approached me about teaching the language lessons in her class for the rest of the year. I agreed, with the condition that she was in there to watch me and learn some techniques for her future as a teacher. Taking on this little project made me feel wanted and I am thankful she talked me into it. Even with all the little tribulations along the way.

Most of the kids in the first grade class speak only local language (with the exception of one or two, who, like my host brother Aldayer, who speak Bislama). I thought teaching this class
Where is baby?Where is baby?Where is baby?

A girl dutifully putting baby in the toilet.
would be like my student teaching experiences teaching Spanish to elementary level kids. Not so. While teaching Spanish, I had to my advantage a wealth of background knowledge that I knew the kids would know. Knowledge like how to play games such as Simon Says and that lifting my hands palms up insinuates “stand up.” In another culture, those basic games and body language cues that “everybody knows” are different enough for there to be communication breakdowns.

The Friday before I started, the teacher and I met to get on the same page with the classroom management issues. She was pretty receptive to my ideas, some of which were rather insistent. We made a long strip of cardboard with about 1/3 of it colored green, followed by equal bits of yellow, red, and black. Each student had a wooden clothespin with his name written on it that starts off every day pinned on the green section. If they break a rule, they move their pin to yellow (a warning), another issue moves them to red (15 minute detention), and finally to black (visit to the headmaster). I’ve yet to see anyone’s pin move beyond the yellow.

The first
Word Wall PracticeWord Wall PracticeWord Wall Practice

Cardboard letter tiles help the kids practice spelling words. Yes, making 27 sets of those letters took a lot of time; at least time is a resource I have plenty of.
day, a Monday, I spent my entire two hours with the class explaining the new rules for the classroom. This was a tedious process as I would explain the rules, consequences, and procedures one at a time and then the teacher would translate everything I said into local language. (It’s our goal not to use Bislama at all in the classroom.)

We also started filling up a plastic peanut butter jar with pieces of coral for good behavior. With each successful attempt at making a line and walking quietly into the classroom after a break or lunch, one piece of coral goes into the jar. When it’s full, we’ll have a juice and cookies party! The kids are getting wise to this scene are choosing the biggest pieces of coral they can find to fill the up the jar as quickly as possible.

I’ve started a predictable routine with the kids, for their understanding and my sanity, so that they can help out and know how to respond with each activity. In the morning, after they line up and file quietly into the classroom and to their seats, I pick two groups to help me open the windows. Another group is chosen to sweep the classroom with the “coconut bone” brooms; especially if it has rained which creates a few puddles of standing water in the classroom. Then the other two groups get to pick one song for us to sing for devotion time, followed by a short prayer.

Next, we get started on phonics. Each week we talk about one letter; it’s sound, how to write it, how it sounds at the beginning/middle/end of words, and all that. Then it’s Word Wall time. Each week we also get two new sight words to add to the word wall and review two more from previous weeks. I’m very impressed with how quickly the kids pick up the words and remember them. We use simple words like ‘it’, ‘am’, and ‘can’. Some words that sound like a letter cause insane amounts of confusion, like ‘in’, ‘are’, and ‘you’. Because the kids don’t really understand the meaning of the words in the first place, they want to spell these words ‘n’, ‘r’, and ‘u’. Usually, as we continue practicing the words all week long, it eventually gets sorted out. Friday is spelling test day. There are four words total
Be the WordBe the WordBe the Word

Spelling AND practicing standing up in front of the class.
each week and a perfect score earns the student a small sticker on their test paper. The Monday after our first test, one little girl found a sticker on the floor that had lost all its’ adhesive and was about to get swept up. She gingerly placed it on her finger tip and came to give it to me. “Is this yours?” I asked her. She replied in Bislama, “Blo mi i stap lo haos.” Two things cheered me about this moment, the first that she knew exactly where her tiny sticker was, and second that she knew it was probably really special to someone else too and rescued it from the broom. I started a chart with the spelling test scores and, between that and the stickers, the kids are getting really serious about learning their words.

After Phonics and Word Wall, we’re on to Language time. This time is a conglomeration of grammar phrases, reading, singing, and slow progress. I learned quickly not to give up on a certain skill or phrase after one completely bombed lesson. Many times, the kids are still eager to learn something that frustrated me to no end the day before, and
Sky, grass, groundSky, grass, groundSky, grass, ground

More spelling practice. Talking about letters that go up in the sky, stay in the grass, or go into the ground leads to a full body way to practice spatial awareness.
start asking for it the best they can the next day so we can practice again. One week, we tried learning -ing verb phrases, and also ‘I, you, we.’ I would pantomime an action in front of the class and say “What am I doing?” and the class would (after a few days of practice) yell “You are marching/swimming/climbing/etc!” This led to the creation of a chant “We are marching. We are marching to the rhythm of the beat. We are marching over here. We are marching over there. We are marching.” This with all twenty seven of the little goobers and I marching all over the classroom. The kids went wild for this, and, as long as they were chanting with me, it was perfect. When we got to “We are dancing…” to kids couldn’t control their excitement. Most of the girls wound up laughing so hard they doubled over on the ground, still giggling at my exaggerated dance moves.

The kids are loving the books we’ve made in English and local language. One is about a chick that hatches and can’t find its mother (based on the book Is Your Mama A Llama). The chick walks around
Building sentencesBuilding sentencesBuilding sentences

A makeshift storyboard with clear pockets made of Ziplocs reinforced with cardboard allows the students to practice building sentences like "Baby is in the toilet."
asking all the island animals, everything from crabs to lizards, “Are you my mama?” This one is by far the kids’ favorite of those we’ve read thus far. One enthusiastic student came up to me after the second or third reading and said, quite earnestly, “Are you my mama?” Sometimes I get so tickled at these kids, I have to immediately think about something else (my immediate fall back is flashing back to a memory from home: the chore of picking green beans in the summer time, sun hot on your back, sore muscles…) to keep from bursting out laughing and ruining the little bit of progress that we have made on them speaking up in class.

In addition to having illustrated those books for us, Justin gets put to work often on little art projects for the class. He created a family, complete with mother in her island dress and grandpa with his local walking stick, and also a village, featuring a house with a separate structure for the kitchen and toilet to follow the norm here. We use it to practice questions like “Where is mother? Mother is in the garden.” When the kids get to pick
Village and familyVillage and familyVillage and family

With some gilrs practicing reading the sentences on the storyboard.
where the family gets to go, the toilet is the most popular option. They’ll probably remember forever how to say “Grandpa is in the toilet. Sister is in the toilet. Mother is in the toilet.”

About three weeks in to this routine, and the students (and I) are still hanging in there. We’ve had our share of misunderstandings and struggles. The song “Where is Thumbkin?” still gets sung “Where is pumpkin?”, but we’re getting there. Congruent with the usual behavior in the culture, the kids are all painfully shy to speak alone in class. Sitting in groups, they can sing loud enough to break glass (luckily there is none, the window shutters open up to nothing but fresh air), but speaking one at a time is another story. I’m trying my best to coax oral responses one at a time to simple questions like “What is your name?” and “How are you?” to start with.

The shyness bit is something I often forget about while working with the kids. Once, I asked a boy to come to the front of his class and help me hold up a poster. I thought it was no big deal; that he’d probably like to help the teacher. He got an awful look on his face, bowed his head, and came slowly up to me like a dog with his tail between his legs anticipating a beating. He stood for awhile as I got the class’s attention to start the activity and the next thing I know, he is standing there sobbing as hard as can be. Thankfully, the regular teacher was there to speak with him in his first language and calm him down. The act of standing up in front of the class without a clear idea of what he was going to do simply terrified the little guy. I should have known better than to call one student up by himself. So, as he calmed down in his chair, I called up my brother, Aldayer, and another ornery boy from Justin’s family to hold the poster together. It was fine after that and I was relieved to find the boy who had been frightened at school the next day. (P.S. The next time I tried the activity, this boy raised his hand to volunteer to hold the poster! Yes!)

Probably due to the more physical nature of the culture, there is more hitting among the students than I can stomach. It is an acceptable way of getting someone’s attention or showing anger that doesn’t happen as often in our home culture. Also, most of the kids are brothers and sisters or cousins, so they are used to reacting to each other however they have learned from home. If I see it happen, the kids must apologize and move their pin to yellow. I’d like to talk to them about better ways to get someone’s attention or express themselves so that they don’t just learn to make sure I’m not looking before they hit someone. But, their English and my local language just aren’t there yet. It’s a deeply ingrained reaction that would take lots of consistent explaining and regulating to change. That may be one of my next things to solicit their teacher’s help with explaining and monitoring.

The experience isn’t over yet, so I can’t sum it up for you in a closing paragraph. We’ve still got a few months to grow together, to add to each others’ collection of stories about when the white lady taught us English in 2010, to learn from each other. Cheers!




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