After the grade 8 class was followed by a shaky beginning using the NEH curriculum from the starting blocks during the volunteer teacher’s class; we decided that the best way to train our motivated and talented, but as yet unpolished, teacher was for me to model a lesson and for him to copy that lesson.
The aim being that our protege could build a mental bank of activities which he had seen being performed live and that he could then re-enact in his own classroom. Of course, the longer term goal of modeling is that I am able to show how to make quick-paced decisions based on student reactions and timing calculations.
After I had rescued the volunteer teachers’ lesson with Van sitting with our third gang member, our teacher, giving him pointers on why the lesson was going successfully in comparison to his earlier attempt, it was decided that I should also teach the evening class to the grade 8 students. Our protege was feelings a little fatigued after a disappointing lesson and it would be a useful experiment to see the lesson repeated with the children as learners.
The children of grade 8 were a little restless when we began, and I was a little nervous and hoping for them to be so enthralled in the lesson that they calmed down. I was, however, skeptical of the latter as I know full well that children have more energy than adults and are also less receptive to 100% immersion in a language if it is not something that they are used to. The lesson was OK, neither good nor bad. It did not have the same magic that the earlier demonstration to the adult learners had had. The children were noisy throughout and found understanding me a challenge. Further, they were very distracted by the way I look as I am still something of an oddity in this remote area. I did successfully introduce a gesture for ’s’ which is something that all Myanmar learners struggle with. Now, each time they say a plural noun, they touch their finger to their nose. This physical activity should create new associations in their brain with the ’s’ sound and encourage them to make it whenever necessary.
After a few sedate scaffolding activities to prepare the students for the production of the target language, it was time to introduce an activity that I feared would result in anarchy. With no backup and no time to create something appropriate in-class on the spot, I plunged into the activity hoping for a miracle. I did not get my miracle as children screamed the lines at one another in unison; each competing to be louder than his friend. I have been teaching for the past 7 years full-time, and even now I am guilty of building in sections to a lesson which fail miserably and no-one learns any target language. I feel as though I have failed my students and I generally get a headache as the activities which most often fail are those which involve full class participation and so tend to be very noisy if not properly regulated. To my utter dismay, some students were covering their ears with their hands as others bellowed ‘there is cows in my village’ or some other equally horrendous grammatical construction. Anyone who wishes to holler should at least be grammatically accurate in my opinion.
After completing the activity in hopes that they might settle into it (they didn’t), we sat in a large circle for a more controlled follow-up activity. The children were still distracted and finding it hard to concentrate. I was convinced that nothing I had said in the full hour had gone through any of their brains. However, I am pleased and relieved to report that some children managed to produce a respectable sentence.
I have one advantage over the local teacher, that is to say I have no bias towards the ‘good’ or ‘bad’ children; I don’t know them well enough to judge and I learned in Greece that accepting another teacher’s opinion of a child is a dangerous thing upon which to make judgements. My students generally react very differently to me than they do of other members of staff. Generally I am younger, more foreign and considerably more into teaching and learning theory than my colleagues and I believe that this mix changes the way in which I interact with pupils.
I really dislike labeling students as good or bad; they each have different talents and learning styles. I personally am not much use at lugging water from the lake to the house in the village; if that was all I was judged on then I would never be invited back. Fortunately for me, I have other skills which are valuable to the people. When my students perform badly, I do not see it as their fault, but rather my own shortcoming. I did not appeal to their style of learning; I failed to engage them in my lesson and have them see something the way I do. No-one is good at everything, of course, but everyone deserves a fair and equal chance to excel or at least enjoy the learning process.
I saw no stupid children in the hour that I taught. I saw excited children, or those who were frustrated and confused, but I saw no-one who was not engaged at some point over the hour and I saw no-one who was making no effort to be a part of the new method of teaching. They were baby steps, but steps towards progress never-the-less.
NEH Coordinator and Teacher Trainer
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