Saturday, August 1, 2009

Is this progress I’m experiencing?

It is amazing to watch a child make a big step in a developmental or educational direction. Even more amazing is when they manage to do it as a group. This past week I’ve had some real breakthroughs with my second and third graders, and I feel now that when I leave in two weeks I will have helped them achieve some very important academic improvements.

My third graders are rocking it out in the world of multiplication. Because I know that when I leave they will go back to writing and rewriting the multiplication tables under the eye of the Honduran teacher, I am focusing my efforts now on making sure they understand how multiplication works. They can now all find the answer to a simple multiplication problem that they do not have memorized and cannot see on the wall, such as 15 x 3, because they know this means there are three groups of 15.

My second graders are really coming along in subtraction with borrowing. They get so excited when it is time to borrow because they get to yell “Prestame porfavor!” (Lend it to me, please!) We still have a ways to go to achieve consistency, but major improvements are happening. As a result of some of my reading in child development, I realized that my kids didn’t understand how to count up from the number to find an answer in subtraction. For example, given 17 – 9, they are more likely to guess at the answer than to start counting on their fingers at 10 and seeing how many fingers they use to get to 17. We’ve taken a couple of days to go over this skill and there is real improvement in their accuracy now.

On Wednesday, both the kids and I got a treat (although I think mine was even bigger than theirs!) Their Spanish homework the night before was to read the recipe for making play dough from flour, water, and salt. Then they had to answer two questions for reading comprehension. Not only did my kids do the homework (breakthrough #1!), they answered the questions correctly (biggest breakthrough to date!) So we spent Wednesday morning making and playing with play dough in the classroom. What made it such a big treat for me is that they all followed directions closely and accurately, cleaned up and behaved well the entire time, and then showed off their creative minds with the play dough afterwards (and this from children who always tell me they don’t have any ideas in their heads!) The best moment was when we all put on play dough mustaches to look like deposed president Mel Zelaya…play dough gave us a chance to talk about social studies, even! And each child got a ziplock bag of homemade play dough to take home.

I’m still consistently stumped by some of their behaviors. My third grade girls especially are very apt to cry over a frustration or break into arguments so vehement I can’t understand what they are yelling. I’m always at a loss as to whether to intervene closely or just let them feel their way back out of the quagmire. Both methods have proven equally effective and ineffective. I know that I must make things worse when I don’t understand what they are saying, and some of the issues seem so very irrational to me that I feel they must really be stemming from something the child is unwilling or unable to communicate. Similar is the problem that when I ask a child to correct a mistake, they just shut down sometimes and refuse to work at all. I worry that there is something in the way I say it that makes them feel bad, but the more I watch the culture here, the more I see it is an issue for many adults as well.

So I have given up on the Honduran government’s lesson plans for Social Studies and Sciences and have spent the second half of the day working on self esteem and social skills instead. We’ve talked about self-esteem and imagined it as a bucket that can get holes in it that we then have to patch up. We’ve talked about the difference between a positive comment and a negative comment. We’ve taken stock of what we can do and can take pride in by coloring piggy banks full of coins on which our skills are written. We’ve created a post office “correo” for the classroom and written positive messages to each person in the room.

This coming week we’ll start a project in Spanish class about letter writing, which will culminate in each child writing a letter to a former volunteer. I’ll mail them when I get back to the States. The kids are excited for this, and I look forward to using it as a chance to practice writing CLEARLY using the posters I am making that address the kids biggest problems in letter formation.

Each step is so small, it may seem like no big deal, but I can see how at this point in their education, each step for these kids is a potential leap in the future. I feel so lucky to get to help them achieve it!

1 comment:

  1. I love that everything your describing is part of why I love being a teacher. It makes me so excited to know that you're getting to experience it in such a meaningful way.