Friday, 7 March 2008

Teaching in the Slums – An update

I started teaching on Tuesday. As mentioned I have 2 levels and we have settled on 12 children in each group.

To establish the level of language and to get to know the children, I started with greetings and introductions. The younger group is very busy. You might say hyper-excited. They shout all responses and are repeating what I say before I have finished the first word. I will be gray by the time I leave! (There was me thinking I’d have no discipline problems, with my fearsome voice and look. ;-) ) Once we’d done a lot of introductions I tried to get them to greet each other which dissolved into chaos, as they mostly want to greet me. The older group was better. These are the 12 – 15 year olds and they have started English lessons at school. (English taught in Hindi) They too do a lot of jostling and pushing during the course of the lesson, so I’m going to need to keep switching activities to maintain any level of interest.

Let me set the scene of the classroom. The clinic is positioned at the edge of the slum, in a small sandy play area or courtyard, accessed directly from the (noisy) street. It has 4 rooms, a toilet and a little kitchen, all off a main entrance. 3 of the rooms are allocated to health care. There is a doctor’s room, a dispensary and a “well-baby” room. This latter is used for general mother/baby check-ups. The 4th room is the resource center and is where I am teaching. The room is about 8’ by 10’; has a table, 2 chairs, 2 grass mats and a cabinet. The clinics are brightly painted by small teams of volunteers and kept in general good repair by local artisans and teams who come out specifically for the heavier duty projects. These teams get involved in some bricklaying, rewiring and general roof repair.

I digress. So we’re in a small room and we’re all on the floor. Jez lent me a few A4 sized whiteboards. These are GREAT! It means that I can write sentences, words or draw pictures and show them easily, without having to stand looming over them and writing on the white board. This works on so many levels. I’m quite tall and they’re really quite little, even the older ones, so seated on the floor means the white board is high and a neck straining distance from them. Hence the jostling - on the floor, they are within pushing and prodding distance from each other and they do!

On Wednesday I thought I’d go back to basics with the little ones. I had a few activities planned. I have a large pile of cue cards with a variety of animals and so we looked at the animals and categorized them, whether they’d be found in a forest or the sea or a farmyard. They were quite good at this exercise and quick to name the creatures displayed. But it seems they have a 5-minute attention span, so I switched to the farmyard animals and tried “Old MacDonald” Which may or may not have been a resounding success. Depends whether you can handle twelve 8 year olds belting out a song. I think there was something of a tune in there. We ended of the session with “Meeting and Greeting” each other and this time it was much more successful.
For all those teachers out there working with young children starting out with language, all or any very short activity suggestions that you have used successfully will be gratefully received.

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