Today was a particularly good day, mostly because one of my vocational school students didn’t understand multiplication this morning, but by the end of class, he did!
Things are otherwise becoming rather routine, which is why I’ve been less motivated to post updates, but I figured it would be a good day to reflect on some things that have been working for me in the classroom. I have found the following to be a good structure for each lesson:
- The less time teaching “the class,” the better. I find that in my most effective lessons, I am able to introduce a concept quickly, and then move to the individuals:
- After a short explanation in which not everyone pays attention, I immediately start challenging the class with example questions, really obvious ones at first, and calling students up at random to answer them. This keeps them on their toes because they don’t want to be embarrassed.
- As soon as it seems like most (although I’ll settle for some) of the class gets it, I give more problems for them to do individually. The real challenge is to design an assignment that no one will finish before class is over. This can be difficult for math class because I have two students way ahead of the others, so I find that making them spell out all their math work keeps them busy. Example: “3 * 4 = 12, three times four equals twelve” would be written in its entirety in their workbooks. The English slows them down a a lot but it’s not time wasted— it’s good practice.
- I then start dealing with each student individually while the others work. I take a lot of time with each one when I need to, even if it means not being able to help everyone. A watered-down explanation is just as bad as no explanation. I keep this up until the bell rings (at my school, it’s a real bell, rung by a child who can’t even hear it— an odd practice in my opinion).
The same basic structure applies to the art classes I’m teaching.
For English I’ve been a bit more experimental, because I’m finding it nearly impossible to “teach” reading. I found a decent video game, Word Rescue, that teaches vocab, and I let them play it every other English class. The remaining days, I use those words in sentences on the board, and challenge them to tell me which sentences are nonsense. “The arm is crying,” for instance. I sign the sentence, which is of course silly, then I let them change the sentence by swapping the vocab word until it makes sense. I initially tried to teach sentence structure in a rigidly logical way (Subject-Verb-Object), but it seems like they just need simple examples before they can appreciate any logic behind it.
The one thing I wish I had started sooner, but I’m trying to do now, is to reinforce names. I still need to get the rosters for classes two and three, but for vocational school I think I will write everyone’s names on the board, and rather than pointing at each student to call on them, I will point at their name. This will help me remember, and (more importantly) it will help them remember. For the younger kids I will probably need to rearrange the name order each week so they don’t start associating their name with a geographical spot on the board. Since next week is exams week, I will presumably need to grade everyone, but in most cases I still don’t know names!
A few unrelated updates: I have heard from a number of people that what I had two weeks ago was not a sunburn—it was “sun poisoning.” Scary, and I’m now officially shopping for hats to help save my poor skin. Also, today, I visited the “chief,” aka the Mayor of Mombasa. She visited the school yesterday and asked me to pay a courtesy call, so I did. She seemed busy trying to manage the census that is done every ten years, but was very friendly.
Well, that’s about that. I have a visitor from Peace Corps Tanzania who is riding his bicycle to Ethiopia who will be here until tomorrow, so I gave him the grand tour of Mombasa yesterday and tonight we’ll probably just sit around and chat. He is trying to decide which route to take. Apparently one way has man-eating lions, and the other way has bandits. Tough call.