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Wednesday, November 14, 2012

9. Teaching linguistic competencies

Pedagogy textbooks explain that children learn under epistemological proposals very difficult to understand and inapplicable in a real classroom, but experience so far, tells me that if a teacher puts a big smile and motivate children to do something cool to learn and we can find the way to make them feel an important part of that project, where they have so much fun that it’s easy to forget how much they are learning, we can make apart all the amazing and expensive books.
Our theater project thrilled them more than I expected. As soon as I arrived to the classroom next day, I plugged my laptop to the projector and started to explain them that we needed a project, and I told them all my ideas. I began explaining our to-do list that I had prepared and the profile of each participants and I could not wish more enthusiasm. I began to see raised hands to cooperate, to do, to think, and share ideas.
 There were so much participation that my assistant director had to jump from his chair and give some order. I believe this child born being a leader. I didn't have to tell him what he had to do from his position. There was a moment that he stood up, wrote something on a piece of paper and hanged it on the door helped by his own assistant. I preferred to not read the message; I knew that it would take me a surprise.
Ideas floated everywhere, from pumpkin possessed by dark energy, to trees costumed as rabbit with pumpkin hats. Even for a moment I could see running down the classroom a naked tree searching its leaves. Each idea allowed us to focus more and more our work, until after two hours, we had written, edited, searched on the internet read, learned two new words and still had mood to review a couple of books that we found.
I slow down for a second while I was packing my laptop at the end of the class and I thought how much we had done that day in matters of language. A single book would not have been able to give us so many excuses to laugh so much and at the same time advance our project. Before going home a girl back to my place and told me in secret: "Thank you!”
When I asked why I was grateful, she replied: "I hate acting; I prefer to be in charge of the scenery.” I gave her back the smile and told her that I had no doubt we would have the best stage.
When I left the room, I saw the paper almost at the middle of the door; it was a sheet with almost drawn letters saying: "Do not interrupt, we're thinking big ideas.” I tried to remember when at my own school life, I had a great idea and more importantly, a great idea to share with my classmates.
I carefully took the piece of paper and saved it in my backpack. It's corny, I know, but I couldn't believe the impact of our small school project. If a film maker would be in our classroom, viewers would have seen all sorts of images jumping all over the screen and a voice saying, "no, but then this other idea may be better", and we would have seen the first idea fade and another would occupy the center stage, as Bob Ross’s work, with happy elements flowing, but best of all is that the creators of all that were children interested in the English language.
While I walked home I sent a message to my guru to tell her how much good had been the creative session. I received her reply when I was opening the door of my apartment: ¨when a child smiles while he or she learns is a good sign that you're doing the right thing¨.


Creo que este niño es un líder nato.

Friday, October 19, 2012

8. My encounter with creativity

When I came in the director’s office I met so many books that I felt like in a library. I had reviewed some of the titles, others were new topics. So much information about education seemed enough to educate the complete world, so I can’t understand why does everybody talk about the crisis of education?.

When the director take off the phone from her ear, I was sure that she would toss it on my head, but instead she placed it carefully and sat staring me in the eyes and said without pause: "I need that you plan an activity for your group to share during the event that will be conducted on the occasion of the celebration of autumn. 

It may be an activity shared with parents, maybe a play or a musical".

I was silent, only I could ask her when did she wanted it.

I asked her if I could decorate my classroom, which seemed a sterile environment for learning. She looked tired, and said I could decorate it, if I was sure nothing can be taken as cultural discrimination.

I ran away as child who had avoided a scolding, while walking home, I sent an email to Gaby to ask for advice; I had a lot to do that afternoon.

Can you help me?, I plan something for the children for the fall event. I also want to decorate the classroom; you know that I can't do it without you.
Two minutes later she replied me:

Tell me that you need and based on that I can determine how to help you, we're a little busy with conferences, but I always have time for you. Just please do not ask me to help you decorate your classroom, my heels and silk dresses don’t match with manual activities. But I'm going to send copy to your guru, I’m sure she will help you. Just I ask you to have a little patience, she is writing an article that has made her knots.
When I got back home I sat down to think options and then received an email from my guru:

Dear David:
Theatre can be an inclusive activity, the important thing is not to force children to do something they dislike, not all children like dress up, or sing, or talk in public, but imagine that you propose this task to children and tell them that each one can choose their role. You need actors, actresses, singers, musicians, someone in charge of the costumes, decoration; you need someone who is aware that everything works. If someone does not want to participate in any of the above activities that person can be your assistant.
I imagine that one of the skills you must develop in your child is reading and writing, so you can perfectly take this and ask them to write the work, only give them the theme of the autumn and all can feel integrated, pleased with the work and part of a creative project, while  you are  developing  their skills. If you integrated the idea parents, children may feel more support.
About the subject of decoration, ask children what do they want to see every day, but don't forget that stimulus all over the classroom is a two-edged weapon: it can block the attention on what you are saying to them. In addition, if the brain looks at something for a long time, it loses the sense of novelty. 

My recommendation is to use items that are not only a decoration, they send signals to the memory and thus to the learning process. I suggest that the decoration has to do with what you are studying in class during the week, in a way that you take advantage of the space and the classroom becomes a forum for learning, unless the view is directed at a single point. Have you been in an Apple store?, every place has an intention!. You can take advantage of the landscape and the environment. Ask the children something allusive to each topic. You don't have to buy anything, you can ask them dry leaves if your theme is biology, or everyone can cut out a letter or a number, or sharing something that has caused them admiration in a way that all feel integrated, and part of the class. 
My final advice is... maybe your learning scenery can change with each topic, and thus aid to learning to use more brain pathways, not only listening to what you say  to them, but the view, which reinforces what they read. The brain likes to learn, but sometimes it needs a little help.
What the hell was to do the brain in all this? I decided that it was going to be a question that I would personally ask when I would have the chance to meet my guru. Wow, in a few words she had solved my dilemma, and she was busy with an article. 

I replied her that her counsel could not be better and I hoped she could finish soon with her article.

 I couldn't wait to share the idea with the children!. I saved my laptop because we were going to need it to write the screenplay. Hey, could not believe it!, was excited to write a script for a play school!, I always hated acting, singing made me vomit, but I always liked to write scripts. Perhaps only it was necessary to find my talent.

Thursday, October 11, 2012

7. Children are more than words in a book

I did some educational practices that pushed into classrooms while I was a student, but the feeling of being front a group is something quite different, it‘s an indescribable responsibility. the eyes of children when they entered to the classroom made me wish to run away, but an innocent question convinced me it was worth to try: are you we going to teach us to read more than tales?.

More than tales?... Didn’t they know all my problems to read their names?.

I started asking them to choose a card and writing their names on it, and placed it on their chest where everyone could see it. They were fascinated just like me by the colors. It seemed as if they were seeing by first time the mountains of Colorado or an Iphone. I asked to tell one by one their names and their favorite song. We spent the first two hours between new sounds and many laughs. I was kid again!.

During the lunch recess, children were proud showing their cards to other children, I look at them with some sense of pride until I was interrupted by the director and the school psychologist: “what is it?”, psychologist asked me. The question seemed silly but completely relaxed I told her that they were colorful cards in which the children had written their names. The Director looked at me and I could clearly feel as her eyes were piercing in mine, and said in a loud voice, as if she were talking to her phone: “I thought it had become clear that this is not a school in which the differences are allowed. Colors cards are prohibited, you may use cards of the same color, but do not make differences between children”.

I could not believe it, but I kept calm, and answered her as if I knew what he was talking about: there would be discrimination if not all children would have cards, but all of them chose the card they wanted and they all have one. If you want one, I can give you one. That was the first time that I understood why sometimes simple things become complex.

Both professionals of education began to walk, and without looking at me the Director said almost in a shout: “I will be waiting for you this afternoon in my office”.

When we returned to our classroom, a girl gave me a candy: "I kept it for you" she told me with a peaceful innocence. I took it as if it was the key of a Lamborghini, and I could only say thank you.

During the last hour, almost I could pronounce all the names, there were only two Latin children whose names were riddled with Rs that could not speak clearly, but I decided that before the end of the week I would have everything under control. Finally, there is nothing more meaningful to someone call you by our own name.

At the end of the class, I looked at the bare walls of our classroom and I thought it would be good to have a little color, but I remembered that the Director wanted to see me. Perhaps I should you request permission to decorate it?. It saddened me a little that children felt well with me during our first day and a couple of weeks the Director could ask me to leave.

Friday, October 5, 2012

6. Facing the reality

I had to attend meetings with other teachers and administrators to make planning activities at my first week at the school, it suppose we were helping to children to learn more but actually we were planing boring activities for us. 

They told me that it could ask questions about the program, but I decided to be cautious because I didn't want to be the new fool at the school.

I was so busy filling documents the first four days that I did not have time to look at the list of my group. On Thursday night, during a moment of courage, I slowly opened it hoping that names had changed by something that I could read and say without any problem, but there were no changes. What my eyes saw was again were words separated by spaces that told me nothing and I could not articulate. I was only able to read 7 names. 

I decided to ask urgent help to Gaby, I wanted to know if it was true that smile that told me that she liked to help teachers with problems. I sent her an email:
Hey, I have not forgotten you!:
In fact, I plan to use you as my lifeline until you ask me to leave you alone.
I have a problem; I hope that you can give me some advice. I have students of different nationalities, and I don't know how to pronounce their names and I have no idea how to my tongue can say those words, Do you have any advice?

Her reply was almost instant despite the fact that it was almost 11 o'clock, I began to suspect that be educational adviser was a work of 20 hours a day:
Hi David:
I know very well I am unforgettable, but I also understand that you will only be around when you have a stumble, I will not dream, ja, ja, ja. (Is it possible that she can read my mind?)
I don't have much experience with languages, but I know of someone who can help you, please write to: . She is very creative person and speaks several languages, I am very sure she will have a good idea to get you out of the problem. Tell her that I gave you her email.
Do not expect immediate response from her, but tomorrow at the latest at 10 am she would reply.

I did not much like the idea of dealing with someone else, but the situation was desperate. I wanted to be the best the first day of class, I knew I was eventually going to mess up, but I  didn't want to do it the first day. So I wrote:
Dear …
My name is David, I’m Gaby’s friend and she gave me your email, I hope not to disturb you, I have a problem with languages and Gaby thought of you. I am a second grade teacher and I have foreign students, whose names I can’t pronounce, I would like to be able to do so and call my students by name. I hope you can help me.

Her answer came promptly at 10 in the morning the next day:

Dear David:
There is no reason to worry; I have two solutions that complement each other to solve your cultural dilemma. The first is Google, which has an app of translator that allows you to listen to the words that you write. Usually identifies automatically the language of the words, but if they are names, it can be confused. You can choose the language you are typing and that will make easier the task. Just go to Google, click on the tab for More, and then choose translator. Type the word and then click audio symbol and you can listen to the word.

Another advice that complements the first option is using colorful cards, and the first day of class you ask to children to write down their names on the card, it’s important you let them choose their favorite color, and then slowly ask them to say their names, if necessary, ask them to repeat it more than once, until you and the rest of the group can say it. That helps to socialize the group and everyone will be familiar with the sounds of other languages. It is not easy, because the brain will not register the sounds quickly, so you can ask them to have the cards visible as long as you need it. Do not allow jokes about their names between children, explain them that languages, do not necessarily share all the sounds, but that gives even more greatness to the different cultures.

I admire teachers who are able to learn the name of their students; I could never learn more than 5 names.

I wish you the best on your first day of school.

I could not believe that Google would serve for something more than just searching songs or videos, but when I tried it, and I heard clearly every sound, so I wrote down with pencil next to each of the names the way I could understand it. 

The next afternoon, I took a trip to Office Depot and I bought many colorful cards, I think I saw them so attractive as photos at sports illustrated. I was almost ready for the first day of class. 

That night I replied thanked to Gaby for putting me in contact with who had saved my life, I called her my Guru. I also wrote to my friends to tell them that I was anxious about my first day of class. 

With a little bit of anger I felt that what I had learned at school was only a crude mockery of what was waiting for me. For the first time, I was willing to learn.

Friday, September 28, 2012

5. Arriving home

I lived all my life in a huge house, so big than my friends needed GPS to find the bathroom. When my father knew my decision about teaching in Chicago, he  offered me to rent a ranch near the school and hire a driver for me, but when I said this time I wanted to solve my expenses and being responsible for my own, he left his studio really upset slamming  the door. My mother convinced him to give me a vote of confidence and they let me make my own arrangements.

I rented an apartment with enough space for me: a small room with a large window, a kitchen, a laundry room, a bathroom with a fun shower, a bedroom and a garage for a small car, but I was planning not to drive, the price of gasoline in Chicago is one of the highest in the country.

My mother bought me some furniture; they were inside the apartment when I arrived. She had purchased them at Ikea, which sells furniture you assemble yourself, I've been useless for those things, but I had arrived so early thanks to the ride that Gaby had given me that I had all day to set up as much as I might.

When I told Gaby where I was going to live, she did not requested indications, in fact when I jumped into her car,  I had the impression that GPS was scheduled to take me home, for a moment I thought that she was going to hijacking me but fear vanished when I saw books and magazines, she seemed an educated person.

Her car was a hybrid, when I told her that I thought it was a very spacious and elegant car, she explained to me that it was the best option for a city as expensive as Chicago, because price of gasoline is very high. Hybrid cars allow enough mileage to absorb its cost in a few months.

I saw just a little bit during our journey from the Airport, but I found it very interesting, a very populous city, with good roads, with a summer temperature and apparently, lots of fun, but actually I had been very focused to the chat that Gaby was offering me. 

When we arrived at the entrance of the apartments complex, it seemed that she knew the place, requested me only the street and with no more questions I was at the  front of my new palace. Gaby said like with no intention to be careful with raccoons, but if had chance to see any one, she asked me to take a photo. I never had seen a raccoon in my life, so it scared me a little bit her request.

I spent all afternoon assembly parts A with B and I set up the internet, I was going to need it really badly. At 1: 30 am finally I went to bed, I would have to go to school next day to learn about my assignment. I was exhausted, but happy.
Conseguí un departamento que tiene suficiente espacio para mí: una salita con un gran ventanal, una cocina, un cuarto de lavado, un baño con regadera y una recamara.