Thursday, March 7, 2013

Our School Day

There are moments of our school day that bear a resemblance to school at home, but most of the experience is 'a world away'.

From the moment we leave home we greet all the neighbors and shopkeepers with ' kuzuzangpo la!' and gather a group of kids to walk  with down the middle of the national highway, moving to the verge if we hear the horn of an approaching vehicle. I hold Xavier's hand because it is so cold and explain to him what frost is on the ground and how when I was a little girl in Tasmania it would be frosty in the morning too.

I aim to be at school by 8 am, which gives me a few minutes to get organised. Unlike home there is no computer to set up, no emails to read and respond to, nothing to print or photocopy (not available), no staffroom to linger in with a cup of tea (there is a staff room, but no one lingers there), no parents to meet with (kids all walk to school without parents).

After that the kids have fifteen minutes of Socially Useful Productive Work, mainly cleaning the classrooms and grounds. There are no paid cleaners at the school, so unless the students do it (including the toilets) it doesn't get done. Some students are conscientious and others are openly lazy, but seem to be kept in line by the teachers.

I find this is a perfect time to get through a couple of Running Records. Yes, believe it or not I stumbled on a dusty pile of PM readers in Thimphu and with glee I sorted through them till I had a complete set from level 1 to 25! At only about $1.50 each they were a great buy, so here I am willingly assessing my students' reading where no pre-assessment culture seems to exist.

I have two goals: to track my students' progress as I hope to see dramatic improvements over the year, and eventually I hope to share this resource with the teachers here. So far my best reader is about a level 7, most are more like 2-3. Unfortunately the class texts that I must use as they are assessed by national exams are about level 16 or so. Mmmmmmm.

Xavier and I now have a copy of the National Anthem lyrics in roman letters so we can sing along at morning assembly. Most of the rest of the assembly is conducted in Dzongkha, and it amuses me to watch Xavier looking at the clouds and wriggling in his gho, standing out in his fairness from the locals; he is the only foreign student.

I run my class as much as possible as I would at home... who am I kidding, I have had to change nearly everything about the way I teach!! There is no room for a nice spot on the floor for kids to sit while I read a story or explain a lesson. They are squeezed into their rows of desks as there is no other way to arrange the desks in the tiny space.

Bellevue Park teachers will be pleased to hear I have also assessed my students using the Words Their Way system of teaching spelling. The students all came out in the same beginning 'Letter Name Alphabetic' phase, barely able to spell any words, in fact I stopped at question 11 out of 26 as it was all too hard. Again I am eager to see some dramatic results (Miss R I might ask you to analyse some data for me) !

I have found that the kids just love copying off the board (I'm guessing this is what they are most used to). I allow a bit of this, lets call it modelled writing, to introduce a new phrase. Then I try to get them to innovate on that phrase ie today we did 'How many .....s are there?' ' There are five ......s' etc etc. We also practise saying the phrase a number
times to work on fluency and phrasing.

Bhutanese students are unfailingly polite. The moment I appear with a pile of heavy books, students take them off me and deliver them where I need them without being asked. When entering a classroom (after going to the toilet for example), they wait at the door and ask for permission to enter. Every student greets me with 'Good Morning, Madam'. Australian children could definitely learn a thing or two from these Bhutanese kids.

Today I taught my grade 6 library class some games. They had never played bingo before, so contraction bingo and plurals bingo were a real hit. Another favorite from home is the 'Bang Game' for learning sightwords that had them laughing and enjoying themselves. Xavier (who comes to all my lessons in the library) was my little helper and was in his element!!

Other curious things happen daily and I just have to go with the flow. Today, in the middle of a lesson, my students had to carry their ramshackle stools out through a hole in the fence, across the national highway (unsupervised) down a dusty slippery hill to a workshop where men were repairing the stools. Some were in acceptable condition and were sent back, those that were falling apart were swapped for ones that were marginally better and then back to school again.

School finishes at 2.10pm for the pp and class 1 students, but 3.50 for my class 2. By the end of the day they are losing the plot, poor things, their brains full. With only four subjects, English, Maths, Dzongkha and EVS (social studies), it is a grueling academic schedule. We did a drawing activity this afternoon followed by their new favorite game, Duck Duck Goose. I was very pleased when the bell rang !!

Xavier and I often pop into one of the shops on the way home to see what we can see (you never know what they might have available). Xavier manages to twist my arm and gets a little treat (today a 10c choc bar). Walking home, our landlord's daughter Tenzin tags along (as an aside, her father's name is also Tenzin as is her little sister's. She has a new baby brother and he will also be named by the Dalai Lama, likely to be another Tenzin!!!). She is good at finding the colorful soft drink bottle tops from the side of the road that I am collecting to use as counters/counting materials in the classroom. She often boldly comes inside our home and plays with the boys while I get dinner ready. Tenzin is a sweet little girl, well behaved and it is nice to have her around.

Again, I have to load all my pictures at the end without captions. The internet was meant to be connected Monday this week but the Bhutan Telecom man did another no-show...

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