5th Grade Quizzes and a Little bit of Class Pride

 

Our school has one particular grade which causes a little more stress than any of the others. 5th Grade.

This class has around 40 student, all of who are around 10 years old. These students are so lovable but so crazy that it is almost impossible to get anything done with one teacher. Especially because there are eight or so of them who are significantly behind the rest of the class.

They aren’t just behind in English, but every subject. So five weeks ago, at the end of the last semester, all of the teachers came together to come up with a solution for those eight students. Part of the solution was to give them to me to teach.

This was a shock for me, not only because I usually teach 8th– 10th grade rather than younger grades, but because these were the students who needed more help than you could ever imagine. They know one word in English, Hello. I was only given 1 hour a week and also wasn’t given a space to work with them. We would switch between the computer lab (which doesn’t have a white board or even lights) and working outside. It was awful. Imagine trying to teach 8 ten year olds while the is a soccer game going on fifteen feet away? There was no focus at all.

I spent three weeks try to find a way for them to enjoy learning English and not pout the entire time because they were taken away from their friends. We played games and they would do well during class but, because I only got 1 hour a week with them and was told I shouldn’t give out homework because they won’t do it anyways, we had to start from square one each Monday afternoon.

Well last week, when I was told to go in an empty, dirty room to teach my class, I got a little fed up. I went and talked with the director about the state of the students, the lack of time and space we had and how, under these conditions, my students would be in the exact same place when I leave if things don’t change.

Well, this week I got my own space to teach in and my students stay after school for an extra 30 minutes a few times a week to further their learning. The progress in 3 days has been spectacular. Who know what desks and an extra hour and a half would do?

My students have their first quiz on Monday, and even though it is very basic, I think it is going to go really well for them. This might be the first time they ever see a 10/10 on any test they’ve taken. They have practiced and practiced and practiced this week and I think (I hope) they’ve got it!

One student in particular, who comes from a less than desirable home life, has completely changed his attitude this week and I can’t help but to think the environment has something to do with it. He worked extremely hard one day in class and got a 100% on his homework that night. I cannot say for sure, but I think it was his first even 100% and oh goodness was he proud. Every day after that he has come into my class with a smile on his face, he hasn’t gotten into any fights (which is a big deal for him), and when I post questions on the board he runs over and whispers the answer in my ear. He is finally proud of himself and I personally cannot wait to see how he does on his test on Monday. He is going to rock it.

So, here is a link to the quiz if you want to take a look.

Quiz- Basic English- 5th Grade

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Festival, Waterfalls, and Bed Sheets full of Potatoes.

The school I work at here in Ecuador has a very high percentage of indigenous students. The majority of my male students wear the long braided hair and classic white linen pants with their uniform every day, while the girls have their long skirts and frilly white sleeves under their school sweater vests.

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Luis Ulpiano de la Torre, the school, has been working very hard this year to try to include aspects of the indigenous culture into some of the school pride. Meaning that the native language is being taught, we celebrate national native language day, and we try to have festivals for some of the important indigenous holidays as well. One of which being Pawkar Raymi, a celebration on the first day of spring.

Our school is lucky enough to be the place of a pretty sacred indigenous sit in Otavalo. If you take a path behind the school for 3-4 minutes, you will find yourself at a small waterfall next to a river that is used by the native Ecuadorians for ceremonial purposes. This year, on the first day of spring, our 5th grade class participated in a traditional Pawkar Raymi ceremony. The young girls and one boy preformed a dance for Pawkar Raymi and the students, teachers, and families participated in the tradition of sharing of food.

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A large white sheet was laid across the ground and every person at the ceremony came forward to throw a bowl of food down onto the sheet. Mainly potatoes, corn, beans, and a bit of chicken. Food was placed until no more could fit. It was all mixed together and re-passed out. Anything that could hold food was being eaten off of. Plastic bags, old tupperware, and mugs. There was more than enough food to go around.

To my knowledge, this was the second Raymi celebration our school has hosted this year and I think it has become one of our new traditions. The students had a ball and it was refreshing to see them dedicated to somethings within the school. They truly felt represented this week and that can do wonders for a student’s sense of pride in their culture, the school, and their education.

Healthy Eating, English Lessons, and some Awful Cake

One of the parts of working in an Ecuadorian classroom that has been difficult for me is the strict curriculum. Each student has a textbook (full of mistakes, might I add) and the teachers have to stick to it. We have to have a specific number of grades and assignments recorded for each semester, we have specific projects we have to complete, and the government even tells us which weeks we are allowed to give tests and quizzes. Personally, these are decisions I would like to make rather than the government. The government doesn’t know my students specific needs. It makes it extremely difficult for students who do have specific needs, which happens to be the majority of my students.

But anyway, this unit of the English textbook for grade 9 says that we need to teach about food vocabulary, and how to talk about healthy eating. It is not the worst unit, but there are so many other things I can think to teach that would be more useful.

In the past two weeks my students have studies the names of different foods, practiced speaking about meals and meal times, and then this week it was time for that project… In groups of four, my 9th graders had to find a healthy cake recipe, make it, and present the recipe and process to the class.

They all showed up on Monday morning with their cake in one hand and recipe in the other completely read to explain what they had made the night before. As the teacher, I was pretty excited. I was going to try all five of the cakes my students brought in! Sounds like a pretty good day to me, eating cake and grading presentations. Nothing could go wrong! 

Except for the fact that four 9th graders had to translate a “healthy” cake recipe. I really should have thought what could go right? A “healthy cake” is probably gross to begin with. Then add a bit of language confusion and a pinch of 14 year olds.

Let me tell you. Those cakes tasted more like horse food than they did cake. If their cakes were being graded on taste rather than effort they all would have failed. But I’m not that mean. Let’s get real though, whatever you were trying to translate probably wasn’t “apple juice”.

The idea of eating 5 pieces of cake immediately turned from a nice treat to a chore. I was shoving chunks that were visibly uncooked into my pockets and trying to hide my face from the chefs. I learned a lesson this week. Always check the translation before they go home to cook.

Drunk Students and Other Shenanigans

This would probably be a fun title if I was talking about my senior year of college, but I’m not. I’m talking about my eighth graders.


 

The majority of the students at the school I am teaching at come from less than ideal home situations. Almost all of my students are in extreme poverty and come from single parent households. I have 15 year old students who live on their own. I have one eighth grader who told me here mom is 22 years old. I have a 15 year old student who has a 2 year old son. And I currently am teaching a pregnant eighth grader. To say that some days I go to school and am appalled at the things I hear and see would be an understatement.

In the schools I’ve been in back in the United States most students have some type of goals they are working toward, whether it is college, the military, or even simply not being grounded by their parents in their near future. These goals form a type of respect in the school system. Students know that acting up in class will have a negative effect in their life. There universities will get notice that they got suspended or, if they aren’t aiming for college, they know there will be a type of punishment when they get home. Students tend to have a respect for the school, the teachers, their peers (for the most part, I know we are still talking about teenagers here).

As much as this school tries, any type of punishment here is highly difficult. My students are not planning on going to college, they don’t have any type of stable household that notices their misbehavior at school, and they only show up to school for the free breakfast and to see their friends.

When I first arrived and saw students messing around with no punishments I was shocked. Why aren’t the teachers doing anything, that student just hit you with a water balloon? How can the director just let this happen? I was told by one of the more season teachers at the school that she watches all the new teachers come in and feel like they can help, but after a while they realize that nothing is to be done. So they just let it go.

These students don’t have the same type of respect for the school and the people in it as the students in the United States do because they do not have these major goals. If they get sent to the director’s office their life will not change in any type of way. What type of punishment can I give to a student who truthfully doesn’t care? Nothing seems to be getting through and that makes my job extremely difficult.

Students come to class without their textbooks fifty percent of the time. Between 3 and 6 students out of classes of thirty complete their homework each day. They run around, scream, pop balloons, and play games while people are teaching. Students don’t work during class time and think it is a joke if a teacher actually confront them about their actions. We are getting to the point where three of the eighth graders this week were openly getting drunk in class and the teacher didn’t notice until the boy physically passed out and had to be carried off by four of his classmates.

How are these students supposed to value their education if they are in a class where a teacher cannot pay enough attention to even tell when they are drunk? When the teachers don’t care if they pass or fail because they just pick the best grades of the semester to record and show the administrators? When the teachers don’t push them to do their best? Or when the teachers feel that it is impossible to make any kind of change in the school?

This week I was frustrated with my students. They were late to class, they were passing notes to their friends instead of listening, they were having water fights in the bathroom, and they were getting drunk on school property. But honestly, should I be mad at them or should I mad at the teachers that sit there and watch without moving a muscle?

I am only at this school for three months. It is very difficult for me to make changes in three short months. But some of these teachers have been here for years and just let it slide. They talk about the terrible education system this country has and how they want change but instead of doing anything I sit at their desks and knit while their students keep on with the shenanigans.

I have learned a lot about education in the past years. I have been show what good teachers look like and I have been given opportunity to know exactly how to act in a classroom and I have learned by people who have set good examples for me. But sometimes seeing the opposite is the best learning experience you can ever receive. I now know exactly what it looks like to give up hope on an education system, on a school, and even on the students and it is heartbreaking.

Speaking Practice and Presentations

It is a shame to say that none of my students have been given the opportunity to take English classes at school for the past two years because they did not have an English teacher for any of the grades. This week I learned that a few years back the government decided learning English in public school wasn’t necessary. They changed the language requirement from English to Quechua. A few years passed where only Quechua was being taught, but this past years the requirement has changed once again. Now both English and Quechua must be taught in public schools.

It makes it difficult for the teachers because not only are the students struggling to make sense of three languages, but we have to fit another class in their short school day (7:30 am- 12:50 pm). With the short school days, the core classes, Quechua, and Physical Education classes many of the students only receive one or two hours of English a week.

This has been a struggle for me as an educator. What types of lessons can I do with these students that I only see for an hour a week? How is it possible for them to remember any of information when there is 7 days between each class? How can I teach anything when each class I have to review the same information?

Luckily, the majority of the classes I teach are 8th– 10th grade and I am given 3-4 hours each week with them. Personally, I still do not believe this is nearly enough to learn a language, but it is all they can give me so I will take it.

Because my students haven’t had English class in two years I am starting from scratch. I’ve notice I have to review phrases like “what is your name?” and “good afternoon” each week along with teaching vocabulary and grammar. It is difficult to explain grammar in English when they struggle to even answer the question “How are you?”

This past week I decided we were going to practice speaking skills in each of my classes. From what I can tell, these students have never been given the opportunity to speak in English. They have been lectured at and told to do book work out of their government issued English textbook. The look on their faces when I told them this week was speaking skill was complete and utter fear. But I can say that after all of their practice, each student went up to the front of the class and presented a mini project to their peers. They did wonderfully and their confidence with speaking grew exponentially.

Here is our mini project.

Let’s Chat: Mini- Skit

Date: 2-11-2017

Teacher: Emily Drew
School: Unidad Educativa Ulpiano de la Torre
Class: English
Grade 8-10Time: 90 minutes
Equipment Used: Textbook for reference, paper, pencil
Specific Objective:

–        I can greet others in English using the phrases “Hello”, “Hi”, “Good morning”, and “Good afternoon”.

–        I can ask “What is your name?” and I can tell others my name using the “my name is…” format.

–        I can ask and respond to the question “how are you?”

–        I can write at least three sentence about myself.

Time Description
3 minutes Description: Today we will focus on speaking activities. You have the opportunity to practice talking with a partner using all of the vocabulary and phrases we have practiced so far this year. First we will begin by reviewing common greetings in English and writing three sentences out ourselves. When we have finished you will have ten to fifteen minutes to review you sentence and practice speaking with a partner before presenting to the class.
20 minutes Information:

1.     Greeting

2.     Name

3.     “How are you?”

4.     Facts about yourself

5.     “Thank you, Good Bye”

–        Students will copy the five bullet points into their notebooks to have with them while they present.

–        As a class, we will review the proper “greetings”. They will write down as many different greeting into their notebooks as they can come up with.

–        As a class, we will review the proper way to ask someone their name and the proper response to the question.

–        As a class, we will review the proper way to ask someone how they are and all of the possible responses. For example “I am fine”, “I am great”, “Excellent, thank you?”

–        As a class, we will discuss the format of the three sentence they will write about themselves. For this section, each class will use a different format or topics depending on their level and what we have discussed in the classes prior.

–        As a class, we review the phrases “thank you” and “goodbye”

*** Student will practice pronunciation of all of these phrases in a call and repeat format before working on writing their sentences.

10 minutes Writing:

8th grade:

–        1 sentence about their favorite holiday.

–        1 sentence about their favorite movie.

–        1 sentence about their favorite hobby.

Example:

My favorite holiday is __________.

My favorite movie is ___________.

I like to _____________________.

9th grade:

–        1 superlative sentence

–        1 comparative sentence

–        1 sentence about a hobby.

Example:

I am taller than Jim.

I am the tallest in the class.

I enjoying running after school.

10th grade:

–        1 sentence using “should”

–        1 sentence using “must”

–        1 sentence using “have to”

Example:

I have to cook dinner tonight.

I should cook chicken.

I must wash the dishes when I am finished.

15 minutes Partner:

–        Students will review their partner’s sentences to check for any errors. If there is a grammar or spelling error they will work together to figure out the proper English format of the sentence.

–        Students will practice all five steps of the mini-skit.

Example:

–        “Hello”

–        “Hi. What is your name?”

–        “My name is Jim. What is your name?”

–        “My name is Bill. How are you?”

–        “I am excellent. How are you?”

–        “Fine, thank you. Tell me about yourself.”

–        Reads sentences… “Tell me about yourself.”

–        Reads sentences… “Thank you.”

–        “Thank you. Good bye.”

30 minutes Presentation:

–        Pairs of students will present their skits in front of the class.

*** Students may bring up their notebook to read their sentences (step 4), but may not read directly from steps 1, 2, 3, and 5 in their notebooks.

5 minutes Review:

–        As a class, review the pronunciation of greetings and phrases used in steps 1, 2, 3, and 5 in the call and repeat format.

Varies

(If time allows)

Review Game:

–        Telephone

–      Students form a large circle around the class.

–      Teacher whispers one of the sentence from part 4 to the student to his/her left. Students continue by whispering the same sentence. Last student stands and repeats the phrase to the class to see if the pronunciation is still correct after it went through all of the students.

First Impressions

I am very aware that the schools I went to growing up were not normal. I lived a life of luxury before I even knew it. Each one of the schools I attended had highly educated teachers, they were equipped with books and computers and pencils and paper, they were clean, and they were safe. At the time I thought everyone was having the same experiences as me in regards to my education. When I began volunteering in other schools in Michigan I realized that even in my home state there are many schools who don’t have technology, or proper books, and worry about funding for supplies. There are many students in Michigan, not even an hour from my state of the art high school, who have completely different educational experiences than my own. Yet, when I enter these classrooms I still know how to act because there are still aspects of these institutions that are similar to my own.

Now, I am working in a small school in Otavalo, Ecuador and there are more difference than similarities that I see between this school and the school I attended.

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On my first day I arrived with a group of other teachers. My first sight was a large cement square with chipped paint and a one small gate where a man in jeans and an old t-shirt stood making sure only teacher and students were entering. In side of these four large cement walls were a grouping of small cement classroom and a chipped and cracked cement soccer field in the center with one metal goal at each end. That was it. I am not sure what I had expected for this school, but I can say what greeted me on my first day was not it.

There were 400 students between the age of 5 and 14 who were running around in their uniforms waiting for the teachers to enter the classrooms and start their days. The director took me to each classroom to present their new teacher to each of the students. 10th grade, one of the grades I would be teaching was first. I walked into an almost completely empty room. There were 30 students each with a bright blue desk caked in dirt, an empty teacher’s desk with cracks in it, one white board with no markers or erasers, and one filing cabinet in the back of the room. There are only windows for lights and the walls were painted white, but again caked in dirt. As I proceeded to the next ten or so classrooms I realized that the first room I was in was one of the newest and cleanest in the entire school. Only the classroom for children under 4th grade have any type of materials or decorations in them and every class I entered seemed to be a little dirtier.

The bathrooms are in a separate building and there is a communal sink for washing their hands outside. The school does not provide toilet paper or even soap for the student when they need to use the restrooms. At first I didn’t think there was any type of playground for the student expect the open cement area that the classes surround, but a kind teacher enlightened me and showed me their playground. It was one metal slide with a large hole at the bottom (that would ripe any clothing if a child were to slide down it) nestled into a 10 foot by 10 foot dirt area.

Finally I was lead out of a large cement walls and to the first grade class. It was the first time I had even seen any grass at the school. But as I walked through the grass I noticed it was covered in litter and papers and large cement chunks that had probably landed there when the classroom was build and had never been moved. Yet, there were children running around and playing. To say it was hazardous would be an understatement. I also learned that if you are older than 4th grade you are prohibited to enter this part of the school ground, meaning that 5th through 10th grade only have a cement soccer field and a rusty slide to use during recess.

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I was shocked to say the least but I was determined to keep an open mind about the school, the teachers, and the systems they use. Gladly, I can say that in the few weeks that I have been at the school there have been incredible changes. There is now a new assistance director, we had a “clean the classrooms” day, and three separate classes are creating gardens behind their rooms.  So much has happened in just a few weeks and I’m very interested to see how the school is going to grow in the next 3 months.

 

And So It Begins….

I always imagined that when I decided to spend time in Ecuador I would be living in the capital city, Quito. I have spent years doing research here and there to learn about what Quito is like. What is the city like, what are the people like, what is the culture? But this past week I received an email saying that there is a school in Otavalo (about 2 hours north of Quito) that really needs an English teacher. Even though I usually am a “Let’s stick to the plan” kind of girl, I thought it was more important to give students a teacher than to worry about where I will be spending the next few months.

So the plans changed.

Now, I will be staying in Otavalo, Ecuador.  Otavalo is a small city tucked away in the Andes Mountains which inhabits around 90,000 people, many of which are indigenous people. Otavalo is famous for its outdoor market, el mercado, which forms every Saturday in town. I have heard that you can find pretty much anything at these markets. From cloth to live stock, to jewelry, to Guinea Pig on a stick. It would be an understatement to say that I am excited to see this market. Even when I thought I was going to be staying in Quito, seeing the market was at the top of my list.

Recently, I have given information about the school I will be working with. There are around 400 students and teaches 1st through 10th grade. I was told there is a bit of flexibility with the age of students that I will be working with. I am extremely excited to have the opportunity to experience more than one age group because, let’s be honest, I don’t actually know what grade I want to teach in the future. The first few weeks I am there, I will be working alongside a teacher to learn a little about the students, the school, the teachers, and the culture. After a week or so I will have the opportunity to take over a few classes of my own. In preparation for that, I have started creating a few lesson plans and activities for the students, but I will not be making anything extensive until I learn a little more about my students. Once I am living in Ecuador and finishing up my lesson plans I will be posting them under the “Teaching” section of the blog, if you are interested in looking at those.

My host mother will be one of the teachers from the school I will be working with. Not only is this a wonderful resource to have as a future educator, but it will also be great to have someone to walk/ride to school with and someone to help me assimilate to the Ecuadorian culture. The fact that I know my host mom and I already have things in common is very reassuring. I am excited to meet her and her family and to see what the beautiful city of Otavalo has in store for me.

Only 25 days now until the Adventure of a lifetime begins.