Saturday, March 31, 2012

Maswali? (Questions? in Swahili)

So I want to make sure I have plenty of things to write about in the future and want your input!  What questions do you have about Africa that I can try to answer?  Let me know and I'll try to answer them in a future blog post!

Teaching One vs. Many

The schools here, and in Zimbabwe which is the curriculum I’m using, start their school year in January.  In Zimbabwe, first term goes for 12 weeks and then they get the month of April off.  Then second term goes from May to July and they get August off.  Then the third and final term goes from September to November with the month of December off and it is the end of the school year.

In Tanzania, they go from January to May for first term and get June off.  Then they go from July to November for second term and get December off which is the end of the school year.

I have officially finished teaching the first term with my student this week.  As a result, I find myself looking back and thinking about how different it is to teach one student after spending the last five years teaching from 20-120 students. 

One thing is, I have the time and availability to make sure he has mastered a concept before we move on.  For example, he was struggling to understand rounding, so we spent an extra day on it than what I had planned and he is now able to round like a pro :)  With my classes back in the state, I am more likely just to expose the students to the concepts than actually aim for mastery.  We would spend too much time on each subject and I would have some students who mastered the information quickly and would be bored if we spent too long on the topic.  For most cases, I try to get close to mastery for most of them and then we have to move on.

Another thing is the parent support is fantastic when you only have one student.  It also helps, I suppose, that the parents are missionaries.  But even if they weren’t, it’s much easier to discuss problems as they occur with a student rather than having to schedule a conference when we’re all available and then sit down and discuss it and have them support their child’s behavior instead of my opinions about his behavior.  I still find myself a little nervous when I give out a consequence to my student that he’ll go home and tell his parents about it and I’ll get a call or we’ll sit and discuss it and what they think I should have done instead.  That has yet to happen here and I don’t think it actually will, but that’s what I’m used to with my classes in the States.  It also helps that I spend a lot of time with the family as a whole so I can see how they discipline my student when he’s not behaving and I can follow their example in my classroom.  When I babysit, I would much rather watch kids when I’ve spent a lot of time with the entire family and know what is already expected of the child and how consequences are given.

A final thing I’ll point out about how teaching one is very different from teaching many (I could go on, but don’t want this post to be too long…) is that I put a lot more effort and time into preparing my lessons than I used to in the states.  Part of that might be because Internet availability isn’t the same as it is in the States.  Another is it’s more motivating to make worksheets from scratch when I know the student will do them.  In the States, a lot of kids don’t do the homework assigned to them and it feels like a waste of time to make fantastic worksheets that prove they’ve mastered the skill when the worksheet won’t get done.  But I hope my efforts while I’m here are making a new habit for me that will carry over in the states.  I’ve seen how important a well-thought-out worksheet or lesson can be.  I may still beg, borrow, and steal from the Internet, but perhaps I’ll put more effort into putting together the perfect lessons instead of just stealing and using one lesson without really looking at it to make sure it’s what I want my students to complete.

All in all, it’s been a good learning experience for me and there are a lot of aspects of teaching one that I’ll be able to transfer into teaching many.  Also, there are some activities that I used to do with my students but didn’t understand why I did them that I’ve done while I’m here.  Doing them with one student has let me see what the advantages are of these activities. For example, I always read a book out loud to my students but never really thought about why.  I’ve done the same thing with my student here and it has sparked a strong interest and desire in reading with him that was not present before I came.  It helped me see that by reading aloud an interesting and attention-grabbing story, I can spark interest in my students for reading other things on their own.

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Sunday School Seminar

I should have written sooner, but I got busy and the memory got put on the back burner. But now that I’m trying  to be more consistent in writing blog posts, I’m revisiting the memory for my readers. :)

Back at the beginning of February I held a seminar for the Sunday School teachers for the seven churches that have been started by Team Expansion.  I had brought flannel graph stories for each church to use when teaching on Sundays.  The youth in my church had also packaged and sent supplies like crayons and pens for them to use with the kids.  We also decided to the teachers the school supplies the youth had sent over and they could distribute the supplies to their students on Sundays. 

As a part of this seminar, I tried to give an encouraging and motivating talk.  I spent about two weeks writing the talk, and then trying my best to translate it into Swahili.  Then I had Mavuto check over my translation and he fixed all my mistakes.

When Saturday came, I gave my talk and actually spoke too fast.  They are the type of people who take notes as they listen, but their notes were more copying every word I said so I spoke too fast for them to write everything down.  We solved that problem by printing copies of my speech for all of them.  Then we handed out the supplies which they were all very thankful for.  We followed that with some practice with the flannel graph stories.  Several of the teachers got up and told a Bible story using the pieces.  It was good for all of them to see what’s an interesting way to use the pieces and ways that are not as attention-grabbing.  Then we had lunch which was a big hit because I sprung for meat AND sodas.  For most of them, that was their favorite part.

Since the seminar, I’ve had a chance to visit many of the churches and been able to witness the teachers handing out the supplies.  Most of them decided to hand out the supplies piece by piece rather than as a whole pack like we had put them together.  They gave out the supplies as the students answered questions about the Bible story correctly, which I thought was a great idea.  I’ve also been able to watch them teach using the flannel graphs and witnessed the children paying attention really well since they have visuals to look at.

Overall, it was a good experience.  Joyce and I were talking recently that if I had given my seminar later, it might have been even better because my Swahili has improved as has my confidence to try to speak it.   But we did it early because we wanted the kids and teachers to get the supplies I had brought so they could start using them effectively and so they would be encouraged to prepare interesting and fun lessons for the kids.

Saturday, March 17, 2012

English Lessons

Don't worry...I'm not getting English lessons...I'm giving them :)

I’ve always had a little problem.  Even when I was in the States, I had a hard time saying no.  That has  never been more apparent than with my English class here in Masasi.  Almost as soon as I got here, several (four at this point) girls mentioned their desire to learn English.  Since I have to happy combination of being an English speaker and a teacher, I said I would start having 2 lessons a week starting in February.  That way I had time to settle in with my lessons with Nathanael and get used to day-to-day life in Masasi.  We started lessons on the first Thursday of February and things were going well.  They made me feel like a very good teacher and even asked if we could increase to 3 lessons a week.  I agreed (remember I have a hard time saying no?) and I aslo made each lesson longer.  Soon word got to a few other people and I gained a few more students.  Now I have the potential of having 9 students.  Thankfully, so far they haven’t all come at the same time.  I don’t have enough chairs for all of them for one thing. 

We now meet every Tuesday, Thursday, and Saturday and I try to do a little bit of vocabulary and some verb constuction with them during each lesson.  They say I’m a great teacher, but I often feel like I’m not knowledgeable enough about the best way to teach them what they need to know in order to start speaking and understanding my natural language.  I’ve been using my Swahili lessons to help figure out an order for my teaching but I still do not have confidence.  I’ve never taught English as a foreign language and I still don’t know that I’m doing a good enough job at it.  If anyone has resources or a suggested scope and sequence, it would be appreciated!

On another note, as a result of the English lessons, my ability to speak Swahili is increasing.  Because I can’t explain the English language in English, I’m forced to try to find ways of explaining it in Swahili.  Also, because we are all learning a new language, I find myself with more courage to try to speak the language even if I get it wrong.  They’re in the same boat, so they won’t laugh or make fun of me if I get things wrong.  That helps me feel open to trying my best and accepting their help when I fail.  Also, I’ve always found that when I teach something to someone, I have a better understanding of the content as well.  By teaching English, I’m having to look at the Swahili lessons I’ve already completed again and use them to teach the English.  This refreshes my memory of the Swahili so I can use it more and more in my every day conversations.

All in all, even though I struggle to say no when people ask me to do things, or ask to be included in English lessons, the experience has been a good one for all involved…I hope. 

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

My first present! And some other thoughts about the African culture

I promised all of you a post about culture differences, and now a month later, I’m back to try to explain some of the differences I’ve noticed.  The first thing is that most of the women, especially in the villages and more remote areas, wear skirts or dresses rather than pants.  Another thing is that no one knocks when they are visitng a house.  They yell out, “Hodi!”  and to welcome them, you say, “Karibu.”  I’m sure when I get back to the states, I will have to remind myself to ring the doorbell instead of just shouting out.  Another thing I’ve noticed as I’ve gone and visited different families and had meals at their houses, is that they’ve asked to share a meal with you, but they usually leave you to eat it without them.  I have not actually eaten with a family I’m visiting.  They serve us the food and then they either watch us eat or spend the time in the kitchen cleaning up.  Also, when you shake someone’s hand or give them something, you always do it with the right hand and grab your elbow with your left hand.

Another thing that would be unusual in the States is that cars are not normal transportation.  Most people either walk or ride their bicycles.  This makes sense because most of them can’t afford a car.  But the unusual thing is that they are willing to walk long distances to get where they want to go. If we couldn’t afford cars in the states, we would stay very close to home.  The people here are willing to walk a few hours to reach their destination.

As far as the food goes, there’s less variety than in the states.  I usually eat rice for at least one meal sometimes with beans and a vegetable similar to collard greens.  Most of the time we have meat (chicken is the most often meat served) when we’re at home and sometimes when we’re out visitng people.  Meat is not a normal part of most villagers’ meals. 

I’ve gotten a few gifts from families that I have visited.  The first gift was several eggs.  The next was a live chicken.  As you can tell, the gifts are more practical but also more valuable.  The chicken that I took home might have fed the family a special meal or provided numerous eggs for breakfasts.  Instead, I will enjoy eating the chicken with the missionary family here for one meal.  Of course, I didn’t kill or prepare the chicken.  We had the guard of the compound take care of that for me.  I carried the chicken home and that was as far as I was willing to go with handling my present :)

The final thing I’ll mention about culture involves the culture of the churches I’ve visited here.  The first thing you notice is that women sit on one side and men on the other.  They also don’t usually have a worship leader standing up front  as we sing worship songs.  They are standing in the audience with the other church members.  More than just the person who chose songs for the week can start songs too.  They just start singing and sing the chorus and then everybody repeats the chorus.   Then the person who started the song sings a verse or the chorus again depending on the song and we repeat the chorus.  There’s not very many instruments unless the church has raised money to buy a generator and keyboard (which only 3 churches have done).  They have a drum and perhaps some homemade percussion instruments.  Also, during worship songs, almost everybody is moving an dancing at least a little bit.  Some churches have more people dancing and are more energetic in their dancing.   

All in all, I’ve had a very good learning experience of  some typical African culture.  I don’t think I’ve offended anyone and I pray I continue that trend.