Tuesday, 17 February 2009

A Good Day

Our youngest students tackling lettering on the computersToday was a very successful day for me at SISP.

The most trying part of any day is the after-school tuition when kids from other schools come to SISP for help with homework or classwork. These are generally kids who have made the grade to leave SISP and get into mainstream schools, but need extra support in the evenings to keep them at the schools. I have been helping with the youngest, with English and Computing, and they have been driving me round the bend! The problem is the way they are taught - like parrots. Given the right prompt they regurgitate their texts verbatim. Ask them something slightly different and they haven't a clue. For example they are taught "computer inputs are keyboard and mouse". Ask them "what are computer inputs?" and they will respond "computer inputs are keyboard and mouse". Ask them "what are the inputs to computers?" and they haven't a clue, nor do they understand what "input" means. They are not taught to think or question or understand. The trouble is, the teachers at their schools expect the verbatim answers so teaching the kids to think differently just results in low marks.

I tried to make one of the youngest Tuition Children think about the subject, not just learn by rote.  The other day he showed me his exercise book - he'd had a test and got zero out of twenty five, mainly because he hadn't tackled the questions, probably because he hadn't understood the language, and mostly because I had stopped him learning like a parrot but hadn't had enough time to make him understand the subject.  The worst part was that the teacher had put the comment "V.V.V.V.V.V.V.Bad". A teacher who does that deserves sacking in my opinion. I also suspect that the teacher doesn't really understand the subject himself/herself. Anyway... I can't handle this way of teaching, and my methods probably have a negative effect on the children I'm trying to help.

So, instead of working with the little ones, this week I chose to work with four older boys, all around 13-14 years. Yesterday we did English comprehension and it worked well. They chat with one another which is great because as soon as one understands something he will explain it to the others in Malayalam. Not only do they all learn, but the one explaining it reinforces his learning by the act of explaining. Today it was maths and by the end of the session they all understood something new. We were dealing with fractions divided by fractions, and fractions raised to powers, including negative powers. It was great to share their realisation that a fraction is actually just one number (or fraction) divided by another. They originally could do 14 divided by 7, but didn't realise that 14 over 7 was the same thing! I went over and over it and by the end they all understood and consistently got the correct answers. Very satisfying!

What else? Well, earlier today I met with the head teacher and the two teachers who had been filling in with computing lessons to discuss the computing classes. I expected that they were not satisfied with my methods but in fact it was the reverse. They said it was great to see staff members actually keen to come and get tuition from me! They had been teaching the theory with all the jargon, while I tend to give the staff and students tasks and to show them how to resolve any problems as they arise. They might not understand "cut and paste" but they do understand what CTRL-C followed by CTRL-V does. The jargon can come later. It's meaningless without context anyway.

I was also able to show my ideas for future lessons and I think they were impressed! I'm trying to use the computers to consolidate learning in other subjects. For example, if the kids are learning a poem I can give them jumbled up lines for them to reassemble in the correct order. If they are learning a conversation then they can place the correct questions and responses together. They also need to realise that the first thing two strangers ask one another is not "how old are you?"! i.e. they need to understand how conversations progress. And I can get children to explore graphs of average daily temperatures throughout the year using MS Excel to consolidate Geography lessons, and so on. The other teachers are deferring to me now and I like the responsibility.

Then there were a couple of successful lessons with the kids and, because we have two Belgian volunteers here, I didn't have to rush from one class to the next. It meant I could sit down to review the successes or failures of the lessons. I actually enjoyed today!

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