Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Smiley motivation

A little about classes and conversation.....

Each week I see eight different classes - grades 3, 4, 5, 6, 8, 9, 10, and 11. Some I see twice a week, some three times. I have just over 90 students (learning their names is turning out to be quite a task given that I've never heard of the majority of them!). Every student is a joy! Their smiles and willingness to try motivate me to be the best teacher I can be for them in the short time I am here. In a couple of months some may not be so eager to please me once the novelty of my being here wears off, but for now, every student is working very hard. Some of the boys in the 8th, 9th, and 10th grade classes didn't have their books the first day or two that I was in the classroom. I pointed to them at the end of class and told them to bring their books to class next time! I asked them how they expect to participate in class or learn without their books - they've brought their books and had their homework done.....mostly.....since that day.

Class is not long enough. The press of time is just as strong here in English class as it was in PA in my Spanish classes. Forty-five minutes is just not enough to cover everything as thoroughly as I would like. My fellow-teachers that I team-teach with (Liga and Tea) feel the same way. We'll be in the middle of something in class, and the bell will ring for class to end! We look at each other and wonder how in world class can already be over! Learning a language is hard work and getting the hang of using new words and grammar structures doesn't happen without lots and lots of practice. And the students are still getting used to my American accent. They understand Liga and Tea when they speak English, because they both have a Georgian-English accent. But when I speak, even though I speak - painfully - slowly - and - make - a - distinction - between - each - word, they still have a hard time getting what I am saying. I keep encouraging them to keep listening and keep trying - with time they will understand me!

I also feel that the students don't have enough time to talk in class. There is grammar to cover, vocabulary to explain and translate, exercises to write to check understanding and comprehension, and lots of questions to answer. Most of the students need much more practice speaking. In class they lack the confidence to try using the skills they have been learning. So, I decided to try an idea that I heard a couple of other TLG teachers talk about - having an English conversation club after school. Tuesdays and Thursdays from 3-3:45 any student who wants, meets with me in a large classroom to have conversation. My only stipulations are: no books, no notes, and no Georgian! (although they like teaching me new Georgian words, and I certainly need the help!) Today we had our first conversation time. It was great! Around 20 students gathered in the classroom with me and we just talked. I asked them all their names - again - and I think I finally have them down! (20 down, 70 to go!) I asked them who their friends are and what they like to do, and they asked me the same questions. They opened up and everyone joined into the conversation. Only a couple of times did we run up against something that we couldn't understand from one another. In those cases we just shrugged and laughed! Hopefully they will learn that it is okay to make mistakes and possibly not understand something - the important thing is to try! I am confident that this free conversation time will make a world of difference in each of the students' abilities not only to come up with something to say, but also to be able to answer a question and keep a conversation flowing. That skill is one of the most difficult to develop in a new language. They have an eagerness to communicate that drives them to work out their thoughts, and with each other's help, they usually arrive at the right words to use .....not always in the right order, but that's okay! It will come! I think that this conversation time is going to become one of my favorite parts of teaching here.

When we were done with our time together today, the students thanked me over and over again. Beautiful smiles on their faces, joy overflowing from their hearts - they are wonderful people!

A couple of side-notes from other observations today:

Our laundry detergent's brand-name is "Barf" - something I find doubly funny since there is no "f" in the Georgian language.....maybe it's imported from Russia? I'll have to look at the box and see if I can figure that out!

The phrase "til the cows come home" is a real time. They come home every day between 4:30 and 5 p.m. -- In Shamgona, that's rush hour!

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