Pure Randomness!

Pure Randomness!

Saturday, December 19, 2009

The homework-sports week connection

Teaching in a school comes with its side effects also. While I am trying to improve the student achievement in class by what ever means, there are a few who are either apathetic to the efforts or just indifferent. When these are major stake holders in my effort, it is rather irritating.
Last week we had the sports week in our school. So the first half of the class we spent outside, students carried lemons which were rolling in spoons kept precariously in their mouths, falling all over the place with skipping ropes tangled around their feet and generally having fun. The students were having fun, I kept looking at my watch thinking when this is going to end so that, I can take them back to practicing writing stories looking random pictures and trying to make their imagination to run wild.
I have always had trouble in getting my students to do their homework. I have to keep inventing new new rewards for them to do it. Sometimes it is half of a Dairy Milk (only Rs.5) and sometimes taking home a jigsaw puzzle with Spider man sitting (or standing) on a wall with his various enemies beside him. The novelty runs out for each reward soon. Looking at the students having so much fun with sports, I decided to follow my fellow fellow who has kept staying out during the sports as a reward. So while giving out home work that day, I gave a dose of my warning also, I told my students to make sure that they finish their homework at home or otherwise they will have to sit inside the class and finish the home work while those who have finished are having fun outside.
Next day, more students than usual have finished all 3 home work. But still there is some left. So after assembly I packed them off to the classroom to finish the homework. I stayed with the students inside. Soon supervisor (our Hindi teacher) entered the class room to protest and protect my students right to be outside the class during sports week. She asked me whats the connection between homework and sports. I told her that it is up to us to make the connection. One by one my kids were finishing their home work and leaving the class. Supervisor went to Roshini ma'am (our main administrator and also Principal's daughter) and complained. Roshini ma'am called me and asked. I explained my stand and told her that there are 4 students left in class still to finish the home work and all the rest of them are on the ground. She sent me back telling it is ok.
Later towards the afternoon principal calls me and I go to her and sees that both supervisors are also there. Since Roshini ma'am verdict was not satisfactory, they have appealed to the High Court. High court verdict is in line with the supervisor's. Principal started shouting at me telling me that I have to follow rules of the school, I didn't bring the students from my home, they are first students of the school and then my students, the sports week is for students to be outside, I think that the students belong to me and that's not true, my fellow fellow also acts and thinks similarly, there is no connection between sports week and home work........ I did a series of "yes ma'am"s and "ok ma'am"s. In between when she said I cannot make any connection between homework and sports week, a "why ma'am" unknowingly came out of my mouth instead of the "yes ma'am" which was answered by a "because I say so" nonchalantly. I hate any one shouting at me (I wonder who doesn't), but this is one person I am gonna tolerate.
The damage was done for my kids. Now they were convinced that I am going to stick to my word and keep them in the class if they didn't do their homework. The facts that their Hindi miss talked to the principal and that principal has shouted at me and all are not known to my kids. So that day also I used the same reward for doing their home work. The next day the effect was seen with all but one finishing their homework at home.
Now that the sports week is over and dairy milks are not seen attractive any more, what will entice my students to do their homework?

Thursday, December 10, 2009


The need for experimenting comes when you are unhappy with something. I am totally unhappy with the way in which some of my kids behave. I don't blame them for the same, they know no better. But their behavior reduces the learning which happens in my class, for themselves and also for others, not to mention the evil it brings out in me sometimes.
Let me take the case of Kiran. Kiran is quite intelligent and reads at a speed of 105-115 words per minute, though he doesn't understand much of what he reads. His attention span is about 10 minutes. Sometimes there are things which take more than 10 minutes to teach. What it means to me is that I need to teach him separately for him to understand. It doesn't take much time for him to grasp the concepts when I teach him one to one, so it is ok. But when he is running around in class and pinching and slapping others, they get totally distracted and their learning goes for a toss.
What if Kiran is the one who is making sure that every one sits properly and they listen in class and that they don't come out of their place unnecessarily. The sense of justice and equality in my class is very high, so I cannot just one day make Kiran the class monitor. There needs to be a valid reason why he should be the class monitor and not any of the 12 others. So I take the opportunity of the declared semester results and give all the kids who have got I-III ranks a responsibility. I rank holder is absent, II rank holder becomes the board monitor. His responsibility is to make sure that the contents of the black board is up to date, the objectives in the agenda are ticked off after each period, the board and the duster are clean. Then III rank holder is the class monitor.
Kiran is very excited about being the class monitor. Immediately he starts correcting people in the way in which they are leaning on to the desk and sitting with their legs up and pressing on to the desk. He is listening to my teaching as well as checking on others. Instead of me telling every one to sit straight and listen he takes over the responsibility. Till almost the last period he survives. The major gain is for Kiran himself as he has forgotten to run around and pinch and slap. But by last period he has lost his concentration and starts talking to Umesh. I let him stay at the back of the class and still listen without checking on others.
Next day, he starts again in the morning properly, being a nice monitor. But this day, his concentration is going to go off earlier than yesterday. By end of the day he starts telling me that he doesn't want to be the monitor. The loss is mine, if I let him out of it. So the next day, I let the small little mouse in my class to become the monitor and this makes Kiran very jealous and he wants to be the monitor back.
But in 2 days he is tired and again and doesn't want to be monitor.
The experiment in its actual form has failed. But I can make him monitor every other day and take advantage of the improved calm and lack of pinching and slapping still.
Umesh gets restless and starts talking if he sits next to Kiran. But now I have made him sit next to the small little mouse everyday and he is calm and quiet and listens nicely. The first day he behaved so nice, I called his mother up and told her, how nice he has been in class. The single mother whose dreams are all based on Umesh was so happy that day, Umesh came and gave me a special hug next day morning.
Rahul went for his cousin's wedding for a week and came back with a special problem. Now his hands keep drumming on the desk all the time. For a minute after I tell him to stop drumming, he will stop drumming, but after 1 minute the drumming restarts. Making him stand away from desks, folding his hands etc have not yielded any results. After 2 minutes he goes back to drumming and I can totally see that he is not fully aware of the fact that he is drumming.
Any ideas for an experiment here? My experiments with drumming....

Friday, December 4, 2009

Semester exam results

Its again results time and this time it is much worse than the last unit test. I would believe that the kids have really improved in their comprehension of English, but still not enough to read the questions and understand enough to write the answers on their own. In the last unit test, I read out all the questions and explained it all to them. This time, the students were totally on their own. They had to first decode sounds and read the words. Then understand the meaning of the words and understand the meaning of the sentences out of it. For most who were just reading a few words and were not understanding even a single word of what they were reading this was no mean task.

I have removed the results of those subjects like Work Experience, PT etc which doesn't really matter much, but inflates my results unnecessarily.
Only 4 students have passed in all the subjects and not even a single one has gone beyond 60%. My Nanda almost reached there. My special child has failed in all the subjects. My dyslexic has failed in all but Hindi and Marathi. The results are so pathetic, I feel like crying.

My fellow teacher, after seeing the results told me, that I cannot experiment with the children like this. Meaning I cannot leave them with the questions for them to comprehend, but I need to read them out to them and explain to them for them to write the answers. On hindsight, I see the point too. As of now since they really cant fully read and comprehend the questions, by not reading out the questions and not explaining the questions to them, in all the subjects I am testing English reading comprehension, except Maths. Even in Maths there were a lot of word problems which most of the students didn't even attempt, since they just couldn't read them. Those who could read them, just couldn't understand them.

On the results day, most of the parents came over and picked up the results from me. Father of my smallest little mouse, who has failed in 3 subjects went to the Principal to complain that his son has failed. I had to explain to him, how the little mouse refused to write the exam and after writing 3 sums he was returning the Maths paper to me. I gave it back to him 3 times and made him do more and then more and then more. He just cannot concentrate in class, neither he can concentrate while writing the exam. When he manages to do that once in a while, he really understands what is being taught.

After looking at my special kid's results my Principal had already warned me that we need to tell her parents that she needs to repeat 4th standard. Since we didn't want to give it as a shock at the end of the year, Principal wanted to give the news during this result itself. When her mother met me and the Principal, Principal informed the mother about the need for her kid to repeat the class and the mother started crying. She started telling that her husband is going to beat them both up.

Surprisingly, the student who got just 4 marks in English in the last exam got the IInd rank this time. It shouldn't actually come to me as a surprise as I have seen some very surprising thing from him once. I have given the class a list of male and female gender to learn by heart. The idea was for them to read it there and go home and learn. After 5 minutes he tells me that he has finished learning. I asked him 10 random words and he answered me each of them correctly. His memory is amazing, but his behavior unmanageable.

Indeed, I cannot experiment with my kids. Though I am seeing that their English reading comprehension has improved double fold, I still cannot leave them alone in the battle field. Their big goal is to "Ace the scholarship exam". In the scholarship exam, all the questions are multiple choice questions. I have already talked to my school management about making my next question paper totally objective type and she has agreed to it. Wait till then and I am going to post much better results then.

Friday, November 13, 2009

Student investment

I have talked about my behavior management system in my class earlier. This one is about where that doesn't work.

The one area in which I am still struggling is behavior management. I have realised that their behavior is directly connected to how the students are invested in their studies. There was one student who was already invested when I started teaching them. I didn't have to do anything. But all the rest of them were not really bothered about why they were in school. For quite a few of my students it was a matter of just one session in which I asked them what they wanted to become in their life.

I don't think anyone else has ever asked that question to them or they have thought about it on their own (of course they are only 8-13 year olds). So one day they thought about it when I prompted them and also drew pictures of what they want to become. Half of them drew a big rocket, whose design pretty much looked the same and wanted to become a rocket man, which was later corrected to astronaut. There were other options also; doctor, teacher, engineer, army, navy. Of course my kids are not really exposed to a variety of professions, which is something I need to do sometime. Recently one more is added to this, an MBA, though I am pretty sure she doesn't understand what that means (again something which I need to do, indeed).

I have also told them they are smart enough (oh, they are) to become all these things. It is just a matter of working hard. "Work hard, get smart" is kind of a motto in our class. If I ask them now why they need to study, some of them even tell me that they need to become "something" in their lives. It is not that they all think about it all the time and bury their noses in their books. I need to remind them once in a while and thats enough for them to keep their focus.

Two of the brightest in my class (Kiran reads at 105 words per minute, Umesh can remember a whole page of masculine and feminine genders after reading it once for around 5 mins) are not invested at all. Kiran wants to become an engineer and Umesh wants to join the navy. But this is not really seen in their actions like I can see in my other kids. They are more interested in playing around. Once I asked Umesh after I have reprimanded him for disturbing the class he told me he wanted to become a 'mawwali'. I have no idea what that means and I don't want to know, but it doesn't sound good. He also told me that his mama is in police and so the police will not catch him. Kiran is hyperactive and will keep disturbing other kids by throwing pieces of eraser at them or just running around in class, poking the others. Of course it is not their mistake that they are not invested, it is just that I have not found the right strategy to invest them.

Any ideas?

Friday, October 30, 2009

Holistic Reflection

Random thoughts about the last 4 months of teaching.

Holistic reflection

I just cannot stop talking about John. During the Principal’s meet, when Rohini Ma’am talked about John, I realised the full impact. Last year John sat with her in her office most of the time as the teacher could not handle him and his violence on other students. Also he disturbed the class continuously making in impossible for her to teach. This year John seems to be a completely changed student and she has not received any complaints from any student or teacher about him. If I have made any big difference to any one, it is for John. When we started in June, it was very difficult for John to sit still, listen for more than 2-3 minutes and not to pass by another student without hitting or pushing him. I visited and talked to his parents, spent hours and hours after class talking to him. The bond we developed has worked wonders. He has changed his behaviour, he listens and responds in class, doesn’t initiate a fight, though he still responds violently when he is provoked. He also makes sure that I know that he is behaving nicely just for my sake. So there is still more work to do. Also I am hoping that by behaving nicely for me everyday, it becomes a habit for him.

I just could not connect to Kiran and Rahul the way in which I could connect to John. I have tried the same things I have done with John and many more, but I still have not found the things that can make them listen and stop disturbing the class and stop hurting others.

My school is a private school and this gives me a lot of autonomy in my operations. I can take the classes how ever I want as long as I finish the portion. I set my own question paper, which again helps me in putting the focus on developing the skills of the students rather than the content. The teachers in my school watch us TFI fellows from a little bit of a distance. They don’t interfere and they don’t get involved also. Consciously I have not put in any effort in getting them involved either. It is a pity that I really have not learned anything worthwhile from the teachers or the principal yet.

I have only 13 students in my class. In the beginning when I started teaching I found this very disheartening and thought I am being completely under utilised. But once I found out that my 13 students are at 13 different levels starting from late KG to early 2nd standard, I stopped complaining. With 13 students even if I have so much variation, I might be able to make a difference to each and every one of them. I have students who could read only 3 words when we started. Now they can read 120 words. I still do not know whether this jump of 3 to 120 in 4 months is good enough or not. The gap scares me a lot. The goal of making a 1.5 to 2 years jump for each kid, doesn’t. The fact that that jump will take them only till 2nd grade to 3rd grade, does.

My students are all coming from very low income background expectedly, looking at the level of the school. I have formed a picture of each family but I really do not have the picture of a community as such. There are no 2 students in my class who are coming from the same community.

One thing my students have taught me is patience or acting patient even when at heart I am not feeling too patient. May be that itself is patience as it might not be possible to act patient when you cannot control the urge to do something impatient. When I have asked a student what I should do when after the 120th time, after 4 months, she is still reading ‘how’ as ‘who’, she told me that I should just tell her that it is ‘how’.

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Writing Samples

When I was studying in 9th standard, we got a few teachers who were studying B.Ed to teach us as a part of their training. I had a teacher, Susan Titus, who used to share the English writing assignments with me. I used to help her correct or tabulate the marks. So I brought the papers home and read them. I was appalled at the standard at which quite a few of my class mates wrote. I shared the writings with my siblings and we had fun reading those. At the age of 13 I was not bothered about the educational inequity or the low standards of my classmates, though somewhere it still bothered me. After so many years, when I looked at how my students write, that's what came to my mind first.
Here are a few selected samples of writing from my students which I wanted to share.

From my special kid. She was able to read 2 words when we started our struggle together 3 months back. Today she reads 99 words from the 300 sight words which I am teaching my students. Writing comes after reading and she is struggling with it.

MY CLass
MY CLass our is Very beautiful and MY chut MatHs Gol

Look at the perfect spelling of 'beautiful'. I have used the word as a password which they to pronounce and spell before they can enter the class sometime back and made sure all students learn that.

From the 13 year old in my class. After struggling for the last 3 months, we have succeeded in writing words with space in between them.

My seafe
My Name is [xxxx] I am in Std IV. B. My school Name is [xxxx] Meb school is ver samll I aM 13 year old My Fared is in Ramase I vele group i vere becea Ramase oabesur. My Mother is in Plosel. My salasey is ver in Docasese. My 5

Now this is what I have been able to decode from the undecodable.
The passage is about Myself (My seafe). My father is in Army and when I grow up I will become an Army officer. I do not know how Army can be Ramase. But I think I know how officer can be oabesur. The rest of the passage is completely Latin to me.

From the smallest little mouse in my class.
My kitten
My kitten is very nice. I play whit My kitten. My kitten name is Jerry. I like My kitten. My kitten colour is white. My kitten eat foods. My kitten favourite furit is apple. My kitten is very small. My kitten play whit Frinds. My kitten Frinds My is Name Ram.

After one round of correction and some tips, he came up with this piece of art.
My kitten
My kitten is very nice. I play with my kitten. My kitten's name is Jerry. I like my kitten. My kitten's colour is white. My kitten eats food. My kitten's favourite fruit is apple. My kitten is very small. My kitten plays with friends. My kitten's friend's name is Ram. My kitten jumps off the bed. My kitten's house colour is yellow. My kitten drinks milk. He loves me. He does my homework. He packs my bag. When I go to school, he gives me tiffin box. He gives me umbrella. He eats my food. He gives me pencil and eraser. He plays cricket.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Teacher apathy!

We have all heard of teacher apathy. We think about it as the attitude of the teacher who is absent from class most of the time, coming to school only to collect the salary, or the teacher who comes to class, but is not bothered whether anybody is learning anything. I saw teacher apathy directly in front of me and it was a very disturbing experience.
During the Hindi/Marathi period, I spend my time correcting stuff or writing my lesson plans at a corner in front of the 10th standard which acts as the staff room. I almost always see that there is no teacher in the 10th standard and the students are making a lot of noise and not really up to anything good.
On this particular day I asked the student who walked out of the class which subject the period is supposed to be and she told me Science. I looked at the Science teacher who was sitting next to me. She started telling; "I never take the class in 10th std, they are all over smart and spoilt. Shouldn't they be asking me questions about the portion which I am teaching? They ask me anything and everything. I took one class and asked them what a compound is and what an element is. They didn't even know that. If they don't have the basics, what am I supposed to teach. I cannot teach everything from the beginning, can I? I am CONFIDENT that they all are going to fail. So, I don't teach them. If I teach them, when they fail, everyone will tell me, you have taught them and still they all failed. Now, I don't teach them at all, so no one can tell me that I have taught them and still they failed."
I sat there with my jaw dropped to the floor.
After a few minutes she said "Teaching is not an easy job at all, it is very critical". Then she turned to me and asked "Why even after being an engineer you are teaching in a school?"
Me: I like teaching.
Her: You don't want to do job?
Me: I have done another job all this while and now I want to teach.
Her: Oh! So you are just like me.

Friday, August 28, 2009

Laugh or cry!

Random incidents in my class which make me wonder whether to laugh or to cry.

I have taught my class phonics and we have phonics drill almost on a daily basis. When some of the kids are not responding well to these, I take them out seperately and do it individually. On one such occasion, I am trying to make the student read the word 'sit'.
I show her the flash card with 'sit' written on it and ask her to read. She just stares -> read -> silence -> ok, read the sounds -> 's' 'i' 't' (she says the correct sounds) -> great, now put them together and read the word -> she says 'its' -> hm, whats the first sound? -> 's' -> so whats the word? -> she says '...st' -> so what happens to the 'i' -> she says 'set' -> whats the sound of i -> her little finger suddenly goes up and she asks: didi, can I go to the toilet?

I have taught multiplication and I am making them apply that to real life problems. I give them a situation. Your mother is going to the market to buy rice. One kg rice costs Rs.25. She buys 5kg of rice. How much will she have to pay for the rice? Suddenly I got a doubt whether they understand what kg is. So I ask them what is kg. 2-3 hands go up. I ask one, he confidently says 'junior kg, senior kg'

This is when I have made the kids laugh (or cry). I have told the kids to immediately raise their hand if they dont understand any word which I say. Usually I will translate the word in Hindi when they do that. Once I have said the word mattress while teaching the new book on work experience. The lesson was about children helping their parents in keeping their houses clean and that children should fold the mattresses and keep them properly in the morning. Few hands went up to ask what a mattress is. With all my Hindi innocence I replied 'gadha' (गधा). Some started giggling when I also realised what I said actually means donkey. Then I explained what a mattress is used for and then they taught me that it is a 'gadda' (गद्दा).

Monday, August 24, 2009

Cruel Life?

The more and more I get into the details of my kids' lives, I realise how protected and pampered a life I am living. Remember my roll no. 12, whose house was a perfectly serene environment and I was still having trouble with his behaviour in class. Even behind that there are stories, which make me wonder whether his behavioural issues are connected to that. When I finished filling in his application for the scholarship exam and was handing it over to my school administrator, she asked what has he told me his father's name is. I read it out from the paper and she passed me the white ink to correct it to the one in the records. Of course I should have noticed that the name he gave me and his second name are different. She not being the gossipy type, just informed me matter of fact that his actual parents are divorced and his mom lives with the father I have met. Now this is not an extremely bad thing to happen, but I just hope that his issues are not springing from his mom's issues with his father which resulted in the divorce and what ever has happened later. He was sent back home this week for not paying the fees till now. I was happy to see the fees receipt in his hand and him back in my class. He is the one only one kid in my class who will sit and finish the math problem he was struggling with, sometimes taking additional help from me, before he opens his tiffin box during recess.

When visiting another student, I was pretty disturbed by what I saw on her foot. The left foot was disfigured with bones climbing on each other and the skin discoloured. Later while her mother was talking to me, she showed me the students snap when she was 4years old. Then the mother told me that the kid has gone under a truck a few days after that snap was taken, The leg was badly mutilated. She is still undergoing, at the age of 9, corrective surgeries and skin grafting. Her mother requested me to stop the school supervisor from harassing the kid for not wearing white shoes on PT day. She cannot wear the slim white shoes as her left foot doesn't fit in into it, or she will have to buy 2 pairs with one size bigger for the left foot.

The mother also showed me her son in the snap who was one year younger to my student, who fell from the staircase and died. I remembered thinking that the stairs were really steep while climbing them. Now she has a younger brother who is 1.5years old.

She attributed my student being behind in her studies to all these tragedies in her life. Then I told her that she should never think that her daughter is behind in her studies in anyway. She is the game master in my class and I have this poster on my wall, in which her name is permanently there. Though at the beginning of the year she could read only 7 words per minute, she is making 4 letter and 5 letter words out of bigger words like a pro in our games. She is one of those who have shown major improvement after getting individual attention. She has a black board painted on the wall of her one room house and 'mederma' written on it. She has told me that she has seen it on TV and that's what she will be using.

After one week in class I realised that a student who is repeating 4th standard is an above average student. During the parent-teacher meeting, I mentioned this to his mother. She told me that her husband passed away last year and she has a lot of trouble with her in-laws and they were shifting around a lot of places last year. This has actually affected the kids' studies. After a few seconds of silence she added that her husband has committed suicide and he has burnt himself in front of the kids.

Friday, August 14, 2009

Starchart, superstars and ADD

Managing the behaviours of 13 kids is not a big deal, so I thought. But it does indeed take a lot of strategies and positive reinforcement to keep them from hitting each other, from shouting out the answers, from slumping on the desk and day dreaming. So it starts with my class rules, which I introduced to my kids in the first week of school.

1. Listen to Didi

2. Speak in English

3. Raise your hand to speak

4. Be nice to all

This 4 covers more or less all my behaviour expectations from my kids.

We have a star chart in our class to track how the kids are fairing. If they follow the rules they get stars. Every day each kid starts with 3 green points. Then for each breaking of rule, they lose a green. If they lose all 3 greens, they start getting red points. They can also gain green points by doing something really nice. By end of the day who ever has 3 green points remaining, will get a silver star the next day morning. Those who have got red points cannot go out for recess the next day, they have to eat food in class and stay put.

Who ever gets the maximum number of stars in a week will become the superstar on next Monday. Superstar is an assistant to teacher and gets to distribute things, rub the board, clean the duster etc. Once anyone reaches 5 silver stars, they are traded for a golden star. Together with the star on their name, they will also get a golden star in their notebook. When they reach 5 golden stars they get a dairy milk. The teacher's assistant job is more alluring to them than the dairy milk ofcourse.

The moment a kid breaks a rule, my hand goes to the chart. It is so instantaneous, I dont need to tell it loud, I just need to look at the kid while doing it, the kid realises that a point is gone and why the point is gone. It has been instrumental in putting structure and order to my class so much. But there are exceptions.

There are 3 kids who never got any silver star till a week back. One kid got one silver star last week and we celebrated that nicely. But these 3 kids have real attention deficient problem and cannot be handled with the star chart. I am in search of how I can handle these 3 kids' behaviour issues and make them sit and listen to me. They are the brightest of the lot, but if only they could sit and listen. Any ideas?

Sunday, August 2, 2009

My first house visit - roll no 12

His butterfly!

There are various reasons why I selected his house as my first house visit. He is one of the 3 kids in my class who has ADD. I needed to find ways in which I can harness his energy and divert it towards his studies. Finding his background should give me some clue. His house is the closest to my school. He stays back after class for extra classes and I can walk down to his house with him.

I reached his house with him and waited for half an hour. His parents didnt turn up. I used the time to observe his house and talk to him and his younger sister. I left. Next day he came and told me that his mom was stuck up at the police station (she is a police constable at a shelter) and has told sorry, sorry, sorry and asked me to give my number so that she can call me. After the class was over his sister, who has taken an extra liking for me and is always at my duppatta end when I am taking my extra classes, also came to me and said, "momma thaid thorry, thorry, thorry".

The house is a 2 room house, one bedroom and a kitchen and then a bathroom. After the bed, a table with a TV on top and an almirah, there is just enough space to walk through. Everything is at its place and neat and clean. The kitchen is enough for one person to stand and do things.

The mom sat down with me while the dad went into the kitchen to make tea. I found the parents to be extremely informal and open. They think the kid has been retained in 4th standard since the dad has gone and fought with the administration for sending a note stuck to the kids shirt to remit the fees which was due, though they both told that the kid is weak. I told them that their kid is not weak and is the topper in class for Maths (though he still writes one hundred and one as 1001). He is also the best artist in my class. They beamed hearing this and then told me that dad has even now kept the progress card from his KG in which he has first rank in class. They agreed not to tell that he is weak anymore.

The best thing the mom told me was that, she doesn't have to go behind him every day evening asking him to study like she has done last year. This year he has started studying on his own and she will not have to ask him at all. He keeps telling her what his didi (thats me) has said in class, done in class, what games we have played in class. During the conversation how my being his class teacher is really helping him, dad told mom about me, the best thing is that she is a christian. Ohhh! he has asked me when we have met during the parent teacher meeting whether I am a south Indian and I have replied in the affirmative. So after a moments thought I corrected them and asked them that how does it matter if I am not a christian. Dad told me that it would have been even better if I were a christian. I was amused and I laughed. Now I am sure I am not overdoing it when I keep telling my kids that all people are equal, be it muslim, hindu, christian or parsi. But I do not know what is the impact on the kids when they get completely opposite messages from 2 quarters.

The hospitality was unbearable and embarassing. I wished at times that they were not this open with me. First tea (with a little extra sugar for my taste), then some namkeen (snacks), then baked peanuts in shell, after an hour again tea (sweeeet - in Pune tea is almost always sugar syrup for me). Every sentence they spoke was followed by an instruction for me to eat or drink. They were pretty upset that I refused to eat a meal with them. They have indicated that they will make biriyani (dad makes great biriyani) and call me. But for that they have to wait for her June salary to come (dad doesn't work, he has retired from army). I agreed that I will indeed join them for biriyani one day. The most embarassing moment was when mom forced me to wear her gold necklace which dad has bought for her few weeks back for their wedding anniversary. I wanted to run away.

I came out with the realisation that there is nothing much the parents can do for me. They are pretty free with their children and are supportive. They agreed that they will not tell that their kid is weak. They cannot help him with English. But they will insist that the kids talk to each other in English so that they can improve. They talk to the kids everyday on what has happened in school and thats something which is very important to me. I and the kid had a pact in his house that he will get a star next day (I will talk about my star chart soon). I think if there is one impact of my visit to his house, I saw that next day when he cried in class when I took away the green dot from his name which would have given him a star that day.

Monday, July 27, 2009

Unit Test1 results

There are 4 unit tests in every academic year in our school. I think it is pretty much the same for other schools also. The unit test for our school started on 17th July and finished on 24th. I didnt see any seriousness in the students for the unit test, which was very surprising to me. Though I have made them write the timetable for the unit test in their diary, most of the days when I asked random students on what the subject for the unit test that day is, they gave me random answers. So only one or two have really prepared for the unit test.

When the students didn't write any answers for the computer exam in my colleague's class, the supervisor for the high school told her that till 4th standard, we will have to spoon feed the answers during the exam to the kids. Then the computer teacher and the supervisor together dictated the answers for all the questions in the computer question paper in that class. I am not sure whether my kids are used to this spoon feeding and were expecting that to happen in their tests this time also.

If I look at the results as seen here, it is not too bad. But the numbers are skewed by the marks of WE (work experience), PT (physical training) and drawing. I do not think these subjects really matter as much as English or Maths. If I remove these subjects the result is pretty pathetic.

One funny observation is that all but one of the students who have failed last year and is repeating in 4th standard have passed in all subjects and have ranks 1, 3 and 6. I am not able to quantitatively analyse my impact on them, though the fact remains that I am spending extra time with them after regular class to make sure that they catch up.

9 out of the 13 students have 60% marks, but in the next unit test it will have to become 80%. English and Maths will continue to be the focus areas. Basics basics basics.....

Saturday, July 18, 2009

Lost and Found

Mr. Fraukh finds an umbrella near his shop. He gives an advertisement in the news paper that he has found an umbrella and who ever is the owner can collect fit rom his shop on 26th morning. On 26th morning, he has 550 people in front of his shop who have all lost their umbrellas. Farukh then starts describing the umbrella.
Its red, yellow and green - 300 hundred people went away.
It has a red handle - another 150 went away.
It has a red flower at the tip of it - 50 people went away.
In the 5 people left, one small child shouted after seeing the umbrella "it's mine, it has 3 small scratches on its handle". She gets her umbrella back.

This is the story of a lesson in Balbharati (English text book). For each lesson I break my head for some time on how to keep the kids involved and engaged all the time. The attention span of 9 year olds are 9 minutes. If they need to listen to you for more than 9 minutes, you have to do something special in that 9 minutes.

I create 13 different descriptions of umbrellas.
Red, yellow, green. Red handle. Red flower on the tip of it. 3 tiny scratches.
Red, yellow, green. Red handle. Red flower on the tip of it. No scratches.
Red, yellow, green. Red handle. No flower on the tip of it.
Red, yellow, green. Red handle. Yellow flower on the tip of it.
Red, yellow, green. Green handle. Yellow flower on the tip of it.
Red, yellow, green. Blue handle. Yellow flower on the tip of it.
Black, blue. Blue handle. Red flower on the tip of it.
Red, blue. Black handle. Red flower on the tip of it.
Red, yellow, green. Black handle. Yellow flower on the tip of it.
Yellow with red flowers all over.
Black. Black handle. Black flower on the tip of it.
Dark red. Black dots all over.
Black. Blue handle. Yellow flower on the tip of it.

Then I become Farukh at the shop and my kids all the people who lost their umbrellas. I start describing the umbrella and each one of them read their description and match it with what I have read. Showing disappointment, they go away if it doesnt match. Finally there are only 2 kids left, the ones with the first 2 descriptions. Finally I give off the umbrella to the first kid and the kids listen to me, though making merry, all the time.

Then I show my umbrella and ask the kids to describe that. One by one hands start going up. "Didi its all colours of that thing in a flower". Then didi - that thing in a flower is called a petal. "Its silver colour inside". "it has orange handle", "it has an orange string in its handle", "it has an orange button at its tip", it has a panda on it".

Thank you class. EI standard 4.8 done.

Monday, July 6, 2009

My special kid

I noticed her on the first day, since she could speak English in almost full sentences. A feat which is not possible for any of my other kids. But now we have a love-hate relationship. I love the challenge and she hates my pushing.

She came into my focus much more sharply when she brought her father (6 feet, 125kgs) into class to tell her teacher that she should let the child sit where ever the child wants to sit. I have moved her seat from near the window to the back, as she kept looking out of the window. She wanted to sit near the window. So while the dad is in class, I let her sit near the window. Then I sweet talked the dad about how smart his child is and how nicely she can understand English etc. The moment dad is out of class, I moved her away again from the window. I was expecting the dad to land up again next morning, but he didnt.

It took me more than a week to realise that her proficiency with English starts and ends with listening and speaking. At the age of 11, a child should be able to read and write too. When I asked the whole class to write a few sentences about "my family", she barely managed to write one sentence - "my moreth nert nict". She decoded it for me as "my mother very nice". To compensate for the lack of writing skills, she has shown her drawing skills, by drawing nice borders and a plant and flower.

I gave her a KG level book to read. Any child who has read 3 story books will read the first sentence, which is "Once upon a time" and she couldnt. Since she was struggling with each word, finally I asked her to just look through the 2 pages she could and see and just show me which ever words she can read. She has 2 words which she can recognise "to" and "one".

She doesnt struggle with English alone. Math is the same story. Since I saw that she was not following many lessons in Maths, I wanted to find from which level I should start. I asked her to write 1 to 200. She got stuck at 100. After that she doesnt know. I told her it is one hundred and one. Then made her do addition of 100 and 1 (yeah, I have taught her addition before that itself) and she did it and got 101. I asked her to read it and she read "eleven". I back tracked to the place where she has written 11 and asked her to read that and thats also "eleven". Then 101, again "eleven". After she managed to get 101, she struggled every time she reached a 9. After 109, it becomes 200. After 119, it becomes 230. I jumped up and down and clapped like a silly goose, when she said 150 after 149. But the joy was pretty short lived as she said 600 after 159.

She is smart. When I am called to the office, she comes to me and asks whether she can mind the class. I tell her yes and she pulls out a thick wooden ruler from her bag. I almost fall down. Then I have to ask her whether she has ever seen didi using a ruler to mind the class. She sheepishly goes and keeps the ruler, but still minds the class. If she knows that she is gonna be asked a question, which is she is not gonna be able to answer, her small finger will quickly go up for a toilet break, though she knows that I never allow any one to toilet during class.

I will write in another post, what all I am doing for remedial teaching to bring her to 4th standard level before mid year.

Sunday, June 28, 2009

Just data

School name: I am keeping it confidential

Location: Vishrantwadi, Pune

Established: 1973

Type: Private, English medium

Classes: From Junior KG till 10th (one division each)

Fee: Rs. 150 (for 4th std, may be different for others)

Number of Students: Near 200

Number of Teachers: 13 ( 2 male, 11 female) (7 from last year, 6 newly joined this year including the 3 from TFI)

Uniform: Green stripes on cream shirt and green shorts, trousers or pinafore. Green tie and green with cream stripes belt. Black shoes, black socks.

Uniform for mass PT on Wednesdays: White and white, with white PT shoes. Then there are specific house colours also (green and orange).

Building: Brick and mortar building, outside not plastered but painted green. Inside plastered and painted cream. Wall is cracked at places.

Classroom: For primary classes one big room divided into half by a small screen. For secondary and above, seperate rooms (4th std shares the class with 2nd)

Play ground: Quite a big one. The school has only 3 sides boundary walls. At the back the school extends into a small forest!

Sunday, June 21, 2009

Why do I blog?

Just because you have asked me to.....

It has been part of my life at certain points in time to write personal journals. But writing a personal journal and a blog is quite different. I can write only my random feelings and weird thoughts after certain amount of filtering as they are too random and too weird most of the times.

Though this blog is starting with my experience with education, this blog is not meant just for education. This blog is about my random feelings and my weird thoughts, though for the next 2 years this blog may predominantly be about education.

When I am writing about education, I am writing for you, those who have been and are part of my life. You have been wanting to know what I am doing, how my kids are doing, how I am feeling, how I am faring, how I am changing my kids, how I am changing myself in the process. I am trying to capture as much facts, feelings and thoughts as possible for you here. So please follow the blog and give me comments to improve it, let me know what other things you want to know. I will also pose the problems and dilemmas I am facing in my class and you can help me with suggestions in handling them. So here you go my highly interactive random feelngs (hic) and weird thoughts.......

Monday, June 15, 2009

My first day at school

By assembly time at 8 am, I still have only 8 students in my class. I felt more anxious than relieved in seeing that. I should be having 30 students in my class and I expect atleast 20 to be in on the first day. By the time assembly is over, one girl is called to the office and she leaves with her father. I am down to 7, 5 boys and 2 girls.
I have planned for a session of introduction, with 2 kids introducing each other. From Surya I have borrowed the idea of animal sounds to pair up the kids. But after seeing my 4th standard students and how big they are, I threw the childish part out. I instructed the students to talk and find out from the student sitting next to them 3 things and introduce that to the class.
1. Name
2. What does she/he want to become when they grow up?
3. What does she/he like about school?
In the meanwhile another student joins and I have 8 again.
I have 2 pilots, 5 doctors and 1 engineer in my class and I found 5 different spellings for doctor.
The exercise was quite insightful and found out who all can follow instructions, write, ask questions and who all struggle.
In the meanwhile my next class which is having 23 students do not have enough place to sit. The kids from there are all over in my class pulling my unoccupied benches and desks. I found it a little weird that there is no one taking permission in doing all these things. In the meanwhile Ms. S comes and hits a kid who is pulling the bench. 2 whacks on his shoulders and one on his face. Wasn't she there when the Pricipal has instructed all of us that we cannot touch the kids? Ofcourse, she was. I already know one teacher with whom I am going to end up fighting. But as of now I have to keep quiet lest I loose my focus and the opportunity.
I taught them how to SPARK next.
S - Sit straight
P - Pay attention
A - Ask and answer questions
R - Respond
K - Keep tracking
I am glad that I did this in the beginning itself as it came handy throughout the day in getting their attention back to me. The students were very eager to SPARK when ever I put up my hands in a T and started counting down from 5.
In the English class I have planned to read one chapter of Time Machine by H.G. Wells. So I taught them the difficult words in the first chapter before I started with the reading. It took me 15 minutes to teach them the meaning of "travel". First of all I was quite amazed to see that they didnt know the meaning and "travel" didnt figure in my list of difficult words. I read the first chapter, explaining in simpler words whats going on, but I do not think it really worked. So I told them we will read Time Machine after 2 months and we will start reading some other books first. So I will be doing "The little red riding hood" tomorrow.
During the recess the 2 students who are repeating 4th standard brought me "vada pav" which I refused to eat. But after a little bit of forcing from their side I accepted the same and used this opportunity to get to know them better. We read the quiz book together during that time and did a puzzle in that together. It was amazing to see them trying harder with a little bit of encouragement. At the end of the recess they both promised me on my hand that they will work hard this year and I promised them that I will work hard with them and will give all the support they need to make it to 5th standard.
In maths class we first went through place values quickly and played a game of "99 or bust". It took 7 rounds of the game for the students to keep the sum below 99. But it was amazing to see them getting the idea and manipulating the numbers.
Quite regularly the so called supervisors walk into the class to see whether everything is going fine. Once Ms. A walked in and checked on me. Before she left she went to student A and hit him on his head and asked, "so will you study this year atleast?". I smiled and told her "I dont think you need to hit him". She smiled mumbled an apology and left the class.
The last 2 sessions were supposed to be for language - Marathi and Hindi. Since the teacher didnt turn up for the same, I continued with Maths. By then I am in no mood to talk. The solution is in getting the kids to write. So I started with giving sums on the board with a promise of who ever gets the answer first and right gets a point. The points turn into chocolates tomorrow. Addition with carry over and subtraction with borrowing is something they learn in 3rd standard. Surprise surprise, half of them cant do addition with carry over and by then not a surprise any more, none of them can do subtraction with borrowing. I forget that I cant talk any more and I start teaching addition with carry over and they get it right pretty fast. So tomorrow I will continue with subtraction with borrowing.
I also taught them the first stanza of "read baby read" which got them all excited and they have promised me that they will read every day the books I am going to give them.
I was prepared to have sessions on Big goals, which are the goals which we need to achieve by end of the year. Then rules for the class. But all these lesson plans were thrown out the window. It didnt make sense to teach just 8 kids all these if I am going to have 30 kids by end of the month. Though I talked to them about the scholarship exam, which they were not aware of. Also I used the pilot, doctor, engineer ambitions to make them work hard. I will still use further investment plans, but for a starter this has worked fine.
The first day was a day which excited, disappointed and enraged me. The one thing which didn't figure in it was doubt. I was much more prepared than I thought I was. Overall I am feeling pretty happy about my first day. Hoping to see atleast another 8 students in class tomorrow.