Pure Randomness!

Pure Randomness!

Monday, December 20, 2010

Drama: Performance -1

When Yohan couldn't remember his dialogue and he turned back to look at me with a lot of mixed emotions in his eyes, I wanted to wrap him in my arms and protect him against all the evil in the world, including going on stage and facing an audience. But I gave him the 3 seconds he needed for remembering the dialogue and he turned back, faced the audience which was now getting a little impatient and confidently mouthed "I am always lagging behind, now I have lost my friends too. I am so unlucky" and started sobbing. Then I mouthed "oh my baby" and almost sobbed my self. By not helping him at that moment and letting him know that he can take care of himself, I moved him in his confidence level one notch up.

It is not an exaggeration when I say I can see a difference between the students who have participated in the drama and the ones who have not. I wanted all my students to participate, but since I was not ready to do the practice during school timing, only half of my students could.

Learning of the 4 or 5 dialogues which they needed to deliver in the drama with the correct pronunciation and expressions and listening to 20 others doing the same have had a bigger effect on the kids than I have expected. We went through many phases. First they struggled with the dialogues as they couldn't read them fluently and took some time. Once they read, it took them some time to memorise. The hardest was after they memorised their dialogues. They just wanted to tell the dialogue and finish it off, so 4-5 words will be compressed into one word and you just can't understand what they tell. After a few weeks I thought it would be impossible to make them slow down and tell the words separately and with the right stress and tone on the right words. "Are you in a hurry to go somewhere, honey?" was my constant dialogue. It took a lot of patience from me and them and a lot of practice to get to a level at which any one could understand what they spoke.

Through these phases my kids were evolving. Their reading fluency, comprehension, confidence, concentration and speaking improved. One day while practising, Yohan shouted "didi, they are trying to cheat Pandu" and when I looked at him with an approving smile, he beamed.

After the performance on stage was over, I lamented about the flop show since most of the mikes were not working properly, Shyam asked me what my intention was for doing the drama. Was that for the performance on stage or was that intended to improve the skills of my students. Also I got a message from Rebecca telling she was impressed with their stage presence and I must be proud of my kids.

So I achieved what I set out for. My kids improved their skills manifold, beyond how much I have imagined and planned for. It was indeed hard work for me and for them for whole 4 months. At the end of it, I am proud of my kids and proud of the fact that I leave them with something they might not have experienced, if not for TFI and me in their classrooms.

Sunday, October 31, 2010

Imagine Child

Last year when I started doing Writer's Workshop with my kids, I dedicated one whole period for imagining things each week. So we went inside a giant mango, getting bathed in mango juice, smelling the sweet fragrance and finally hitting a wall when we reached the pip. Then we went up a bubble from the bank of the river running behind our school, went up and looked down at the buses and cars plying on the bridge nearby. We went into a dark forest and saw all the animals around and felt a little scared and excited. We did many more, week after week. After we imagined all these things, we spent time talking about it and then wrote.
This year I have only 70minutes each day with them, so we have not done any imagining. But I found the result of all the work we have done last year, this year in the stories they have written.
They were given the picture of an upturned wattle basket to write about. These were the ideas they came up with.
1. Three hen babies (babay) were separated from their mother. They end up in a jungle somehow. They all are very worried about how to get back to their mother. At the end the mother hen comes searching for them and then they are reunited and they live happily ever after.
2. The cat was in the hat and was very sad because of that. A boy was passing by and cat in the hat asks for help and the boy rescues the cat.
3. The hen laid an egg and it hatched (broke and a baby hen came out). Then a big hen came and took the baby away. The mother hen went and fought with the big hen and got the baby back and lived happily for many days.
4. The basket was filled with fruits. A dog came and pushed down the basket and all the fruits fell on the floor. At the end the dog said sorry and helped put all the fruits back.
5. The basket was left on the road with 2 cats inside and a dog found them and started chasing them. Then a man came and took the cats to the police station where the policeman told the man that he can take one cat and the policeman will take the other. Both the cats then lived happily in their new homes.
6. One day a basket fell down from the sky with a cat. The girl took the cat and became friends and fed it with milk everyday. Then one day the cat went away and she felt very sad and her mother came and hugged her.
7. The rat was under the basket because it was afraid that someone will kill her. But then the basket had an automatic door and the cat came in through that and chased her still.
8. The basket was left on the road and the boy asked everyone whether it is theirs. Then he took that to the police station and the police gave him a medal (middle). When father and mother saw the medal they were very happy.

I feel that the mystic nature of the picture has made the kids imagine beyond the obvious. Taking a clue from it, I am going to make them write more and more on pictures where there is no obvious story.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Wattle basket vs hat

I have decided to write more on the daily high I get while teaching my kids.
So today I distributed the question paper to the students for their English exam, in which I have asked them to write a story about this picture.

Since they understood that it is a basket, they started looking at each other for ideas. I heard puppies, cat, snake and also komdi ke pille, which I thought must be chicks. I had to let it pass that a rule is broken by someone speaking in Marathi, since I more urgently wanted the exchange of ideas to stop. They were supposed to write on their own, so I took care of stopping them from talking. Most of them were on task when my special kid put her hands up. I went to her and she asked me, "But didi, this can also be a hat". I was happily surprised at this and I took one more look at the picture, as it had not occurred to me, and told her, "Of course, it can also be a hat. Now you have a choice. You can write about a basket or about a hat. Take your pick".

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Things I can change and things I cannot - 2

Read Part 1.
Every year quite a few or may be all B.Ed and D.Ed students do their training in regular schools for 2 weeks. In my school also 2 weeks are given to these 'students'. Again I pleaded with my senior teacher to leave my class out of this as I was petrified about missing 8 days of teaching. But I was told that I don't have a choice but to give the class to these students to teach.
I had 5 'students' teaching various subjects in my classroom. The first thing most of them did was wishing my kids 'Good morning childrens'. My kids just do not know what politeness is. So immediately some of them have raised their hands and told them, don't say childrens, it is child-children and childrens is wrong. It was just a start, my kids kept correcting them where ever they found a mistake. One teacher asked my kids to give examples of common noun. When one kid said cat, she told my kid that it is a proper noun as it is the name of a particular animal. I was surprised by the confidence of my kids when he started arguing with her that it is not. Finally I intervened and told her that my kid is correct.
They kept making mistakes in their spoken language and in the things they wrote on the board. They struggled to manage my kids as my kids will not sit quiet and listen without doing something on their own. They kept calling one kid at a time to the board to write answers leaving the others with nothing to do. I kept sitting in the class and when they were making mistakes and the kids were not correcting them, I took them aside or told them after the class based on how bad the mistake was and how scared I was that my kids will catch on to that. The 'students' were very responsive to my feedback and I could see that they took in my feedback and changed their English pretty quickly, where ever they could.
I was not sure once they are out of my school whether they will remember all the things and stick to it. These students come with their teachers who observe them and give grades for their teaching. So I met up with their teacher and inquired about their willingness to take feedback from me and pass it on to their students in a more structured manner. She agreed immediately. She has seen me giving feedback earlier to her students and I felt she was a little embarrassed at the kind of mistakes they were making. So I wrote down all the things I observed into 6 major categories - Spoken English, Written English, Content Knowledge, Pedagogic Methods, Assessment Methods and Behaviour Management - with ample amount of examples from the mistakes these student-teachers were making and suggestions on how to improve.
When I handed it over to their teacher, she told me that she will discuss that with her students. That discussion part is indeed something which I cannot control, change. But then I tried turning around missing 8 days of teaching into something I thought might be useful by giving feedback to those teachers.
I tried, I guess that's where I need to stop worrying. The rest is out of my hands.

ps. My favourite teacher from my school is a teacher who taught me for 2 weeks like this when I was in 8th grade, her name is Susan Titus. I am actually still searching for her.

Sunday, October 10, 2010

Things I can change and things I cannot -1

A few of my friends have expressed concern over my last post. For 3 days continuously when I couldn't sleep at night, the third day I got up and just penned down what was coming into my mind. It didn't help my sleep, but it is making me write this post. This is my attempt to apply the serenity prayer to my life; mainly to my teaching and things which surround that.

God, grant me the serenity
To accept the things I cannot change;
Courage to change the things I can;
And wisdom to know the difference.

I think I have been having trouble in the last sentence or may be at times I try too hard and take my failures to heart before I realise that it was a line 2 and not a line 3.

There are many things being done by Zilla Parishad in Maharashtra to change the education system, most probably as a run in to the implementation of RTE. One major thing is the way in which student learning is being assessed [moolyamapan (: ]. Instead of just having 4 unit tests and 2 semester exams, they have put in place formative assessments, which assess the students' daily learning. The summative assessments, which are given lesser importance, replaces the unit and semester tests. The students are supposed to be evaluated in 5 different ways (orals, written, projects, homework, class work, group discussions etc). This is supposed to reduce the pressure on the students and also is recognising the fact that different students perform differently in different tests and making them all just write, is not really going to show their real mastery.
Now when it comes to implementation, the whole point is lost. In my school now the last week of the month, no teachers are in classrooms. All of them are preparing their formative assessment reports. The students and left to do what they please in their classrooms wasting precious time (their favourite past time being shouting and howling, especially the seniors). I first explained to the senior teacher who is responsible for getting the records in, the actual idea behind these changes. I also told her that it is not about just making these reports, but it is about observing and testing the students in such a way that the results can be put to use in improving the teaching process. She responded by telling me that the Zilla Parishad people are only going to check the records and they are not going to come and observe the classrooms.
The next day when she reminded me that I need to make separate sheets for each student and one sheet for all, I asked her whether we can keep the work lesser. Since she thought I was worried about my spending too much time in doing that, she told me to just use my class time to do that. I told I am not bothered about the time I spend, as I need to prepare the sheets for only 13 students and it is not going to take much time and I will do that at home. By this time I was pleading with her and I told her that I am only worried about the other teachers spending their class time. By the time she left my class I was in tears and she just couldn't understand why I was crying in front of my kids for a silly matter like that.

This was a thing which I wanted to change, thought I could, but failed miserably.

Sunday, September 26, 2010

Wake me up!

I know it is a nightmare
I should wake up any time now
It is gonna be over soon
I wait some more
But it is not getting over
I am in deep water
Water, isn't that supposed to wake me up?
But I am still going down
Something is curled around my left foot
Or is it my right?
It is pulling me deep down
Now I can't breathe
I panic, I struggle
My leg is free now, but
I don't know how to swim, do I?
I can't remember right now
Somebody, anybody

Monday, September 20, 2010

Drama: Initiation

One big goal for my students by the end of the year is to perform a drama. The idea was to improve their speaking skills through that. Once I started the sessions I realised that there are so many by products which I get from the drama, the improvement in speaking is just a small part of it.
I considered myself zero in the realm of acting, forget about teaching it. My friend and colleague Aditya, who is a professional, came to my class to kick off the session with me. Adi first put some ground rules in place and then gave the kids a monologue.
Hei Mr. Apple, you have hurt me a lot. So, I will kill you and eat you. Ha ha ha..
The emotions with which they were supposed to be done were also given. Happy, sad and angry. One third of the kids were assigned one of these emotions. They were also given 3-4 mins to prepare. Then the kids started performing and I almost had my jaws on the floor. I found a completely different set of students in front of me. Some of them were very nervous, but some of them looked like they have been doing this for their whole life or they were meant to do this. In fact acting made them come alive, blossom. We rated them on a few parameters for our reference for matching their roles in the drama.
Then they were given a dialogue between the lion and the mouse in the story "Lion and the Mouse". The kids were paired up and were given 5 mins to prepare. They performed and dazzled me.
Taniya in std. VI cannot read even a single English word. But when she came in front of the audience and cried looking at Mr. Apple in hand, I wondered where was this girl hiding all this while. Shahid in std. VII just started speaking in English this year and has a vocabulary of less than 100 words in English now. But when he roared and laughed as the lion letting go the erred mouse, I could almost see his mane.
That day I left from school with a completely different view of my kids and a huge smile on my face.
I was supposed to get another professional to come and do the casting and training for the drama. But there was a delay of a week for her to come. So I decided to handle the class on my own till then. There I discovered that I am not really as bad as I thought and I could show my kids a thing or two myself. Day after day, I kept giving my kids new scenarios and dialogues and they acted them out. By the end of one week the transformation I saw in some of the kids was stunning. The voice became louder and clearer for some who were nervously speaking in the beginning. The confidence levels were soaring.
I am so excited about the possibilities the drama sessions are bringing and I have never seen my kids so much excited about anything. May be this is the answer to a lot of questions for me and for my kids. Lets wait and watch.

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Gifted Kunal

Kunal is the gifted kid in my 5th std. He most probably has ADHD (Attention-Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder). Last year almost all my energy went in making him listen to me for some time and not disturb or not hurt the other kids. But this year he has come back from his summer vacation a slightly better version of himself. He can sit for more time without the need to jump at the back of the class and the energy I am spending on him is much lesser.
He is the only one who could read at 60 words per minute when I started with my class last year. By the end of the year he has improved that to a 100 words per minute, this time also while understanding what he is reading.
Last year he could not listen to me while I was teaching the whole class. So once I finished with the class I spent 4-5 minutes with Kunal and he would grasp it in that time. This year he is studying together with the rest of the kids and that is indeed a great relief.
Think, imagine, infer, predict - these are a few things I keep making my kids do in the class. Kunal shows me levels to which he can take these which I don't expect from them usually.
Below is the story he has written for this picture I gave for their unit test for story writing.


There are five friends in the story. There name is Joy, Robin and Amir. They are best friend. They live in the sea. One day one shark has com to kill to the joy. Crow decided to kill that shark.They go to kill shark but they din't kill the shark why? Because they became friend.
One day one man fishing in sea, shark cut his boat. Man was fall in water and than man was kill. 1 year gone 2 year gone 1 big octopus came kill the shark. What will happen next?

I forgive his spellings and grammar and give him the whole 5 marks for the story.

One day, I gave a rather higher level problem to the kids after teaching a lesson. Kunal took one look at the problem and says "didi, this is very hard problem". I was almost getting disappointed at him giving up on the problem so quickly. He got up from his place and while walking to a corner of the class announced "I need more blood in my brain for this". He went to the corner stood upside down for a minute balancing nicely on his hands and head. Got down and walked back to his place telling, "Now I have enough blood in my brain to solve that problem" and finished the problem to my delight.

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Saturday is a fun day

Saturdays are kept for improving my kids' speaking and listening skills. It is actually a holiday, so it takes intrinsic motivation from the kids to come to the class. They are sacrificing their play time, so the class need to be really fun.
I started the class with a boring one. We were learning sight words and reading sentences on that day. The only fun thing they did that day was to sing the phonics song. My old kids knew the song already, but for the 6th and 7th standard kids, that was new and they equally enjoyed it. But I didn't even make the reading a game which I usually do when they are reading the words from my laptop. If I continued like that the attendance would have become nil in no time. Then I asked the kids what they wanted to do on the next Saturday class. They told me to bring and teach more songs.
So the next Saturday I took print outs of the lyrics (they learnt the word lyrics and so many other words from the song that day) for them to read and taught them the official theme song of World Cup 2010. They went wild and sang the song again and again with the music playing at the background. I might have got bored after some time, but not them. After some time I switched to teaching them making sentences. I gave them a sentence and a question word and they made questions and answers. This time it was fun and they were all jumping up and down with their hands up in the air to give me the questions and the answers. I also revised the basic auxiliary verbs and their usage. It was almost like they were learning without realising that. We finished the day by singing the song again a few times. At the end of the day they demanded that I bring the lyrics of the Waka Waka song of Shakira, again from the World Cup.
I brought them the song next Saturday and they had fun with that. Not so much as the previous song as this is a little too fast and they couldn't keep pace most of the time. But they always caught up by swallowing a lot of words with some funny effects. Again we played sentence blocks and by now the kids knew how to make the questions and answers, though the structure of the sentences left much to be desired. By now I knew that the best way to get the kids back next Saturday would be to ask them what they wanted to do.
So, here I am trying to find movies which they can watch. Tomorrow is Kung Fu Panda day. I haven't seen the movie, but I hope the kids like it. The kids also spread the news that they are having fun on Saturdays and I see a steady increase in attendance. I hope to see many more kids tomorrow and I know they are going to demand more movies. Any movie suggestions are welcome (1.5hrs long, as I need the rest of time to teach). I might have to make a huge collection to last all the Saturdays to come.

Wednesday, June 30, 2010

A new year: same challenges

The new academic year brings in bigger challenges. 7th standard students who shout "square" and "rectangle" looking at a triangle is just one of that. If I had a little bit more time and energy the one thing I would have set out to straighten would have been the attitude of teachers towards teaching and learning, in my school. As of now what I understand from the teachers in my school regarding attitude towards learning is that, they have none. They think their responsibility as a teacher finishes when they 'teach' and they have absolutely nothing to do with the students learning.

Scene 1, lunch time, 5 teachers are having lunch.

T1: In school A they pay Rs.7000 to the teachers.
T2: But there are 70 students in each class. Rs.7000 is not worth it if you have to shout your lungs out every day at 70 students.
T1: But they give printed notes to each student in the class.
T3: Oh, thats great. Then you just have to go to the class and give the notes to the children.
T1: Of course, you just have to read that out. Thats your responsibility. Whether the students are learning or not, is not.
It took me a while to gather my jaw and tongue from the floor and look composed again. But then it got me thinking. If T1 actually didn't have any doubt in her mind about the students' learning being her responsibility, she wouldn't have even mentioned that, would she? So may be there is a little bit of hope there.

Hopeless is what I would say about the next one. I have shown my principal, the pathetic results from the tests which I have administered in 6th and 7th standard. Few days later.

Scene 2, T4 approaches me.
T4: Do you think I haven't taught anything to the students last year?
I: Oh! When did I say anything like that?
T4: The principal told me.
I: What?
T4: She told me that the 6th std students do not know anything and I haven't taught them anything.
I: Ah, I have indeed told her that the 6th std students do not know things at their level and thats all what I have told her.
T4: Ok. I have taught everything last year. But haven't you seen how they are! They just don't learn.
Here she doesn't even have a doubt in her mind about the learning part being her responsibility.

Do I really need to take it upon myself to hammer some sense into their heads? Even if I try, would there be any change in them at all, or will I be wasting my time and alienating myself more?

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Out of body experience

You are walking down the aisle in a mall and suddenly you see yourself walking as if you are totally another person. Have you ever experienced that? It is indeed a freaky experience.
2 days back I picked up two of my staff at TFI to get back to the training institute and was waiting at the traffic signal. Suddenly I look at the rear view mirror and my holy life jumps out of my skin.
For you to understand what I mean, you should know what I drive. I drive a rare species of Scorpio which is a Sports model, yellow in colour with uniquely patterned side and front bonnet stickers. I call mine Tweety. Though I do not know exactly how many of these cars are there on road, I know that there are just a few and it is a very rare thing for a Sports Scorpio to meet another Sports Scorpio, let alone get followed.
So I looked through the rear view mirror and saw the same car behind me. The really creepy thing is the car behind me has the front bonnet sticker torn at the same place as my Tweety. So when the light turned green I started moving hoping that the freaky feeling together with the duplicate car behind me will pass. But it started following me. Imagine you are walking, you turn around and see yourself walking behind you. Then you start running and you behind also start running following you very closely. You can even see the small coffee stain on the white T-shirt on the you following you. You look down at your own coffee stain and start running faster.
Then at one traffic signal I left enough space on my right and both the Sports Scorpios were parallel to each other and I saw a similarly freaked out man staring at me from the other vehicle. Once I started moving the other Sports Scorpio overtook me and took a left turn and went while I continued straight ahead, shaking my head to hard trying to get back into my own body.

Thursday, May 6, 2010

Story of Alex and also me

First day of the academic year I was faced with these 3 kids in class who have been detained in class 4. We had this small discussion and at the end of it I promised them that I will be working with them and I will work very hard. In turn they promised me that they will also work really hard and this time pass 4th std, that also with really good marks. This was one of the very first conversations I was having in class and during that I found that Alex was able to talk in English unlike the other 2. That was a good start.
Alex was 13 year old, have failed in all classes at least once till then. Alex could read 22 words per minute. He was 4th in Maths and 6th in English from the bottom of the class. Not a very bad place to start considering that I have only 13 kids. In the paragraph he wrote about himself he wrote this.

My seafe
My Name is Alex 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

Looking at the things he has written and the way in which he read, I started doubting whether he is dyslexic. So I started using strategies which I would use for a dyslexic, after searching in the web and after discussing with my mentor who has experience with such kids. Making him read one word at a time covering the rest of the words, making him place his finger on the page after writing each word for leaving space while writing etc.
But slowly I started seeing behavior which I was not really expecting from a 13 year old. If he doesn't listen in class and if I ask him to listen with a slightly stern face, he would sulk. He is rather big at 13 when compared to the rest of the class and sits on the front row. When the rather short ones who sit at the back cannot see and I ask Alex to move in, he would not. He always kept losing his books, pencils, erasers and felt that it was my mistake that he was losing them.
He also lied like no body's business. So when he doesn't want to stay back in my extra class he would tell his mom that I am not well and he would tell me that his mom has asked him to get home early so they could go to the church. When he returned home 3-4 days continuously his mom came in to find out what has gone wrong with me. When we found out what was happening his mom and me decided to stay in touch more often.
Once he told me when we were talking about planes, that his father has actually made him fly a fighter plane. With all the right actions, he showed me how he pulled the lever up and the plane moved up and how he needed to pull it down to bring the fighter back down. May be by this time I have already had a feeling was there was more to Alex than what met my eyes at first.
He also told me towards the end of the year when the summer vacation was approaching that he is going for a holiday to London. Knowing his background I knew this can't be and casually checked with his mom whether he has heard about some one going to London and she told me smilingly that "you know him by now, it is all in his head".
Slowly the kids who were behind him when we began the class, started moving ahead of him and he stayed almost where he was. His reading fluency improved from 22 to 40, but then there were others who improved fluency from 7 to 50. His Maths skills stayed the same. He could count, add and subtract without borrowing or carry over in the beginning. He managed to conquer borrowing and carry over. But multiplication, division, geometry, measurements all evaded him, which the other kids picked up though with a lot of struggle.
In the meanwhile I kept talking to his mom to find more details about him and I found one thing which may be mattered, that he was prematurely born and was in the incubator for a while. May be that explained or may be I shouldn't be really searching for explanations.
Once I heard my co-fellow talking to her kids mother about a special educator for students with special needs, to whom she wanted the kid to be taken to. I jumped at the opportunity, got the number and passed it on to Alex's mom. I kept checking whether she has called. It took solid 2 months before she managed to contact the special educator. She got Alex's mom to get his IQ checked and it turned out to be 64, which meant moderate mental retardation. I kicked myself hard for not recognizing it earlier and wasting his time. Then his mom was given the details of a school for slow learners which refused to take him in since they can only handle kids whose IQ is above 70.
Now the special educator has started taking classes for him twice a week. His mom is also trying for admission in another school for slow learners and it should go through.
I learnt that I have my limitations and it is better for my kids and myself that I realize that. Because at the end of the day I managed to change the wrong course Alex was in and hopefully put him into a less harsher route for his mental abilities. I am indeed going to track his progress and see whether he is adjusting to this new course and also gaining from it. Will keep you posted.

Sunday, April 25, 2010

House visits - day 2

Before I forget the details of the rest of the house visits, let me put them down.
For going to Rahul's house, one need to go through umpteen number of small winding streets. I have been there only once and I didn't want to lose my way trying to get there. So I called his mom to ask her to come and pick up his books, together with him. But before I could ask her, she told me that it would be nice if I could visit them at home. She agreed to pick me up from the main road. I reached the junction at 8.15 am. Rahul's father greeted me and left directly to work from there and we walked to their house. On the way she told me that Rahul is at his uncle's place. I felt angry and upset, as he is the one who can get affected most by the summer setback. He is not motivated to read on his own and even after repeated requests to his parents, they don't seem to guide him in the right direction. I still gave all the instructions to his sister and ask her to go to her uncle's house and get the work done by Rahul. I followed up for the next 3 days till the books reached him.
Since I have not been to Kiran's house till now, I had a little bit of trouble in finding his place. But he was waiting for me near the road. We walked up to his 4th floor apartment. He is one of the better offs in my class. I gave him the books and explained how much needs to be done everyday. He was the only one who started doing the work even before I finished explaining. He kept doing page after page while I waited for my colleague to come. They are making a video, with one child from each TFI fellow talking something. His father told me that he has been playing all the while, now that he has got the books, till he finishes he will not do anything else. Oops! that was not the idea. If he finishes the whole thing in 2 days and plays around for the rest of the vacation, his summer setback might still be the same. So I asked his father to also get him more books to read and write during the vacation.
I reach Riya's house and the first thing that catch my attention is the huge air cooler in their room which is taking 1/4th the space in the room. But it is indeed cool in here when compared to the 41degrees outside. Her parents think that I have done some wonder on Riya, she was detained in 4th standard last year and this year she has even managed the first rank once. I have once again told them that she is an intelligent girl and she is putting in the right effort in the right direction now. Again the same question of next years teachers and I reassured them that I will still be there teaching English and Maths.
Since I have not been able to reach Nanda's father's mobile for the last 2 days, I asked Riya whether she can take me there, since I knew thats Nanda's house is very close from her house. We walked to Nanda's house. When I reached there she was just lying down on her bed doing nothing. This is exactly what I do not want them to be doing during vacation. Can't she at least go and play something!! She said she will play (argh, did any kid need any asking from her teacher for going and playing, ever? ). I gave her the books and explained her what she needs to do. Since I saw her distracted I asked her to repeat what I have told and she couldn't. So I explained again and this time with some minor corrections she managed. There is a new woman in the house, whom she was calling 'mommy', may be that explains the distraction. I need to find details of that soon, so that the distractions are not allowed to affect her studies or her behavior.
I am done with 12 and tired to death. My mind is busy finding ways in which I can avoid the last one visit. Then I shout at myself for doing everything half way (this time 92% way) and go to Umesh's house. Last time when I visited Umesh's house, his mom had to search for him for more than half an hour to get him back to the house. This time again the same story. She told me that he was waiting for me all this while and has just stepped out. I worry most about him getting into bad company and she tells me that she too worries the same. But since the time his father has passed away, she says that, she doesn't have much control over him. I sit and wait, while several kids go in and out of the house. Every kid who enters the house get an invitation for coming and eating lunch, a request to also call some other kid for lunch and also to find Umesh. All of them go out trying to find Umesh, but with no success. During the time, the pressure on me to have chicken biriyani there is also increasing. Finally I explain what all need to be done by Umesh on a daily basis to his mom and also write that down in a small note book she has given me. I agreed to eat some biriyani and eat just 2 spoonfuls much to her protest. I wait for another 15 mins to round it off at one hour and decide to make a move from there. She apologizes again and agrees to make sure that Umesh does the work daily before he goes out to play.
Tanned, tired and thirsty, I am done with the first step in the summer setback attack plan. Now the next one is to follow up by calling up all of them and checking on how much they have finished. I know that some of them wouldn't need any calling up for them to be on track, but some could do with even daily calls. I would like to visit them again, sit with them and correct the work they have done till then. Let me see whether there is any scope of 'House visits - day 3 and 4'!

Sunday, April 18, 2010

House visits - day 1

Students, especially the ones from low income background, are prone to summer setback. This is the loss of reading and math skills during summer holidays. To prevent or reduce this in my students, I have bought workbooks in English and Maths which they can work on during the summer holidays. I thought the impact of giving them these books at their house in front of their parents would be higher, instead of distributing them at school. On Sunday I bought all the books and on Monday I started the visits.
First visit was to John's house. For a change I found both his parents at home when I reached his house at 8.30 in the morning. As usual his parents are always ready to force feed me, even if I tell them 100 times that I have come after having my breakfast. Their comments were quite touching. His mother told me that, this is the first time he has ever got a teacher who has taught something which he understood. He doesn't need anyone to tell him to study when he comes home now a days. He does that on his own. I didn't need to take a promise from him to do his work everyday. I know he will do it.
Next is Prakash's house. He was waiting for me at the junction and he took me to his house. I have just enough place to sit inside with the other 4 women who are already there. Prakash's mother passed away 3 months back and he has not come out of it till now. So his elder sister listened to my instructions carefully. The other assorted grandmas and aunts asked me to be a bit lenient with him since he has just lost his mom, to whom he was extremely close. When I was about to leave, one of them called me back and told me to make sure Prakash is also taught some discipline and that he talks back to them when they are telling him something. I had one of my "think wrong or right before you do" session again with him and left.
I always referred to him as my dyslexic. But then when his mom got his IQ checked, it turned out to be 64, which means he has moderate mental retardation. Alex's mom picked me up midway as I have been banned by Alex from coming to his house all this while. He had just gotten up and taken bath when I reached there at 10.30. His mom is talking to 2 schools for slow learners, to move him. With moderate mental retardation his learning in a class with normal students is limited and also it affects his confidence negatively. He agreed to do the workbooks and also copy 20 lines from his text book to his notebook.
Farhan has passed in all the subjects but Marathi. They talk Gujarathi at home, it is no wonder that he is struggling with Marathi. But he has already repeated 4th standard once and he cannot do it once again. So his mother has agreed to teach him Marathi during the vacation. Major part of the conversation there was around the other kids in class teasing him calling 'gorilla' since he is extremely fair. He gets into a fight with them on that and this gets the kids tickled and they continue the act. So here again we went through the exercise of "think right or wrong before you do something and say sorry if you have, by mistake, done wrong". His mom also asked me to put him in another teachers class if he doesn't behave, so that he will know the difference.
Next to my special kid, Anita. Here instead of just giving instructions and the book, I made her to do one page in all the books. She did that. Her mom has been told already that she will have to repeat 4th. She came to my class just reading alphabets. Now she reads at 25 words per minute and is able to comprehend 2nd grade passages and sometimes above. But not enough for her to go to 5th standard. But her mother's argument is her age and size. How can she sit again in 4th standard! I told her that what matters is her skill level and not age. She told me that her father will not let the kid to go to school further if she fails. But then that is something I need to convince him about.
The last visit before I head back home is Meena's house. Her mom is ecstatic about the progress she has made over the year. She was shifted to my school since her old teacher has asked her mom to get her IQ checked and told that she might be slightly retarded. But from what I have seen Meena is an average kid. She improved in her English and Math skills 2 grade levels in one year. Now her mother is going to take the progress report and go to the old school and show it (throw it on their face, in her words) to the principal and the teacher and tell them that there is nothing wrong with Meena and it was their problem that they couldn't get Meena to learn anything.
At 41deg Celsius going around in the dry dry Pune can be punishing. So I head home, for some food and an hour of rest and then start again.
I get to my small little mouse's house. Anil is almost always sick, but he still had the 3rd highest attendance in class. His mom is worried that he has not studied this year as much as he has done previously after he has been shifted to my school. Also his elder sister complained that his work books are not completed. I again explained that I do not teach by giving question answers to be rot learnt. So next year his mom is planning to put him to tuition, and I agreed to talk to the tuition teacher. Also I suggested that he be sent to my house for some extra work twice a week. His Math skills has improved, but still not at 4th standard level, but I will take him to 5th as he just needs a few weeks of extra attention.
The last one for the day is Bhavya, the girl whose leg is disfigured. Here also the mom cannot stop talking about how the kid has changed over the year. She is an above average child, who was never taught anything earlier. She started the year reading at a speed of 7 words per minute and numbers till 100. She has also grown 2 grades and is almost always second in Math tests. She also showed me the channels which she watch and agreed to watch some English channels also (CN). Her mother was very anxious to know whether I will be teaching her next year also. I told her that I will be teaching Bhavya English and Maths next year, to her relief.

Friday, April 9, 2010

March is the month of tests

This is a strange thing I am doing now. I am making excuses. I didn't manage to write a blog last month. So this month, first I am going to write why I didn't. I was almost torturing my kids with the tons of tests which I gave to them.

I didn't realise how much work need to go in at the end of the year to finish an academic year. So the realisation set in on the last city meet in TFI where the staff introduced to us the final exams which we need to administer to our students. That is 7 tests of one hour each. Then there are the ASSET exams, English and Maths. Thats the time I counted the number of days remaining before the final exams in school start. We counted and unbelievingly recounted the number of instructional days remaining and all the time came up with the number 10. So that time I knew that what ever I was going to teach this year, I have already taught and it is only testing which is going to happen now.

I did a 3 day marathon revision before I started giving them the exams one after the other. Sometimes I managed to do an hour of revision, most of the time they were only writing exams.

I did the below-grade level tests in reading comprehension for grade 2 and 3 also with my kids. The results are not very encouraging, it shows that my 4th graders are still at the level of 2nd and 3rd grades mostly. But it is indeed an improvement over the KG levels in which some of them have come in. I also realised that, even though the kids are able to do Maths, if they do not understand the question properly they cannot do it. So reading comprehension will take the foremost place during next year. This test was supposed to be for data collection for future comparisons and not really for assessing ourselves. But since data is available, it indeed is not possible not to look at it and not feel bad.

Then the school exams started and it was a cycle of revision and tests. So every day for me it was correcting the answer papers, entering data, preparing for sessions which will keep the kids engaged for one and a half hours before I give the exams.

Today, we had a session in which I gave the results for the entire year's tests and announced the winners. The ones who got 2 purple crowns in the behavior chart got books and gift sets. Those who had one purple crown got gift sets. Those who have topped the subjects, shown biggest improvements from the beginning, or have been present in class the most days got Dairy Milks.

The exams are over, the corrections, the entering data and also the group photograph. Now it is reflection time again. I will come back with that soon.

ps. The activity which has taken the most amount of time during March is a secret. I can just tell that it involved around 6 red pens, a computer printed mark list and the future of 300 youngsters!

Monday, February 22, 2010

Rahul the drummer: Part II

I need to apologize to the world, in case I have killed the next Ustad Zakir Hussain before he even touched a tabla. It is not that Rahul doesn't drum any more, but it is much more easier for me to distract him. The surprising part is, I can distract him with a multiplication problem or a sentence from which he needs to find the prepositions.
I have started teaching Rahul at home for 2hours for the last 3 weeks or so. I start with a page of writing in a 4 line sheet. Rahul has the habit of mixing up small and capital letters when he is writing anything and his writing is readable only by himself. After 3 weeks of writing, I see that his capital letters have disappeared, even from the beginning of sentences. I need to reinsert that, but that is a smaller problem than sentences peppered with capital letters all over. Also, I am able to read what he is writing. He just didn't know how to write small letters for 'G', 'F' and 'J'.
Rahul has lost a couple of weeks when he was sent home due to non-payment of fees. That was the time I taught division to the class. He was totally lost when we were doing division problems in class later. Now that he has learnt division, he has started listening in class and also doing the sums.
Now I know that the major reason for Rahul was, not understanding what was happening in class. His drumming would have also stemmed from the frustration from that. Now that he has started following in class, he doesn't feel the need to drum. He is more enthusiastic and attentive.
It has not been very easy to keep him steady and make him listen in the beginning when I have started the extra classes with him. First, I had to lure him to stop drumming and listen with the small double drum I have carried from Bangalore. He could drum for 5 mins if he stays and listens for an hour. This helped and he started listening. The 5 mins he drums is unbearable. He will use 2 pencils to drum. First he did that without any rhythm and later he managed to find some rhythm.
After 2 days another possible reward caught his eyes and he moved away from the drum. He asked me whether he can use my laptop. From then onwards, once he finishes his session he can draw, play, read on my laptop. That changed the world for Rahul. He would wait for his 10mins with my laptop by being extremely good and doing all I ask him to do. After 2 weeks, he is now so engrossed in the work he is doing, he does not even bother whether he is getting his time with the laptop any more. I have never seen an investment strategy working so nicely with any kid till now. I would say an investment strategy which finds itself redundant after sometime is the best strategy.
We did some writing, some grammar, reading and Math. He now knows division too. I will teach him something which I am going teach or revise in class the next day. Then he is all ears when he sits in class since he understands what I am talking about clearly. He also does the test at the end of the class well most of the time.
I also found out that he is pretty smart. Usually if some one shows me a card trick or a hand trick I will be able to show it back to them in 2 mins. Rahul showed me few tricks; one in which he starts with a very small ball of paper in both his hands, he cup the hands down and then opens them, both the balls are under the same hand. I managed to show this back to him quickly. But then he wrapped a rubber band around 2 of his bent fingers, he opens the fingers and the bands are around the other 2 fingers now. I just couldn't figure out how he was doing it. I had to ask him to show, which he did. He shows me something or the other every day. One day he stood on his head and hands, I thought he is done when he stood like that, and then he removed his hands and just stood on his head without touching any wall. I was scared that he would fall, but encouraged him by clapping my hands anyway.
We both have bonded nicely during this time and this also makes him nice to me in class by listening to me. Overall the 2 hours I have been spending with Rahul has given me tremendous returns. Now I am adding one more kid to the 2 hour program. Hopefully it will benefit her also, though her needs are different.
So coming to the young couple with a kid story, since I was spending 2 hours with Rahul I had something to write about, but since I was spending the time with him, I didn't have the time to write about it. 'If you were around before you were around, you would never have been around" indeed.

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Prequel to Rahul, the drummer: Part II

I have started teaching Rahul at home every day for 2 hours. I wanted to write about it for a long time, but I am just not getting time to do that. Especially since the 2hours I am spending with him daily, totally depletes my free time. Then I was reminded of this joke I have heard or may be read in RD. I just had to write this down before it goes off from my head. It goes like this.
A young couple with a 2 year old son was getting cozy with each other when suddenly the son walks in. After this happens the umpteenth time, the frustrated man turns to the kid and tells "If you were around before you were around, you would never have been around".
I will soon come back with 'Rahul, the drummer: Part II'. If you have not got the connection, you will get it then.

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Unit test III results

Lot of surprises this time. There were a lot of things which I have done differently from the semester exam, whose results were pathetic. Now I do not know which one of them I need to attribute to the changed results I am seeing. For one, I read the questions out to the students this time, which I didn't do last time. But one thing I noticed was that the students were actually able to read the questions on their own much better this time. But I indeed didn't want to take a chance. The questions were mostly multiple choice questions, since their big goal of scholarship exam is going to be that way. But this has not tremendously improved the outcome either. Those who have tried a complete guessing game have lost it. Look at the marks on SST (wow!) a consistent tenner. That indeed is attributed to the changed ways in which the subject was taught in class. My kids just do not study for the exam, if they have learnt something in class and can remember that, that's all they will write.

My dyslexic (no:1) has passed only in Hindi and Marathi last time. But this time he has failed those.
My special kid (no:3) gave me the most pleasant one, she failed only in Science this time. Last time she has failed in all subjects.
Rahul, the drummer (no:10) failed in non-languages, which is similar to last time.
John (no:12) broke my heart when I saw the results from the Hindi teacher. He passed in all subjects except Hindi and as usual scored the highest in Maths.
My Nanda (no: 8), who had first rank last time stayed at the same percentage, while all other zoomed past her, leaving her with the 5th rank this time.
Kiran, my ADHD kid (no: 6), got 2nd rank. In his report card he will get 1st rank after adding marks of subjects like PT, Work Experience etc. If he was not having ADHD he wouldn't have been sitting in my class for sure.

A simple comparison on the % from each test shows that every single one of them except Nanda improved their results over their disastrous semester results. 6 of them even managed to improve the results over their Unit 1 results.

Overall the stars are my special kid (let me call her Anita, as she has started becoming not so special in the way in which I started calling her that), my small little mouse, Anuj (no:2), who improved his percentage by 16 points even though he failed in Maths, and Lekha (no:7), with 13 points raise, who is showing great investment now that she has started becoming more regular in class.

Overall the results are much more satisfying than both the previous tests. But on absolute terms the result still looks so horrible. 74% as the top, just 2 above 70%, just 4 above 60%. The results are not yet published to the students and their parents. It will happen soon and I am just not able to guess the parents' reactions this time. Let me wait and see.

Sunday, January 17, 2010

Rahul, the drummer

Rahul is one of the smallest in my class. He is also one of the 4 who has not failed in any class till now. But the way in which he is progressing currently, I am doubtful whether he will be in the same league next year. He has lost so many days this year in school for wedding in family and other silly reasons. By the time I got him back in class, it was time for him to be sent back home due to non-payment of fees. While I managed to get extension for another kid, Rohini ma'am just wouldn't hear Rahul's case as according to her, his father will not bother if he is in class.
Rahul is a classic case of ASS (attention seeking syndrome). His drumming must be a part of that. He is not hyperactive and he is not dumb. His falling back is mostly due to the missed classes. When he comes into the class in the morning, if I offer to hug him, he comes to me with a grin measuring from one ear to the other. He will give me a hug and then run out of the class immediately lest I ask him to start reading the sight words in his folder.
Every day when I give instructions to students to start writing their passage on the subject I have given, Rahul will start with a "No". "Please write", "No". This repeats in almost all the classes in which I ask them to do anything. When I discussed this defiance with my mentor in teaching, she has told me that students usually know where they stand in class. This is a response to knowing that he comes at the very bottom in class and it is not very unusual for kids who are not doing well in their studies to do this.
For the drumming issue, I have brought a small double drum. Once the unit test is over, I am going to introduce that as a reward for Rahul to stay away from drumming during class. After class and during recess he can drum on that if he can do that. Hopefully that also makes him to start listening in class. If his ASS still plays up, I will have to find a way to get that from distracting the class. May be, going up to him every 4-5 mins and touching him will help him know that my attention is on him and he need not do anything special to get it.
I am proposing to his parents that I take 2 hours of tuition for him during the weekend for him to catch up. They usually come up with lack of mobility as a reason for him not to attend the extra class or the scholarship class I take. Since my house is closer to his house, I hope it will not be a reason any more.
Even if his future is that of a great drummer, a little bit of English and Maths will not do any harm to him in the long run.