Sunday, July 6, 2008

Pre-Fourth of July Lesson

July 3, 2008

I’m now sitting on the floor of my living room cutting out 9x2 pieces of foam board so that we can make “Happy 4th of July” mobiles in class on Sunday. I’m glad that I can share things like this with my students here and I’m equally as pleased that they’re excited about doing these projects. This class is supposed to be an enrichment of sorts, so I’m trying to make it fun! They love the Statue of Liberty as well as the American flag so we’ve been doing a lot of activities with these two items. Today we drew fireworks, flags, stars, and that sort of thing (red, white, and blue of course) and earlier we made 3D Statues of Liberty. I’m hoping to add the statues to the center of the mobile and the other objects around her.

Today we talked about the meaning of the American flag. It’s really difficult explaining the concept of states and colonies, but eventually they understood. It’s so satisfying when they finally understand after I’ve tried 4 different ways of explaining and taken 15 minutes of class time to only discuss “colonies.” But! They finally understood and after repeating, “The stripes stand for the original 13 colonies and the stars stand for the 50 states” about a million times I know they’ll never forget. It’s small victories like this that I know will stick in their minds. Similarly, the day we learned how to say “Statue of Liberty” they’ll always remember because we worked so hard on getting that right.

I had expected to move much faster in my class but I’m realizing just how unrealistic that idea was. I’d been told by countless people that small steps were best and that I should be happy with them, but I kept thinking to myself “I know I can push them; I’ll make them learn a lot at a time.” It’s just not possible. The English levels in my class are just too spread out—I have some students translating perfectly when the other kids don’t get it and then I have a few that can barely understand when I want them to repeat something. 

Their English, however, is just about as canned as my Russian. When someone asks you “How are you?” you answer “Fine, thanks.” It’s funny how when languages are taught in school variation is not focused on. Again, because there just isn’t enough time. It’s exciting seeing them change their answers to simple questions such as that. Now, some say excellent, fantastic, great and so on (I haven’t taught any negative words for this question, so it makes me look better when they all say how great they are. Haha).

The beginning of today’s class was very frustrating, though. I had printed out a short story explaining the origins of Independence Day and passed it out for them to read to themselves before I even introduced it. I told them to circle the words that they didn’t understand. I left them to it for a while, even though it took a little bit for them to get the circling thing figured out, but it looked like they were doing ok. I wanted them to do something independently and to try to teach some reading skills like context clues, but it just didn’t work. The failures are often this bad, crash and burn to the extreme. 

It was a good thing to try, though, because I think I can build on it and try a shorter story with only 2 or 3 words they might not understand. Also, the subject matter was very foreign to them. I should have been able to recognize that. Maybe next time I’ll find a story or write a story about soccer or cats or something easy. Anyway, so I nixed that idea when they started to read it out loud and weren’t comprehending enough of it to be worthwhile. So, I decide to talk about the 4th of July. Whoa, blank stares across the board. 

I’m saying, “Americans have parties on this day. We have parades. We eat hamburgers and hotdogs. It’s the day that our country became a country.” They understand all of these words, but they just didn’t understand the whole “independence” deal. So, plan B was to compare it to Egypt’s similar situation later on. I explained how Great Britain controlled Egypt for a long time and that the day when Egypt gained its independence Egyptians celebrate. Again, nothin’. I’m beginng to wonder what I’m going to do with these kids for the next four hours because every activity I have planned involves the 4th. Finally, as a last resort I decide to look up the Egyptian Independence Day on the internet to see if I can find a picture or something. I find a page and my eyes fall on “National Day.” “Ok, do you guys know what National Day is?” The class erupts in shouting and nodding and smiling and I realize yet again, my assumption that my choice of words are not the problem was wrong. I had no idea that their Independence Day was called something other than that. Anyway, we got it figured out and I didn’t have to teach about something random I thought up as I went along. 

They loved the pictures that I brought from the Mount Morris Memorial Day parade this year. I figured that they didn’t really need to know that it wasn’t exactly the fourth. It’s similar enough. Anyway, they loved seeing the bands and cars and tractors. 

Then I asked them, after covering what Americans do on the fourth, I asked them to make up sentences describing those activities. Most of the answers were pretty standard, although I couldn’t make them understand that picnics were not necessarily in the streets, but oh well. One kid, though, had kind of a funny answer. “For the Fourth of July Americans drink juice.” Random, but it was a grammatically correct sentence so if he wants to think that we drink juice on the fourth, that’s fine by me.

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