Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Model School

To prepare trainees for teaching in Rwanda, Peace Corps has created a four week model school. It accepts lower secondary (equivalent of junior high) students from Nyanza who want extra instruction in English, Science, and Math.

For the teaching schedule, we’re divided into groups, usually of about 5 people as is the case with my group. School runs from 8:00 to 11:40 and consists of four classes and a short break. Since this school takes place within the students’ regularly scheduled break from real school, classes are very relaxed. It's a good opportunity for us to experiment with more creative and learner-centered activities than Rwandan students may be used to.

More often than not, our attempts go down in flames. But it's good that we have this time to make mistakes and learn from them without the pressure of really screwing up these kids lives. Already there is a temptation to stick to what's easy and generally works. Verb conjugation charts and fill-in-the-blank exercises work very well with Rwandan students because they are easy. But in our training we are urged to involve students with a subject or context that serves as a framework for learning grammar. We are urged to challenge students with exercises that demand critical thinking skills and teach the how and why and practical use of grammar rather than simply the rules.

Admittedly, I still use fill-in-the-blanks and other mechanical activities. My explanations of grammar concepts is difficult to understand and class is centered around me rather than the students. But I am seeing some progress both with myself and my group.

I have a new respect for teachers. Designing lesson plans is hard work and has kept me busy these last few weeks. Of things I have wanted to write about but haven't found the time for are our Thanksgiving celebration, eating a plate of sauteed grasshoppers (delicious), and the art museum in Nyanza.

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