Sunday, October 19, 2014

Teaching Ten-Year-Olds

Working on Open-Mindedness: I wrote the quotes, the kids added the methods at the right

I am not trained as a primary teacher, nor have I ever, before this year, taught anything below Year 7.  You would think there wouldn't be much difference between Year 7 and Year 6, which I now teach...but there is.  The students are mostly about 10 years old, and they are still losing teeth and learning how to interact socially and searching for approval from me and from each other.  They cry, a lot.  Even the boys.  They argue and wrestle and betray friendships, only to repair them 20 minutes later.  A few of them are "dating" each other, and when they "break up" it polarises the group and interrupts lessons.  They interrupt, they grab my hand, they pick up every item on my desk, they talk constantly.  They are always asking to go to the nurse.  They need me to check their work every step of the way to make sure they are doing it right, and they are afraid to try anything they have not done before.

I can't legally show you their cute little faces,
but here they are giving presentations!
In addition to being young, my children are also not native English speakers.  They communicate with each other in rapid Spanish which I often don't understand.  When I intercept notes being passed in class, I have to take them to another teacher to help me interpret them (I can read Spanish pretty well; this is mostly because the notes are poorly spelled or written in typical tween shorthand, the Spanish equivalent of "lol" or "bff").  All but one of these students were taught in English last year, so they have a decent working vocabulary and can usually communicate with me when they need to; however, when they get angry or really upset, or are crying, they fall back into Spanish and I feel utterly helpless.

They are mischievous and playful, sometimes cruel (there has been some bullying, which we are working to stop), but usually loveable.  They threw me a surprise birthday party three days after our first meeting.  They are really good liars.  They are creative, and some of them are quite smart.  A few of them are really interested in learning new things, and the ones who work the hardest are not naturally bright, but their dedication will get them far.  They are adorable.  They are infuriating.  I have gotten to know their little personalities very well over the past two months, and I find myself worrying about them, dreaming about them, and working myself sick for them as if they were my own children.

Sometimes teaching ESL can be highly entertaining, because mispronunciations or mistranslations can create new and unexpected meanings.  In the past I have amused myself by sharing the funny misspellings and poor grammar of my older students.  These kids have many more valid excuses for their poor writing, but that doesn't stop me from laughing out loud when reading it.  An example follows.  We have just begun a new Unit of Inquiry in which the focus is on Past Civilisations.  We are concentrating on the ancient ones, like Greece, Rome, Mesopotamia, China, and the Indus Valley.  As an exercise, I asked the students to imagine what the first civilisation in any country would have to have (a food source, a form of government, a religion, etc.).

Assignment: read a description of the geography and culture of a modern-day country. Then write a brief description of what you think the first civilisation to have formed there would have been like.

Mexico: "They had to have works and a villa to survive of the predators and they got to survive winter and get food of the jungel and get materials. The jobs they had were agriculter, chicas, religion sacerdot. They eated bananas, chill pepper, beans, rice, and fish. The goverment was the rich one and the best one but the people had a little house and he had a piramids. They write aztec words. The religion of the aztec I thick it was the sun and the moon. The art were beautiful and they all ways do arts to the king and they all ways do the paint with fruits."

(The government always gets the piramids.)

Vietnam: "They country have diferents things that you can do for example food, ant that the art is popular because the persons draw to much and have creaciones."

(You can do food in Vietnam!)

Japan: "I think that the found a rat and put it in a stick and in Japan in the vilige they say to the most pretys girls and say like put that shoes on bad the feet of the girls are so big and the shoes ar small."

(Footbinding and rats on sticks = the basis for any good civilisation.)

Russia: "I think that the persons that go First to russia survive: They eat maybe the go to fishing. or they hunt. or they eat Fruits of the Trees. I think that a loin attact them and one of theme protect the others named moscow. there jobs are: Hunting. Fishing. protect the others. They comunicate by taking they language or biy a machine of write. they paint with mud, or the juice of the fruits, or the sap of the trees. they god: maybe the sun Because the sun Have light or the plants Because they smell well."

(Thanks for saving us from that loin, moscow!)

Antarctica: "Los penguins viven con fish, baby, mather y father. The pinguins do snow in Antarctic. They eat broke eggs and dead chicks. Penguins catch their food in the ocean. Some penguins can stay at sea for months. White rings around their eyes."

(Apparently the first civilisation in Antarctica would be made up of penguins instead of humans. Fair enough.)

Clearly we have some work to do, but I will continue to enjoy the silliness as much as possible while I work on improving their writing and their language skills this year.  As well as their math, science, social studies, and reading skills, of course, because primary teachers teach all the subjects--something else for which I wasn't fully prepared!  But colour me surprised, because I think teaching primary math is actually really fun, and you never would have convinced me of that a few years ago. So here's to my development, along with that of my students.

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