Wednesday, June 2, 2010

lots of teachery stuff

And now for a little insight into the Malagasy education culture...
My school received a massive shipment of math textbooks donated from Sweden. My principal (who speaks English) was telling me about it. He mentioned several times that “there are enough books for each student to have one book. There are as many books as there are students!” The teachers' lounge was abuzz with wonderment over this development. The principal went on to express their confusion over the matter of what to do when the teacher has a book and the students have a book- what are they supposed to do during class? Normally here, most of class time is taken up with the teacher writing the lesson on the board and the students copying it into their notebooks (in essence writing their own textbooks)- not very dynamic or mentally demanding on anyones part. I explained that in the United States you have a book for most subjects, and you read it as a class and discuss it, and the teacher goes further into depth. And for math in particular, you don't have to waste time copying problems, and the teachers don't have to make all the problems up. Everyone has the problem in front of them already, and you can do it together on the board. The teachers thought this to all be quite strange. They didn't know what to do in the classroom when there's a book. During Peace Corps training (going on 2 years ago now!), when we were told that the students and teachers had no books, we were aghast with what to do without one. Additionally, the principal told me that some of the answers to the math problems were in the back of the book. He announced this to me as if it was a scandal, or some kind of obvious oversight on part of the textbook publishers. I told him that that was typical of math and science books I used in school, and that the purpose was to check your answer to see if you had done all of the steps correctly. He asked if students just copied the answer without attempting the problem, which I was able to answer from personal experience; but the teachers just have to see if the students completed all of the steps to see if they had only copied answers from the back. (Of course if you're like me and can set up a math problem but it always falls apart at some point, the answers in the back are perfect!) I thought it was interesting how they didn't know how to proceed with a textbook, when most Americans can't imagine a classroom without one. Moreover, that while the donation from Sweden will certainly have a positive impact, that our western ideas for improving things don't always work within the context of other cultures.
Also on the education front, this week I'm teaching my favorite English grammar point: referential do (when “to do” is used to show tense when negating and forming questions in present and past simple tenses... still not with me? For example, to negate the sentence “I like cookies” you have to add “do” before the “not” even though nothing is being done (“I do not like cookies.”). And to ask if you like cookies, I start with “do” unless I'm asking about when you were young in which case I'd use “did”... don't worry, my lesson was a lot more clear than that.) But this rampant unclear use of “do/does/did & don't/doesn't/didn't” throws ESL learners off since they're trying to translate it, but it doesn't translate to anything, it just functions as a tense marker. There were multiple points during the lesson in each class when I heard students hit with understanding (“OOOOohh!”), and it warmed my icy heart.
This week at English club we learned “The Sweetest Thing” by Akon, Wyclef, and Lil Wayne. It was pretty complicated to explain, but everyone understood eventually. The song is pretty popular here, but the lyrics are too colloquial and full of slang for them to understand when they hear it on the radio. The chorus is “Dollar dollar bills, y'all, where my money at?” so I showed them the 5 dollar bill that's in my wallet ready to buy me a fast food lunch at whatever airport I fly into upon my return to the US. They wanted to know if it still works because Obama isn't on it, adorable. We also did “If I Was President” by Wyclef Jean, which is appropriate for the political situation here. The song mentions Christopher Columbus, so asked them if they knew who he was, and one kid shouted out “1492!” in French. Apparently that number has been pounded into their heads. It also mentions Martin Luther King, who they thought they knew, but they were talking about Martin Luther. And lastly it mentions JFK. I asked them if they knew who JFK is and one said “John Fitzgerald Kennedy, president of the United States” which was awesome. They totally understood the lyrics and were able to see how they are applicable both the Madagascar and the United States. It was a good English club.
I have captured a second disgusting long, fat tailed rat. It has been charged with larceny and disturbing the peace, and was hastily sentenced to death bypassing the formality of trial. I told it, “life's not fair and then you die...” really die. My friend came over, and I proudly showed him my new prize. He asked me if I was going to keep it in the cage on my bookshelf so I have something to be my friend and talk to. I told him, no thankyouverymuch, but that I would keep it at least for the morning to taunt and laugh at which provided more stress relief than you would think.

The next time I post a blog I will probably be an aunt! Good luck Shannon (and Dan!)!

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