Classroom Observations, Day 2

Yesterday, we visited EFACAP, which is the public government school for the area. We visited the first-graders and the second-graders.

The first-grade class was taught by a Marie-Carmelle. The lesson was reading in French – the kids were looking at the “gn” sound. The kids were seated in three rows, with two to three students on most of the benches. Often, girls sat with girls and boys with boys, but a few of the benches were mixed.We stepped in for the last period before recess and lunch, so we weren’t sure how everything was going to go. We also knew this was the largest class out of the three grades we’re working with, with 71 students. However, we needn’t have worried.

Although she was dealing with all those kids all by herself, the teacher did a great job of getting their attention and keeping it. She transitioned into the new activity by telling them “Now we’re going to change to something else – put your hands on the table, please.” Then, they warmed up by reading through letters and syllables that she had written on the boad in different colors. They had a way of associating every letter with a sound by calling it “the man who does an action” – F plays the flute.

The teacher asked if everyone wanted to hear a story. She told them about how she had gone to the market in town and told a kid that she would give him a treat to eat if he successfully identified which sound was most often repeated in a song of hers. The kid didn’t get it right, so she didn’t give him anything. The teacher told all the kids that she believes in them. If they had that opportunity, they wouldn’t have “left hungry.” They would have gotten it right.

She read a short three-sentence story from the book that involved mountains, signs, and swans and walked around the room showing the kids the picture. The name of a character in the story involved the “gn” sound, so the teacher called on several kids to ask “What’s the woman’s name?” and “What sound are we learning again?” before launching into the more written part of the lesson.

The teacher wrote “gn” on the board and drew a series of lines leading from it to a column of French vowels. This is a common way of teaching reading in Haiti – you “tie” consonants with vowels to make syllables. The teacher went through the syllables with the whole class, and then row by row. When they messed up because they weren’t paying attention, she was patient: “Let’s start over.” She also used a short song that ended in “chalalalala” to get the kids focused on her again. Later on in the lesson, she mentioned that preschoolers would need to be taught a certain way, but she expects more from them as first graders.

After working with rows, the teacher called on individual students. When calling on students, she announced each time whether she was going to choose a boy or a girl. When someone got the answer right, the whole class applauded them. The teacher gave the readers advice, like “Arrange your mouth” and “Louder.”

Next, the teacher read a series of words out loud and told the kids to clap twice when they heard the “gn” sound in them. First, they practiced the skill of clapping twice – it was hard for everyone to get their timing right and then stop at two instead of going on to three. The teacher took what seemed like a long time to try to make sure everyone got the claps down. When certain groups made errors multiple times, she commented “we’re not paying attention” and “there are people who don’t respect the rules.” She started calling out individuals and benches, saying “You’re not going to be part of the game” because they weren’t doing the clapping right.

The class did a fairly good job on the clapping activity, only messing up a few times. Then, the teacher told them to pull out their books. The kids who had them got them out pretty fast, because she added a sense of urgency, saying, “Let’s go!” She passed out handwritten sheets with a similar exercise on them to the students who didn’t have books, and she walked down the rows while they were working to monitor their progress.

After class, we congratulated the teacher on a well-taught lesson. She was animated the whole time, and she clearly cares a lot about her students – they can tell, and they respond to her effort by putting in their own. She commented that everyone’s got something to do, and her thing just happens to be education.

After the kids were done eating lunch, we headed over to the second grade class, where they were starting a science lesson. This one had 64 students, 1 teacher, and an assistant. The students were divided into four rows, and again the boys and girls were mixed with two or three to a bench.

First, the teacher had the students sing a song they already knew about whether birds fly in order to get them engaged. Then, she pointed to a bird that had been drawn on the board, and asked the kids to name body parts. Everyone started shouting out at once, but she told them not to do that and started calling on them. Then, she called kids up to touch individual parts.

Once all the parts had been given, she wrote the French names on the board with arrows towards the bird drawing. Most of the words were basically the same, with the possible exception of “wings.” In Creole, you say “zel” but in French it’s “ailes.” It does sound like “zel” when it’s got a “les” in front of it, but it wasn’t clear from the kids’ pronunciation through the rest of the lesson whether they understood that you only put the “z” sound in front if you’re saying “the wings” in French.

After that, the teacher wrote the French words out again in a column and had the kids recite them, beginning with “the parts of a bird’s body are…” in French. Then, she started calling on individual students to recite the same thing. The first few did well, but then the teacher started calling on the weaker students (“You didn’t raise your hand – stand and recite for me). The kids started laughing at each other for making mistakes. The teacher got frustrated when the kids spoke softly: “The way you make noise in the class, why can’t you talk louder when I call on you?”). At one point, she startd banging an end of her pointing stick on the table, and I realized that it could very easily be turned into a weapon if you wanted that.

For the last set of kids, the teacher decided to erase the words she’d written on the board so that students would have to work from memory. They didn’t do too badly, but because they were concentrating harder they forgot things like the intro phrase (“the parts of a bird’s body are”), which the teacher didn’t think was acceptable.

After that, time was up and they needed to move on to the next lesson. The teacher told the kids, “We’ll stop there for the day and we’ll do a cooler lesson next week.”

We hung around for the next subject, which was reading in Creole. The teachers moved us to the front of the room, and seemed to be waiting on us to leave, but once I found out the next lesson would be exactly what we’re doing I decided to stay.

Although these kids are in second grade, they’re still learning some of the more complicated sounds. That day, they were working with “tch”, which you don’t actually see in too many words. I found myself wondering why there’s a whole page for it in the book.

Just like in the other class, the teacher had a passage to read where the “tch” sound is repeated. She launched right into the reading, telling the kids to play close attention. She called on kids to identify the sound that the passage had emphasized, and they didn’t seem to have much trouble – it’s pretty easy to hear. While she moved up and down the rows to talk to kids, her assistant wrote words with “tch” in them on the board.

The assistant directed the class as they read through all the words. Then, she called up individual students to circle the “tch” when it appeared. One girl ran up without being ccalled on, bu the teacher let her anyway. After that, they had a problem of too many students trying to come up at once, and the teacher had to speak up to stop it.

Next, the assistant wrote syllables on the board and had the class read them. Then, she called on students to identify individual syllables. At first, some of them messed up because they thought the point was just to circle “tch” again, instead of listening to what the teacher said and searching for it onthe board. They particularly struggled with “gò” for some reason, maybe because it’s not very common in Haitian Creole. The main teacher advised the assistant after that to only ask the class about syllables that actually had “tch” in them.

At the end of the lesson, the teacher asked the kids “What did we just do?” When someone said “Creole,” she commented, “But we didn’t do the whole book.” Someone else volunteered “the tch sound,” and that answer was satisfactory. After that, they moved onto a new lesson, and we headed out.

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