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The other day, two members of my team, Aidan and Zhane, arrived. You can expect to be seeing a lot more photos and maybe some guest posts from now on as they help me document what’s going on. I wanted to give them a chance to see a Haitian classroom in action, so we went to the Catholic school and did an observation even though it was the second-to-last day of classes and they were mostly doing review in between exams instead of any actual lessons.

The classroom we visited was 6th graders. There were 65 of them, and 42 were girls. Not everyone was wearing uniforms because it wasn’t a real day of school. The students were arranged by height, with smaller boys sitting in the front and then tall girls in the back. Only the front and the middle of the room were answering the teacher’s questions. The others were chatting quietly, zoning out, or watching but not participating. The board at the front of the room had a raised platform below it, allowing the teacher to stand and be seen by the whole class, and allowing the students to reach higher up on the board.

The teacher had written some four digit numbers on the board, and the kids had tried to put them into Roman numerals in their notebooks. Now, he was calling students up to write the answers on the board. The first girl got it wrong, prompting him to ask the class “Do you agree with her?” The second was also a little off. Finally, the third got it right, and received applause and a “Ca va” (“That’s fine”) from the teacher.

The teacher went on to explain how Roman numerals work: when you have a larger letter coming after a small letter, it means you’re subtracting the large one from the small one. He did the second problem on the board for them, then asked someone to come up and repeat his work.

The boy who came up was overconfident. Instead of copying from the teacher, he erased the teacher’s work, prompting the class to laugh. He put something up on the board, but it was wrong. The teacher asked “Is what he had good?” and the class replied that it wasn’t.

A girl came up to fix his work. The teacher told her to “Do it faster” and commented “We can’t hear what you said” when she was explaining it. The girl got it wrong, and a boy came up. The teacher had been hanging in the back, but he moved to the front of the room to help out. The boy didn’t seem to be doing it right, but the teacher wouldn’t let the class cut him off when the other students realized he was making a mistake. He said, “Let him do it. If it’s not good, let’s see what he does.” When the kid arrived at the final answer and realized he’d done something wrong, he wrote his answer down anyway (it was off by 3) and everyone laughed.

Someone else came up, and this time they got the right answer. Everyone clapped. Then the teacher came up and started tapping on the board with a stick, walking them through the process. The kid who had gotten it right had to stand at the front during this whole explanation.

Finally the kid was allowed to sit down and another came up to do the third problem (by now, it’s been 25 minutes and we’ve gotten through only two problems). The kid started writing the number in the (number)(number – number)(number) format, but the teacher told him to write it in Roman numerals first. You only use the (number)(number-number)(number) method to check your answer, not to arrive at the answer.

The kid got to the right answer, but he didn’t write it the way the teacher preferred. The teacher explained that “What he put is good, but he didn’t go on the right path.” They walked through the whole explanation again.

Then, it was time for recess, and everyone packed up.

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