Sunday, January 27, 2013

Why am I Here? Why I am Here:

One of the most common questions I encounter is,

"What do you do in the Peace Corps?"

Generally speaking, Peace Corps Volunteers exist in order to influence lives. 
Politically speaking, I am here to build positive relationships through a cultural exchange of knowledge. 
Specifically, I am teaching literacy and numeracy at the elementary school level here in Jamaica. 


In The Gambia, I was supposed to be a primary teacher trainer. Other volunteers around the world help build sustainable small business practices, improve water sanitation, raise HIV/AIDS awareness, and practice a myriad of other development efforts.


I came into this literacy teacher assignment knowing almost nothing about teaching reading. Sure, I can read myself, I can develop reading curriculum for the American classroom, and I can teach a basic writing course. But to start from nothing? To teach 8-, 9-, and 10-year-olds their basic letter sounds and sight words? I had no clue.

Through 8 months of trial and error accompanied by a compilation of ideas from the blessed internet and other volunteers, I finally have a grip on how to teach literacy (somewhat) effectively. At least, I have a small bag of tricks to convince myself and everyone else that I know what I'm doing.

For starters:


 Each potential student needs to be assessed. 
Jamaica's Ministry of Education equipped us with a sufficient assessment and guide.
To give you an idea of the students I'm (and most volunteers) are working with,
all of the grade 4 students I assessed last week are reading at about a grade 1 level.
 
If they do not know all (or most) of the letter names and sounds, I know that's where we have to start. The assessment promptly ends there.

 If the student can successfully read me both lower and upper case letters as well as tell me what "noise" or sound they make, I have them read basic sentences. Based on the sentence, I skip over to a sight words list. 


The sight words list helps me determine which level comprehension test to administer.
I have found--without fail--that students' listening comprehension is at least one or two levels above their reading comprehension.


Finally, I have the student draw a triangle, a circle, and a square. I don't know all the science behind this, but another volunteer's mother passed on tips to use this activity as a means to assess fine motor skills. Fine motor skills affects their ability to form letters, and ultimately affects their ability to recognize words and read. I think. At least it's interesting.

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