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Week 13: tackling the English language

Lately, I’ve been wondering how I ever learned how to read and spell. I can’t remember what I was taught in elementary school, but I can say that it bewilders me how young children catch onto the English language. After sounding out words myself and trying to think of creative ways to teach my students the different sounds (and similar sounds) letters or letter pairings make, I now see just HOW difficult the English language is. A lot of the spelling rules don’t even make sense or are contradictory. I can’t even imagine how hard it must be to learn English as a second language.

As known, my students need spelling and reading work. I tried phonetic flash cards, but that led to be confusing for them. I tried taking all their misspelled words and writing them into sentences then having them correct and sound out misspelled words (Befor I go to school I have to mak a lunch because if I don’t I won’t have food to eat at lunch time. Peanut butter and jelly sandwiches are my favorit).

They were able to catch the mistakes, but still couldn’t spell them right. That’s when I saw my plan for interventions for these students really wasn’t going to work and whether I liked it or not, I had to take a step back and try teaching the sounds of English again. No amount of worksheets or me telling them how to spell words is not going to make any difference.

Yup, I’ve been completely overwhelmed. How am I going to teach these kids? I haven’t been trained to teach English (which will change during Peace Corps training). I haven’t taken any English teaching classes. I can’t even understand how I know how to spell.

What a daunting task…

That’s when I saw my team leader Lauren buried away in a bunch of envelopes at her desk on Wednesday. She started showing flash cards to another corps member. I curiously walked over and asked what they were doing. Oh my gosh, Ms. Lauren was showing Ms. Charlotte the system she used to teach one of her 2nd graders last year in Washington D.C. how to read! Christmas officially has come early.

20111203-135037.jpg This system is a year’s worth of work compiled into one box. Lauren read books about educational theory and saw that photonetics was a good starting point. Photonetics, in summary, is teaching phonetics with pictures. Students learn that just like how there can be many different pictures of flowers – or whatever – there can also be various sounds the same letters can make.

For example, the students will have to hear a word like “pat” then “cat” etc. then the sound will be changed to “pot”, “mop”, etc. They have to construct the words with letter pieces. This is called “auditory processing.” Then, students are given a longer word with the sounds in it that they learned and have to construct the word by looking at a picture of what the word is. When they’re ready, they’ll move from the basic sounds of the English language to words that blend the sounds of consonants. Then, they’ll learn two consonant sounds (th, ck, sh) and move onto words that have a mix of the consonant-constonant-vowel-consonant, vowel-consonant-consonant, consonant-vowel-consonant-constant. Then, they’ll be ready to name words after viewing flash cards of “almost every sound in the English language.”

In-between levels, I can play bingo with the students by reading out a sound then they’ll have to match a word on the board with the sound.

We call this system “You be Readin’ by Young Greenie”

(disclaimer: sorry, might have explained this wrong. I plan to work out kinks as I go and ask Lauren for advice)

Lauren presenting this seriously took a weight off of my shoulders. I now have guidance on how to actually teach the language (side note: I’m grateful to have such amazing team leaders that can help me with stuff like this!) “They” (yes, I’m breaking every journalism rule by writing something that I can’t attribute…sorry about it) say that many children have a knack for reading by being surrounded by words everywhere they go. However, in places like Watts where there is not many words around the neighborhood, or if they are they are in Spanish on billboards and what not, which means our students may not have been exposed to English words so quickly as other young children).

Although it will take time, this year will prep me for English teaching in the Peace Corps!

Other than wrapping my mind around these interventions for my students, things have still been pretty calm at Markham. Sure, there’s been the occasional fights, but MY students have been pretty mild lately. That’s subject to change because my trouble student, who I’ve written previously about in this blog, was officially switched from my classes. Last week, he knocked on the door in the middle of instruction, stormed in class and told the teacher to “f off and she’s an f-ing liar” (trust me, when this happened my teacher and I gave each other the “Did that SERIOUSLY just happen?” look). He’s now in another City Year classroom with my roommate Daniel so I told him he’s not getting off easy and now has two City Years watching his behavior.

Just when I thought things would be easier now that this student isn’t in our class anymore, I was wrong. A girl version of this student switched into the classes I work in. I’m giving her time to warm up, but we’ll have to see where this switcharoo takes me.

We started a new program after-school for our City Year Scholars that we refer to as the “challenge packet.” Each student who doesn’t have homework after school receives a packet and a little eagle to decorate and put on a poster that has different levels they can move their eagle to (and soar to new heights…cliche). When they complete the packet, they’ll get a big prize, then they’ll start a new packet. The challenges are really creative. For example, students can: write a diary entry from the perspective of a historical figure, create a vacation advertisement for foreign country, etc. Most of the students are so far receptive to this, so yay for learning!

Lastly, my Life After City Year (LACY plan) has been sneaking up on me recently. On December 1st (last Thursday), Peace Corps volunteer spots opened up around the world. Every three months volunteer spots open up. The next step after the spots open up is for your recruiter to nominate you for that spot, then I’m assuming it’s somehow decided at headquarters in Washington D.C. what nominee gets the spot (question mark). I applied in time to be nominated for this opening pool, but my recruiter warned me that there’s still a lot of people ahead of me because of budget cuts, which means I could be pushed back to March 1st nominations. I emailed my recruiter this week and she said she’ll be in touch with me in December. I’m not sure what that means, but of course I’m hoping for the best and that I got a fall 2012 nomination. After getting a nomination I’ll be able onto the intense medical packet and will be one step closer to my new foreign home! Patience is the name of the game, so if I have to wait until spring, I’ll be okay. I’m still just living off the thought and excitement that I will be going eventually and will wait as long as I have to.

Speaking of the Peace Corps, last week I woke up to a comment on my blog from the author of the Unofficial Peace Corps Handbook (the book I read so religiously this summer). He left me some very motivational comments and said that the Peace Corps will be lucky to have me. Hearing something like that just makes me so happy and thrilled to be serving now and ready to serve later. I appreciate that others appreciate the work done by (and the work to be done in the future) those who dedicate years of their lives to service. Updates on the Peace Corps will be published on this blog as soon as they come.

Check my latest article on GOOD “A City Education” Series:

  • Bringing Together the Communities We Serve
  • Noteworthy pictures of the last two weeks: Markham and Woodcraft Manor Swag


    My roommates Molly, Marissa and I at the USC v UCLA game last weekend, reppin’ USC in a sea of Bruins on our team…


    A Trojan and Bruin living together under one roof… Wait, what? Rivalries commence! Another roommate Bret and I at the game.


    Happy birthday to my teammate Charlotte!


    Reporting from Central Illinois (I’m here for a wedding… No wind chill factor = loving the cold weather!)


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