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Posts tagged ‘teaching English’

Week 14: the semester is seriously almost over?

Four more school days. I repeat, FOUR MORE SCHOOL DAYS BEFORE BREAK! Dear Lord. We. Need. This. Break.

Why? Ohhhh, I don’t know, maybe, just maybe because we’re all physically, emotionally and mentally drained.

Time has flown by. Was it a year ago when I met all 13 of my roommates and all 15 of my teammates? No, only just about four months ago. The relationships that have grown since then between roommates and teammates make it seem like we’ve known each other for a year or so, however.

I’m constantly around City Year people, considering I work with them and live with 13 of them. As much as I like everyone, it’ll be good to head home next week and spend time with my middle school best friends. Working in a middle school has made me appreciate that I still (and always will) have my middle school buddies. And so the countdown is on! As soon as after work on the 20th hits, I’m jumping in my car and heading back to the bay.

This week at Markham I finally set my schedule straight for the students and what day they will be coming out of class with me. I split the students up based on academic level, so lower students are grouped together and higher students are grouped together (that way I’ll be able to teach more efficiently).

My students are enjoying the picture phonetics system I mentioned in last week’s post. The students who are working on that with me will practice it for 20 minutes during a period then we’ll do class work together in the library so I can help them one-on-one and it’s a quiet environment for them. They’re also able to practice reading by “popcorn” style reading. I make them read aloud and pause every paragraph. When they pause the other students have to respond back with the word the student paused on so I make sure they’re following along. Reading aloud is good practice for them and if they keep practicing hopefully their reading scores will go up. So far that has worked.

Even though my system has been working, it’s very, very frustrating. On Thursday, I took a couple of my higher focus list students out of class for a tutoring session. The first activity was to do their “do-now” and write it in their journal. The prompt was, “Explain how creating a writing system advanced the civilization of ancient Sumeria.”

I asked them what the topic sentence is. They said the main idea. Good job, my little students. Then I circled words in the prompt like “advanced”, “writing system”, and “Sumeria” and told them that I wanted all of those words in their topic sentences. They couldn’t do that. I wrote a topic sentence for them. Then we tried to brainstorm three details about why a writing system would advance ancient Sumeria society. I was pulling teeth. Not only have they been reading about this in history class, but my teacher made sure that they could answer it even without a history book.

I had the same struggles with my students after reading a nonfiction article and coming up with a main idea and two details supporting that main idea. I just don’t understand how some of this doesn’t click with my students (and it’s not just this time, it’s been like this all year). My teacher and I think that in elementary school they may have been given a lot of sentence starters for their written work, so now that they have to come up with their own sentence starters they’re struggling.


It’s hard to tutor these kids or bring try to bring them up from where they are when we can’t really even successfully get through a period of class work. It’s so hard to not get frustrated when you’re trying so hard to get the students to just “get it.” It’s hard not to get frustrated with yourself and doubt your teaching and tutoring skills.

On Tuesday, we played a kickball game of City Year vs. the students. We were team “Golden Eagles” and the students were team “Dynamite.” We painted war paint on the students faces to get them pumped up. They ended up cheering for each other in unison. It was probably the cutest thing ever. Ironically, the students almost beat us, even though we thought we would school them.


On Saturday, the Markham team had a BBQ. We surprised our team leaders with a “team leader appreciation” by cooking them a “thank you” cake, acting out a skirt mimicking all the Lauren and Brit-isms and I made a video about why we appreciate our team leaders (in the post below). After, we set up karaoke for everyone. The skit was absolutely hilarious and our team leaders were surprised. Altogether, it was a successful “thank you” for all they do for us and how grateful we are to have such awesome team leaders.

Sunday dinner at The Manor is back in action and tonight we have 13 out of the 14 roommates attending. I’d have to say that’s the most successful it’s been all year!

One final note…

My roommate and teammate Marissa and I found a stray dog outside of our school on the way to the train station after work. The dog literally has a cement collar on and almost couldn’t breathe. I know we’re told to not mess around with strays in Watts, but how could we let that poor thing choke to death? We waited until animal services came and got the dog (we named it Edwin after our school). If only we could have taken it to the vet and then made it our house dog! As we were waiting for animal services to come, a helicopter was flying over our school and the grocery plaza with its search lights on saying on the loud speaker, “We know where you are, the dog will find you. You can’t hide.” If school was still in session that probably would have been a lockdown situation. Oh, there’s never a dull moment; we’ve become accustomed to expecting the unexpected.



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!)