School Visits

Day 8: Monday, August 6, 2012

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This was one of my favorite days of the trip to Chajul because we spent much of the day visiting different classrooms to observe teaching and learning. We witnessed a variety of teaching styles and classrooms that were both teacher-driven and student-driven.

Perhaps my favorite teacher was a female second-grade teacher who also taught pre-school students in the same room. I wonder what the Boston Teacher’s Union would say about such a scenario. She had students collect pebbles outside the room to use as manipulatives and she modeled arithmetic using all four basic operations. Then she had students work together or in small groups to practice. I worked with a female student and a young male student. We talked about the steps necessary to solve the problems, and grouped the pebbles accordingly. As the 2nd grae students worked on that, the teacher met with the pre-school students and sang songs. She also sang songs with the 2nd grade group and had the students standing and moving around a lot. The students were smiling and enjoying what they were doing.

In the first grade class a less charismatic teacher was reviewing Spanish vocabulary with a small class in a small, dark classroom. The setting was a little depressing actually. Despite the conditions, the students were attentive and came up to the board in turns to write down vocabulary words as others took notes in their notebooks.
Outside there was a cart with a roof that served as a worm farm. Students from Texas A&M had built it but the roof needed to be lowered to reduce the amount of water that got into the soil. Alan expertly lowered the roof. Elsewhere, a woman stirred something (atol?) in a giant pot for mid-morning snack, and other students roamed the school grounds. One teacher asked students at one point to go across the street to a giant field and to collect manure for the school garden. They were growing all types of vegetables. Again, something you would not see in Boston: students scouring a field for manure.

We traveled to a 2nd school and again Alan lowered the roof of the worm farm. We witnessed different classes with quite varied teaching styles. On kindergarten teacher his students running in circles like musical chairs. When they stopped they had to count the bottle caps lined up in front of their chair and compare the amount to the amount they had previously. The students loved it and the teacher played fun music as they made their way around and around.

Another teacher talked a little about nutrition and then sent her students off in pairs outside to work on a list of 10 different foods that are healthy to eat. When the students left the room she sat at her desk as students made lists around the school complex. When they returned, the teacher put up the lists and the students talked about their choices and why they chose certain foods. The discussion was a little strange at times. At one point the teacher told the students that eating too much bread would make them obese, but that they should not drink water but instead drink fruit drinks because they are more nutritious.
Another teacher led a strictly teacher-driven lecture on the trachea and its purpose. He started by writing the word and then went on to explain it in words with few visuals. Finally, he drew a diagram of the throat and lungs, but the class was passively copying his words and had no chance to work with the new information.

We had lunch at a home of a tasty potato soup and then returned to LHI to rest and then we went to the library down the street to meet with the librarians and talk about how they could utilize the resources they have. For example, they have many games and flashcards and things like that and so we all talked about ways students could test themselves and others and play review games.

At night we had chicken burritos and I taught Christy, Katie and Frank how to play whist, a favorite card game of mine.

Tomorrow: Hike to cheese farm for lunch. Yum.

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About prcloth

I am a high school math teacher in Boston who spent two weeks on a volunteer program in a town of mostly indigenous people in the highlands of Guatemala. I worked closely with the sponsor NGO, Limitless Horizons Ixil, and the residents, students, teachers and librarians of Chajul to extend educational opportunities to the region. I have included some details from this rich, authentic cultural exchange.
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