* Michelle Thoughts, * Peace Corps

Project Updates: Part One

A part of Peace Corps accountability is our trimester reports, which summarize what we’ve been up to every four months. As I (Michelle) am working on my upcoming report, I thought it might be helpful to share a bit of it with you.

Primary Project: Pull-out groups

In the first school term, I worked with 36 students in small groups of 2 to 5, for about 40 minutes each, once or twice a week.

Students practice spelling their name with letter tiles and alphabet beads
Students practice spelling their name with letter tiles and alphabet beads

Six girls and twelve boys from grades 2, 3, and 4 were still reviewing some of the letters and learning the sounds the letters make. Two girls and eight boys were still reading below the grade one level and we worked on letter sounds, how to sound out new words, and recognizing basic sight words. The few remaining students are either reading only two grades below or are in grade four and still don’t know half their letters. Since January, I’ve also started a few groups of 1st graders.

I try to make my sessions fun, incorporating games like Bingo and songs. I didn’t want to bring in my own electronics at first, but seeing how the kids responded to alphabet and other educational videos and being that there are no working computers to use at the school, I took the risk to bring something to watch ‘shows’ on twice a week. I think it’s been really effective on a number of levels.

The time slots when I can pull students out of their usual classes are limited, so I started taking the more “advanced” ones for individual reading time during their morning break and lunch hour. Surprisingly, most of them come willingly, unless they haven’t eaten yet, in which case I just find another student to read with.

Challenges: My greatest challenge at work is the level of disorder that goes on outside my little reading room because it means frequent distractions in my class. I’m already trying to minimize energy spent managing behavior of the kids I’m working with, but some days I spend even more energy keeping other unsupervised students from interrupting my sessions. Occasionally, it has gotten exasperating, like the day some kid threw gravel through the slat windows while I was with a group of first graders. But for every chaotic day there is usually a mediocre or productive one.

Rewards: In just one trimester, I can already see improvement in some (though not all) of the students. A few have gotten into the habit of sounding out unknown words when they read, instead of just guessing or giving up like they used to. And the chart I made to track how many books each student has successfully completed in individual reading sessions has led to a competition among some of the third grade boys to read more than their friends. Finally, one of my favorite little accomplishments has been with one of my neighbors who is in first grade at the school. He and his sister sometimes join me on the walk to school; and since he is a recent addition to my reading sessions, I learned that he did not know how to spell his own name. I got the spelling of his name from his sister and encouraged her to help me coach him whenever she could. Every time I saw him in the schoolyard, I would spell his name in a little chant and make him repeat it. Then one day as we were walking home, I heard him tell his sister two separate times, “I can spell my name!” followed by his name chant. It was so cute!

More next time… -M

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