29 February 2012

As some of the older students trickled in this morning, they requested me to quiz them on English verb forms. After staring at the daunting list in horror for a few minutes, I thought of the funnest way ever to test their knowledge -- CERTAMEN! Certamen is a trivia game used to test knowledge of Latin language and culture in schools across America. Turns out it works just as well for English grammar!

The students loved the game, and I encouraged them to use it to quiz one another in the future. Who knew my favorite high school game (varsity sport) would come in handy in a classroom so many miles away?!

When a number of younger students had arrived, we assembled in a circle and had a group discussion, using a ball of yarn to track who spoke in what order. I first asked a question: each student was to tell me his/her favorite thing about Gyaan Ghar. I held the ball, which I tossed to a random student. After he replied, he wrapped the yarn around his finger once and threw the ball to a classmate, and so on. After each student had answered this question, there was a complicated pattern of string on the floor. I then asked the student who had received the yarn last to tell the class his least favorite thing about Gyaan Ghar. Once he had done this, he tossed the yarn back to the student from whom he had received it, and so on until the ball was fully re-raveled.

In the process, I got some good feedback from the students, which I definitely plan to incorporate into our program. Oh, what tangled webs we weave!

Miss Ritu and Miss Gurpreet arrived just as we were wrapping up (literally) this game, and I worked with a few groups of students on exam preparation. I sent the third graders on a color scavenger hunt and designed a way for our fifth grade students to help one another learn English-to-Punjabi translations.

After class, I met with our two teachers to discuss the progress of individual students and the learning center as a whole. Once this meeting was over, I found the students playing in the park. I stopped by for a bit, and when I tried to leave, they wouldn't let go of me! Manisha actually burst into tears on several occasions, but I promised I would arrive back just as their exams were over.

For once, I am not looking forward to class tomorrow -- I simply don't want to leave!

An Afternoon in Our Life

We come a kilometer from school -- some of us ride our family bikes while most walk.

We climb the steep staircase to Gyaan Ghar.

We open the creaky door of Wisdom House.

We do our homework -- we study English, Hindi, Punjabi, Maths, and Science.

 We learn new games and play until it is time to go home.

25 February 2012

After the students had 2.5 hours of exam preparation today, we played a few games in the park. The students first introduced me to Water&Ice, in which one person is "it" and anyone who is tagged by him has to freeze like an ice sculpture until freed by another player, who must touch the frozen friend without being caught by the person who is "it." Some students enjoyed making me into a sculpture, and others displayed their chivalry by coming to rescue their Didi in Distress.

Next, we played Follow the Leader with a new set of rules to make the game more exciting. And lastly, we played Hide&Seek, the Indian version of which is much more interesting! Players who are hiding must sneak up behind the seeker and tag him to end the game. How cool.

Once the other students had been dismissed, I worked on English with Sonu (5th grade).

Specifically, he wanted tips on how to remember the answers to English questions on tests. What I soon learned was that once he knew what was being asked, he was able to write the answers with only minor mistakes. But he had trouble recognizing the wording of the question itself. For example, he has an upcoming assessment on the following 7 questions:

1. What is your name?

2. How old are you?

3. In which class do you study?

4. What is the name of your father?

5. What is the name of your mother?

6. What is the name of your brother?

7. What is the name of your sister?

He can easily write "I am 13 years old," but has trouble reading the questions themselves, and therefore knowing which response to write. My "tip" to him was to look for the terms in common between the questions and answers. For example, the word "old" is present in both the question and answer above. It seems obvious to us, but he had never noticed this before!

Sonu, thankfully, understands phonics, so I was able to get him to sound words out, but I have noticed that some students can spell "cat" but don't know what sounds the individual letters make; only how to write the word. Another of Sonu's strengths is his Hindi, so I was able to remind him that that "c" makes a क sound, "a" a ए sound,  "t" a ट sound, etc. This seemed to really help him, and it was a good review of my Hindi writing as well. :)

I think this is a perfect example of how rote memorization in Indian education is so, well, rote. For us in the US, "cramming" means studying non-stop the night before a test. Here, it means cramming information into your brain even if you don't understand it at all. Sonu just expected to memorize all of this without noticing any patterns, which seem like "tricks" to him -- this is normal to him, and truly shocking for little me, a product entirely of the American education system.

At the end of an hour and a half together, I was very pleased with our progress. A boy who couldn't recognize what he was even being asked when he walked in walked out knowing how to read and respond to the 7 questions. But of course, I will review this again with him tomorrow. And that's what's different about the work we are doing with our students. At his public school, the teacher would write each sentence once and tell him to copy it a number of times and bring it back to school the next day. I'll instead remind him of the patterns we discovered, so that he will be able to make similar connections when he is taking an assessment. And I'm not even an experienced teacher -- this is just the type of attention we are used to in America, and the type all these students would be getting if they had had the random fortune of being born into a different environment.

"Iski lagan, uski shaadi!"

I started today's lesson by telling the class about our upcoming Pen Pal Project with students of The Newton School, founded by the family of my teacher and friend Rick Abraham.

I then took a set of siblings -- Vrinder (6th grade), Vinay (4th grade), and Shivani (3rd grade) outside for a chat. The three of them are exceptional students, and I just wanted to hear a bit about how they do it. After they told me about their daily routine, study habits, and dream careers, I asked the boys to go inside as I chatted with Shivani. She told me about how her brothers work at a corner shop and she is expected to help her mom with chores at home, but sometimes really doesn't feel like it. I can't say I'm the best role model for the situation, but we discussed a few options for how she could be more helpful while still being able to study and play plenty of the time.

By this time, it was 4:30 and the other students had been let out. After I told them how to play Telephone, I asked them to teach me some of their favorite games. Now this was fun.

The two games they taught me centered around somewhat real-life situations -- the names of the games translate roughly to "Who is getting married?" and "Old Lady" -- and require a lot of imagination. The paradigms/formulae around which their play is centered was really peculiar to me, a different sensibility. They are weird to describe, and I am pictured quite perplexed below.

For example, "Who is getting married?" first involved standing in a circle, and reciting a sort of chant until each kid, one at a time, had turned around to face outward (she was then "married"). Once we had turned around, we kneeled and closed our eyes. Then, two children would walk around the circle: one would pinch each person and one would punch him/her. We each had to guess who had done what. Those who were correct sat on one side of lawn, those who were wrong on the other. Then, the two leaders would come around and ask each of us questions: "How much milk did you drink?" "How many chillies did you eat?" "Where do you want to go?" We would name a city and they would take us to a part of the yard that represented that place. And then the game was over!

They all laughed a lot at how I had no idea what I was doing (or why), and I was touched when a few of them noticed I was having a lot of fun. Santosh turned to me during the game and asked, "Didi, you are really enjoying today, right?" and then started pouring out stories about a squabble he had had at school today (behold -- play therapy works!). I also overheard the last few girls who left today saying, "We made Didi so happy today!"

Well yes, kids, you did make Didi very happy today, and I look forward to class tomorrow!

23 February 2012

Today marked the first day of our new Sisters' Circle initiative.  

Gyaan Ghar was originally designed to be a school exclusively for girls, to address the disparaging attitudes toward education of girl children prevalent in economically weak Indian households. However, we made the decision in 2010 that girls should learn to operate in a world where women and men study and work side-by-side, and therefore made the learning center co-educational. But from now on, to receive special attention, Gyaan Ghar girls will gather in a circle once a week to discuss how to be successful in this environment.

Gyaan Ghar ladies, from youngest to oldest.

Our conversation was even more incredible than these girls realized. I started by giving them a general "we girls gotta stick together!" speech, and then explaining to them why it's so important that females stay in school. I presented them with a riddle of sorts -- What is one job that only a woman can have? It was interesting that Divya got the closest, and her answer was "housewife." I insisted that dads could stay at home too, but told her she was getting warmer. The answer? A mother! We talked about how an educated mother can in turn teach her children so much.

We then moved to the topic of the girls' daily lives. Many of them complained that they had to do all the household work with their mothers, and that their brothers and fathers said this was "women's work." While their brothers, whether younger or older, go out to play, most of these girls stay home to wash dishes and even cook for their families! The way they talked about this like there was nothing wrong with the picture (except that they sometimes felt like playing too) was an interesting up-close insight for me, to say the least.

I'm happy with how this first Sisters' Circle session went, and look forward to continuing it in the upcoming weeks.

When the boys were let out of class, we had some running races before plopping ourselves down for Duck, Duck, Goose again (they can't get enough)! However, we got even more crazy with the pronunciation today, and ended up playing Dhuck, Dhuck, Dhoose as well as Puck, Puck, Poose and Chuck, Chuck, Choose. 

Students who were out of the game moved to the badminton court and played Gallery, a game I never knew how to play before today -- a few students taught me after class. I hope to buy some prizes for exceptional players before class tomorrow, because I saw some great sportsmanship and maturity today. Another great day at Gyaan Ghar!

"Duck, duck, duck, duck, GHOO!"

After students had finished their academic tuition for today, I took them out to the park for some fun and games. But the first thing they all did was exclaim "Sorry, Didi!" in apology for their distracted behavior yesterday. I of course forgave them right away and we moved on to some activities.

After an intense class-wide Rock, Paper, Scissors tournament (Neha won!), we played some Duck, Duck, Ghoo. You can see one rotation in the video below, though I'm bummed that I stopped filming where I did, because Santosh, who is "it" at the end of the recording, is hilarious when he plays. This is mainly because he giggles the entire time that he is running around his classmates, and can barely get the word "goose" out before exploding into fits of laughter and sprinting away.

Some other antics included the older boys choosing the younger girls to chase them, knowing that chances of their being caught were slim. Some of the more self-assured boys would also make the rounds while doing Bhangra moves, showing off that no one could catch them, even if they "ran, ran, ran, as fast as [they] can!"

Today's game got pretty intense, and only a few students were left at the end, thereby attracting a lot of spectators.

The winners were Rahul and Neha -- again! This girl is lucky and speedy! It was now getting late, and a lot of kids had to leave, but I promised I'd plan a fun class for them tomorrow!

21 February 2012

During the second (activities) half of today's class, I wanted to introduce a game that required a ball. Since no one in the class had brought one along, we had to figure out a way to make one of our own. Below, Suresh looks on as Rahul solves our dilemma by wrapping a wad of Santosh's notebook paper with tape.

The game itself went like this: one student would start, and throw the ball to a classmate of her choice. (She would also say the friend's name.) This classmate would throw it to another person of her choice, who had not yet received the ball. After all the students had received the ball, we had to reverse the order of receipt; i.e. if Sunaina threw it to me, I would give it back to her, she would then pass it to whomever threw it to her. Thus, the second half of the game is quite a memory test.

The students definitely found it challenging at first (one reason was because "Ratna Didi" was such a common recipient of the ball that she found it hard to remember who had thrown it to her in what order -- this was the reason for implementation of the rule italicized above). We played a few rounds where no one could remember who had thrown the ball to someone, so we had to start over. A lot of the students wanted to switch games, but I challenged them to put their heads together and persist until we had completed the game successfully once.

When we finally did (on our fifth try, I believe), there ensued the laughter and applause pictured below.
After this game, the students were starting to get a bit distracted and chatty, so I dismissed them to go blow off some steam in the park.

"What is wisdom?"

During class today, I took the third graders outside for a breakout session. Manisha and Sapna had requested yesterday that I teach their class something, and after debating between English and Environmental Science for a while I decided instead to talk to the students about something completely different -- wisdom.

Wisdom, or "gyaan" (ज्ञान), is the first word of our school's name ("Wisdom House"), and I think it's very important for students to understand the different between knowledge and wisdom. So this is what we talked about today. You can see the beginning of our conversation by watching this video.

I then asked them a question to get them thinking -- "If you could change one thing about your life, what would it be?" -- knowing fully well that we would soon get off-topic in a way that would allow me to work with them in a counseling capacity. Sure enough, we got from reform to who-beats-up-whom-in-school, and I had two quarreling young citizens do a role play activity to examine how they could better settle their differences.

When it became clear that a little skit probably wouldn't be enough to make a lasting difference for Sunaina and Santosh, I dismissed the rest of the group and had a chat with the two of them and their "mediator" friend Divya. What came out in the talk was that Santosh thinks it's funny to hit Sunaina as a joke, and Sunaina retaliates by cursing him out and saying really hurtful things about him. I believe we made some good progress today (Sunaina apologized and Santosh accepted, though with some hesitation; Santosh promised to find better ways of having fun with his friends and ensuring that they are enjoying his games too, Divya is going to help them both keep track of their goals, etc.) and the three left happy. What is so rewarding about this process is that by the end of it, I may have prevented these two kids from growing up into a physically abusive husband/father and a verbally abusive wife/mother. That's what I love about working with children -- one has a chance to guide them while they are open-minded and pure.

When I tried to take a photo with these three, the rest of the class of course jumped in, and here was the result:

Since the other students had now been let out of class, we played a massive game of Duck, Duck, Goose in the park before some of the children had to go home. I brought the remaining students back inside to play Follow the Leader. But when we came inside, Miss Gurpreet told me that some of the neighbors had been complaining about the noise level during our class periods. I gave the students a grave lecture about how it was of the utmost importance that we play our game quietly today if we want to be allowed to meet for our daily program.

What happened next blew my mind. The students tiptoed up the stairs, snuck into the innermost classroom, and sat down, quiet as mice. I can't believe these were the same students I had had to chide about "talking while others are talking" this morning. The students who usually cause the most ruckus became the arbiters of the peace. The volume threshold was several decibels below what would have been more than decent under the circumstances. If anyone talked above a whisper, he/she was harshly admonished by his/her peers. It was incredible. Kids can be quiet!

It's little things like this that I call progress, and that give me so much joy that I never want to leave here.

17 February 2012

Ah! I looked at the site and noticed that my post for last Friday disappeared! To recap, here is what we did in class:

Since Miss Ritu will be out of town for the next few weeks, I worked with the older students today as Miss Gurpreet taught the younger ones. Vandna had been struggling with English verb tenses yesterday and reviewed them with Miss Gurpreet, so I suggested that she teach them to me today for her review purposes . . . and my grammatical edification.

During the second half of class, I played a number of games with the little ones, focusing on honesty. If a student made a mistake and was "out," she would have to admit this on his own and leave the game voluntarily.

From this play we branched out to a broader discussion about the importance of admitting one's mistakes and asking forgiveness.

Meet Manisha.

"She's a girl," they snickered.

I asked everyone in the class to tell me something that others might not know about them. "She's a girl -- even though she has no hair." There was a bandana tied around her head. I hadn't asked.

After class: "I'd like to talk to Manisha for a minute." She had a painfully beautiful smile, but she'd always been shy. Why would a child open up to a stranger?

"So, your hair." She nodded. "The boys make fun of your hair. How do you feel?" Didi, I feel sad. "Yeah, I felt bad when they did that, too. But you know what? We can't change them. But I think you're sooo pretty. We can't change them, but you can think about how pretty you are. My friends make fun of my short hair too!" Didi, I feel sad but I tell them it doesn't make a difference to me. Didi, when something hurts me, I never tell anyone. Like Didi, when I get a boo-boo or something, I don't even tell my parents, because I don't want them to worry about me. "But Manisha, you can tell me. I won't worry, okay? I'll just try to figure out what we can do to help you."  

You know, I don't tell anyone when something bothers me, but whenever something bothers me, God fixes it. "But Manisha, that's wonderful! How does he fix it?" When there is danger somewhere or there is about to be an accident, he doesn't let me go there. Like one day, my mother's brother was really angry at her. He beat her so much! He picked her up by her neck and threw her across the room. Her entire face was swollen the next day. But my mom had told me just before that to go do the dishes. I did the dishes and went downstairs when the danger was gone! And when I think about how I'm bald, my hair always grows back so fast!

Didi, I really like you. "Manisha, that's so swee--" Didi, you like me a lot too, right? "Of course, Manisha! How did you know?" I can see it on your face, Didi! You always smile and remain so happy. "Not always, Manisha, but I'm happy when I'm with you guys!" You like being with us, don't you, Didi? I like being with my friends, too. If I had it my way, I would always study and spend time with my friends. I like being with my friends instead of alone washing dishes in the kitchen. Even when I study alone, I feel so nervous and unhappy, but studying with friends, Didi . . . ahhh.

Didi, I'm really glad you thought of me. "What do you mean, Manisha?" You didn't ask about my hair! I was so afraid you would. I'm always a little bit afraid when I talk to you. Look, I'm afraid now too. Look, my knees are shaking! I'm always afraid you're going to ask me a question I don't know the answer to, and then what will you think of me? "Manisha! I won't think anything! There are so many questions I don't know the answers to! When my teachers or friends ask me, I just tell them straight away -- I don't know!"

"And look, you taught me the best thing ever today! That even when you don't share your grief with others, God helps you! I'm going to remember that from now on! God will always find a solution for me and you." No, Didi, God will always find a solution for everybody.

15 February 2012

I'm so excited to be back in Ludhiana and back at Gyaan Ghar!

I caught some students as they were leaving class today, and look forward to meeting them all tomorrow.

I headed up to the classrooms and settled in for an informal meeting with our two teachers, Ritu and Gurpreet. The two seem pleased with the children's overall progress in this past year, and we discussed some students who will need more support. We also discussed briefly some ways in which we can combat families' tendency to stress education of their boys more than that of their girl children.

Most notably, we will be introducing a new program called Sisters' Circle. (In fact, Gyaan Ghar was originally designed to be a school exclusively for girls, to address the disparaging attitude toward education of girls prevalent in economically weak Indian households. However, we made the decision in 2010 that girls should learn to operate in a world where women and men study and work side-by-side, and therefore made the learning center co-educational.) From now on, Gyaan Ghar girls will gather once a week to discuss how to be successful in this environment.

As I sign off for today, I'd encourage you to look around our new and improved website!