My name is Alys, or as the people here know me "Soda." I'm a small business development volunteer for the American Peace Corps living in Mboro. My job is to help entrepreneurs, women, and children learn basic business and information technology skills. I also work to promote ecologically friendly tourism. Outside of their programs, volunteers are encouraged to share Senegalese culture with Americans and share American culture with the Senegalese. A great way to interact with my community is to work with the children of Ecole Notre Dame.
I became an English teacher once a week. It’s a secondary project by Peace Corps standards; meaning it’s a method to occupy time that has nothing to do with small enterprise development. Last year, I started teaching an unruly class of CM1 level kids. I’d tried the grade level up as well, but they just didn’t have the heart and I dropped them after a few weeks. As much as I hate to admit it, these classes became a staple in my Peace Corps service. Teaching each week was the only appointment that wasn’t broken (baring national holidays that is). As I’m a person who flourishes in routines, I gravitated back to this project when the school year started up again last October. This school year, I’m with the same group of kids who’ve moved up a grade level CM2 level- which is the equivalent of about 5th grade.
|Young Boys Team|
In addition, I’ve joined the World Wise School program. This is a cross cultural matching program between a volunteer and a school teacher in the US. A volunteer and a teacher can apply separately to the program, or (like I did) together. I am matched with the teacher of my cousin’s daughter in Livonia, Michigan. We stumbled a bit trying to figure out how to utilize our match. The purpose of program is for me to have a structured outlet to share my experiences and findings regarding Peace Corps life, Senegal, and anything else not mainstream American with inquiring minds back home. In the end, my partnership with the English class provided the perfect mechanism. My 31 students were matched with the 31 students of my partner’s class back home and a pen-pal exchange was created. Back in the states, the kids had to get permission slips signed by parents and aren’t allowed to give out any contact information (much to the disappointment of their emailing and facebooking Senegalese pals). I have to translate every letter coming and going because the English level is still so rudimentary, but we’re having fun none-the-less. I also send home a multipage letter with each package with which I hope to explain the many oddities found in the letters generated by my side of the exchange; like multiple wives or cooking with a gas tank.
Anyway, now that we’re in our second year, it’s time to up the level of intensity in another way. I can’t help but feel that occasionally some sort of review is in order. There is just no justifying paying to print the pages in order to give an exam, since there’s no way in hell the kids will take it seriously. I mean, come on, it counts for nothing and there’s just no changing that. This is an elective, as I’ve been telling them all year. Not to mention I’ve given them my full blessing to walk out of my class at any time and never come back- no strings attached, no hard feelings. I don’t want to learn Chinese and if that’s how they feel about English, well, who am I to judge? So, in an attempt to circumvent the examination process, I started creating a Jeopardy style game to challenge their memory recall and critical thinking skills with their new English vocabulary.
|The Jeopardy Board of Questions|
I build the game like a multiplication chart with subjects across the top and style of questioning down the side. This round’s subjects were: weather, colors, prepositions, house, vacation, and class phrases and vocabulary. The bonus round was America. To add depth to my game, there are five styles of questions and each category has only one type… this is the fun part. A spelling style question gives a multiple choice guess of which combination correctly spells a word. For example, if a team chooses “Class Phrases: Spelling,” I give them the word “Presqu’á” in French. Then I write the following options on the board: almost, amongst, amust, and ulmost. Other categories include: drawing (I give the word in English only and they have to draw what it is), fill in the blank (I give a sentence in English and they need to fill in the English word that is missing), pronunciation (I give write the word in both French and English and they have to correctly pronounce the word out loud), and translate (I write a sentence in French and they have to translate it into English).
The most popular categories are spelling, drawing, and pronunciation. Obviously some categories and styles of questioning are easier than others; however, in my world all the questions are worth 5 points. The entertaining part is that for every incorrect answer a team gives me I deduct one point. Most common problem amongst my gaggle of kids is that they never listen to each other. They frequently guess something already guessed by another student- even if it was the kid sitting 3 inches away who said it 5 seconds ago. Seriously; it’s that bad! So my deduction system is my attempt to cure this. I also force each team to have a one team captain, who serves as the sole representative able to answer any question. And this time, I finally had success. No repeats!
During normal school lessons the kids sit in four groups of half circles. Last year, I split the teams up according to their assigned seating and it proved unentertaining. These were the people who were used to sitting next to each other, with their recurring group dynamics, and people inevitably attempted to switch groups anyway. So this time around, I decided to go guys against girls, but I still needed four teams so I upped the ante with an older half and younger half of both groups. We had a lot of fun lining up based on birthday and splitting off into teams.
|Winners: Older Girls Team|
What is the incentive to win you ask? Besides bragging rights, of course, I dole out prizes, such as Jolly Ranchers (thanks to a care package) for the before Christmas break pop quiz. Just a few weeks ago a stellar three-some won new graphing paper notebooks for their ingenuity in a word search; I’d turned the class loose to find weather vocabulary. Without mass funding, or excessive goodies in care packages, I try to keep the prizes educationally related. Just like in the US, the kids have to bring their own supplies to class. Supplies are admittedly cheaper on this continent, but aren’t all together completely affordable especially when added to the tab of mandatory tuition fees and school uniform purchases. Ouch.
In any case, on this occasion the winning team (the older half of the girls) earned themselves new notebooks and blue pens. Doesn’t sound too exciting, I’m sure, but they get a real sense of pride. A woman stopped me on the street once to tell me her son wouldn’t shut up after winning a new set of pens… so you know it’s a big deal for them. There are four months left in the school year and therefore plenty of time to write pen-pals and expand vocabulary topics. And with any luck the end of the year game will be epic and draw a larger crowd than this last one did!
For more information on my work, check out my blog. Enjoy!