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Monday, August 28, 2006

My computer is broken, again.

I have a lot to say.  Unfortunately, my computer doesn't want to let me say anything.  It's barely functioning.  I need to get myself to an internet cafe.  Until then I'll say two things.

The other day I was hungry, and I was talking to someone in english, and I said to her, "I have hunger"  which was awesome because I that's how it is said in Spanish.

I now officially understand enough to overhear my homestay mom talking about me to people in the other room.

I cannot understand my classmates very well though.  That's not so good.

Tuesday, August 22, 2006

Inadvertantly left out of the conversation.

Today during class (comprised of US students on my program) the teacher and some of the students were talking about an activity we are going to do later this week.  They were discussing whether we should do it this week as planned, or move the activity to next week.  That much I understood, but they were talking much more than that, discussing the merits of doing it at the different times, discussing which they would prefer, and chatting about I-don't-know-what. 

 At the end, I told them that I hadn't understood whatever it was they were talking about.  They told me that we were going to keep the activity this week as planned, and that was all I really needed to know.  But, that's not all I really needed to know.  I wanted to be informed on the merits of one day over the other just as much as the others did.  I felt lost without knowing the discussion they all had just had.  Since I was there, I understood some of it, but I didn't understand the details.  And more than not understanding, the thing that made me upset was them telling me that they had decided on a date for the activity without my consent, despite the fact that the teacher had made the pretense of having us discusses it.  In reality, only two out of the five people in the class were active participants in this discussion.

The message I take home from this is, make sure everyone is an active participant.  I guess sometimes there isn't enough time to make sure everyone understands everything, but as a teacher you should definitely make an effort to include all the students in the conversation, not just the most able students.  Especially if the student actively solicits clarification as I did, the teacher should make an effort to include the student in the conversation.  To me it felt like I was being excluded from the conversation.  When they were done discussing it the door was closed and I wasn't allowed to join in.  Sure, they gave me the highlights, but none of the details or reasoning.  If I were to just think about it on the surface, I wouldn't see the specific details as being that important.  But the fact that I was not privy to the details (despite the fact that I was right there when they were being talked about) made me realize how important the little details are if you want to feel truly included in the conversation.

Friday, August 18, 2006

My own second language acquisition.

I have been in my Spanish-speaking country for two weeks now, and in some ways it is exactly the experience I wanted. I had wanted to know what it feels like to be a complete outsider, to not understand the language or the culture or the city. And this is what I have received.

With my interest in bilingual education and language acquisition, or really my interest in education at all, I am very glad that I made the decision to study abroad in a country whose language I do not speak or understand well.

I find myself not asking questions when really, I want to find something out. I find myself just nodding when I really have no idea what´s going on. I find myself unable to express what I know, even if I understand the question. To everyone else, I appear to be a huge space-cadet. I wander around, not really knowing where people are taking me, what it is I´m eating, what it is that I´m going to do next.

One thing that I guess I do a lot is, after someone tells me something, I will ask them to repeat it once or twice, but after that I just pretend that I understand, regardless of whether or not I actually do. Someone told me that I shouldn´t do that, that I should keep asking until I do understand, but really it´s just so tiring to keep asking over and over and over again. I get to the point where I just don´t care anymore.

Also, I need an obscene amount of sleep. Constantly being in the Spanish-speaking environment, combined with the intense heat and the long days of my first month´s intensive language immersion activities, I ideally go to sleep at about 9:30pm. If I go to sleep much later than that, the next day I cannot understand anything that is going on around me, nor can I form the even semi-coherent sentences that I usually use when I speak.

This is interesting from my perspective as a future teacher because I can see how students who have recently begun to learn the language they are being taught in will have obstacles in so many ways. Before this, I could understand it from a textbook perspective. Now I can really understand it from living it. It´s exhausting being in a new place. You´ll have good days and bad days. The other day, I couldn´t understand anything that anyone was saying. It was beyond frustrating. That night I went to sleep at about 9:15pm, and the next day I was better able to understand other people and better able to express myself.

I´ve been keeping notes for myself on how I feel in regards to my language acquisition. I really want to get my hands on some second language acquisition textbook, to see where I am now in my development of the language, and where I´m heading next. Though I guess living it is better than looking it up in a textbook. To see what´s going to happen next, I just have to wait until tomorrow.

Friday, August 04, 2006


I know I mentioned this earlier, but I haven't talked about it in a while.

I'm leaving, like now, to go spend the semester in Spanish-speaking Country.  Hopefully when I come back I will be nearly fluent?  Or at least very, very comfortable with the language.

I'll have periodic internet access and hope to write some updates when I get the chance.

Good luck to everyone as they begin their own fall semesters!

Thursday, August 03, 2006

I apparently like control and routine in my day.

This summer I have been busy and lazy.  Mostly lazy, though.  I worked at the day camp, took a summer school night class, and watched way too much television.

I was a substitute camp counselor this summer.  The way the camp I work at works is that there are different locations at the different elementary schools in town.  Each school houses a camp for kindergartners and a camp for 1st graders.  At each location the camp is the same camp, it's just at a different place.  Since I was a sub, I traveled around at the different locations, helping out where I was needed.

I learned one thing.

In all my previous eight years as a counselor, I have worked with very good head counselors.  I never realized that the head counselors aren't all great.  At one of the locations I was at for several weeks, the head counselor just did not know how to handle her 30 1st graders.  This person is an "adult", she teaches at the local Catholic middle school.  But with the little kids?  She did not know how to manage them in all their squirmeyness. 

And this. Drove. Me. CRAZY.

Despite the fact that I am certainly old enough and experienced enough to be one of the head counselors, I am not.  (And I could go on and on about why, but I'm not going to.)  Because I have been at the camps for so long, I have experience, I know how to work with the kids, and I felt so frustrated at the way she was leading the group.  This all taught me one thing, which I never really realized before.

I like to be in control.  In the past, I have mostly agreed with the way the head counselors lead their camp sites, so I didn't have a problem with anything.  With this group though, the kids were always running around like crazy, jumping on each other, tearing the art projects off the walls, being loud loud loud, not ever listening.  There is nothing different about this group of kids as a whole than the other kids I worked with this summer and the groups I have worked with for the past eight years.  The difference was with the head counselor and the way she interacted with the children.  I wasn't at this site for the first week of camp, so I wasn't there for the setting of rules or the establishing of routines.  After I had been at the site for two weeks though, I realized something.

One of the major problems at this site was that there was no good establishing of routines.  There was a rough routine, because the bus came to take the kids to the swimming pool at a set time, but aside from that the day was a chaotic jumble of noise, confusion, and the kids wrestling with one other on the carpet.  I did my best to present some type of consistency in the room, but my temporary status, combined with mostly inexperienced co-counselors who just followed the lead of the head counselor resulted in little improvement.

The kids and even their parents didn't realize that there was any problem.  Maybe the problem was just in my head.  The parents continued to say how great the camp was, and how much their children loved camp.  But I could see the potential for it to be so much better if their was just a little bit more routine, a little bit more control.  And I'm certainly not talking about extreme power over the children, or anything like that.  It's camp, they are there to have fun.  But at the same time, the adults in charge need to have a certain level of control over the group they are in charge of.  And the group of kids was basically an average group of six-year-olds.  If rules had been enforced (no jumping on top of your campmates, no tearing other peoples art projects off the wall, etc.) they would have been followed.  If they had been followed, the days would have run much more smoothly.  The campers and the counselors would have had a more enjoyable overall camp experience.  Because even if the campers didn't realize they were missing anything, they really were.  They were missing the routine and consistency in the day that especially young children, but really most people, crave overall.  Not an extreme creepy type of routine, but the type that results in increased comfort and an ability to anticipate to some degree with is going to happen next.