Monday, February 11, 2013

Movie Week!

Experience is the best teacher. After one year of teaching 8th grade last year, I made several adjustments to teach my students better this year. As mentioned in previous posts, one of the many struggles of working in the Tanzanian school system is that corporal punishment is still used as the main motivator for student respect and good behavior. While I have grown numb to witnessing children get beat on a daily basis at school, I have not participated in this method. I have to admit that I have sent students to get hit by other teachers. These students had shown month after month of disrespect and were burdening the learning process of other students. The first time I did it, I went home and cried. It's not an easy decision to go against your beliefs even when it seems to be in the best interest of everyone. Jon hasn't done this, yet, I have chosen to do it on a handful of occasions. Last year, my students requested that I use corporal punishment. That is what swayed my decision. My well-behaved students weren't learning because the poorly-behaved students were disruptive and rude.

Jon & I had attempted to put into place a positive behavior reward system. For whatever reason, it failed last year. The students didn't care. They weren't interested in what we developed. They would rather just behave rudely. This year, we are being much stricter with our students. We have scared them. There is punishment now. Our students who do not do their homework come to our house during their recess and do our household chores. Is this too much? We don't know. But, it's working. I went from around 16 of my students not doing their homework each week to about 6 students. When they do our chores, we tell them that they can either spend 30 minutes doing their homework or 30 minutes cleaning our house. Their choice. We also remind them that they are going to school to improve their living situation. If they don't put forth the effort to learn, they should get used to doing household chores because many students who fail high school just end up becoming housemaids for Tanzanians who are better off. What would a Tanzanian teacher do if they didn't do their homework? The kid would get hit. The kid would still prefer to get hit over doing my dishes. Let's face it - getting struck by a stick is over in 30 seconds. Doing housework during their recess? 30 minutes of awfulness and embarrassment.

But, the students are also being rewarded for their good behavior. Each time a student does their homework, they get a stamp in their notebook. With their stamps, they can buy school supplies from Jon or I. We're trying to show them that hard work will pay off. If they want or need things, they have to do some work. Last week, we had students buy 11 pens, 30 pencils, and 5 pencil sharpeners. A lot of kids are saving up for "more expensive" things like rulers and protractors. 

In addition to that, we are continuing with our movie reward system. This failed last year for some reason, but it is working amazingly this year. What's the difference? We have no clue. But, it's working and our students have been excellent. Students can be individually awarded with movie tickets for various things. For example, consistent excellent homework, effort put forth during class, good results on tests, etc. Every two weeks, Jon & I show a movie after school for students to show if they're holding a ticket.

The other system is giving stamps to the whole class on a classroom chart when the whole class shows exemplary behavior. For example, being attentive and not disruptive, being punctual, being on task, and putting forth effort. The entire classroom needs to do this for the classroom chart to get a stamp.

This week we showed 4 movies. One movie was for the ticket holders. And I'm pleased to say that each of the classrooms earned their first movie reward for the whole class. Our attendance was excellent. 40/60 ticket holders came. For one classroom, only two students didn't come, for another class, about 90% came, and the third class about 70% came. They are really excited about watching the movies and I hope their enthusiasm holds out so that we continue to have well-behaved classes and students can learn that they can be rewarded for their work and not just feel worried about getting punished.

Jon & I are lucky that we have eachother to reinforce these positive behavior reward systems. Most Peace Corps volunteers are the only volunteer at the school. They struggle with enforcing these new methods and ideas because it is only them trying to use them. In addition to this, although I can't say for sure, I think one reason that the system is working this year is that we have about half the amount of students in each classroom. As opposed to having 80 students in a classroom, we have about 55 in our largest class. On top of that, the students have been "streamed". This means that my smartest students are in one classroom, while our mediocre performing students are in another classroom, and our lowest performing students (probably only about 1% will pass) are in the third classroom. While many American teachers will think this is a terrible idea - when you have 55 kids in a class, it is really the best system for the students. You begin to lose classroom management when the kid's abilities are so extreme. The smartest students are bored or the lowest performing students are so far behind, they start misbehaving because they can't understand anyway. Streaming students when you have 55 of them in one class really allows for best classroom management because you can go at the speed that will best serve the students.

Each classroom has this rewards poster hanging. It allows the students to visually see how many stamps each classroom has (bottom right-hand corner), the "cost" of each item of school supplies and the schedule for movie ticket holders.

Jon didn't get a great picture, but supervising a movie for one of the classrooms. They watch the movie on my netbook computer (9"x5" screen) if there is no solar electricity or on a 19" TV if there is enough solar power. 55 kids crowded around such small screens and they're still pleased!

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