I have a lot of projects. Some active, some inactive, some defunct. Some ambitious, some not so ambitious. Some at my school, some not at my school. Co-planning, co-teaching, English club, a world map mural, Saturday classes, workshops, more workshops, videos, the Volunteer newsletter, some internal initiatives to boost Peace Corps Colombia as a new post, etc.
But this one...this is the big one. It's a project that my counterparts and I started last year, and it's just now starting to come to fruition. And that fruit is sweet.
The project: building a curriculum, and everything that goes with it, for one level of English at my school.
As I have described in many previous posts, my school's English department (and the school as a whole) has some organizational shortcomings. But what we lack in structure (and punctuality, and resources, and consistency), we more than make up for in ganas--the willingness to put in some effort.
That's where I come in. I supply the structure. Jessica Hom, Peace Corps Volunteer, a la orden.
Our eighth, ninth, tenth, and eleventh graders--some 500 students in total--are all studying the eighth-grade English curriculum, for reasons that I won't explain at this moment. The trouble is, as of mid-2012, no one really knew what that curriculum looked like. We didn't (and still don't) have books; we didn't have a coherent program for the year; we didn't have appropriate lesson plans or clear learning objectives or thoughtful evaluation strategies or anything like that. We just had each teacher just kind of doing whatever she or he felt like doing, and seeing what happened at the end of the year.
With a few months of 2012 left, I sat down with my counterpart Gustavo to address this problem. We looked at the little information we had about what the students were supposed to be learning in an eighth-grade English class, and we started to flesh it out. We divided the year into four quarters, and each quarter into two units. For each unit, we wrote learning objectives, chose a topic and a theme, made a vocabulary list, identified the target grammar and functions, and specified how the students would be evaluated, including what kind of conversation and other projects they would be required to complete.
Then we roped in the other English teachers--and as my other teachers put in time working on this project, they became more invested in its success. I grabbed a teacher, even for fifteen minutes, and made him work with me on one unit's vocabulary quiz. I grabbed another teacher and made her help me with a vocab list. Pretty soon, everyone had contributed in some way.
Since our students don't have books, we compiled (well, designed by hand, really) packets of worksheets for each unit. For each unit, the students get a page of vocab lists with grammar explanations and examples, a page of vocab and grammar exercises, a page of reading and listening exercises, and rubrics for the conversation and creative work we expect them to do. Four pages for each unit--that comes out to 400 pesos, or about 25 cents. My counterparts and I made sure that all of the activities are good--you know, appropriate for our students' levels and actually worth the money that we charge for the photocopies.
Most of this work happened in the last few months of 2012 and the first of 2013. And now we're finally starting to put it into practice.
And...it's working. Too soon to say definitively, but...I'm cautiously optimistic.
There is coherence to classes! The teachers have something concrete off which to base their lessons! The students across classes in the same grade are all learning the same material! The students are better behaved because they have engaging and challenging work to do in class! We spend less time copying things from the board and inventing lessons out of thing air, and more time actually teaching/learning!
Every time I sit down to co-plan with my counterparts, I hand them a lesson planning form that I designed. We fill out the form, we use it to teach the next class, and then we collect all the old lessons and save them for next year. The goal is that the next time my counterparts are teaching this same curriculum, they won't have to reinvent the wheel; they'll just be able to refer to what they did the previous year.
Keeping this project going will take all year. But so far, so good; my teachers are saying that their classes are going much better and that students are more engaged and motivated. And this is the kind of project that will keep on yielding results in future years, even after I'm gone. My counterparts are even talking about replicating it for the other levels of English at my school.
So that's the big one. Big exhausted breath of relief.