It took me three months last year, to come back to this space and just put my thoughts about the classroom here. I’d thought that this year would be easier and in many ways it is. I know my kids, they know me and the class culture and academically this year, the best can be leveraged out of these kids because I understand the pace and levels of kids in the class.
After the internship and the amazing holiday at the Himalayan foothills, I got back to the class with a ton of ideas that culminated in to a very ambitious vision for this academic year. This is my second and the last year with the kids and there is an increased sense of urgency because I have a definite vision for each kid that needs to met before I leave them next year.
So this year, we are “The Power Rangers” – Grade 3. [A name the kids voted for and chose amongst 6 other options that they came up with]
And we believe that “There are NO shortcuts!”. There are no shortcuts in life and so there will be no shortcuts in the classroom either. We believe that hard work cannot be compromised upon.
Sounds lofty?…. It actually translates into simple steps for the kids;
- We will go home and do our homework every day.
- We will read out English text for the week and practice vocab words everyday.
- There is nothing that we cannot do, we will keep trying, working hard until we get it.
Last year, I spent a lot of time thinking about what my vision for this class should be. And what kind of structure would it take for me to build a bridge to translate that vision into a reality. I thought about setting academic goals, but dismissed the thought because I had grown up in an education system where who you are and what you will become would be dictated by your percentages. I did not want my kids to be so focussed on the ranks and marks that learning becomes a mechanical process. But I wasn’t convinced about having purely non-academic goals either. The reason was simple, these kids were at least 2 -3 grade levels behind, they were already at a disadvantage compared to their peers in well-to-do schools. How could I rule out the academic component from my vision for these kids?
Learning to read well, doing well at each grade level every year will translate into an entry into a college for these children and a degree is what can get them all jobs in a few years to come. A structured roadmap of academic excellence is what can get them and their families out the slums they are residing in. A college degree and eventually a professional job is the only means to end the cycle of poverty for that family. This will take at least 11-12 more years, but it will happen and one by one each of these kids will help their families break the cycle of illiteracy, unemployment and poverty. And that is precisely why there are no shortcuts possible, we discussed all this in class and the kids seemed to see the value in seeing that BIG GOAL for their lives.
The idea is simple, where these kids come from will not go on to decide who they can become. Their origin will NOT dictate their destiny.
Now, it’s easy to tell a child that you know what, you can become an engineer and you will go to college. But at Grade 3 level, how can this goal be broken down into small realizable steps for a little kid?
So here’s what we did, to make Vision 2020 (the year ALL my kids will be entering college) come to life, with a little back planning. I thought of what the End of the Year vision will look for the class. What are the things I want to leave the kids with and these were the things that stood out for me.
Vision for Class 3 Power Rangers:
- We want to become independent thinkers with original and creative ideas.
- We want to be responsible for our studies and learn to persevere until we meet out big goals.
- We want to become confident speakers in every language.
With this vision in mind, the end of the year BIG GOALS for each subject were planned.
The first thing done was to split the class into six groups with team names as a value that adds up to our class vision. So the six teams in class are : Perseverant, Independent, Creative, Original, Confident and Responsible. There are multiple advantages of making kids work in teams,
- The seating arrangement clustered in groups fosters friendship and collaboration.
- Amazing stuff comes out of their discussions as a team.
- They accept and learn to work with all sets of kids. [This puts an end to all the incessant complaining. :)]
- The joy of working towards something as a team and winning is unparalleled.
So here are our Big Goals.
ENGLISH BIG GOAL :
READING BIG GOAL :
WRITING BIG GOAL
MATHS BIG GOAL
I’m very excited that we are reading Roald Dahl’s “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory” this year and as a class we are super excited about the EOY play that this will culminate into. :)
I’m super happy about the fact that writer’s workshops will hopefully lead into an article by my kids in a newspaper. :)
The kids are really excited about the ‘Literature Circles’ in class that’ll give kids an opportunity to read 10 or more story books over the year and write book reviews for them. :)
And there are two more parts of this entire plan that I’m super thrilled about. First being the Golden Tickets to ‘CLASS TRIPS’. This something I couldn’t do last year and I was very sure that it will definitely be happening in my classroom this year. It is one thing to tell a kid what an engineer/pilot/doctor does and it is another thing to expose them to real life role models. I wanted the kids to go in to offices, colleges, hospitals and airports and see what it is be there and also hear from these role models what it took them to get there.
But the Golden Tickets to these trips , that happen once in six weeks have to be earned. They do not come free. Every Friday we have a Math and English Class Test. Every team and hence every kid has to try to meet their Big Goal i.e. > 80% on every test for six weeks.
We add up and declare the team points every week. The kids track it in their files so that they understand the progression of their marks individually and we also display it on a public tracker in the class to keep alive the sense of competitiveness.
At the end of the six weeks, the entire team with the highest number of points wins the Golden Tickets for the class trip. Additionally, one topper from every other team gets the Golden Ticket for the trip. So this process of working towards something that is six weeks away and focussing all your energies towards that, will hopefully teach them the importance of delayed gratification. [Now this is a value that as an adult even I wish to learn :).]
We of course track at an individual levels too. The kids have an individual tracker pasted into their files, where they enter their weekly test percentages. After we pasted these trackers into the files and had a discussion about how they will be used throughout the year, one my kids stood up and said : ‘Didi, This is a good idea!‘ :)
The first trip at the end of the first six weeks happened and what an amazing trip it was. Couple of my friends at John Deere helped me put this together and the kids got to visit a place where over a 1000 engineers work! :) They loved every part of that visit, they got to see the material benefits associated with being an engineer….the amazing didi’s and bhaiya’s at John Deere who dressed smartly and spoke excellent English, their laptops, phones, air-conditioned offices, huge buildings, sparkling clean toilets….and even something as tiny as the hand-towel dispensing machines and automated taps was fascinating for them.
I was observing them in the boardroom as they interacted the senior leadership at John Deere who had come down from the US for a visit. I just stepped back and smiled as they fearlessly asked them questions in halting English, – “Which country are you from?”….”Are you famous in your country?”. I wouldn’t have had the guts to ask a bunch of foreigners these questions when I was in Grade 3. I was a conformist for a very long time in my life, I guess that is what an urban middle class upbringing does to you – you are from the beginning made aware of the rights/wrongs, appropriate/inappropriate . These kids have not been groomed, they haven’t been conditioned with the ways of an elite society….that is why there is a sense of rawness to everything they do and say that is so charming.
It was really nice see Mrunal deliver his thank you speech haltingly in English (that he wrote himself) on behalf of all his friends to the John Deere Management.
The kids also got to present their Big Goals in front of the 2011 cohort of Teach For India. These third graders presented the Big Goals to a an auditorium full of about a 100 first year teachers. And I’m so glad that I decided to take my mid-level kids for this event, the highest level kids don’t need any confidence boosting….but standing in front a huge crowd like this and speaking does wonders to the morale of those shy kids who need this exposure.
So that’s just a brief introduction to my Grade 3 classroom for this year. I’m loving each day of being here. Every afternoon after I get back school, I have to literally tell myself to calm down, to relax and not talk/think about the events of the day. Yes, this used to happen last year too but this year I can feel the excitement in my nerves.
Until now, I’ve had many aspirations and I’ve set many targets for myself. I’ve gone on to achieve them and check them off my list. But for the first time in 24 years of my existence………I have a dream. Those 35 kids in that classroom of mine, have become fragments of a dream :). This vision for my class has become my dream, and how to make it come alive, an obsession. The first and possibly the most powerful of my dreams….and every passing day, I’m living and breathing that dream.
In the first week of school, I was so overwhelmed by the magnanimity of the tasks that lay ahead….I almost wondered if all this was possible at all to execute. But as always, Mr Twain seems to have the answers to every doubt in my mind and he finds me ….always…
“The secret of getting ahead is getting started. The secret of getting started is breaking your complex overwhelming tasks into small manageable tasks, and then starting on the first one.”
– Mark Twain
Along with all this stuff happening inside the classroom, there is one project happening outside the classroom that is adding to excitement. [for kids as well as me. :)]. More about that in the next post.