Friday, April 30, 2010

Constantly Learning

For whatever it is worth, I am the most educated person in my family, with two masters degrees. I have also taken other classes along the way, such as language classes. I have always enjoyed taking classes and it has always made me feel as though I am improving myself, because I am learning. But I don't have to take classes. It isn't as if I didn't know this and yet for some reason just lately I feel as though I have finally learned this particular lesson.

I have been attending many professional development workshops/webinars/conferences lately and have a couple more coming up. Some are librarian related, some are more related to being a faculty member in an academic institution and then I have had a few teaching and ESOL one. There has been some overlap, which is nice and hopefully some of this will lead to a better defined research agenda for me.

And then there is my volunteering. At Early Morning Reading, I have worked alot with this one particular young girl and to be honest I doubt she can read. She is smart and seems to be able to read ... but only certain books which makes me think she has them memorized. Any time I propose a book that she hasn't chosen she wants me to read to her. Is this how kids can go for years not learning basic skills? Some kids really get thrown if you correct them while they are reading or even interrupt them to ask a question, such as a prediction question and some really like it. One little girl usually points at what she is struggling with, repeats it after I say it a couple of times, says thank you and moves on. Which I find very amusing because in casual conversation she has such an attitude--she reminds me of Rosie Perez in one of her more exaggerated roles sometimes. But while reading, she is very serious and polite.

At English Conversation (which I don't go to as often) I read with an adult ELL for the first time and every verb contraction she came across she read in the full form. I only corrected her once, when the main character said "I'll say" in a short dialogue. I explained to her that is one is more of an idiomatic saying and if you change it to "I will say" it doesn't make sense. She is a very good reader, mechanically but it wasn't clear to me how much she was comprehending. Afterwards we talked a little about how she consistently avoided the contractions and she was aware of the problem and she said she found them really difficult. I told her she would get more comfortable with them over time, as she hears them and as she continues to come across them in her reading. It is a small thing in comparison to comprehension which she is clearly working on.

I am also learning a lot about creating a new language and cultural program because I am on the Advisory Board of one. I originally took classes via a small organization that only taught Cantonese, taught by volunteer enthusiastic but untrained teachers. The teachers pretty much ran the organization for years but in the Fall the founder came back on the scene and wanted to make significant changes which made the main 4 teachers uncomfortable but also seemed to exclude some of the senior students. So with the encouragement of the many of the students a new organization was started and I was asked to be an advisor.

Mandarin is now part of our program and it is intensely popular with our students and it has challenged some of the leadership's perception of what our mission is. Teaching Cantonese for free was what made the previous program unique (which as far as I know is being run by the founder but on a much smaller scale). What will make this program unique? I am learning a lot about leadership, about the politics of alliances and the tricky nature of trying to improve the curriculum when you have volunteer teachers who are long on enthusiasm but short on training and experience.

Of course this is nothing in comparison to what I will be learning on my trip to Hong Kong, which is a mere 3 weeks and 6 days away now. :)

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