Thursday, March 05, 2009

Deep breaths

I was told today that the kids did enjoy class last Sunday, and some exceptional child even went as far as to ask his/her parents whether or not there was a class they could attend every day. Uh… I can’t even imagine which one that could be. But anyways, it was quite an exhilarating afternoon… long, and insanely tiring. I’d meant to go over it much sooner after, but pretty much needed to go straight to bed. The next afternoon I started my half-life in Beijing, and since then have just really had a hard time to revisit this thing. Which is bad, because I was reminded tonight of a sporting event happening early tomorrow that I should go to, which is bad because I was planning on doing all this work then. Why put it off so long? Well, I didn’t want to open up that can of stress when what happened for like two weeks prior to the first session was me staring at my books for hours and then writing out my schedule and handouts just a few days before anyways. That was a small part. The other was that after dinner in Beijing, I pretty much just needed to unwind and immediately start getting ready for bed. I’m committed to getting up by 6:30 every day so that I can get into the office by 8. But more on that later.

Saturday, I headed towards the office before 1:30. I needed to drop my things off there and then run to the supermarket to snap up some last-minute snacks and bottles of water. I thought there were some last-minute prep things I might want to take care of, and I did somehow manage to busy myself with… something. Cutting up pieces of paper, putting colored numbers on them, replacing them with paper clips (which I will not do again), taking things out of one bag and putting them in another bag, then taking them out again for some purpose, then putting them back again. All the things I wound up dragging over to the library and up to the 5th floor wound up being, um, really heavy.

This was around 2:30. Some of the volunteers were already popping up. Like I said, I'd picked 5 main helpers and corralled all the other names into a back-up list for emergencies. I wasn't really clear, I guess, in my e-mail to the teacher about this, and so she told all the students to show up at the library during the time I'd scheduled to meet with my 5 ONLY. She had some other activity lined up for the rest of them, but I ended feeling pretty terrible because they all showed up thinking that they'd be doing something for me. One of my former students falls under that category. She was one of the first to show, and when I didn't have a handout for her, it was awkward.

I tried to give them as thorough a rundown as possible of my expectations, which were sort of ambiguous at the time, given that I didn't know how much English these kids would be capable of. We didn't have quite enough time to run through the activities, but it seemed like they understood. Well...

When the doors opened, we went in to rearrange the classroom. The desks in there are unnaturally heavy. The kids showed up and there was great confusion as they all took seats and we tried to get everyone registered and paid up. I decided that I might as well get delegating, so I snagged one of my volunteers, handed her the sheet, and sent her around to check the names off for me. She did a great job, and turned out to be extremely competent. She's also much more confident in speaking out than the other girls, so I ended up going to her a lot for various tasks for the rest of the afternoon. We were running a bit late because of all this stuff and I was confused about how to proceed language-wise for the first class. All of the students had English names, and I could hear some of them using English as they saw one another come in. But then there was at least one girl at the front who I knew couldn't understand anything. She's kind of a special case though.

I wanted to get introductions out of the way as soon as possible, especially with the delay. Just wanted to get my name and the volunteers' names out really quick and then get started. Uuuuh, what happened was, though, that when I asked them each to give their names, they took the chance to give a little speech, all running along the lines of, "Nice to meet you, I hope we can be friends, I am here to help you and I hope that if you ever need help, you will come to me. I am also here to help Katharine, etc etc," and well-intentioned and sweet as they were, they ran kind of long. So that's something you don't encounter in volunteers back home. But it was nice, it showed their enthusiasm.

My icebreaker was a game we played as OLs my sophomore year. I sort of remember it dragging, but I pictured this group as being much smaller than my OL group and it was also kinda engaging. It's the one where everyone stands in a circle and you say your name and an activity you enjoy, then pair it with a physical action. Then each successive person very quickly goes around and says all the names and repeats all the actions again (a la the picnic game). I demonstrated this in the cheesiest, most obvious ways possible. I also thought I'd trained my assts in this beforehand, so I started in the back of the room with them. A couple of mistakes. If I'd wanted to get them into this, I would have marched everyone out into the hallway and actually gotten them into a circle. Because I'd wanted to keep them in the room, and because with the addition of a couple students (and a freaking LOT of parents) we ended up not having as much open space in the back, I decided to ask the kids whether or not they'd rather just stay at the desks. And they did. And, well, I'm not really sure what happened with my assts, but I ended up having to spend like 10 minutes re-teaching them the game while the kids sat around and waited. I was hoping they'd get the ball rolling and help me by setting an example, but either they didn't do the action or they didn't tell us about the other person, or they told us about the other person and not themselves, and it was awkward, and at this point I lost my cool for about the next hour.

What really didn't help me was that every parent was sitting in this tribunal ring around the back of the room like they were at an outdoor concert. It took me a while before I could truly ignore them, but before that I found myself getting profoundly disturbed by how inscrutable their facial expressions were. Also, every time one mother leaned over to whisper to another, I had the real/imagined sense that they were passing some sort of negative judgement on my organizational skills.

This was mostly a problem during the first half of the game. I say first half because I'm counting the number of people we got to during this period of time. In reality, it took an eon compared to the second half. Some of the girls at the front were having a completely unexpected stress attack about having to produce information on every child behind them, and were trying to write everything down. But it was iiiinnnnteeerrmiiinnaaablllle. And I was really feeling the effects of my poor decision making when I realized just how much of that time was going back over our volunteers' hobbies. Sigh. So about 9 kids in, when I was sick of the chatter arising from left half of the room, who must have been bored out of their minds (it's grammatical if you're british, I think), I told them that they could just do themselves and the one person who went before them. Then immediately realized that that idea sucked because it takes away any incentive to pay attention the rest of the time. Fortunately, the kids were all still a bit stunned, so it made it pretty easy for me to jump in and change things up again. After asking one girl her info and then really making her act it out, I randomly selected someone from the recent past and had her do them. The rest of the game went quickly and was much more interesting for all involved. I learned that on the spot, basketball, dancing, and playing PSP can all be represented by a generic shaking motion accompanied by laser sound effects.

That little (crap the word i'm looking for is somewhere between "incentive" and "innuendo" but I just can't think of it... also my internet's currently down so i can't thesaurus it) left us nearly at the hour mark. We were supposed to have accomplished so much more by then. So I just went ahead and completely forgot to hand out schedules and talk rules and expectations. HA. When I realized this in my meeting with the volunteers at the end of class, as a result of wondering why I still had a full folder of schedules in my possession, I could have kicked myself. But I guess that's ok. We'll have more time next time. Famous last words. Other things I forgot... juice at snack time, and water. So at least we have water this week. And also juice.

What was really good about the game was that it told me a lot about each kid's personality and started familiarizing me with their language abilities. For example, and this was such a shoot-me moment at first, the first actual child to say anything in the game claimed that he didn't like anything today. "My name is John and I don't like anything today." Oddly enough it was pretty easy to roll with it and it ended up being a good talking point with this kid (who I'm sorry I totally thought was a girl for... a while... he just had such nice eyelashes). The volunteers clearly bonded with him. He's not REALLY a misanthrope (though kinda), but I imagine there was just someplace else he'd rather have been on a Saturday afternoon.

Then... passed out paper tents, markers, crayons, and colored pencils so they could make name cards. When I asked the volunteers to start collecting the drawing materials so that we could move on, they ended up collecting the name cards too, and so then we had to pass them out again, but then they got collected again by volunteers who didn't get the memo the first time. So then we passed them out again.

I decided I wanted to get out from under the parents' noses and that there was no way that snack was going to go the way I'd planned in this room in the remaining time. So I threw the volunteers into the fire. I started passing out paper clips and had kids with the same color go out into the hall with this or that volunteer. UNFORTUNATELY, my quick thinking was SO quick that I didn't think about the fact that there were too many of too many colors of paper clips for this to work out mathematically in any situation short of an actual miracle of probability. I did some freestyling, and planned to just send remaining kids out to join the other groups, but this did not sit well with them, since they did not identify with any paperclip colors other than their own.

Snack activity was supposed to be... describe, using every sense, the mini-banana in your hand. Originally, every kid would randomly be assigned a sense, at which point they say whatever came to mind, and once that had happened for everyone, they could eat. I'd explained the concept to my volunteers, and when I realized that I'd have to give this task to them to perform in groups, I immediately called one of them over (vivian, the one with the initiative), and told her to pass that along to the other girls. I dunno if they got it, but I guess it doesn't matter. I went to each of the 3 groups and gave them the assignment again before walking away. When I got to the last group, Vivians, I realized that it was just better if I led them with some questions. After that worked out well, I went back to the other two and did the same thing. I have no idea what they were doing while I was gone. Then I called them all back to the room. When I went over to get Vivian's group, the kids were everywhere and I was told that one or more of the kids had thrown their tissues over the balcony... into the study area on the 1st floor. I would have lost it if I'd had my wits about me, and actually disciplined someone, but then again, I didn't so I didn't. I planned on saying something back in the room about how we needed to be respectful of the library so they'd let us keep using the room for free and not ban us from the hallways, but then I forgot that too.

The second half was better-structured, and went more or less according to plan. I turned out half of the lights (because I didn't know where the other half of the light switches were), and gathered everyone on the floor in the back of the room (totally making all of this blocking up in my head, btw) for the book. Oh, fyi, these kids are all 9-13. As far as I know. Then I remembered the vocab sheets. Then I remembered to pass out pens. Vocab time was fun. They all pretty much knew a lot of the words... of which there were only 9 or 12... some multiple of 3 that fits in a grid on A4 paper... and the drawing aspect was a stroke of genius on my part. One of the girls, who sort of wound up being one of my favorites purely on the basis of her tendency to overanalyze and take everything I said seriously and at face value (reminded me a little of me, minus the crazy part, which, oddly was embodied in a totally separate girl who ran completely amok on me and had to go to the bathroom SO many times).... anyways, that girl got really worked up over the somewhat conceptual ones like "experiment" and was like "do we have to DRAW that?" I told her no, she could just write the definition, but most of the others were cool with digging into odd references that they probably wouldn't have gotten later.

The book was The Dot, which I fell in love with at the bookstore. It's about art. When I asked the kids how they felt about art, they were all pretty eh about it. I was like... hm. That's a major component of this class. My wrist hurts and is making some pretty ridiculous noises.

After the reading and a short discussion,we moved on to the painting part. It was like... insanity given physical form. I have some watercolors that I was hoping to maintain for the entirety of the 12-class cycle, but... do kids this age not understand the concept of water colors? How a little goes a long way? I think one problem was the sponge brushes that came with the brush assortments I bought... those are coming out next time. So it was like a nightmare you have after reading Oliver Twist. "More green please! We need more red! Blue! More blue, please!" Then, when I'd obliged them, a great swarm of brushes would descend, and leave the palette bleach-white yet again. So the chorus was constant and my volunteers looked a bit harassed. I don't think we ever stopped moving during this activity. I had about 4 "last calls" on paint, and finally ended up speeding the "get out of here" process by passing out markers and having the kids sign their works of art.

I know I use some negative imagery here, but overall I thought the kids were great and we all ended up having a pretty good whirlwind of a time.

Some of the boys made a holy mess of the desks and all I could think of was "thank GOD this is water color." Cleanup took ages, and then I had to chat with one of the parents about something. Finally I got to meet with my assts and get their input... it was also just a really helpful way for me to get thinking out loud. What we decided to do was divide the kids into 3 permanent groups, though fluidity of membership was ok to allow for naughty/nice transfers and other movements. The idea was that one set of students is really an English-speaking class. Most of these kids go to an international school, and it turned out that at least one of the girls didn't really understand one of my vols when she spoke to her in Chinese. Also, this particular volunteer got really uncomfortable with her English, which is decent, but gets worse when she's nervous. Another set of students is ok with English, but still need slightly more assistance. The last set is kids whose English really is not at the same level as the rest. The volunteers were key in helping me to make this list right then and there (SO glad I didn't decide to "do it later" on my own... because I'd be doing it now, and struggling to remember which kid was which). They requested their assignments too, which, fortunately, were exactly what I was hoping for-- I had pictured one of them with the lower-level group, looking after the girl who spoke no English, and doing a lot of Chinese language guidance, since that's something she's pretty good at. I also wanted Vivian alone with the high-level kids because I think she can handle them on her own as I make my rounds (the others were all grouped in twos... the mid-level kids also include some high-level kids who are disciplinary concerns), though in time I'd like to be spending more time with these students too. It's only partially favoritism, and I know that's true because I like all of the kids (except the really quiet ones I can't quite remember... and I like that they're quiet).

So... what now? Now I need to decide what's going down on Saturday. I can only print this stuff in the office tomorrow afternoon, so what would be great is if I have something started before then. I'm not concerned about anything for the kids. I'm actually thinking about writing out the directions for any activity or permutation of activity that we might end up doing on Saturday so that they can be prepared for the unexpected. I'm really really tired now though.

Though I am thinking about Do you like your friends, the Mirror game, and using the 5 W's as a theme. BTW, a lot of my ideas/inspiration are coming from a book called Kids Take The Stage, and it's too far away for me to feel like getting up to see who the authors are, but I figured I should credit it anyways. It's a really nice little resource, a quick read, and an activity goldmine.

The book scheduled for tomorrow is Ish. I meant to accompany it with a drawing activity. Or series of drawing activities. I guess we can still do that. No need for a snack activity. We can have a civilized, hydrated, snack at the desks. I'm thinking half of an apple and some crackers for everyone? I feel so unqualified to be giving kids snack. I remember in my daycare we'd get a lot of graham crackers and peanut butter... cheese... i think even sometimes graham crackers and frosting... ants on a log... but yeah, something starchy and something fruity. It might be too late for tangerines. Yeah, apple slices will just have to do. I wish peanut butter was more widely available. Maybe it is? I'll check on the way home tomorrow. I know they sell it, but is it in my budget? Well, I guess since we now have more kids=more money, it could be...

It turns out now that I will NEED all 5 volunteers every week. So now I wish I had a runner that I could like, send out to cut apples and then pass out papers etc. I'm sure I can get someone who will do that. Maybe a parent?

Ok, made my vocab sheet... so easy. No more than 12 words each time if I can help it. Hopefully none of these are too conceptual because I don't like explaining those sometimes.

Remember: SERIES of drawing activities. NO free-for-all this time, just some quick impressionist art and a follow up group activity. Gah I have to sleep. We have to be at this thing at 8 am :(

I went into this season ready to be dead tired though, so yeah, you can bring it.

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