As I introduced myself, some of them talked over me. I waited for them to stop and waited for their eyes. Several students came in late with their cell phones in hand. I asked them to be put away. This class was different. Far fewer students called out. I began the “hot cabbage” activity where I passed out a ball of post-it notes and had them peel off the outer post-it to read the vocab word. I tossed it to one student who kept giving me strange looks, and he watched as the ball flew past him. They really didn’t care about playing games with colorful post-its. Eventually, he picked it up and stared at the picture of the clock. I asked him to read it, and modeled the pronunciation. It was a struggle to get them to say much at all. They also ended up laughing at how funny of a word “Clock” is to say. They were giggling at the way I enunciated all of my words so that they could see how differently one’s mouth moves when speaking in English. Spanish is a soft, sensual language, and English is stronger and direct. I clarified that I don’t over pronounce everything I say when I chat with my friends, and they laughed at that.
This class moved much more slowly because the students needed much more support. It took a much longer time for them to feel safe and comfortable enough to speak in English. Going over the pronunciation of the vocab words was much more difficult than it had been for me during the last class because this group was so much quieter. Even after repeating the word “computer” several times, they still mumbled. Others weren’t speaking at all, so I realized that I needed a visual to express the need for more participation. Asking them to speak up wouldn’t be enough. “You are putting me to sleep! I did not come to Nicaragua to sleep!” I said. I’ve probably been able to sleep more in Nicaragua than I have in my entire life, but they didn’t know that. I walked to the whiteboard and drew three giant “Z”s to represent how sleepy they made me. “Wake up!” I said. I had them repeat the words, and slowly, they began to speak up. I erased part of a Z to show that they were starting to meet my expectation, and they started understanding exactly what I wanted from them. Eventually, they dipped back down to mumbling, and I drew another red “Z”. This helped motivate them a bit, but I knew that the best tool to fix their level of apathy would be time. Time to build relationships with them, which unfortunately I did not have as much as I would have liked.
It was time to split into our groups for the vocabulary basketball game. They all made groups of 5 with their desks, and we asked them to invent their own comparative sentences. The last class used this time to come up with multiple sentences, but in this class, this activity felt more like individualized tutoring time for me. My group didn’t understand how to form sentences. We hadn’t given them a chance to practice until now. One student, Jorge, needed me to walk him through the sentence “The airplaine is more expensive than the car”. He apparently didn’t know how to start it, so I grabbed his pen and started it for him. I acted out the sentence, and he eventually understood. He had been laughing at my exaggerated acting the entire class, and I could tell that he needed a lot of attention. As I was explaining the rules of the game and getting ready to shoot the ball into the basket, the bell rang. I couldn’t believe how much less we accomplished during this class. In the last class, we were able to do this activity, play pictionary, and start our homework early. I told them that I would miss them as they headed out the door. Some of them waved goodbye, while others still looked at me as if they were still wondering what planet I was from. It was all in a day’s work.
I couldn’t get over how much more difficult it was to keep this class engaged. They were in the same grade level as the previous class, but it felt as if I were teaching in a different school because their attitudes were so different. I realized how much I had talked the entire time to fill the silence after I asked a question. I need to give about 8 seconds of wait time after I ask a question, or they will assume that I will just talk the entire time in order to avoid the silence. Wait time is longer here for sure. People are used to taking their time when answering a question, and kids are no different. This group taught me that no matter their level, I can still think of ways to push them to do better. Using the visual with the “Z”s to get them to wake up helped. Last, I learned that I need to not be afraid to put myself out there. Sometimes saying mundane words like tractor in a farmer voice is just what the kids might need in order to grab their attention. They had all laughed when I imitated the “neighing” sound of a horse to explain what animal it was. Others looked at me like I was crazy. Either way, I firmly believe that they won’t put themselves out there and take risks if I can’t model that for them. Also, I’m sure they will remember what a horse is after today.