21 February 2011

The Homework Dilemma

As a teacher in a school in an Asian country, it has been interesting to see a very wide range of perspectives on homework from parents.

First of all, as a teacher, I believe that some homework is important, for two reasons. The first is that it allows students to consolidate some of their classroom learning through additional activities. The second is that homework in primary school can help students develop the home study skills that will be essential for academic success in middle and high schools. Having said that, I have no desire for homework to become a battle ground between child and parent, nor do I believe my third grade students should spend hours doing homework after school.

The homework I assign usually fits one of three categories. The first category is Reading, and an important part of this is daily reading practice. Children who read are much more likely to succeed academically than children who don't. So my 3rd graders should be reading for a minimum of 10 minutes each day. They can read aloud to a parent or sibling, they can read aloud to a favourite toy or pet, or they can just read silently to themselves. They can also actively participate in a family reading time where someone else reads to them, but they need to be actively listening and prepared to write a comment on what they hear in this case. I also assign a single page (occasionally double page) reading comprehension activity, which should take no more than 10 minutes to complete once a week. The second is Mathematics. This might take the form of daily practice of basic facts, or some problems to complete, usually linked directly to what we are doing in class. That's not always easy to maintain. If I was sure they would do it, I'd be happy for my students to simply spend 10 minutes each day practising their basic facts, using flash cards or on the computer (there are lots of good fact practice websites), and not assign anything extra. That leaves 5 minutes for completing unfinished work, and 5 for Khmer homework.

So that's the 30 minutes for third grade approach. There are two problems here. First of all, not all children work at the same speed, so what might take an average ability 3rd grader 10 minutes, may take a higher ability student 5 minutes, or a lower ability student 30 minutes. Ouch! Then there are the children who could do the work in 10 minutes if they concentrated on it, but because they "don't like it" or "find it challenging" it takes them an hour to do 10 minutes work! Another Ouch! The second problem is that not all parents are happy with 30 minutes of homework. They want their children to be learning more and more, and so they expect them to do anything up to 2 hours homework a night, even at 3rd grade. What do I do?

One of the reasons this has been on my mind is because I've been doing an after school program with Maths this quarter, and I'm discovering just how long it takes some of my students to get their maths homework done. Hmmm. There has to be a better way. Sounds like some differentiation is required, but how to do it, so that everyone feels like they have been treated fairly! Need to do some more thinking on this. I'd welcome ideas from other teachers and parents about what has worked for them, and how they manage differentiation of homework to meet student needs as well as parental desires as well as supporting classroom learning. At the same time, it has to be manageable for teacher administration! Keeping track of 10 different homework assignments for 20 students would be really hard to juggle. Looking forward to hearing from my readers.

19 February 2011

Twelve months on

This time twelve months ago I was in Bangkok for the weekend, seriously contemplating what God might have planned for me in the future. At the time, all I knew was that I wouldn't be at Logos for the 2010-2011 school year, and it truly was a scary time. It was also a time of learning to trust God, and to submit more fully to Him. The months that followed were challenging, with times of deep depression, and times of great peace.

Looking back now, I am grateful to God for His loving care and leading through that difficult time. I'm so glad He gave me friends around me who supported me as I struggled, and even challenged me when I stepped out of line. I also glad that He led me to the principal of my current school, where I have not only had a second chance at being a primary school teacher, but have learned many things.

It hasn't always been easy, starting again in a new grade level, at a new school, with new colleagues, and a whole heap of new students to get to know, but it has been good. There have been times in the last 5 months when I've felt like I've failed, and blown it, and there have been other times when I have been thrilled by the day to day encouragements from my students. I've struggled with issues of "control", and also with the way that I speak to people at times, and I still struggle those things, but God is teaching me that He's the one in control, and I'm slowly learning to rest in that. I'm also learning, slowly, to think about how I'm going to say something before I say it, so that it doesn't come out in a way that hurts the other person (however unintentional that hurt might be).

As I look back over the past 12 months, I can truly say I know the truth of Jeremiah 29:11, and I'm learning many other things about God's love, His mercy, and His grace. I'm learning to allow myself some grace as well, and that's not easy. As God shows me grace, how much more do I need to show grace to others.

I also have a deep sense of peace (a Philippians 4:7 peace), that I am truly where God wants me, and doing what He would have me do. Ephesians 2:10 says "God has made us what we are. In Christ Jesus, God made us to do good works, which God planned in advance for us to live our lives doing." It is my prayer that I will continue doing the things that God "planned in advances" for me to do.

Thank you to all who have read this blog, and prayed for me over the last 12 months (or longer). God truly is faithful, and I know that He is holding me in His hand.

18 February 2011

Getting fit, losing weight, take two!

Back in July, after the budget challenging loading of a 20% surcharge on my health insurance premium (international one that is) simply because my BMI was too high, I determined that I had to lose some weight and gain some fitness. When I returned to Phnom Penh in late July I joined a gym, which wasn't cheap, but I felt that I had to do something drastic. I did really well for a while, and managed to lose about 6kg, but then the busyness of school, and just the mere effort required in getting there (I've got a shorter route home now that doesn't go past the gym), along with several respiratory tract infections over the course of the last 4 months has resulted in me being totally slack, and not making any progress. Yes, I know it's not a good idea to exercise when you have a cold virus, but I just keep on putting off going back.

I've become increasingly aware that I really needed to make a change and get back into some healthier activities and eating, so today I visited and signed up at another gym. This one is only a 5 minute bicycle ride from my house, and I didn't sign up for "off peak" membership, so I'm able to go anytime between 6am and 9pm (which in reality means I can go any time after school). The location was a big part of the attraction, since it means I can come home first and dump anything I've brought home from school, and then only take the bare essentials to the gym. Another attraction was the pool, which is only 15m long, but that's long enough to do laps in, and it was sparkling clean, but you couldn't smell the chlorine! I had my first swim this afternoon, and it was good. Actually, I'm hoping the swimming might help me get over the respiratory infections better as well. The water was cool (a bit of a shock to get into) but really a pleasant temperature for swimming laps.

Ideally I should go 5 times a week, but I'm going to be realistic and aim for a minimum of 3 times a week. That way if I do more than that, then I'll be able to feel really good about the achievement. Now to think of a suitable reward if I can do it for a whole month. I think if I do that, as well as make a few small changes to my diet, I'm hopeful I can lose about 1kg a week. That will put me back at the upper end of "normal" for my height by the time I have to renew my health insurance again. Prayers for the self-discipline required to achieve this goal, as well as encouragement are welcome. If you'd like to join me and challenge yourself at the same time as I'm challenging myself, that would be really encouraging too!

Here's to improved fitness and weight loss.

11 February 2011

On Fire Drill

On Wednesday this week, I made an opportunity to discuss the whole idea of what would happen if we had a fire at school, and what the children needed to do. We talked about the need to not panic, but to quickly and quietly move out of the building. We also talked about what we would take with us. I told the children they should pick up their shoes, and go straight downstairs, not taking their backpacks or anything else with them.

After some discussion about what to take, the question was raised by one of the children "What about our books?". They were talking about the classroom library, which they have grown to love and appreciate. I said, "Sorry, nothing except your shoes". This was taken sadly, so I followed it up with the comment that their lives were much more important than books, at which point they accepted what I was saying. It did however warm my heart as I realised that I (through the generous help of supporters), had been able to give these children a love for books that was bigger than just classroom reading time.

The next day we had our first mini fire drill, with just the three 3rd grade classrooms that were occupied at the time (two 3rd grade classes and a small Khmer class for 4th & 5th graders in the 3rd grade Khmer classroom). I was very proud of the students response when I blew a whistle and they quickly moved out of the room and down the stairs. OK, so some of them went to line up at the wrong spot, but they quickly came to the right spot. On the whole it was a good job. When you do these drills, you always hope that you never have reason to implement the practice in a real fire situation, but I'd rather be practise and not need it, than not practise and lose children in a fire.

04 February 2011

Cambodian Birthday Number 5

Yes, I have just celebrated my fifth birthday in Cambodia. Yes, I've been here for four years now and am into my fifth, and committed to my sixth!

Each year I have celebrated different ways. The first year, I went bowling with a small group of friends.
The second year I honestly cannot remember what I did, although I do know I was still recovering from a broken arm so it would have been interesting.
The third year, I shared pizza and chocolate cupcakes with some friends then watched "Mamma Mia".

Last year you can read about here. It was a fun day.

This year, I was privileged to have my birthday on a Saturday, which meant no school! Yeehah! In the morning I headed over to my favourite bookshop, looking forward to purchasing another batch of books for the classroom library. Sadly, the shipment that had come in wasn't kids' books, so I was destined to be disappointed. I did manage to find a few books to read myself, so all was not lost. After lunch at home, I headed down to Tropical Oasis where I met my friend J**** and we had our nails done! This time I had both finger & toe nails decorated. Here's the evidence.
If you look closely you'll be able to make out the butterfly on each nail! You'll also notice the damage done to the beauty on my big toes by putting them inside a pair of bowling shoes before they had completely set! Oh well, life's like that. Jenny & I went bowling too, for half an hour, and had a great time. After that I came home for a while before heading out again, this time to meet another friend, M***, for dinner at a small restaurant called "The Green Vespa". It's an interesting place, named after the owner's first Cambodian motorbike. Not that flash to look at, but they do a great roast dinner with really good roast vegetables! Yummy. After dinner we headed back to my friends where we enjoyed watching a remake of an old movie "Sabrina". We'd both seen it before, but it was fun to watch.

Finally a little later than usual, I headed home for bed, and here was my last adventure of the day. I got home, and found the outside door to my house had been bolted from the inside! I was locked out. Not exactly the ending I had planned for my birthday. Fortunately the only person inside whose phone number I had (and whom I was eventually able to contact) was the person who had bolted the door. She was apologetic, and I made plans for trying to prevent it happening again. All's well that ends well.
I wonder what my adventures I'll have on my next birthday. I guess I'll just have to wait and see! I'm not in any hurry for it to arrive.

More magnets and fun Friday

Some more "Magnets" photos.
It takes team work to do this!
How many will it hold?

How come they are still holding together after we take the magnet away?

Science is fun!
 And some "Fun Friday" photos.
Hangman, with Uno in the background.

Snakes and Ladders with a difference.

Working together yet separately.

Almost finished!
And here they are ready to go home!