by Jessica Müller – EduMais volunteer
You might wonder how we teach any class at EduMais. Be it curricular, be it extracurricular, we follow the same philosophy: Positive Discipline.
Let’s start from the beginning of how we teach in a class at EduMais. Usually, there is a group of 2-4 volunteers. One will be leading the session. The other ones sit with the kids and will help them during breakout group exercises.
This is our approach when we are in the classroom, which due to the Covid-19 pandemic has been put on hold. Our efforts to provide for our students and our families continue. You can find out more about our Covid-19 relief fund here.
First and foremost, it is important to connect with the kids. As soon as they enter the classroom, we do this with a simple but significant high five! The physical contact and attention we direct to each one of the kids creates an initial connection. It helps us create a sense of belonging and sets the ground for a successful class. We further this by greeting each other: as we sit in a circle, each of us, one by one, greets the one on the left with his/her name, then the one on the right. Using the kids names and helping them memorize our names is a mechanism to connect and trigger everyone’s attention.
Because Positive Discipline relies on the kids collaboration, we usually go over the classroom rules we helped the kids establish in the first class of the year. We remind them of the fact that they have created those rules and we all agreed to follow them.
Then, we are all allowed to direct all our energy to an ice breaker! The kids love it and I would almost dare to say the volunteers love it more! Be it a tongue twister or a song or rhythm with our hands on our laps (the kids beat us volunteers every time at this), we create a safe space for collaboration and learning by making the kids shake out any distress they might be feeling.
At this point you might be asking: do we even teach English? 🙂
Yes, we do! We then move on to the content of each class, which varies throughout the year. The aim of the classes at EduMais is to teach kids English, so that they are able to communicate freely with everyone. This strengthens their opportunities to be independent and be able to study or work with whatever they desire. That is why EduMais focuses on conversational English including vocabulary on various topics: self-presentation, hobbies, sports, fruits, animals, school and office supplies, jobs, technology, currency and many other.
We firstly define the learning objective, such as “I can speak about hobbies in English”. This gives the kids a goal for the class that they can focus on.
There are different activities in the lesson plans we use to teach vocabulary. A common one is the use of picture cards, in order to provide the kids visual support on what they are learning. This is when we split the class into breakout rooms and give each volunteer a set of cards, where different hobbies are depicted. The volunteer then distributes tasks among the group asking for help in writing down the vocabulary on a sheet of paper or naming the word on the card. This transfers a sense of autonomy and responsibility to the children. In these small groups, everyone has the chance to speak up, promoting fairness. Furthermore, each volunteer can create a closer connection to the group. Group work promotes learning of socials skills, as well as effective communication, problem solving, respect and solidarity.
After the group activity, which usually is pretty fun, there is oftentimes a lot of excitement around the room. 🙂 In order to redirect the kid’s attention towards our common goal in the class, the teacher places his/her finger in front of his/her mouth. Furthermore, he/she raises the left hand and with firmness and kindness, waits until the children willingly decide to continue learning.
Firmness and kindness are core principles of Positive Discipline. Whereas one has to be firm to guide the child intentionally into a specific direction, it is important to be kind and encourage him/her in his/her decisions and collaboration. The kids at EduMais come from a very difficult background. They are faced with violence, drugs, shootings and financial instability and these traumas are brought to the classroom. This sometimes makes it tricky to teach because a lot of emotions come into play. Positive Discipline encourages the volunteers to respect the child’s motivation by understanding his/her situation and context and how it impacts their behavior. EduMais gives the children a safe space and teaches them not only English, but discipline, which is core to everything they do in life.
Once we have regained the children’s attention, together, as a class, we go over the vocabulary again. We make sure to write it on the white board or to ask the kids for help in doing so. Visually seeing the word close to the picture is very valuable. It is easier for the kids to memorize and associate the word to an action.
If there is any time left to spare, a final activity to create a fun environment is carried out. This might be charades or hangman and usually the children and very creative in the vocabulary they use and in their amazing performances!
To complete, the teacher asks the class if they had fun. This helps is assessing if the kids felt encouraged to learn of if the lesson plan should be adjusted to support the children in their learning. As connection to the kids was a key part of the whole class, it is also part of the final note. With a hive five or the ask to name one word they have learned that day, we finish off the class at Edumais with a big a smile on our face, hoping we’re a step closer to helping these kids!
To conclude, the pandemic is forcing EduMais to face a great challenge: how to create the vital connection with the kids in online classes? How to encourage them to learn without the initial high five, the breakout groups, the understanding of their feelings and behaviors and the lack of fun activities? Connection really has an impact on the learning success in a class at Edumais. We have done our best to adapt to the new digital model as best as we can. However, we really look forward to returning to our classroom, with the orange and purple chairs and see the children personally and CONNECT!
Have you ever thought about expanding your horizons and doing something to give back to the world which gives you so much? Volunteering helps kids in favelas of Rio de Janeiro. Think about joining our amazing team in Rio de Janeiro; help make our kids’ dreams come true!! Contact us with your questions, at firstname.lastname@example.org.