It is one thing to visit schools and to see some teaching and learning (a group of American teachers can be a bit of a distraction and skew things a bit) and to discuss educational pedagogy and values with teachers and administrators. It is quite another to observe pedagogy, values, teaching and learning happening authentically in real time.
Our host teacher in Cartagena is Rosalia Mendoza, an English teacher at Bertha Gedeón de Baladí. Rosalia is energetic, engaging, fun-loving, and serious about her role as a teacher. She wants her students to learn. She wants her students to learn English.
Rosalia know that one way to teach a second language to students is to do rote memorization and meaningless cycles of faux conversation. She has rejected this model and, in 2009, began to develop a curriculum project she calls My School, My City, and My World: A Pretext for Speaking English. The idea of this project is to promote English language skills through service learning, for students to create a culture of being productive in society, in their community and at school.
For the past two years, Rosalia has been working with Alli Spring, a Peace Corps volunteer, to build a pedagogical framework for second language acquisition through service learning.
The strength, beauty, and sheer genius of this framework is that students are acquiring language and consciousness to talk about conditions in Cartagena and to build capacity for critical thinking. In the past few years, Rosalia has changed the expectations of what an English class could like like, from drill and kill to using English as a tool to think and talk about bigger issues relevant to the lives of her students. This means students are out in the community. They are conducting community needs assessments and responding to those needs. Students are working with recycling initiatives, at a cancer center, and with the organization TECHO which builds houses for displaced people.
Rosalia's students are quite passionate about their work with TECHO. In April, they spent 3 days in another part of Cartagena - sleeping on the ground in classrooms at a school - to built 20+ houses with TECHO. They are going out again in the middle of August for a second build. While we were here in Cartagena, TECHO has been having it's national fundraising campaign. Students have been collecting change at the school and were out at two malls yesterday to collect money and to educate the community about the work TECHO does. Some students were planning to go out again today to continue to raise money on their own.
And how does this relate back to English class? Tomorrow, Rosalia will ask students to talk about their experience this weekend in English.
Yesterday we had the opportunity to debrief with Alli about the students' work. She and Rosalia began this year with the concept of values as a foundation for their service learning work. Then, they chose themes for the year: home and responsibility, honesty, solidarity and respect. The power of this service learning work is the direct connection between students' lives, students' community, and the academic subject of English.
This work is awe-inspiring.
During our Chiva tour on Friday, we passed a TECHO fundraising site. Listen to the Bertha kids on the chiva! They are dedicated and so passionate about TECHO.
I have had great meals in Colombia. I love the fresh fruits and fruit juices, and I have made it my personal mission to have, at least, one limonada de coco per day. I prefer the empanada to the arepa, but I have not met an arepa I did not like. Soups. Meat. Rice. Seafood. Ice cream. Even pasta and crepes. Experiencing Colombia through its food -- awesome.
I invite you to press play, sit back, and salivate your way through the slideshow......
Our host teacher, Rosalia, has created incredible opportunities for her students in her English classes while we have been guests of her school. Today's activity was a 2-hour field trip for the students, and we TGCers were along for the ride of a lifetime.
Rosalia rented a Chiva -- a type of tour/ party bus in Colombia. We all piled into the bus with a sound system that broadcast the thoughtful research and presentation of 11th grade students and alumni from Bertha Gedeón about the monuments and history of Cartagena and.....MUSICA! Oh, there was music! And singing! And dancing!
It was joyous learning in one of the most profound ways I have ever experienced. Because there was learning before, during, and I imagine, after the field trip. Students were learning in English - listening and speaking in English. They were building English language skills through the context of the history of their city.
It was authentic learning at its finest and it was joyful. Beyond joyful, really. There was so much love, hope, energy.....ah, there was so much potential on that Chiva, barreling down the road at 40mph. All that potential of these beautiful young people alive in our world -- well, we are a lucky world.
We were scheduled to visit Escuela Normal Superior de Cartagena de Indias today. Our 'home' school, Bertha, was actually closed for the day because the neighborhood around the school did not have water today. 800+ students at school without water in 90+ degree heat -- I cannot imagine.
Escuela Normal Superior serves students from pre-school through 11th grade and offers a two-year program for students who want to become teachers. My interest is piqued by their innovation to address students' needs and through their impending participation as a bilingual school or a school with an English emphasis.
One program they have here is through dance. Every grade level has dance classes, focusing on a different type of dance over two years. These dances are traditional dances from the various cultures represented in Cartagena. Our host, Gabriel, said today, "We are rescuing our dances." At the end of October, the students fro Escuela Normal Superior hold a parade in El Centro in Cartagena to showcase their dances and gorgeous costumes. We had three adorable and talented primary students along with school musicians perform for us today.
I love the idea of a school working to preserve, to save, and to share the culture of it's students and community. While focusing on the traditional, Escuela Normal Superior is working incredibly hard to bring English and rigor to its students so that students are able to improve their lives.
This blog is not an official U.S. Department of State blog. The views and information presented are the grantee's own and do not represent the Teachers for Global Classrooms Program, IREX, or the U.S. Department of State.
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