When thinking about what I wanted to accomplish during my second year with my students, one thing that I absolutely wanted to push was critical thinking and creativity. In many of the lessons from last year, it was nearly impossible to pull these things from the students. Taking a page from Amy and other volunteers, I began an English Journals project in each class.
For the students, the project is fairly easy. Each week they write on a topic I provide them. I encourage them to write a page, but given the amount of subjects they have each week (up to 17!) I have accepted anywhere from a paragraph to three pages. After they turn in the journals, I read and make corrections for each one. This was one part I didn’t completely think through–correcting 170 of these each week. However, given the success I’ve had, I don’t mind the extra work.
After correcting their mistakes, I give them a new topic for the next week. I try to create different topics for each student to both cut down on cheating, but also to draw out more unique and interesting essays. So far this semester, topics have included: their activities for Idul Fitri, what makes their village unique, their families, their goals for the semester, their dreams for after school, happy memories, sad memories and many others.
While almost all of the students have been very diligent in completing these every week and have improved their writing incrementally, the insights I’ve gained into the lives of the students have been incredible.
I’ve learned about students who have been orphaned by their parents, who are searching for work in other cities, who must raise their siblings on their own. Others have described their disappointment with the way their villages are managed and offered advice for reducing the corruption, pollution, or other problems that plague their communities. And then, of course, I’ve learned all about students’ boyfriends, girlfriends, and crushes. I’ve learned so much more about my students than I knew before and its really improved the relationships and bonds that I have with them.
I think that me being the foreigner and having the students write in a foreign language has allowed them to be much more open than they would be otherwise in another class. This really showed the other day when my counterpart attempted to read one of the student’s journals. She yelled at him, “No! Its for Mr. Will only.” Curious about the content, I later read her story of a funny memory where she was accused of kissing a friend, but hadn’t. So, her objection wasn’t due to some huge secret she was divulging, but just acknowledging the relationship she has with the journal.
The students have fully bought-in to the project and I’m really excited to see where it goes from here. My only regret is that I didn’t start this last year.