Tuesday, February 5, 2008

Peanut Butter Jelly Time

John Drotos, the Peace Corps Kazakhstan director, came up to my oblast for a visit, and spent an afternoon with me and Nora in Zhelezinka. The highlight of the trip, or at least the most lasting memory, was the Peanut Butter he brought. Most people in Kazakhstan have never heard of this product, and you can only find it in mega supermarkets in Almaty (and hopefully Pavlodar, I'm going to check). Anyway, he brought a jar for me and one for Nora, and I didn't realize how much I missed it. Combined with Auntie Eileens Pomegranate Jelly, I have been making dozens of tasty sandwhiches. I'm going to have to find some more.

The main point of this article, however, is to talk about patriotism. I've been asked to give a short speech about patriotism in America, and how it's developed in the youth. It seems the young country of Kazakhstan is looking to foster love of the motherland in their children, and are looking towards America to see what we do. I don't really want to talk to you all about that. You know about the Pledge of Allegience, the National Anthem at baseball games and all of that. I want to discuss patriotism in a former country of the Soviet Union.

I brought this up with my counterpart last night. I was trying to think of how American patriotism compares with Kazakhstani. I asked if he thought that the fact that we fought a revolutionary war to gain our independence, compared to Kazakhstan and other Central Asian countries that had to be practically forced to become independent after the fall of the Soviet Union. Many people here still seem to feel loyalty to either the Soviet Union, Russia, or any number of other countries. The older generations especially. Some of them were brought here under the system of Gulags. They don't feel as strongly as Kazakhstan as they might about other countries.
In Kazakhstan you are constantly asked about your nationality. Where are you from. Most Americans answer that question with "I'm American." Kazakhstani's however, answer with, "Chinese, German, Russian" etc. Does this affect their patriotism, since they seem to identify much more with their nationality than many Americans do. It's an interesting topic, though one I"m not comfortable trying to discuss standing at a podium quite yet. I'm not quite sure if it's even something I can discuss without breaking the Peace Corps rule about staying out of politics. I figure if I ask questions and keep it to a small group, it shouldn't be too much of a problem. I'd like to hear all your insights into this idea. Patriotism in a post soviet country vs America.

Okay, a change of topic now. Lessons. To answer some questions that I've gotten.
The Interactive Boards are largely unused, but it seems to be changing. I am going to ahve a lesson on them on Thursday, and many other teachers are eager for them and wondering when they will get one in their classrooms. It's interesting and exciting to see this, but I am afraid that they aren't getting used to their full potential. I'll know more when I've seen a few lessons, but it seems that they will mostly be used to put pictures up and write on like a normal blackboard. I was under the impression they can do a lot more, so I will have to look into it and see what I can figure out with it.
My classes are often limited in how much English speakign they do. A lot of work is done with translating, which I'm trying to break away from. I want the students speaking, and creating their own sentences, rather than reading a text aloud and translating it into Russian. This is the normal system for teaching, and the teacher is often the focus of the classroom. Peace Corps has taught us to put as much focus on teh student as possible, but it can be hard to change the teachers ways, and intimidating to basically tell them their system is ineffective (even if it is painfully obvious). Luckily, I have English clubs all to myself, and I encourage the students to speak more, rather than just reading and writing. Most classes the students will listen to the teacher explain the grammar, listen to some examples, then maybe write some sentences or do some sort of activity, rarely with much speaking at all. Hopefully within the next month or so their will be a blog post that talks about an amazing breakthrough and some great classes where the students are putting together sentences and actually speaking their ideas in English. We'll see how that goes.
Students in Kazakhstan begin studying English in 3rd grade, and continue through 11th grade, their final year. I am teaching 6th, 7th, 8th, 10th, and 11th. Some of my younger students are actually my best speakers, in the 7th and 8th classes. I also run two separate English clubs, one for beginners and younger kids who will enjoy goofy games and songs, and a club for older kids that will (this is my first week for it) be discussions and more grammar work.

Okay, that's all for this blog, just had the patriotism thing on my mind so thought I'd write something up about it. Let me know what you all think, maybe we can get some dialogue going.


joeguy said...
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Anonymous said...

Sounds like your teaching is getting better. I know it's hard to change the teachers who have been doing the same thing year after year after year and it can get frustrating when you put a lot of work into something that your colleagues don't understand. But remember that by using student centered teaching the students are having more fun and learning more.

When I'm observing a classroom the two things that I wish a teachers did more often are first to put themselves in the student's position. If, you as the teacher would be board with the lesson then most likely the students are board. Second, ask the students real questions that make them think and then give them time to answer.

Good luck with your smart board adventures, I've seen them used and there are many possibilities.

alex said...

Maybe there is some Peace Corp rep you can contact about what you can go into about patriotism without violating political discussion guidlines?

I think Joeguy did a great job of listing topics that you should not attempt to cover and that your ideas of Pledge of Allegiance, Natonal Anthem at ball games, etc is much more appropriate (in regards to both topicality and politically).

alex said...

Also pardon my abysmal English in my last post. My 4E research hasn't uncovered much btw.

joeguy said...

After reading Peace Corps Guidelines related to blogs (02-09-06) - I concur with Alex's comment - topics best left to others to discover rather than to reveal.

Speak in a language and rely on concepts your audience will understand from their world view and experience base - build bridges of understanding by linking what you know to what they will understand.

Best regards as you sort through this.

joeguy said...
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