Saturday, November 24, 2012

They say a picture tells a thousand words..

Creating a need to read

Literacy levels of the community are fairly unknown but it is assumed that they are low. In this community there are no street signs, no books in homes and not a huge need to read. At the school we have strategies in place to increase written text and the need to read in the community. One of these strategies is a school newsletter that goes out a few times a term to keep community informed about what goes on in school.

Class report 

For my class’s report I thought I’d share the pictures that my students had drawn of the good and bad things in the break the cycle song we have been learning about (which are similar to the reality of this community) in the hope that it would spark thoughts or conversations on what this is about. 

Here it is :) 

A Carpet for our Classroom

Learning about Carpets for Communities (CfC) helping to break the cycle of poverty in Cambodia, lead on to the students wanting a carpet for our classroom. I think in the past I might have taken that idea on board and ordered one for the class, but this time I saw a lot of good learning in this simple desire for a rug and so we did it together.

Rug size

We had to choose the carpet size first of all so we found the carpet measurements from the CfC website and marked out the sizes on our classroom floor. One of my most disengaged students was in charge of the tape measure. I loved that there was relevance and purpose in this simple (but not simple for all) numeracy task and it ‘hooked’ him in to learning. After marking out the sizes we had a ‘hands up’ vote for which size to order and there was a unanimous vote for the largest rug. We looked at the cost and did a quick calculation to see if we had enough money in our class budget.

Rug design

I set the kids the task to design the rug for our class. Once again I was so happy with their enthusiasm of the task. We had ended up with 12 different designs so we needed to take a vote.

The vote

I started with a ‘hands up’ vote – something you would think is a simple task. Wrong! I had kids calling out to other kids trying to persuade them to vote a certain way. There was absolutely no subtlety to the way they were bullying each other into their decisions. 

Voting attempt #2 

So we tried a silent vote instead where students voted for their favorite design on an anonymous piece of paper, free from the ridicule and bullying of their peers. We had 12 students there and instead of ending up with 12 votes, we ended up with 16! I explained that this was called cheating and that it was important that we could make a decision as a class without bullying or cheating so we would have to try again.

Voting attempt # 3

It was extremely hard not to get frustrated by this and just drop the task but I took it as a good opportunity to learn how to have a simple vote in a civilized way, something that I believe would come in handy in the community. I gave out jobs to different students such as handing out the ballot paper, collecting the votes, counting the votes and recording the results. Finally we had a successful vote! 

A democratic classroom 

There was unfortunately still jeering for the person whose design won and shaming the person whose designs didn’t win. I explained that this vote is not about wining or losing, that it is about making a decision as a group. I compared it to our democratic society in Australia and that we could be living in a country where our leader makes all the decisions for us, but instead we live in a country where people get to have their say by voting. I compared this to our classroom and explained that we could have a classroom where I make the decisions for everyone and I would decide which rug we would get, but instead I want you all to have a say and make a decision together. I hoped that they found this idea empowering. Regardless of the jeers and cheers, I congratulated them on making a decision as a class.

A valuable learning experience

This voting process (and all the attempts) probably took nearly 1 hour. I think in the past I wouldn’t have used the time in this way as I would have been riddled with guilt that I’m steering off the path of core business (literacy and numeracy). Although I know that literacy and numeracy is extremely important for our students, I honestly believe this other learning should not be overlooked. Problems in the classroom often involve arguments, swearing, fights and tears – and I think it’s not too different out in community. And so I believe that these experiences and skills in making a civilized vote as a class is something that could be very useful to my students and their community.

Here is the final design J

Meanwhile... on the Cambodian side of things... 

After this lesson I emailed Carpets for Communities to explain what I have been doing with my class and to order the rug. Just the other day I stumbled across this picture posted on their Facebook page and thought "Hey! That looks familiar!".

It's nearly done!

Friday, November 23, 2012

A Visual Cycle of Poverty

A quick recap:
  • In my class, have been learning about a song called ‘Break the Cycle’ by a group of girls in an Aboriginal community out of Alice Springs who sing about the sad things in their life which they wished were different
  • We have learnt what the term ‘cycle’ means
  • We have understood the phrase ‘break the cycle’ by learning about the non-government organization Carpets for Communities which aims to break the cycle of poverty in Cambodia
  • Students have explored the sad things the girls are singing about in this song such as fighting and drinking, which is making the girls want to ‘break the cycle’
  • Students have made a visual representation of what the girls cycle looks like
  • Students have established that they want the girls to break the cycle but accept that it would be hard to do  

More than a lyric 

It was now time for some inspiration and some problem solving. I wanted my students to believe that the girls from the song would ‘break the cycle’ and know that change is possible. I also wanted my students to consider how the girls were going to ‘break the cycle’ and hoped that these words would shift from being just a lyric my students sing, to a real life problem they can try to solve.

This process of the students problem solving this situation was very tricky as there was no correct answer and I wasn’t looking for a single solution. I guess I was just hoping that through this thought process my students would begin to consider their own reality (which is not too different to the reality of the girls in the song) and think about their life and how their choices could affect their own future.

A tangible example of 'breaking the cycle'

Earlier in the term I shared the story of Carpets for Communities with my class to inform my students of other cycles which exist in the world and to inspire them to see that change is possible. I decided to make some visuals of this cycle of poverty and show how Carpets for Communities intervenes. I hoped that this tangible example of how a cycle is broken would be inspiration and food for though for their problem solving. 

The kids in impoverished families need to help earn money for the family to live off. These kids do not get to go to school and so will get trapped in a cycle of poverty. 

Carpets for Communities breaks this cycle by empowering mothers to earn a stable and fair income.

Mothers are taught how to produce one-of-a-kind, hand-hooked carpets that get resold into Australia and across the world by volunteers. When a mother joins the cfc program, her children can be back in school in 48 hours and the cycle is broken. 

Change is possible 

When I worked through this happy story with my class, there were smiles all round again.
I wanted this visual to help students believe that things can change and just because things have been the same for a while doesn’t mean it always has to be like that.

Saturday, October 20, 2012

A Visual Cycle

Understanding the cycle

So, the students had an understanding of what a cycle was now, but remember we didn’t know what that cycle looked like. I got the students to draw pictures of all the sad things the girls were singing about in the 'Break the Cycle' music clip, such as families fighting and drinking etc: 

"When we're home alone, 'cos our family's gone drinking, we get bored 'cos there's nothing to do"

"It's hard to stay in school"

"We want the fighting just to stop"

"Just looking for some trouble"

I printed pictures of the girls from the video and arrows and we tried to make a visual cycle and make up a bit of a story of how it links together. Although the lesson was very chaotic, unstructured and challenging (as decision making through discussion is not a strength of the class) this is what we came up with: 

The kids' explanation:
Families are unhappy so they drink, the drinking causes fights, kids watch the fights and learn to behave the same way, kids don’t go to school and cause trouble, they grow up and are unhappy so they drink.

It was obvious that the limitations of both my knowledge of the local language and my students' knowledge of English hindered the learning and understanding within this lesson. 

An alternative to the cycle

Although the students were enthusiastic about drawing the sad things from the song, they were even more enthusiastic about drawing the pictures of the happy things the girls wanted in the song. Here they are… 

"We want fun things to do"

"Families can be happy again"

"We want to keep our culture strong"

   "Got to think about the future"

Easy or hard?

I asked the students if they thought it would be easy or hard for the girls to 'break the cycle' and have the good things that they wanted in their life, rather than the sad things they were experiencing. The students expressed that it would be hard and we discussed the idea that people need to be strong and make strong choices to do hard things. 

Weak vs Strong choices

I gave the students a list of choices someone could make and got them to work together, sorting them into weak or strong choices. 

The power of a strong choice

I made the distinction that weak choices will keep someone in the cycle and that strong choices can help people to break the cycle.

Empowering ... well I hope 

I guess there is no way to really know, however I hoped that this distinction of a strong choice breaking the cycle would be empowering and confirm the same message from the song: that it's up to the individuals in the cycle to break it - but in order to do so they have to make strong choices.