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The Younger Grades at Tomás de Berlanga

2012 July 15
by Seth Inman

Unexplainable hieroglyphs

This past week, apart from being the second session of the Bird Club, I was teaching 1st and 2nd graders English, Science, and Art (e.g. bird names, bird biology, bird crafts). I wasn’t quite prepared for the radical change in behavior between 7th-12th graders and 1st-2nd graders in the classroom, though obviously I expected there would be significant differences.

But when on your first day a group of nineteen 6-year-olds spontaneously and simultaneously burst into a song about a little yellow chick in the palm of their hand while you’re trying to teach the basic body parts of a duck you’ve drawn on the whiteboard, you have a good sign that things are might get tough. If this song includes mention of a hawk, which scares the chicks into hiding under their desks while the chosen bird of prey stalks the room to catch any straying chick-children, then things are already tough and you have to act accordingly.

So I asked them to repeat the song for me while I wrote the first verse on the board, and then translated it into English: “My little yellow chick in the palm of my hand.”

Then I handed the kids a piece of paper each and asked them to write the sentence in English and illustrate it below. Answering affirmatively, as I have with every assignment since that first day, to queries exploring the possibility of filling in the drawings with markers or colored pencils (resulting in more time per drawing and a better-looking picture), I then roamed the much-calmer classroom and supervised the sketching for the rest of the 80-minute period.

Eighty minutes is much too long a time for elementary schoolchildren, I think, given their attention spans. During the course of the week, while I asked students to pick Galápagos bird species to write in English and draw, or reviewed the alphabet with a couple illustrations for each letter (e.g. ‘C’ = cat, cow, car; ‘D’ = duck, dog, and dolphin), I’d receive repeated complaints regarding the amount of writing asked of them (I never got past ‘F’ in the alphabet exercise), as you can see in this video if you understand Spanish. So I tried to time the small art projects between the writing so the kids didn’t get too tired (though I’d assumed the break from using their workbooks in class and at home would be enough), and found that twisting pipe cleaners can be a serious challenge for some. Plaintive pleas for help plagued me the entire period we were making these simple creatures (I quickly helped make most of the feet you see in these pictures), which I had been prepared for by the previous week when I helped Mari’s kindergarteners and pre-kindergarteners to make similar crafts (I haven’t written about that day yet, but there are some photos of their work at the bottom of the post).

The joy with which the students received me every morning, which cries of “Profe Set!” and group hugs about the midriff, as well as the creativity demonstrated during bird illustrations and crafting, made up for the puerile tattle-taling, unabated begging for help that wasn’t truly needed, uncontrolled running around, fake faints with fake CPR aid, crawling accompanied by horse-whinnying, and familiar tales of love, deceit, and death (simplified to five- and six-year old vocabulary). Overall, this was the most tiring week of the five that I have been here so far, but certainly not the least rewarding. I’ll have more on the three bird club meetings later!

Here are the birds the kindergarteners made. Doesn’t the first one look like a Frigatebird? It has the throat pouch and twin tail feathers! Not sure why the wings are on the bottom of the body though…




One Response leave one →
  1. Mrs Olwen Jarvis permalink
    August 8, 2012

    First Congratulations! Second as a retired K teacher I must tell you, you are sowing seeds, you may not see germinate but rest assured they will! Many of my K students who are now in their 20,s are still in touch and are great birders and one a top artist. One went to Cornell. keep up this exciting work. Wish I could still do it. I’ve been to Ecuador with 6, 7 and 8th graders, to Jatun Sacha a very remote biological research station all as a result of teaching kindergarten!
    best wishes,

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