May 31, 2008

The Chronicles: Part II

What a fantastic time to volunteer! Not only because our times demand it, but also because the human soul needs it! The GED classes at Columbia University’s Community Impact program continue and the semester seems to be progressing amazingly. After spring break, my students came back refreshed and ready for new adventures! And by adventures I mean learn how to write a winning GED essay! Now, that’s a challenge…!!! Mid-terms were uneventful and went by smoothly. The new focus of our class was how to become more efficient GED test-takers and learn new test-taking techniques and of course….practice, practice, practice…!!!

At the beginning of the semester, I underestimated how valuable doing activities in the classroom would be. Having very few students returning their completed homework, it hit me that the only way to help them practice everything we learn in the classroom, was to actually have them do homework in the classroom. It is sad to admit I failed to convince them that homework will actually bring the difference they seek in their progress. However, I do understand that the majority either don’t have the time available or don’t care enough to study.

So my goal until the end of the semester is to help them practice. And since it was established early on that the handbook was a bit of a boring task to tackle, I took it to myself to bring them new material to work on. The material would usually be articles on contemporary issues taken from TIME magazine or The economist in order to simulate GED test-like conditions under which to do the activities. Another activity they love is playing hangman during the last 10 minutes of the class or opening discussions on contemporary issues they’re interested in.

One of my duties as a GED teacher is also to compile a report on each student’s progress on every aspect of the course. A process separate from grading them or nominating my “star” student, this report needs to be comprehensive and detailed. While looking for material to help me form an opinion on each student’s progress throughout the semester I went through all the homework and quizzes I gave them to help me get an overall picture. I was happily surprised to realize that most of the students demonstrate a significant progress; one that was reflected on their essays and find-the-main-idea questions. And progress, rather than finalized results, was the most important goal I had for my class.

Since I’m teaching the level B class for this semester my students are going to take the test next year, so preparing them for the actual test wasn’t my biggest concern. However, I do understand that test-taking skills are essential even for the best-prepared student. As a student myself, I know well that succeeding in standardized tests depends mostly on skill acquired through practice. Thus, I try to convey this knowledge to my students and help them realize that success doesn’t always come from how much you know but how well you know it. The Program offers an array of opportunities to practice, such as computer rooms, paper tests and special consultations, so resources are always available. The students however, haven’t been convinced yet that by using these resources they can achieve a great difference!

Being a teacher that uses empirical experiences as an educational tool my mantra is “Practice, practice and more practice!” I would definitely appreciate any advice, empirical or scientifically proven, on how to help inspire my students and get prepared for the actual test. And remember: when we help one individual in our community to improve their lives in any way possible, we contribute to the overall progress of the community in which we belong.

Questions? Suggestions? Comments? Please write me at marina.sapountzoglou@gmail.com.