Saturday, August 6, 2011

Teaching English in Ouaga

During the month of July I was in Ouagadougou, AKA “Ouaga,” learning something about teaching English by working at a summer school for students who want to improve their English.  The classes were held at The American Language Center which is somehow related to the American Embassy, although I am not quite clear about how closely they are connected. I spent three days in June at a workshop to get basic instruction in techniques of teaching English as a foreign language.  As some of you may remember, I had to take courses in teaching English as a Foreign Language when I thought my Peace Corps assignment was going to be teaching English in Mongolia.  The classes here covered some of the same topics, but I really enjoyed seeing video tapes they showed us here of teachers applying some of the methods that we learned about in my classes at Cleveland State.

The English classes for the students ran for four weeks.  Each day began with two hours of formal instruction in English, using books written to teach English, but with an emphasis on American English and American culture.  Most of the Burkinabè learned British English, and there are some interesting small details that make this clear.  For example, is the color gray or grey?  Color or coulor? In the USA it is the first spelling but in England, the second.

Most days I was able to sit in on classes at various levels of proficiency to get an idea about how you could teach English at different skill levels. There were 7 classes, with 6 skill levels.  The students were between 11 and 19 and were placed based on their proficiency, not their age. The formal teaching was from 8:00 to 10:00.  From10:00 to 10:30 was a half hour break, during which the students bought pop, water, and sandwiches from a woman who showed up in the courtyard at that time.
From 10:30 to 12:30 the volunteers lead camp type activities, although the teachers were present to help out as needed.  We spent a week before the classes started planning what we would do during the camp time.  We decided on the theme of Captain Planet, whom some of you may remember from a kids’ cartoon series in the 1990:  “Captain Planet, he’s our hero, gonna take pollution down to zero…” He had five helpers, “Planeteers,” with the powers of Earth, wind, fire, water, and heart and the tag line of the theme song is, “The power is yours!” We made the over-all theme of the camp saving the environment, trying to emphasize that everyone can do something about these problems.  By combining wind and fire we had the themes of the four weeks.  The first week, Earth, we discussed basics of threats to the environment and endangered species, of which 4 of the top 10 live in Burkina Faso. The second week, with wind and fire, we had as a guest speaker the man who represents Burkina Faso at climate change negotiations.   The third week, water, focused on the problems of safe drinking water and water for growing food here.  The last week, heart, was about volunteerism and what the students could do.

Most of the students there come from fairly well to do families and many know next to nothing about the places where we volunteers live. They could not imagine not having glass in the windows and air conditioning, let alone not having electricity and having to go to the well to draw water. Some students were delivered to the door by drivers but many of them arrived riding Motos. Here is a picture of the student motos lined up in front of the center.

This is me in one of the classes, just to give you an idea that this is a bit mor like an American school than the typical Burkinabè school.  The kids mostly go to private schools, so this may be normal for them.

During the first week we had a contest among the students to make a design for the camp t-shirts.  On the front we put the slogan for the camp: THE POWER IS YOURS.

The winning design was quite clever, the globe (with Africa at the center, of course) with a very sad face, and smoke stack showing the source of much of the pollution.  The artists had added the slogan: THE WORLD IS SUFFERING. STOP THE POLUTION.

One of the activities students enjoyed was making posters, which we did several times. Here are a couple of posters about my favorite complaint, those black plastic bags.

We also had field days a couple of times.  Here are some of the students doing a water balloon toss.  It was nice to be the looser and get splattered with water when it was so hot out.

Another activity was picking up trash. We gave the kids rubber gloves to protect them from the nasty stuff that is likely to be in ditches here. They loved it!

After five weeks away fromj my site, I was glad to get home again. I will say more about life in Ouaga in a future blog.  It is quite different than life in the village, but not like the good old USA!

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