2017 in books

In January, I started my year in the footsteps of Siddhartha who chooses to leave home and follow a path of experiential learning rather than what is expected of him. In February, I let myself be swept up in the sardonic romance Glimpses of the Moon, only to find a glimpse of hope in a Man’s Search for Meaning while in a Holocaust concentration camp. I turned back to another Wharton romance called  Summer that ended even more ironically and sad than the former, yet was fully rejuvenated by the debut novel of one of my favorite author’s only this time a Man Walks Into a Room, not into a Holocaust, and without his memory. That physiologically trying story led me to explore The Book of Joy and the Dali Lama’s idea of how one can best nourish lasting happiness in a changing world. Of course, I immediately juxtaposed those ideals by contemplating a life lived in One Hundred Years of Solitude. That was a magical roller-coaster of family drama and time warps, so I fell back on my faithful Wharton only to have a dreadful time getting through the dramas of The Buccaneers, American girls entering into a British aristocratic life through messy marriages. This put me in such a state, I illegally borrowed a totally different genre and found solace in the Fevre Dream vampire world created by the author destined to write the Game of Thrones series. A new release by my formerly mentioned favorite author also featured a storyline like a fevered dream in a Forest Dark, so next I started the adolescent fantasy series Eragon to brighten my darkening view of humanity with its spit-fire adventure like Harry Potter tale turned Lord of the Rings. Then I hitchhiked around the continental US with Jack and The Dharma Bums only to wind up with A Long Way Down in my hands, a surprisingly humorous and compassionate take on the dark subject of suicide attempts on New Year’s Eve.

That takes me full circle. I will end the year two books away from completing my 2017 challenge to read 17 books in one year. I just finished the second book of Eragon’s dragon fantasy series Eldest, while I trying not to pick up the third because I still have two novels I’ve been meandering through for a while now: Walden and the musings of a free man and his self-proclaiming, self-sustaining lifestyle and the spiritual reminder The Power of Now to guide me towards spiritual enlightenment and away from wondering what books I’ll be reading this next year…


A Learning Space

The more that you read, the more things you will know

The more that you learn, the more places you’ll go!

When I arrived, the “library” space looked as if it was being used for storage – thousands of old books and textbooks, papers, broken shelves and other equipment all packed inside the dusty room; my counterpart told me that for years it was a sanctuary from the sun or rain for older middle school students who wanted to take a nap during lunch.

The first step was organizing all the books – students helped me to stack and shelve books – I made it a race or a contest to see who could make the highest pile to increase productivity and so they thought the  overwhelming work was fun.

Then we came on the weekend to paint:

I applied to 3 book donation companies and 2 of them (One Book One Week and Darien Book Aid) sent a box to the school with an assortment of used English books. The Kindergartners were the first to visit the new books:

The library is a transformed place where my counterpart Kru Doll can hold class with the 1st-3rd graders and all students can come at lunch to play games, color, browse books (yet, not quite read) and relax in the safe place.

There is still a lot more work to do to help these kids to learn a second language; even so, I am proud of our efforts that have created fun and safe learning environment.

Phonics Project

*to see cute mugshots of first graders and their nicknames, scroll to the end

I never wanted to be a classroom teacher. As I knew it would be, managing a classroom is HARD WORK.

The reason I accepted a volunteer position that spends most of its time in a classroom is twofold:

  1. I enjoy the coaching – my main goal is to empower the current Thai teachers with extra skills to improve their English teaching.
  2. I also enjoy language – exploring how best to learn a language and analyzing language at its most fundamental core.

One thing I am currently enjoying is implementing the basics of Phonics across all the grade levels. I even have my 9th graders learning Zoo phonics (letter name, letter sound and animal movement for each letter) and playing games creating CVC words (C=consonant and V=vowel). I am using a lot skills from the LIPS program I used at my former Educational Coaching position that are multi-sensory and used in speech therapy.

Consider for a moment, what these kids are expected to learn:

  • In first grade, these students start to learn Thai
    • 44 consonant symbols
    • 13 vowels (which make about 26 vowel combinations)
    • each letter has a name, sound and a special position (vowels may go over, under, to the left or to the right of a consonant)
  • THEN these students are learning English
    • 52 new symbols (capitals plus lowercase letters, the former of which they don’t understand the concept since there are no capitals in Thai)
    • although we have 5 vowels letters, there are over 30 vowels combinations
    • learn which letters match (“A” and “a” do not exactly look alike)
    • each letter has a name, sound and with many “rule exceptions” to the latter

Needless to say, this is quite a challenging task compounded by the fact that the Thai teachers do not feel comfortable teaching the fundamentals of English, yet are given a curriculum that does a poor job of setting a foundation paired with standards that are morbidly unrealistic. Yes, children do have minds like sponges, but it’s difficult to soak up a foreign language when the content skips the basics and when your teachers are speaking in your native tongue.

I am lucky that even my counterpart in charge of teaching English from grades 4-9, is on board with starting from the basics. Below are my goals stated in a 2 year plan I must submit to the Peace Corps staff and the Thai government by the end of the month:

  • Year 1, Term 1
    • Phonics across all grade levels
    • Teacher trainings
  • Year 1, Term 2
    • Conversational English at morning assemblies and school-wide participation
  • Year 2, Term 1
    • English leadership roles: Morning English News, English Theater Project
  • Year 2, Term 2
    • Reading program
    • Thai Teachers training other Thai teachers