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Reflection #3

wendydays's picture

Letting the Little Ballerina Do Her Ballerina Twirls

A few weeks had passed since the last time I went to GASP (Gotwals After School Program). I didn’t forget the troubles I had the last time I went to tutor the 2nd grader who was unresponsive and rebellious against the activities we were expected to do. Students were expected to do their homework first followed by a 10-minute computer program and then reading. I will refer to her as “Little Ballerina” as a pseudonym because the first time I met, she told me she wanted to be a ballerina when she grew up. The difference was this time I came with a bit more mental preparation for dealing with a young girl, who I feel, seems to have become disengaged with the program and somewhat rebellious against its structure. The last time I came, she would burry her face in her hands, pretend to cry, pretend to fall asleep and insist on doing her work on the floor. Going home that day, made me feel like a failure because I felt like I didn’t help her improve her literacy and may have made her detest reading and learning a little more. Afterwards, I talked to my friends over the dinner table, consulted with my cousins over group texts, and shared my frustrations with the teacher at my weekly field placement. The general advice I received was: use a reward-system style of learning and shorter durations. I also felt that I was being a little overbearing the last time I was supervising her as she did her homework and when I said things like “nope”, “no”, “that’s not right,” immediately after she made the mistake, she would become frustrated and annoyed. This time I decided that I would be less annoying and I wouldn't check her answers until after she completed her homework. I made a conscious effort to give more praise for what she was doing correctly, and I was pleased to see that she was able to finish her homework with a lot less resistance.

Afterwards I was unsuccessful once again in getting the Little Ballerina to complete her 10 minutes on the computer program (LEXIA). Personally felt this technological program wasn’t very effective. Another GASP volunteer said that he didn’t understand why they had to interact with computers when we were there to interact with them on a personal level and provide reinforcement on literacy. I think that is a fair point to consider; technology at times can dehumanize what Freire would consider to be the human act of teaching.

I decided to move on to the reading activity but ran into another barrier. She would face the book away from me, and outright refuse to let me read along with her or let her read to me. Although I tried to reason with her by saying things like, “I need you to read to me so I can help you improve,” but she still wouldn’t listen. At this point, I decided to take my origami book out, it was the back-up plan I had all along incase the Ballerina refused to cooperate. She instantly quickly gravitated towards the vivid multi-color surfaces and at that point I knew I had her hooked. Not only did I have her attention, but this was also somewhat of a cultural experience because she didn’t know what “origami” was and couldn’t pronounce it properly. I took out my stash of origami paper and told her she could pick whichever color she wanted. Next, I told her the “catch” of this fun activity, which required her to read the instructions out loud in order for her to make the origami craft. She protested a little and tried to get me to read it to her but eventually her determination to create the final product of folding paper art enticed her into reading the instructions on the page. Although it took quite a few attempts to choose a project in the book that was easy enough for the both of us to fold, eventually the Ballerina made a little paper yacht. 

Afterwards the little Ballerina got bored of the activity and I knew it was time to move on. We decided to do something on the white boards that were available at each table. Out of spontaneity, I came up with a game that would get her to read, write and have fun at the same time. I told her I was going to write something on the white board, and whatever sentence I wrote she would have to read it and act it out. The first thing I wrote was “dancing chicken,” the Ballerina read the board, responded with astonishment somewhere along the lines of “What! Are you serious?” and then to my amusement she started squawking around like a chicken. It made me burst out in laughter myself. Next I wrote “sleeping reptile,” and she didn’t know what reptile was, so I explained the term to her and before I knew it, she was lying on the ground reenacting a reptile demeanor and snoring. I was impressed. Even the words “stinky pickle” didn’t stump her as she creatively made her body look rigid (like a pickle) and her mouth went agape as she pretended she was breathing out foul fumes. We were mutually entertained by this activity. Later on, my phrases turned into sentences and I would write short scenarios such as, “Once upon a time, there was a dinosaur who lived in the jungle. One day she decided to trample through the forest.” I then started writing sentences that would get her moving, reading and counting: “Find something green then do 8 Ballerina Twirls”. Watching her fully engaged and embodying the actions I wrote down for her was funny and made me feel really happy. The Little Ballerina later insisted on giving me a sentence to act out as well, and although I was quite embarrassed I joined in on the silliness of enacting out her sentence where I was “A chicken that was eating and farting at the same time” and “run[ning] in place and do[ing] 18 jumping jacks” . I think physically doing the activities along with her helped create a liberal space, where I wasn’t just an authoritative figure, but was viewed as an equal who had to be silly as well.

Although I strayed from the structured activities that I was supposed to follow at GASP, I think the Little Ballerina was able to gain some educative experiences while doing these fun activities that I enjoyed as well. I was able to relate to what the lady from “Mighty Writers” said about tricking the student into learning. I had no effect on the Little Ballerina when I used the commanding tone of “you have to do this, because you are told to do so”. I captured her attention much more successfully when I engaged her with somethine more interesting. Hopefully, I will be able to continue to do so throughout the remainder of the semester.