ABC, 123, You and Me!
Non-formal education seeks to associate key learning concepts with creative and fun activities that allow children to develop comprehension on various levels. First emerging in the late 1960s, non-formal education is marked by four characteristics:
- Relevance to the needs of disadvantaged groups
- Concern with specific categories of person
- A focus on clearly defined purposes
- Flexibility in organization and methods
We work specifically with Palestinian children ages 5-6 years old in the village of Salfeet to teach basic English alphabet, vocabulary and syntax. Our hope is to provide the students a platform from which they can continue to build language learning. Throughout our time at Salfeet, we have used multiple non-formal techniques including flash cards, alphabet connect the dots, coloring pages and songs to keep students interested and learning. We have already witnessed several successes and are hopeful that the students will use our summer course as motivation to further their English instruction.
While four weeks may seem brief, the strides our students have made thus far emphasize the benefits of non-formal education. Our classrooms erupt into rounds of “Head, Shoulders, Knees and Toes” and students proudly clutch their writing worksheets as evidence of their accomplishments each day. How were the students able to grasp such a wide array of concepts in only a few weeks’ time? The answer lies in the type of non-formal education we have learned to implement at TYO. The Palestinian education system is often reliant on memorization, repetition and textbook curriculums in foreign language studies. Our non-formal classes include interactive, activity-based lessons that engage students and encourage them to learn free from pressure.
It's no great secret that children thrive with individual attention and recognition; this well known fact, however, has not stopped class sizes from steadily growing, increasing the student to teacher ratio. Students benefit immensely from small class sizes; individual attention encourages students to participate in class, and leads to better retention of material and better test scores and jobs later on in life. Research has shown that educational gains due to small class sizes are especially large for minority students and students whose families are disadvantaged in education.
Kindergarten is a daunting place, replete with the unknown. Unfamiliar teachers, classmates, and surroundings combined with separation from family and everything reassuring are enough to make any child teary-eyed on their first day of classes. Combine all of this with an incomprehensible foreign language, and our students were understandably frightened on our first day of classes. The five to six year olds we teach at the American Corner in Salfeet are far more confident now, and enter our classroom with smiles, eager to give high-fives. Because we have small class sizes, we know our students on a personal level and can offer each child lots of individual recognition, praise, and hugs. Especially as our students learn to write, it has been so beneficial to be able to work with the kids individually, to make sure that they are writing words in the correct direction and understand the sounds of each letter. Over the past few weeks, our students have mastered the alphabet, learned to write their own names, and learned lots of basic vocabulary and phrases. Far more importantly, they have learned that school isn't such a scary place; this summer experience has made them more eager to enter kindergarten this next fall, and it has been so rewarding to see their growing eagerness to learn.
Marah, a timid 5 year old girl, walked into her classroom at the American Corner on the first day of class, nearly a month ago. After she sat down at the table and situated herself, she looked up to show that she was ready to begin. I greeted my class with “Good Morning! How are you?” and all of the students, including Marah, gazed back at me with a blank stare, not understanding anything I had just said. It was then that I realized how very little knowledge of the English language these students possessed and the amazing opportunity this would be to teach absolute beginner students. That same day, I taught the students that “Sabahal Khier! Keefek?” was the same phrase I had originally asked them. Once they understood this, they learned to answer “How are you?” by saying “I am good”. Marah answers my question everyday by doing a thumbs-up sign with her hand while saying “Good!” with the biggest smile on her face.
Upon starting summer classes, Marah barely even knew the English alphabet. The main tools I implemented in my class to help the students learn and write the alphabet were singing the alphabet song, practicing writing, and identifying the letters from a jumbled set of flashcards. Having a solid foundation of the alphabet will help the students as they continue their studies of the English language, because this is the basis of learning vocabulary for speaking and writing. A mere three weeks later, Marah is able to write the entire alphabet without looking at the flashcards and can also write her own name. Marah is extremely motivated to learn, and has more drive than any of the other students in my class. She is always excited to learn new words, like the colors of the rainbow, animals in the jungle, and the weather. She has been able to express her opinions using her limited vocabulary by saying she likes the color pink, birds, and prefers rainy weather to sunny weather. I am shocked at her improvement, especially considering that we have only been working together for three hours a week. Teaching Marah over the last few weeks and seeing her encourage her classmates to learn and participate has been an absolute pleasure!
Emma, Jenna and Jessica are interns at TYO in Nablus.