Davachi Travel Blog

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*Note: I wrote this blog entry one year ago, found it on my computer, and am not quite sure when this event happened.  I'm guessing early to mid April, but at this point I have no idea.


This is a story about Elvin.  Elvin is a young boy in the fifth forum who is known as a 'lazy' student.  When I came to my town at first, he was relegated to the back of the classroom and allowed to stare off into space or play with his pencil, never becoming a part of the classroom.  Occasionally he would try, but since he was a lazy student, the teachers had no real hope for him.


It was surprising to all of us when we found out that Elvin understood almost everything I was saying.  I noticed small things at first.  Whenever I would give instructions, the 'smarter' kids (who I love completely, this story is not meant to say that they are bad) rarely understood what I was saying the first time around.  While I was helping those students, Elvin would already be getting ready to work on what I asked the class to do.


Soon he was translating everything I said to the rest of the class.  I would ask "How is the weather class?" and he would tell them "he just asked what the weather was like" in Azeri.  Or I'd say "Please take out your homework," and he would show his notebook to his classmates and say "homework, in here."


That was, of course, when he remembered to bring his notebook, or do his homework.  Elvin is a really good listener, but he doesn't have the patience or even the ability to do homework like the other students do.  He is naturally good at reading body language and making connections with the things he hears.


In other words, he will be a natural language learner if he ever gets the opportunity to travel.


Another thing I do at this school, besides help teach English, is I teach pedagogy to the teachers.  One day we were talking about Gardner's Multiple Intelligences theory.  I won't bother you with the details, other than it basically says that every student learns differently.  They didn’t quite understand how one student could learn differently than another student.  They couldn't grasp, at this point, anything beyond a "one size fits all" teaching mentality.


I was frustrated, so were they.  Frequently I would come up against a wall in the pedagogy class.  The problem was that Western style teaching methods and Soviet era teaching methods do not go hand in hand.  Add to the problem the fact that the teachers were afraid that the government’s Ministry of Education would come by and see that they were teaching things that weren’t straight out of the book, and it seemed to be impossible to teach anything new, let alone change or model any non-productive language learning methodology.


This time was different, I had the perfect example to show them.


 I said "Ok, do you ever notice how Elvin understands everything I say.  Do you notice how he is usually translating what I say to the smarter students in class?"  My counterpart nodded.  "How can a 'lazy' student understand me better than the 'smart' students?  Is Elvin a 'lazy' student or," I continued, "is he a good listener?"


My counterpart's eyes lit up.  The example worked and she and the other teachers understood.  It wasn’t that they were pretending either, their faces literally changed and it made perfect sense.  The idea that a student isn’t just ‘lazy,’ but that they might learn differently, and require a bit of different instruction from the teacher, now suddenly made perfect sense.  The rest of that class we all worked on methods in which we could teach our 'lazy' students so that they could be as effective as the smarter students.  The teachers actually came up with many wonderful ideas and the day was an absolute success.


The greatest thing about all of this is that not one more time did I hear my counterpart refer to Elvin as a lazy student.  Instead, she just talked to him more.

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