Testing the Boxes PART 1 – Olcott Memorial High School

After two months filled with non-stop work, we’ve finally landed back in the States!

This trip to India was one of the best experiences I’ve ever had, and so I thought I’d share a couple of updates with you throughout this week on how the project I was working on went.

As you know from my previous blog post, my project, English Kadhavu, focuses on providing supplementary material to students’ English learning textbooks in Tamil-medium schools, in order to increase English literacy in India.

We tested the first book box we created at 3 different schools in Tamilnadu – one in Besant Nagar, 5 minutes away from where we were staying, one in Mylapore, 30 minutes away, and one in a village called Kandavarayanpatti, a 2 hour plane ride and 2 hour car ride away.

In this blog post, I’ll only be talking about the first school that we visited – Olcott Memorial High School in Besant Nagar. Expect to see more blog posts this week about the other two schools!

Olcott Memorial High School was the school that I volunteered at in 8th grade, and the school whose students inspired me to start English Kadhavu in the first place. Their director, Lakshmi ma’am, is one of the most inspirational people I know, and worked with us for a long time on perfecting our material. We learned a lot from her expertise and compassion for the students of her school.

Lakshmi Ma'am

On the day that we were testing the material with students, we accidentally arrived at the school an hour early. While we waited outside of the Resource Room (where the school keeps all of it’s learning activities and extra material), students slowly started approaching us, curious to see what we had in the bags we were carrying. We took out the books to show them, and many students gathered around to read. This was when we first got an idea of what level the students were at based on grade.


One thing we found very motivating was that, even when students were unable to read at the beginning, they were keen to learn, and to practice reading the books again and again until they got it right. One of the students couldn’t read the word “head” at first, but after being read the book a couple of times, and then practicing a few times on her own, she was not only able to read the word, but was helping other students read the book as well! It was great to see the students so excited to learn outside of the classroom.

girls reading

It seemed as though students were not really struggling in English due to a lack of motivation, but a lack of means to learn.

One thing that was very clear was that the students were clearly not at the level that the assigned English textbooks implied. The only students who could read the books we had written for first graders were the fourth graders. This made us change how we set up the boxes, and how we envisioned them being used.

We soon realized that there is no kindergarten in most public schools! This means that the first graders start off with learning the alphabet, the ABCs, and basic vocabulary. Our activities were originally intended for first graders, but after realizing this, we decided to leave it up to the teacher to decide which grades would benefit most from each activity. So, we decided to split up the activities based on level, and give the more difficult activities, such as sentence building, to students in higher grades. We had teachers read the book aloud to the younger kids, but made the older students try to read and comprehend the books on their own.

IMG_0387 IMG_0417

We found that this method of splitting up the activities was really successful, and decided to organize the boxes by activity rather than making each one a set.

All in all, working with Olcott was an amazing and very helpful experience. We’re excited to continue to work with them on this project!

Thanks for reading!

To see more pictures from this school, check out our gallery at http://www.englishkadhavu.org/gallery.html!


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