Testing the Boxes PART 2 – Kalpagavalli Vidyalaya and Kandavarayanpatti

Welcome back everyone! Here’s another English Kadhavu update about our trip to India.

The next school that we visited, called Kalpagavalli Vidyalaya, was located in an area of Chennai called Mylapore, not too far from where we were staying.

We didn’t get to spend as long at this school as we did in Olcott. That said, we learned quite a lot from testing the boxes out with the students at this school.

One thing that makes this school stand out is the people that volunteer and work with the students through the Altius Foundation, a non-profit in Chennai. We tested out our book box with their help, and they gave us great advice that will be very useful in the creation of future book boxes.

Here’s a link to their website, if you want to learn more about their foundation: http://www.altiusfoundation.org

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When we arrived at the school we were greeted very warmly by both the teachers and students. The students were very excited to have new activities in the classroom, and, like the students at Olcott, were very enthusiastic.

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During a free period after the teacher played the bingo game with the students, a few groups were so excited by the game that they asked me to play it with them a second time! It was great seeing students so enthusiastic to learn from what we’ve created.
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One thing that really stood out in this school was the way that the teachers interacted with the students. One of the teachers, Krithivasan, who gave up a corporate career to work in education, and is one of the driving forces behind the Altius foundation, was especially outgoing and made the kids really excited to learn. He helped us test out the sentence formation cards with third graders and turned the activity, originally intended for group practice, into a fun competition that had the kids eager to learn and get their sentences right. Seeing teachers use our content in creative ways inspired us and gave us more ideas for activities that are easy for teachers to manipulate and work with their own individual teaching style.

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We found, through observing the teachers from this school, that the activities that were easy for teachers to customize were the most successful. This was also pretty clear at the third school that we visited.

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The final school that we tested our book boxes at was in a village called Kandavarayanpatti, and it took us a 2 hour plane ride and a 2 hour car ride to reach there. For those of you familiar with the area, Kandavarayanpatti is very close to the city Karaikudi.

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This school was unique because it is located in a difficult to reach village, where all the students and their families know each other.

The Vetrivel Foundation, a non-profit, helps out at this school, and occasionally college students will travel there to help teach. These same college students have agreed to help us test out boxes and send us feedback by email.

Here’s a link to the Vetrivel Foundation website: http://vetrivelfoundation.org/

One of the major differences with this school was that the students at the school weren’t used to seeing unfamiliar faces, and as a result were extremely shy. They didn’t speak up very much during classes, but the teacher assured us that they were usually very talkative and outgoing. Because of this, it was a little bit difficult to test their enthusiasm for the activities.

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For most of the kids, at least!

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The teachers, on the other hand, were very enthusiastic and provided us with great feedback for future book boxes. One thing that I’ve noticed in all the schools I’ve visited is that a lot of the teachers care a great deal about their students, even if they don’t have the resources that they need to effectively teach. Because of this, they were really keen to receive new reading material and activities that they could use in the classroom. They showed us the activities that the students already use in order to give us ideas for more supplements that they might need.

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We hope that all three schools will continue to use the book boxes we’ve given them and continue to provide feedback. We’re excited to see where this project goes!

And that is the final update on our trip to India for English Kadhavu! I know, it’s very sad, but do not fret! This definitely won’t be the last post about English Kadhavu. This is an ongoing project that we hope to expand. We want to be able to create much more content and send it to many more schools across Tamilnadu.

Thanks for reading!

To see more pictures from these schools, check out http://www.englishkadhavu.org/gallery.html!

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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!

Book Box Update

After some long conversations with our advisor Lakshmi Suryanarayanan (Lakshmi Ma’am), director of Olcott Memorial High School, we have made some changes to our boxes. So, before I talk to you about how the testing went at all the schools we visited, I thought I’d quickly share with you what those changes are, and why we made them.

The Teacher’s Edition Book

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We added this version of the book to make it easy for teachers to read to the students, especially those of lower grade levels. As you can see from the picture, the words are also printed on the back side, so the teacher can easily read the book to the students, without having to read it upside down.

Story Books

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We didn’t make many changes to the story books, except for printing it out on durable paper, so that the copies can (hopefully) be used for many years.

Poster Activity

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We decided against using velcro for the poster activities. We found that it took too much time and effort to glue pieces of velcro onto each poster and individual card, and we realized that it would be unrealistic to expect someone to do this for every single box that we send to schools in the future. Next time, we might print out the posters on magnet sheets instead.

Bingo Game

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We added this new game to the box, in which students place a marker on each body part picture or word as they’re called out (pictures for younger students to practice vocabulary, words for older students to practice reading). When they finish filling up the card, they yell BINGO as loud as they can. It’s proven to be very fun for the kids.

Sentence Building Cards

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We changed these cards by making them bigger, and getting rid of the magnetic back. We realized that it would be much easier for students to play with the cards on the floor, while sitting in circles, as you can see in the picture above.

To see more pictures, check out http://www.englishkadhavu.org/gallery

English Kadhavu

A few years ago, when I was in the 8th grade, I volunteered at Olcott Memorial High School, which is a school in Chennai that is funded by the Theosophical Society of India. To quote their website, the school’s goal is “social change through the education of the underprivileged”. I noticed while I was there how much the students were struggling to learn English because they did not have any exposure to the language outside of school, the teachers themselves were not very fluent, and on top of that, they didn’t have many resources, like books, that were actually relevant to their lives.

This is a problem because while students can learn subjects in Tamil, and be good at them, it has been proven that students who went to Tamil-medium schools have a lot of difficulty getting through college or finding jobs without being fluent in English. In fact, a majority of higher-paying jobs require a proficiency in the English language.

My goal since that trip to India has been to come up with a solution that would help students get enough practice in the basics of English at a young age, so that they have a foundation that they can build upon throughout their schooling. Basically, I wanted to give students fun books and activities that are easy for teachers to administer and helpful for the kids to learn.

This is why I started English Kadhavu. Kadhavu in Tamil means a door and by helping these students through English kadhavu, we hope to open the door of opportunities for them.

When I first started this project, I was focused mainly on creating online activities that students in India could use and play with in their computer labs. I realized, however, that while Olcott may have a computer lab, not all schools, especially in rural areas, do. So, it would be a lot more helpful to create physical activities, at least alongside the flash ones, that can be sent directly to the schools. What I’m working on now is “book boxes”, which contain a story that focuses on one particular unit of the students’ government assigned textbook (for example, parts of the body), and activities that go along with it for students to get practice in things like sight reading, vocabulary, sentence formation, and phonics.

While I’m in India for the next month, I’ll be user-testing a lot of the things that I’ve created in some schools, including Olcott Memorial High School, and others that I’ll talk about more in later blog posts.

So far, here’s what I have in the first book box that I’ve created, focusing on body parts (I’ll try and post better quality pictures after my camera charges):

  1. The Book (I’ll include a link to the book when it’s up on the website): Our goal is for the books to be fun to read, and also relevant to the student’s lives. This particular one is about a student who’s dozing off in class and imagines his teacher with multiple limbs, before his friends wake him up and he realizes it was just a dream.
  2. Poster Activity: The poster activity is intended for vocabulary practice. The goal for this game is to match the names of the body part to the corresponding part on the picture. We used velcro to make the cards stick to the poster.FullSizeRender
  3. “Silly Sentence” Formation Activity: The sentence formation game involves sticking magnets onto a board in order to form a sentence. The sentence structures are pre-formed: “He/She/We/They/I _ Have/Has _ Number _ Body Part”. The color on the sides of the card is to check for grammar – for example “He” and “Has” will match up, while “He” and “Have” will not. Not only will it help the students learn which way is right and wrong, but this will help the teachers check their work.

    This is correct:

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    This is incorrect:

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  4. Flash Games (I’ll include a link to the flash games when they’re up on the website): The goal of the flash games is to provide more fun activities for students to play either as a class or on their own, depending on the grade level. For first graders, it makes more sense for the class to play the games together, as he students may not understand the online directions. There’s a learning activity and game for both phonics and vocabulary building, and a video of me dancing to the song “Heads Shoulders Knees and Toes”. We’re probably going to change this soon, since I’ve just learned that they sing a different version of the same song here in India.

Please feel free to let me know what you think of these activities, and give me suggestions of things that I could add! My goal for this trip to India is to make these boxes as effective as possible, so that I can start making more of them and sending them to more schools around India.

I hope you enjoyed this blog post. Regardless, you’ll be hearing more from me soon 🙂