Teaching

Alphabet Addiction

The children who attend my afternoon classes are addicted to the alphabet. There are worse things to be addicted to, I know, but this particular addition is having a negative effect on their learning.

Let me explain.

Only the 7th and 8th grade students in my school are on the books for studying English. Each class has two lessons a week. Lessons are 45 minutes. So 2 classes x 2 grades = 4; 4 x 45 minutes = 3 hours. If I taught only the 7th and 8th graders I would have 3 hours of teaching a week. Which would be unendurable.

So I offer a number of classes to other children that are not in 7th or 8th grade. I currently have 3 such classes that each meet twice a week. (3 x 2 = 6; 6 x 45 minutes = 4.5 hours; 4.5 + 3 = 7.5 hours a week). It is supposed to be 1st-3rd grade, 4th-6th, and 7th-9th. This nice distribution of grades does not always happen.

The students in the first 2 classes are brand new to English. So in the fall we started off working on the alphabet. Some caught on right away, others . . . well, let’s just say that it is March and all my students cannot write the alphabet. Sing the alphabet song lustily, yes. Write it, no. I don’t know how much I should hold myself responsible for this situation. Some of them I think must be trying NOT to learn the alphabet. It’s just been too long.

But then there are the others . . .

The other children who have now mastered the English alphabet who take great and EXTREME delight in showing me each single time we have a lesson. The minute they are in the classroom door it begins. “Anbani, anbani?” (I can’t even get them to say it in English!) A sea of little hands, index and middle fingers raised together with the remaining fingers folded down—the Georgian way of raising hands—greets me. Some don’t even bother with that formality; they are out of their seats, at the board, chalk in hand. And if one kid gets the chance to write the alphabet, then they ALL want to write it. Minus the few kids who still haven’t quite caught on.

I try to control this enthusiasm. I make sure that those still learning are given a chance to practice. I limit the amount of time we spend on this. I try to teach new material at the beginning of the lesson and save the last 10 minutes or so for alphabet madness. But their minds are distracted. They are not interested in new vocabulary or learning any verbs. They are thinking about the anbani and WHEN they will get to write it.

Today I tried to review numbers, colors, and some other basic vocabulary. The interest level was almost zero, which closely approximated their retention. “Mas, mas!” one little girl cries. I am mid-sentence. Mas is short for mastsavlebeli, the Georgian word for teacher. “Yes?” “Anbani, mas!” “You already know the alphabet! Shen itsi anbani!” Disappointed looks all around. “Now we learn new English, more English, kide inglisuri!” Shoulders slump. Heads go down. They want to write the alphabet. They ONLY want to write the alphabet.

What can I say? They’re addicted. It’s a rush, apparently. To get up to that black board and effortlessly or near effortlessly (blasted Russian ‘n’) write an entire foreign alphabet. It’s like their party piece. Except they all have the same one. I’d just love to get them to turn that enthusiasm to some new piece of English. Memorizing vocabulary lists. Mastering verb conjugations. But for now they aren’t having any of it. It’s anbani. Day after day after day.

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