Saturday, September 1, 2007

Zach: There is no other place like Conviven

“Conviven is a special place.” I was told this upon my arrival there, and I wondered it meant. Of course I already know it is special, I thought to myself.

When I began teaching at the center, I was encouraged to develop my own curriculum by using the ever-growing supply of books and teaching materials available at Conviven. Though daunting at first, I soon embraced the challenge and quickly took to the task of discovering my students’ abilities, interests, and goals.

This information allowed me to customize the curriculum for each of my classes. For example, one of my classes included a family that specifically wanted to improve their English pronunciation. I asked them to bring an English book of their choice to class everyday from which we would read aloud. Their improvement after only a few days astonished me. Within weeks, they were reading more fluidly and confidently.

In another class, I discovered that two of my students were fervent chess players, so I decided to devote an entire lesson to the game. We learned the names of the pieces, discussed the rules, and reviewed basic strategies – all in English, of course. The freedom to form curricula according to the specific needs of my students made my job more interesting and ultimately enhanced their enthusiasm towards learning English.

Conviven’s flexibility extends beyond the English program as volunteers are urged to share their own passions with students and explore possibilities for new classes at the center. I was involved in the formation of a weekly art class to provide artistically-inclined students an encouraging environment for creative expression. During my time at Conviven, classes were offered in such subjects as math, circus, and singing. Whatever your passion or area of expertise, you can teach a class on it at Conviven.

The classes I taught brought me face-to-face with the daily challenges of teaching. I had to constantly think of new, fun ways to present vocabulary and grammar to my students. Simple games and creative activities were great ways to cover the material and keep my students’ attention.

Many of them loved to color, so when we learned the English words for rooms of a house and the basic objects in each room, I had my students draw and label their own houses. They had so much fun coloring I don’t think they realized they were learning English while doing it! I learned quickly that I couldn’t educate if I didn’t captivate, so I became accustomed to constantly trying to devise innovative means to introduce topics. If I was ever out of ideas, we could always play “Hangman.” It never ceased to enliven my students and motivate them to study vocabulary.

There are many opportunities to teach English throughout Buenos Aires, but none are like Conviven. The freedom to shape my own curriculum and the freedom to begin new classes was both liberating and challenging. It meant that I had to constantly be on the ball and stay organized.

The students seem to sense how much thought and effort each volunteer contributes to Conviven, and they respond with a positive attitude towards learning, enthusiasm for the English language, and respect and admiration for their teachers. Students like these are a joy to teach, and I’m grateful for Conviven and all those involved with the organization for helping me be a part of something truly special.

Zach from the States worked at Conviven for two months from June to August 2007.

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