Monday, April 27, 2009

A piece for me, a piece for you!

Present day Mongolia is a very communal society, and this should come as no surprise given the history of its people. As nomadic herders for thousands of years, it was necessary for Mongolians to group together, work together, and share in the profits of their labor. This tribal mentality still lives on to this day though in a different form. As I am a school teacher, I will give you my accounts of the group versus the individual mentality in the classroom.

When taking tests, students almost view it as group work. Thus, cheating is a huge problem in the Mongolian educational system. As a secondary school teacher, I’ve witnessed a fair share of students looking over another student’s shoulder for the answer. And the student that is being cheated off won’t care that it’s happening, or for the most part will help the cheater in getting the correct answer. In my classroom I have three rules while taking a test: no talking, no looking at your neighbor, and absolutely no cheating. If they do any of the three no-no’s, I dock a point from their total score. Though effective, I still have to dock points off student’s tests because the stronger students are always helping out the weaker students. Though frustrating, it’s somewhat nice to see that the better student is willing to risk points off his test in helping another student that might not even be his/her friend.

This group outlook is also translated into regular classroom activities. When one of my 5th graders answers a question correctly, the other students would clap in unison of support. Every time this happens, it gives me a boost of energy while I am teaching and it makes my day that much better. Their willingness to support and contribute to the group cause can be best seen in the “token economy.” As a way to curb hooliganism, background noise, and general misbehavior in the classroom, I’ve implemented a “token economy” in my classroom. I have two jars, one marked ‘good’ with a smiley face and the other marked ‘bad’ with a sad face. When the students are ‘good’, I add a piece of candy to the ‘good’ jar, and when they are rowdy I take the candy from the ‘good’ jar and place it in the ‘bad’ jar. When the candy in the ‘good’ jar fills up to the number of students in the class, each student will be given a piece of candy. In this way, the whole group is responsible for their desired outcome. This method has been wondrous in keeping the students under control, but what was more surprising was the collectively effort of the students to contribute to the whole.

As a practice tool for my younger students, I play many games with them; bingo, hangman, around the world, mad dash, bang bang, etc. To the winners, I usually dole out candy as a prize. Some students would win multiple pieces of candy in one sitting. They would eat their first piece, and what came as a surprise to me was that all my students would give up their second, third, or fourth pieces that they have accumulated and put it in the ‘good’ jar to help reach their collective goal. Remember that they have won this as an individual, but they are willing to give up their pieces of candy so that the whole can profit. That my friends is something else!


Monday, April 20, 2009

Medals are for winners!

Entering any Mongolian household, you are bound to find medals proudly displayed as a centerpiece in the living room. From sports medals (chiefly volleyball), to dancing and singing medals, to the all important academic medals; Mongolians are obsessed with giving out and getting these marks of achievements. I don’t know if it’s a relic of the Soviet influenced past but competitions and the presentation of medals in general are always happening in one form or another.

This past weekend I was privileged (don’t know if that’s the correct word for it) enough to be a judge for the most important academic competition of the year, the annual Olympiad. I was an English judge, but there were competitions in all subjects ranging from Physics, Mathematics, Russian, and even an I.Q. test. This yearly contest is held across Mongolia around the same time in all of its different provinces. In Dornod aimag, each school is given a quota of 1 or 2 students per subject per grade. So the students that come in for the competitions are the best in their school. Students were not the only participants vying for these prestigious medals, teachers were also involved and were competing for bragging rights and maybe even pay raises.

On the morning of the competition, which was on a Saturday, a group of VSOs (British volunteers) and Peace Corps volunteers were ready at 8 AM to begin judging the English Olympiad. As this was our first Olympics, we had no idea what to expect. What we didn’t know was that we were in for the long haul. The master copy of the test came at 8:10 or so, the test was to begin at 9. There were three different versions, one for the 9th graders, 11th graders, and a teacher’s test. We looked through the test to find mistakes (the English tests are infamously known for errors) and were happy to find that there were only a few minor hiccups that can be easily corrected. As the clock draws closer to 9, we had one copy machine to share between all the different tests. The I.Q. people got in before us and made their copies, then the Physics tests were copied, and then it was finally our chance to make the 500 or so sheets of copies that we needed. As we were making copies, we had to also come up with a rubric for grading the speaking portion of the test since the creators of the exam did not have one for us to use. By the time we finished making all the copies, it was 10 or so and the participants were restless and anxious to get it under way.

The test was broken down into 3 portions: speaking, listening, and writing with the majority of the points given to writing portion because it included the all important essay. The writing was straightforward, the listening was a problem because the CD that was provided to us didn’t work, but was resolved with us reading the transcript, and the speaking was a challenge because we had 8 interviewers for 90 or so participants. After all the tests were collected, we had to correct all of them. We decided to mark everything except for the essay, which were to be done the next day. It was the best decision that we made because we were running out of fumes as it was closing on 6 o’clock by the time we were finished correcting the multiple choice section.

The next day, over mimosas and snacks we all convened again to make a rubric and collectively grade the essays. There were differences of opinions on how each essay was to be scored; some were hooked on the students’ ideas and creativity while others were strictly grading based on the question and answer. We started at 10 AM and ended at 4 PM. There were great essays that made us think, good essays that made us laugh, and deplorable essays that just made us cry and cringe.

The Olympiad is something else! A total mess in terms of organization and logistics (though it was not the fault of the local people because they were given the test just one hour before the test) this year, but I guess that is something to take from all of this. Next year we will be better prepared.


Wednesday, April 8, 2009

Hodgepodge Mongolia

What's new? pictures. It's a random assortment of pictures from International Woman's Day to Men's Day, and a little bit of everything else. Enjoy!