Saturday, August 25, 2012

The newly discovered “momo motivation method”

As a motivation and reward for students I have a bag of candy in my desk at school and faces usually light up when it comes to the classroom with me. Despite being an English teacher I am not a great speller, so I reward any student who finds errors I have written on the board, with candy. In this way the whole class doesn’t learn my mistakes and good spelling is encouraged. I am well aware that in many western countries this system would result in complaints from parents and possibly other teachers too but that is not the case here. Since most of my students are boarders who live on a diet of predominately rice and potatoes the few times they get candy from me is not seriously impacting on their health, in my humble opinion.

This year with the grueling Class X syllabus to cover I divided my class into groups early in the year and insisted that we use these group for all activities and quizzes as a way of saving class time. It can take 10 minutes or more just to settle on groups so I made sure that each group was mixed gender and well balanced in terms of academic ability. It has proved a real boon to classroom behavior and time management. They know that there will be a fair competition and that each of their group members has different strengths and abilities, so they choose carefully who will represent them for various tasks. By having allocated positions in the room for each group to work in, we can divide up in a few minutes and reclaim teaching and learning time.

From the beginning of the year the novel was always going to be a tall order for many of my students so we introduced the system of having quizzes, in which the groups not participating wrote and asked the questions at the end of every few chapters. I upped the anti and chocolate became the prize for the members of the winning team. My students have gone from strength to strength and now they are able to get together share ideas with everyone contributing and listening to each other before selecting the best response and speaker.  Girls who rarely spoke a few months ago will contribute and even correct the boys, if they are not brave enough to be the speaker themselves.

As we have progressed through the novel each team has played off and the winners have played a semi final. This week we were down to the final 2 teams and I announced that we would play off for ‘momos’ in a restaurant in town on Saturday afternoon. The 2 teams involved certainly wanted the kudos of winning but ‘momos’ took the competition to a whole new level. I have never seen the class more determinedly concentrating and not just the competitors either. Even for the teams who were devising questions there was a palpable air of anticipation. I wish I had discovered the “momo motivation method” earlier is all I can say! The finals ended in a draw so all 12 students won!

Today we enjoyed our prize and in our class time I announced that there were exactly enough chapters left to repeat the whole process before the novel and the semester were over. It will be one quiz after each chapter from now on and I sincerely hope it is another draw between 2 different teams just to share the love.

Wednesday, August 15, 2012


Some time about 2 weeks ago I noticed that the prayer flags, which were decorating the garden area outside my classroom were gone. It was an elaborate display erected by the class XII students of 2011.

I suddenly missed it and I thought that it was odd. As is often the case with things we see daily we hardly notice when they change and I wasn’t sure if they had been removed long ago or quite recently. It is also true that after some time we can hardly remember what was once there, but that would not be the case with this sacred space.

A few days later I saw students in class XII cutting down a young tree in the School Agricultural Program (SAP) area. Now this is really unusual in nature-loving and tree-protecting Bhutan but I assumed that it was interfering with the garden.

Next a bundle of newly cut bamboo poles appeared in the position of the previous prayer flags. At this point even a novice like me knew…….. A new prayer flag display was on its way care of this years class XII’s.

I have to mention the uniform tied to this student- ready to be donned in an instant but not worn. It inspired me to take the shot.

Pin pointing the exact time anything will happen in Bhutan is problematic. The concept of Bhutanese Stretchable Time and the reluctance to absolutely decide anything before the last second combine to make appointments, deadlines and even auspicious celebratory events prone to occur with regularity in unannounced and inconvenient timeslots. Undeterred, I did my best to question all concerned and involved about when said new structure would magically appear, to no avail.

In the near dark, heading to the farewell dinner for our principal, itself announced less than 24hours before it was scheduled, I saw a sudden escalation of activity in the prayer flag zone! I sensed that the time was fast approaching.

At 5.35am on my way to morning study the next morning I decided that I should take my camera, as I really wanted to record the process and not just the end result this year. I was almost smug with the cultural appropriateness of this decision when I walked into the school campus and saw it littered with laboring class XII boys!!

Second-guessed you for once, boys! They of course didn’t bat an eyelid. They expect me to have my camera at anytime anything noteworthy happens and here I was reconfirming that that is the way it is! Yes, I confess, my supervision of study that particular morning was rather perfunctory.

Nonetheless it is a spectacularly colourful, new addition to the school campus and I love to see the flags fluttering and hear the wind whipping those flags into a frenzy on stormy afternoons.

As promised, it is more impressive in design than last year’s but it really shouldn’t be a competition. I wonder why the girls had no visible role to play, but the sheer aesthetic beauty of it and psychologically calming effect it has on me, is enough, in my humble opinion.

Sorry the video just won't load!

Saturday, August 11, 2012

GAMRI CHU – the Gamri River

The rhythm of our lives is measured by this river.

 It’s both a comfort and a concern.

It sounds like the ocean and makes me feel less landlocked.

It roars like thunder and I often awaken wondering if that is rain or the river.

It’s young and active carving it’s way through a lush landscape: This is not “Old Man River”.

It lessens the longing for Australian beaches.

It drags boulders and tumbles rocks along its bed, producing a sound like ice in a blender.

It’s ochre red flow spells disaster – Landslide above!

It’s a spellbinding spectacle with prayer flags fluttering above.

It’s playground for children in the sweltering heat of summer before the rains come.

It’s demonic, claiming the lives of the unwary and unprepared in monsoon floods.

It’s a bathhouse, a laundry, a swimming pool, a water source and an inspiration and a warning.

It’s a constant in our lives and a friend.

Monday, August 6, 2012


Today is the anniversary of the bombing of Hiroshima and having lived in that city for 8 years it never passes unnoticed.

After the students' interest in my comments about the day last year, I was better prepared this time round.

While on holiday in Bangkok I found and purchased some origami paper- not 1000 sheets but a supply. Several months ago I asked a dear friend in Adelaide to mail me a copy of the book “Sadako and the Thousand paper cranes” and since then it has been circulating my class. Thank you Sue Gilbey. Every Monday it and about 6 other books I have supplied the class with are distributed to another class member. They are eager for their turn with this story and it has been returned early several times so more people can read it. Others who share their hostels have also borrowed it and read it so now I wish I had ordered a dozen copies not one!

Now almost all the class have read this true but simple story and we can refer to Sadako as if she is someone we all know. “Sadako was brave wasn’t she Madam?” among the many comments that have been made when we are discussing other literature in class.

A week ago when I knew this day was approaching we planned to meet today after the reading period, which follows period 7 on Mondays and so at 4pm I arrived back in the XC classroom. Law Club members had unfortunately been called away and some were there in our room hoping that they could master the skills required in 5 minutes, while others came to apologize for their absence, but most of the class was there eagerly waiting.

I distributed some practice paper and walked them through the process of folding a paper crane “en mass”. Some got it immediately and were eager to try again, while others got lost the first time round but were keen to have another go. The package of brightly coloured origami paper was the lure.

Those who were sure they could do it again, had to prove it by folding another bird while I worked with those who were lost. Once they had done it once on their own they could choose a coloured sheet or 5 and start on our 1000.

They worked so co-operatively helping each other and being so careful with the limited resource of our coloured sheets, that I was thrilled. Those who are not very academically talented were amongst those who got it quickly and were so pleased with themselves for being able to instruct others. Those who were not so good with their hands determinedly tried again and again until everyone present had folded at least one crane.

They were excited at being able to choose their own colours and many carefully stored 5 or 6 sheets in their books so they could fold them at a later time. I do hope that will not be in study this evening or tonight.

Having seen them all so stressed with the demands of the curriculum so often recently this was a lovely start to the week. Maybe we won’t fold 1000 and maybe they won’t get to Hiroshima or maybe they will, either way, it was great to see them so keen to learn something new and so willing to co-operate together and teach each other. I think it would be kind of fun to leave the book and their cranes in the library here in Rangjung HSS when our project is over but that is a decision they will make.

Before we knew it was well after 5pm and evening study starts at 5.30pm so I had to pack up my distractions with about 15 coloured cranes already in the collection and make my way home as the study group that uses our room started pouring through the door.

Yet again they refused to smile as the story is so sad!

Well done XC once again you have made my heart sing!

As always when I am in the classroom after school hours there is a group of boys who just have to see a dance clip on my computer a few dozen times. They watched it repeatedly while we folded. They are trying to learn the steps from constant viewing so I expect to see them doing the very same moves in the cultural show next weekend. 

Less than 24 hours later and the cranes keep adding up. I guess this was a great idea!