First Few Days at Tomás de Berlanga: Part 2/3

This post continues the description of my first week working at Unidad Educativa Tomás de Berlanga.

On Wednesday, I started playing soccer with the students during recess. School for these grades goes from 7:10AM to 2PM with a 25-minute break at 9:10AM and 12:15PM, and many of the boys play on the cement basketball court, which is fitted with soccer goals as well. There is actually a bigger court just a half-minute away, but it is essentially made of crushed lava-gravel (the red variety) and when I asked why they didn’t play there I was told the surface is too slippery to run on without falling relatively often. The guys normally play with teams of three or four and play to between one and three goals, rotating the losing team until recess is over.

As the youngest of the teachers here (and probably the least concerned about getting back to class all sweaty), I’m the only one to play soccer, and so far I’ve been on teams with mostly my own students. I think this helps them remember that I’m not just someone teaching them about birds in English, asking them to quiet down, or tell me what I just said, but a person they can have fun with both in and out of class.

On Wednesday I also started with the students on remembering local birds’ names in English and what they meant. For example, they could all remember that the Canario María, or Yellow Warbler, had the color in it, but often replaced ‘warbler’ with ‘bird.’ Teaching that “to warble” meant “to sing,” paired with the kids’ knowledge that the Canario is the most commonly singing bird on Santa Cruz, even in fairly high-populated areas but especially at school, helped them keep the complete species name within their grasp. ‘Vermilion,’ which is a fun word that isn’t too easily forgotten, once defined as a color of red, could be matched with ‘Flycatcher’ (“to catch flies” or “to catch by flying”) for the Pajaro Brujo, the only red bird in Galápagos that isn’t a vagrant. A vagrant, or vagabond, bird is one that has arrived on the islands mostly by accident. It is seldom recorded (my guidebooks include every vagrant recorded on the archipelago, and mostly each one has occurred once over thirty years ago). The final example, ‘Mockingbird,’ needed a definition of “to mock,” or “parody,” which again is linked with the birds’ behavior: mimicking other sounds.

Other ways I found birds and English to be easily paired for teaching on a whiteboard and asking the students questions was to draw a bird (most often a duck, as pictured in my last school post), and point to different parts of its body to first ask what body part it was (e.g. head, crest, chest, neck, bill, belly, feet, wings) and the various ways one could describe the appearance. For example, a bird can “have a red bill” or “be red-billed.” Coincidentally, in Spanish a bird can be described: “tiene un pico rojo” or “es de pico rojo.” I italicize the ‘ed’ and ‘de’ because when thinking about translating a characteristic from one language to the other, it is important to remember the order of adjectives and nouns.* When carried out step by step verbally and with a whiteboard, it is clearer than it may seem here. Especially when there are so many bird names, in general and on Galápagos, that portray the rule: Blue-footed Booby (which every child knows by heart), Smooth-billed Ani (an introduced species), Red-billed Tropicbird, White-cheeked Pintail, etc. On Thursday, after going through this sort of exercise, the students chose local birds that they were likely to see and could learn about via guidebooks and the internet, so that on Friday the 10th-12th graders could go to Puerto Ayora to look for some of them and the 7th-9th graders could do the same on Monday.

My next post, and the final one covering last week, will describe my trips with the students to Puerto Ayora on Friday 8th and Monday 11th.

*For those of you who speak Spanish and are curious as to how I explained the section marked with an asterisk above: In Spanish, notice the ‘de,’ or “of,” is followed by the noun and then the adjective. In English, the adjective goes first, and in this case is joined by a dash with the noun, which includes the ‘ed’ to turn the whole thing into an adjective. By remembering that everything is backwards (even the ‘de’), kids can keep the rule straight not only for bird descriptions but for general English phrases as well.

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