About Me

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Hello, Ciao,안녕하세요, Hallo, Hola, Selamat tengahari! My name is Rachael and I am a travel enthusiast. Ever since I can remember, my parents have taken my brother, sister and I on good ol' American road trips. It's safe to say that was where my interest in new places, people and experiences was ignited. As my parents always encouraged my siblings and I to explore and ask questions, I developed a sincere curiosity for new adventures. In addition to seeing much of the United States with my favorite travel companions (my family), I had the opportunity to spend a semester in Rome, Italy, as well as a semester in Seoul, South Korea during my college career. Now, I am honored to be taking part in a Fulbright ETA Scholarship to Malaysia for a year! My family's favorite motto is "Life is all about the journey, not the destination." I invite you to join along in my journey of cultural exchange and mutual understanding in Malaysia! After all, the more, the merrier.

Thursday, December 6, 2012

A New Avenue

Helping students outline ideas for their essay.
(Photo courtesy of SMK PNZ)
“What makes Malaysia special?” I asked my 4 Science class in late June 2012.

As the students pondered the somewhat vague question, our special VIP sat in a small, wooden chair in the back of the classroom. Mr. Scott Rauland from the U.S. Embassy in Kuala Lumpur came to visit our school and meet the teachers and students of SMK Permaisuri Nur Zahirah. The students were even more nervous than usual, due to this “stranger's” presence in class, but I watched thoughtfully as they reflected upon the seemingly weird question. After what felt like a lengthy minute or two of awkward silence,  students slowly and hesitantly started to respond.

A meeting with Mr. Scott Rauland, from the U.S. Embassy,
and the Terengganu State Education Department
officials before Mr. Rauland came to visit my class.
(Photo courtesy of SMK PNZ)
"Beautiful islands?" a girl hesitantly and softly exclaimed in the front row.

"Perfect," I replied as I wrote it on the board. 

After a few more students nervously and unconfidently responded, other students began to understand and enthusiastically started to participated.

“Many cultures!” shouted a young girl from the back.

Assisting students with the "final touches" for their
poster featuring "Why Sports Make Malaysia Special."
(Photo courtesy of SMK PNZ)
“Excellent!” I responded.
“Hari raya!” an energetic boy said.
“Food!” another stated.
“Baju kurungs!”

For 80 minutes on that hot, June day, with our special visitor, I facilitated a conversation about Malaysia, led by the students using English. As students shared their thoughts, I carefully drew a venn diagram on the board, in order for students to visually understand what I was getting at.

The biggest circle in the middle of the diagram said, “Malaysia,” and the circles branching off of the center said things such as “food,” “holidays,” “cultures” and so many more. Upon each circle, we continued to expand on each idea.

For instance, I posed the questions of “What kind of foods?” or “What different 
cultures are there in Malaysia?” 

Students soon became so interested in the conversation. Although the dialogue was in English, the students were eager to participate because the subject content related to each of their own identities. It was as though this foreign English language was becoming less and less foreign, as they discussed in regards to their own cultural context.

Helping students with captions for
their poster. (Photo courtesy of SMK PNZ)
Up to this point, I was having difficulty capturing the interest of students when it came to English. I tried games, jokes and several different avenues. However, with the exception of about five students, I could not generate participation. Furthermore, I could not eliminate the shy and nervous culture that is typical in an English classroom in Malaysia. To add, although this particular class was my strongest one, I felt that no matter what I tried, I continued to run into a brick wall. Therefore, I was initially quite nervous when I was informed that Mr. Rauland would be coming to visit and that he would be sitting in on my class to gain a better idea about what role a Fulbright ETA plays in the classroom.

Students from Class 4 Science presenting
 "What Makes Malaysia Special."
The week before his visit, I frantically read through ESL books, searched through Google and reached out to fellow ETAs to get ideas for a lesson plan that could be partially successful. After searching, thinking and devising a plan, I could not find anything that I felt would be a hit to my students. Therefore, I reflected back to the times I  felt most at ease speaking beautiful Italian as a second language. What I remembered was that I enjoyed speaking Italian the most when I was talking about my own background and family. Consequently, the idea occurred to me that my students in some way could “educate” me, their teacher, as well as Mr. Rauland about their own background.

Two students from Class 4A1 presenting "Why Fruits
Make Malaysia Special."
(Photo courtesy of SMK PNZ)

Hence, the “What Makes Malaysia Special” project ensued, and it was just what my students needed, in order to use English and share their own story. By relating English to their own culture, it made the foreign language come alive for them.

Poster by a student group who presented "Why Weather
Makes Malaysia Special.

Students working on their posters!

The conversation in class with Mr. Scott Rauland on that hot, June afternoon was only the beginning of a six-week long project, and two   other classes joined in on the project as well.

Throughout the end of June and during July, the students worked in groups to represent the topic of Malaysia that they felt was most special. First, the groups wrote English essays, beginning with an outline and rough draft and ultimately creating a final, well done essay. Second, students created a poster board filled with pictures representing their topic. Finally, students developed presentations that they presented in early August when our next VIP, my dear friend Frannie, came to visit. Moreover, all of the posters were showcased on a "What Makes Malaysia Special" board that I created for the school. During the remainder of the year, teachers and fellow students enjoyed the colorful board and were impressed how students used English to showcase
and share their own country and culture.
Poster by a student group that presented "Why
Different Cultures Make Malaysia Special."

From start to finish, the project was a wonderful learning experience, not only for my students, but for myself. As my students utilized and developed their English ability, I learned more about Malaysia and my students' culture. Also, not to mention, I experienced the immense importance of relentlessly working towards finding new and different avenues for students, in order to make a subject come ALIVE.

With some creativity, reflection and effort, new avenues in the classroom can culminate a newfound energy and enthusiasm. My class’s new avenue led us on a memorable and fun, yet informative, six-week journey as a classroom that allowed us to dive deeper into
Malaysia while using English!

The "What Makes Malaysia Special" board showcased at the

VIP, my dear friend Frannie, with Class 4SC after they made their
4 Science students and I with our special VIP,
Frannie who came to visit me in August and
watched student presentations!

Boom Chicka Boom! : English Adventure Camp

My SMK PNZ students at English Adventure Camp!

One of our responsibilities as a Fulbright English Teaching Assistant is to host camps for students, in order to encourage English speaking outside of the classroom. English Adventure Camp is perhaps one of my fondest memories from teaching this year.

From September 2-3, 2012, my roommate, Christina, and I hosted an English Adventure Camp for students from both of our schools. Because of the excitement and enthusiasm my students have acquired for the English language throughout this year, I had over 85 students apply. However, unfortunately, I only had 39 spots! 

On the morning of September 2nd, the students showed up ready for two-days of fun, games and English at Seri Keluang, a resort located down the road from my school on the South China Sea. The students were excited to be spending the night at a camp with their friends! Moreover, our students, as well as Christina and I, were excited to have fellow ETAs Miss Julie, Sir Jordan, Sir Nick and Sir Michael come and help facilitate our camp.

Christina and I decided to make the camp a competition between our schools. Therefore, each school was split into three teams. The teams from each respective school had to work together to earn points for their school. By having teams compete for their schools, it boosted school spirit and increased the competitive atmosphere. It was a blast!

My female campers from Forms 1, 2 and 4! 
The first day consisted of team-building and English stations. Teams went from station to station to compete against the other school for points. During the afternoon break, we started a football (soccer) game. Although I was the only female on the parking lot field, it was probably one of my favorite soccer games of all time. Plus, it was neat to show the boys that girls can play football too! For our evening activities, we taught the students bonfire songs (such as one called, “Boom Chicka Boom”), ate barbeque and then had an open mic night. Several of our students sang songs and played guitar. The students even got Christina and I to sing "What Makes you Beautiful" by One Direction! Finally, on the final day of camp students participated in an English obstacle course. The obstacle course involved physical endeavors, as well as English challenges. Students had to perform a physical challenge, such as frog hops, the crab or wheelbarrow followed by an English challenge, such as a word scramble or tongue twister! Best of all, SMK PNZ (my school) was the obstacle course winner! 

My Class 4A1 boys playing guitar and singing!

My male students holding up their "Human Bingo" sheets. Human Bingo
consisted of boxes with different information, such as "likes chicken" or
"likes Justin Bieber" or "has younger siblings." Students then had to socialize
and meet new students to find a fellow camper that met the criteria in the box. 
A "Human Bingo" sheet.

My school, SMK PNZ, did not end up winning the overall gold for the camp, but they had a great time and I was immensely proud of each of the participants. At the closing ceremony for the camp, I presented several students with individual awards recognizing students with enthusiasm, leadership, improvement and school spirit. The camp was an excellent way for my students to practice English, while having fun and meeting new people.

It is amazing how interested students become when educators make the subject at hand real and allow it to be a fun, hands-on experience. The participants returned to school with even more passion for English, which has made the energy in the classroom contagious.

Since the camp, everywhere I go, I hear my students singing the lyrics to bonfire songs, such as “I said a boom chicka boom!” 

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