Monday, 16 December 2013

Photocopier shopping in Bhutan ... and a hilarious pen pal letter

Now that exams are finally over and the kids are on winter break, I've had a few quiet moments to finally start spending some of the money so generously sent by donors in Australia and elsewhere around the world. So here's a report on my fantastically surreal day of school shopping and a hilarious pen pal letter at the end, just for kicks.

It all began last Thursday morning when we started the day with the completely mind-blowing experience of seeing our little baby for the first time swimming around and gawping at us from inside Lucy’s belly via the ultrasound machine at Jigme Dorji Wangchuk National Referral Hopital (otherwise known as JDWNRH – the world's longest acronym). This experience left me a bit flabbergasted at the enormity and beauty of the universe and I could have happily spent the afternoon listening to Beatles songs and drawing crayon flowers BUT as fundraising duties called I instead engaged in the only slightly less surreal experience of shopping in Bhutan for photocopiers, heaters, dictionaries, water boilers and football boots thanks to the funds that you all donated.

"Mr Matt! You are suffering from jaundice, yes?"
Somehow I resisted the temptation to run off to the Maldives with the wad of banknotes I was issued at BOB (Bank of Bhutan) and as a result on Friday we had the official inauguration of the school’s brand new duplicating machine, eight oil heaters, two water boilers, 190 English-Dzongkha dictionaries and 15 pairs of football boots for the girl’s football team.  Due to winter break, there were sadly no students on hand to receive the gifts on behalf of the student body, but the principal made a big deal of displaying all the goods nicely, blessing them with a ceremonial scarf (kada) and doing some very good-humoured but deeply official inauguration work.

My inaugural inauguration of stuff
Prior to making the purchases, I was a bit worried that if we bought a new photocopier it would be much lauded and appreciated in the beginning but would eventually be deemed too expensive to run and remain a bulky, unused testament to how ‘developed’ the school had become with very little benefit going to the students. But after a few chats with staff, photocopy salesmen and this amazing thing called the internet the whole world of duplicating machines was opened up to me. These modern mimeographs can make large numbers of copies for as cheaply as $0.003 per page, work effectively with low grade ‘duplicating’ paper of which there are reams in Bhutanese schools and can produce 30,000 copies from one bottle of ink. I spent half a day nerding out over the technical details of how they actually work and if you’re a bit ‘special’ like me and want to learn more you can find out here. But all in all: happy copying days. 

Lopen Sangay - the new 'keeper of the copier' gets lessons from the master
In terms of other gear, we decided to lash out and buy some more expensive Italian-made heaters rather than the cheaper, ubiquitous Chinese ones which are fabulous if you are sitting right on top of them but otherwise don’t do much in terms of providing warmth. As for dictionaries, from February, all the kids from Class VI to VIII (Roman numerals! Remember them?) will get an English-Dzongkha dictionary to use for the year which will hopefully improve their learning and comprehension in both languages. (See pen pal letter below - they need the help!) The dictionaries were actually inspired by a fantastic Kaleen Primary school student I taught last year, a Chinese native speaker who arrived at KPS in Year 5 with almost no English and who reached remarkable levels of fluency by the end of Year 6 in part through his dedicated and enthusiastic use of his electronic Mandarin/English dictionary. Thanks Peize! 

The sign reads: 'A Token of Love From the People of Australia'
Mr Ugyen, games-in-charge, being presented with the girls' football boots
There is still about $1000 left in the fundraising account and I am waiting for another super generous donation from Kaleen Primary School (thanks guys!) to be sent over before working out how best to use the rest of the money. There is a computerised attachment ($400) available for the duplicating machine that allows it to print directly from a computer thus eliminating the need for the most expensive ongoing cost – the  printing of master copies. Buying this would really eliminate any possible ‘poverty mentality’ associated with using the duplicator and give it the best chance of being used effectively by teachers to enhance student engagement in the classroom. I’m also chasing up art classes for next year, but since school is almost finished, I may have to wait until next year to tee these things up.

I’ll leave you with a photo of a pen pal letter from one of our Class VII students that made me laugh out loud today. It was sent to me by my colleague, Kelly, at KPS in Australia, who had just received a bundle of pen pal letters from our Bhutanese students. Kelly tells it like this:

The year six students [at KPS] were VERY excited to receive their letters from their Bhutanese pen pals today. So many of them had gone to extra trouble searching for English quotes about friendship. I was feeling quite touched as I read the quotes from the backs of envelopes aloud to all the students and they were proud as punch to hear what their pen pals had written for them.......and then there was this one.......needless to say, instant hilarity!!!

And on that note, a Happy Christmas and holiday to all and another HUGE thank you to everyone who has donated – no matter how small or large – I have no doubt that your contributions will make a significant impact for the kids here. And may your friendships always be of the warm, visible, non-liquid kind.

Friday, 22 November 2013

Wrestling with Cultural Diffusion in Bhutan

For your reading article that I wrote for Druk Air's Tashi Delek Magazine.

At the end of a long day in the classroom during my first month of teaching in Bhutan, I was walking home past the small group of local tshonkhangs (shops-cum-bars) that are clustered around my home. As I stopped to admire the sun dropping behind the mountains and to marvel at how clever I was for having landed myself in such an unspoilt, Himalayan paradise, I was surprised to hear what sounded like students’ voices coming from one of the shops. 

“Whoa! John Cena!

“Smack Down! Yeah!”

Sticking my head around the door, I found four boys from the boarding hostel sitting on a makeshift wooden bench, eyes glued to the World Wrestling Entertainment (WWE) blaring from the TV in the corner of the room.

“Sir likes wrestling?!”

On the screen, a masked behemoth, oiled nipples gleaming under his yellow mankini, launched his three hundred pound frame onto the head of his huddled counterpart.

“WHAAAA!”  The live audience and boys in the shop screamed, thumping their hands on their thighs.

“John Cena is the best, sir!”


“Sir not like wrestling?”

So much for disguising my disapproval.

“Shouldn’t you all be in the hostel?”

“Ah, err, ah…Don’t tell warden, sir! Please, sir!”

“Isn’t it study time?”

“Sir, please! John Cena – so jigs sir!”

“Hmmm, last warning. If I see you in here again, no second chances!”

“Thank you, sir!” they chorused, bowing and scraping their way out of the shop and back towards the hostel.

“Sir, fighting is real, sir?” they asked as they walked away.

I shook my head in response (and dismay) and headed back to my house. Hearing a noise, I turned back just in time to see once of the cheekiest boys, Tenzin Dorji ‘B’, trying to sneak back into the shop.


Students during morning meditation
A week later, I was still turning the incident over in my mind. Throughout most of that day, I’d been leaping around my Class VII classroom miming, scribbling, handing out learning aids, pronouncing long words like psychological and impressionable very s-l-o-w-l-y and c-l-e-a-r-l-y, in a desperate attempt to communicate at least some of the ideas in Helena Norberg-Hodge’s article People from Mars to my mostly befuddled students.

In the article, the author, an established anthropologist, describes the effects of the first waves of tourism and TV on the lives of the Tibetan Buddhist communities in Ladakh where she had lived for a number of years. The text makes up part of the required readings in the Class VII English syllabus and in preparing for my classes I’d found myself inspired and enlightened by Norberg-Hodge’s slightly cantankerous but completely uncompromising descriptions of the effects of hundreds of cashed up trekkers tramping in all their mountaineering glad-rags through her favourite Himalayan village.

In the article she recounts how her Ladakhi friends became enchanted by the lifestyle and culture of these strange and wonderful creatures who never seemed to work yet appeared to be laden with large amounts of cash. She details the way her neighbours’ perceptions of their own lives shifted so that instead of seeing their village life as being rich in community, spirituality and culture and comfortable in terms of material needs, they soon began describing themselves as poor to the visiting tourists, hoping for extra gifts or generous service tips.

The week before the WWE incident, the students at our school, along with other students all across Bhutan, celebrated Teacher’s Day by showering their teachers with presents, performing hilarious cultural shows and serving up a delicious lunch of rice, chilli and cheese. At my school, students ambushed me at the school gate, folding themselves in half as they bowed deeply and pushed cards and presents into my hands. Many boarding students had stayed up late, hand-making cards inscribed with florid, heartfelt poems, extolling the virtues of teachers as ‘our second parents’, as ‘lights in the darkness’ and (my favourite) as ‘the candle that burns them-self’. If only they knew… 

Class II students milking the cute...

 I began to worry that all my students’ sincere and heartfelt devotion was being eroded by the rampant culture of ‘me’ being presented to them via more than seventy local and international channels. Were my dear, sweet, oh-so-earnest students about to abandon all their beautiful character traits and love of Bhutanese culture in pursuit of the blinged up-slap’em-down power-mongering they were seeing on WWE? Were they, like the Ladakhi teenagers in Norberg-Hodge’s essay, about to start seeing their village life as impoverished and inadequate? Were they going to start wearing gimp-masks and mankinis to school and trying to triple-pile-drive me every time I failed them on an English essay?

My anxieties spun on quietly through my mind throughout the week. I’d read articles about the influence of television in Bhutan since its inception in 1999, about the sudden increase in drug-addiction and drug-related crime, inter-family violence, young students imitating wrestling moves at school and teenagers dissatisfied with their lives in Bhutan. Should I be worried? Should I look to take action? What would John Cena do? Helena Norberg-Hodge?

Class VI girls preparing for their boedar dance
A week after the WWE incident, preparations for our annual cultural concert came to a head. I found myself roped in as an official judge as 39 separate dance and cultural items were performed in a row for an exhausted staff and student body. The dances ranged from an outrageously cute interpretation of Gangnam Style by Class II, to the coy flirtatiousness of Class VII’s rigsar dancing, to the remarkable grace of the senior girls’ boedar candle dance. But the absolute show-stopper, the crowd, judge and teacher favourite was without a doubt the traditional Boegarp be Sonam Drugkyel dance performed by a group of sixteen Class VI boys, including most of the boys I’d busted watching WWE in the tshonkhang. 

Tenzin Dorji B getting psyched up for the Class VI Boegar be Sonam Drugkyel performance
Class VI boys after their Boegarp be Sonam Drugkyel performance
As part of the dance, the boys donned simple black ghos, ceremonial head-wreaths made from local willow and all manner of traditional swords, shields and drums. No soundtrack was provided, the music coming solely from the boys’ own joyous singing, their wild energy directed into the stamping of their feet as they rotated rhythmically in a circle on the stage. Verses were marked out by drum beats and war cries before the dance ended with a mock battle between the two opposing armies much to the raucous delight of the local audience.

The students were beaming, their exuberance unmistakable. They posed proudly for photos and even Tenzin Dorji ‘B’, devoted disciple of John Cena, ran up to the Vice Principal exclaiming happily: “I…I! Star dancer, madam!” Lopen Thinley, the class teacher who had chosen and taught the students the dance laughed with me as Tenzin Dorji gleefully posed for another ‘snap’.

“Tenzin Dorji B, I think he enjoyed the dancing!”

And for the rest of the month (at least) all my fears of rampant cultural diffusion and were allayed. My Class VII students promised to teach me their rigsar dance and then took great delight in my musical ineptitude. In return I tried to teach them some swing dancing and by the time the concert rocked around they performed some passable Lindy Hop for their ‘special item’. Phub Lham, one of my Class VII students, was even inspired to try out a new English phrase, informing me enthusiastically after our performance that learning swing dancing was ‘awesome’.

Class VII girls in rigsar item costume
And although like most teenagers in the world my students will still face significant challenges in negotiating their multiple cultural worlds, I feel more confident that at least they will have plausible alternatives to an angry, steroid-ridden world where over-sized men wear gimp-masks, yellow mankinis and spend all day stomping on each other’s heads. 

Wednesday, 13 November 2013

The Generosity of Others

Last month I posted a wish list for Yangchen Gatshel LSS to help in our efforts to raise funds for the school. The response from family and friends in Australia and across the world has been extraordinary and extremely generous to say the least. Many people have written to share not only their financial support but also to offer to send materials, hold other fundraising events and bring educational materials between Bhutan and home when visiting.

Student audience during the annual picnic
With the Australian Government currently slashing 4.5 billion dollars from its foreign aid budget over the next 4 years and columnists and intellectuals across the country questioning the sanity of many Australian people's belief that our country can't spare 0.37 percent of its gross domestic product - the weekly equivalent of 44 cents per $100 earned in each Australian household - the generosity of a small group of people who have been willing to donate money to our school is heartwarming and inspiring. You can see how much has been raised or add your own contributions here. I wanted to use this post to share some of the photos from the picnic that was partly funded with money donated by friends and family back home as well as detailing where the money that has been raised is most likely to go in the future.

Money for the Annual Picnic

At a staff meeting last week it was discovered that there was insufficient money left in the school budget to be able to provide anything other than an ordinary lunchtime meal at the school's annual picnic - a big celebration over here looked forward to by all students and staff.  An ordinary lunchtime meal essentially means soupy potatoes and rice and maybe a few chillies. As evidenced by the food store photo below...

Guess what's on the menu??
 At one point the teachers were considering taking a collection from amongst themselves but thanks to the money contributed as part of the fundraising drive, I was able to say that we would chip in the $140 extra to buy all the ingredients so the kids could have some beef or egg curry so they would have some extra protein for the week.

Photo Essay of the Annual Picnic

Tea and 'bun roti' at the annual picnic

Class VI and VII boys with their  .... Na ja!

Kindy kids hooking into to their beef and chilli curry


Even the principal got in on the act...

Miss Lucy with a couple of her Bhutanese husbands...

What's a picnic without a whole heap of traditional circle dancing??

Sparkling November weather...


After receiving the bulk of the money over the last month or so (more than $4500 so far), I decided to come up with a quick criteria for how I thought donors would want the money to be spent. I was then able to share this criteria with staff and students before asking them for suggestions on how they thought the money could be used. Here's the criteria for your viewing pleasure...

Fundraising projects should:

1.     contribute to improving educational outcomes and/or living standards of all students.
2.     be designed to benefit the entire student body or a particular group of students with special needs  (e.g. boarders, students with a disability etc).
3.     be spent on projects for which there is no available money in regular school budget.
4.     once handed over, be managed and maintained by a local member of staff.
5.     be designed to be as sustainable as possible.

All the teachers and especially the principal and vice-principal were extremely grateful for the amount of money that was raised and were full of ideas for how the money could be spent to help the students at the school. The students (my Class VIIs) also had many interesting ideas about how the money should be spent (including televisions in the hostel rooms - not gunna happen kids!). 

Mostly the consultation process showed that many of the areas that I felt needed financial support were also identified by students and teachers and many that I had overlooked were also added to the list. I was even happier that some of the big budget areas that I thought were important (retaining walls, fencing etc) are going to be looked after by the state government in 2014.

Anyway, for more highly stimulating reading pleasure, here is the proposed budget.

Estimated Cost per Unit (nu)
Estimated Total Cost (nu)
Estimated Total (AUD)
Rounded Estimated Total (AUD)
Heaters for hostel
Football Boots for girls
Dictionaries Eng/Dzo
New Books (purchased)
Food Budget for Picnic
Water boilers for hostel
Cupboards for classes
Art Classes
Extra Needs in 2014
New Books (incoming)

Running Total

Heaters and Water Boilers
There are a few items on the list that I hadn’t identified in the initial 'wish list', including heaters and water boilers for the hostel students. When I spoke to the teachers and the students, everyone identified this as a need: it gets pretty cold in Chamgang in winter – maybe 4 or 5 degrees colder than the coldest Canberra winter – and the hostels are currently not heated (or insulated) at all. The fundraising money would provide one oil heater for each room of the girls’ and boys’ hostels to take the edge off the cold. (Some of the kids were angling for a bukhari – a wood fire stove – in each room, but the teachers vetoed this for safety reasons!).

The boarders currently have restricted access to a geezer – which is not, as you would expect, a solidly proportioned debt collector from East London with missing teeth and lots of gold rings, but in fact a hot water system. They can use this to gather about half a bucket of hot water for a shower about once a week, but apart from that have no access to hot water. The water boilers are those 3 litre kettles that keep the water warm after boiling, and would be used mostly for when the students are sick and need hot water to drink.

Extra Needs in 2014

You will also notice a category for ‘extra needs for 2014’. This is designed to cover any budget shortfalls which prevent the school from being able to buy important resources and facilities currently projected to be paid for out of the 2013-2014 school budget. This includes things like school furniture, building maintenance, computer repairs and photocopier maintenance. Miscellaneous items like money for the picnic would also be included in this amount.
Anyway, that's the low down from up high (currently 2,627m according to my phone) on the whole fundraising issue. Again a massive thank you to everyone who's wished us well with this endeavour and to those that have been able to contribute.  I hope you've enjoyed the photos and if you know anyone else who might like to contribute please send them a link to this page.

Monday, 14 October 2013

All Bhutanese want to study in Australia ... or so I've been told.

Today I read an interesting post from my friend Andrea about happiness in Bhutan - her response to an article by Bhutanese blogger Langa Tenzin about the difference in motivation (and financial remuneration!) that exists between BCF volunteers who want to come and work in Bhutan and Bhutanese workers who want to go and earn money by studying and working part-time in countries like Australia. It's a topic that's been on everybody's lips here in Chamgang as many of my colleagues research what's involved in going to study in Australia. I enjoyed both articles and my response to Langa's post was too long to fit in the comments sections so I've posted it below.
Hi Langa,

As a teacher (and blogger!) from Australia working in Bhutan through BCF, I appreciate the gratitude you express for the work we have been doing in Bhutan's schools. And in turn, I want to thank you and all other Bhutanese for the kind and generous way in which your country has welcomed my wife and me into your country. Kadinche La!

I think your analysis of the different motivations that would compel Westerners to want to come and work in Bhutan are good: for me, the opportunity to make a big difference in my classes and to experience a simpler, more communal and less-consumer driven culture are the main reasons I love teaching here. The beautiful environment and warm-heartedness of most of the people I meet are two further compelling factors.

As an Australian, whenever educated Bhutanese find out where I'm from and if they haven't already been to Australia to study, they instantly want to talk about the kinds of study and work opportunities that exist there. As a result, I've talked to many people about this topic including many friends and colleagues.

I can understand many Bhutanese people's desire to want to go to Australia to earn money and I wish them well on their endeavours. I hope that when they return to Bhutan that they feel content with their earnings and can feel comfortable about their future. I also hope they can avoid the trap of immediately casting their eyes around at how much their neighbours, who also went to Australia to work, have managed to bring back, how many decimals of land they have been able to buy and what kind of SUV they are now driving.

I have personally seen way too much of this kind of mentality in Australia and the kind of misery that it brings to people and hope our Bhutanese friends can avoid it. I'm sure that if these entrepreneurial souls can enjoy their material wealth without letting it take priority over their family relationships, friendships, fulfillment in work, health, spirituality and other contributors to happiness, then their efforts will definitely be worth it!
One thing on this topic that I wanted to mention here, is that it seems to me that some of the Bhutanese who are trying to go to Australia are so hell-bent on getting there, that they are at risk of not being realistic about the amount of money they will need and where they are going to get this money from. Word is already filtering back to Bhutan from Bhutanese working in Perth, WA, for example, that jobs are becoming increasingly difficult to get.  As China starts to face up to the limitations of its unrestricted buying of Australian raw materials, the Australian economy, especially the mining sector, is also projected to drop which will send more workers from the mines back to cities like Perth looking for jobs. The IMF has recently forecasted a rise in the Australian unemployment rate fro 2014. 

Don't get me wrong, I'm all about pursuing your dreams and don't want to sound like a terrible naysayer - but sometimes certain causes and conditions need to align for our dreams to eventuate. Clinging on to false hopes or ventures that are doomed to failure can lead to deeper misery and unwanted complications that can make peoples' lives worse than they were before they took the initial risk in the first place. 

All of this is no problem if a Bhutanese student has been lucky and hardworking enough to land an AusAid scholarship or something similar, the expenses are much less daunting. But for the majority of Bhutanese who I meet, who are trying to study in Australia as 'private' students - the initial outlay of expenses is considerable. 6 lakh for course fees and health insurance per year, 1 lakh at least for return airfares per person, 30 lakh in the bank account to demonstrate access to suitable funds, at least 3 lakh (per person) as set up costs.  That's 43 lakh (AUD $70,000) for a couple of which at least 13 lakh (AUD $21,000) has to actually be spent and re-earned in Australian dollars and cannot be easily borrowed, placed in a bank account and then given back to the lender as with the 30 lakh needed for visa purposes.

These kinds of funds need to be taken seriously, as do the considerable expenses involved in living in a country like Australia. I hope that many Bhutanese wanting to visit Australia think carefully about their choices and the potential risks involved. Maybe for some, they will need to spend a few more years saving money and harnessing their resources before planning their trip, whereas for others now may very well be the appropriate time. Websites like the Australian Government's studyinaustralia site has good information on available courses and approximate living costs.

Best of luck and Tashi Delek to all!

Sunday, 13 October 2013

Welcome to the First Young Author's Conference at YGLSS!

For the past three weeks or so, my Class VI and VII students have been working on developing a piece of written work for our inaugural English Language Young Author’s Conference, something I used to do at my school every year when I was young. My colleague, Lopen Thinley Pelden, has already carried out a similar project with the Class VI students in Dzongkha. The intention behind the conference is to give students an authentic audience for their work other than a teacher with a red pen, so that they really get to see and experience the benefits of writing as a valuable and unique form of expression. Students were allowed to choose their own genre of writing and in my classes students decided to write poems, comic books, folk tales, narrative essays, persuasive essays, songs and short stories.

Sangay and Dawa with their poems
Planning Questionnaire

We began the process with a planning questionnaire to help the students think more deeply about their writing. Who would be the audience for their work? What did they want their audience to feel and experience when reading their work? What kinds of elements of successful writing would they need to think about – e.g. punctuation, paragraphs, spelling, grammar? What specific text features would they need to think about for their particular genre – e.g. topic sentences for persuasive essays, character and setting for short stories, stanzas and rhyme for poetry. Students were also encouraged to set a goal for at least one aspect of their writing that they wanted to improve upon during the project. 

Jigme with his Dzongkha poem
Different methods for pairs work

To make filling out the planning questionnaire more enjoyable, the students sat in two concentric circles, the outer circle facing inwards and the inner circle facing outwards. They then discussed one question at a time with the partner sitting opposite them with the outside circle rotating to a new partner after each question. By the time the questionnaire was complete, students had spoken with several of their peers and had  a much better idea about what they wanted to write and how they should go about doing it. 

VIIB Using Inside and Outside Circles to Complete their Planning Questionnaire
Editing Bookmarks

Next the students worked together to create “Editing Bookmarks” where they wrote down all the elements of good writing that they would need to check for when editing their own and others’ work. Similar to the questionnaire, this bookmark will help to remind them of all the elements of writing that they need to consider not only when writing but also when editing each others’ work. The students loved decorating and personalising their bookmarks and now they keep them in their English textbooks to not only mark their page and but also to help them with their editing.
Premika with her bookmark

 A brainstorm of writing elements for persuasive essays
First Drafts and Peer Editing

The next step in the process was all about peer editing. Students brought their first drafts to school and I matched them up with an ‘editing buddy’. It took me a little bit of extra time the night before to match the weaker writing students with stronger writing students but I think the effort was worthwhile. Most teachers know what can happen when you let students select their own partners: the hard-working, conscientious students gravitate towards each other, while the kids who like to joke around and have fun are pulled by an irresistible attraction to each other. Intentionally matching them up in this way gives more structure and meaning to their editing work. Because the weaker writing students also sometimes have trouble finding errors in the stronger students’ work, I also matched stronger students with stronger students so that after they finished working with their editing buddy, they could have some time with a classmate of about the same level of writing proficiency.

Peer Editing in the sun
Peer Editing in the sun
 Writing a Second Draft

Students then took their work home, corrected it based on their editing buddy’s assessments and brought their second draft back to school to be marked by their teacher. I decided to do most of the marking based on their second draft as it still reflected mostly their own work but they had been given a chance to correct some aspects of their errors as guided by their editing buddy.

Most second drafts still needed a lot of correction

But most students did a great job with their correction
 Assessment Rubric

I created a quick assessment rubric with criteria marked from 1 to 10 on a number line so that it’s easy for students to visually assess how they are progressing in that area. I selected the criteria based on the elements of writing that the students themselves suggested were important for good writing and then added a few more related to the difficulty of their chosen text, their ability to effectively correct their own work and the quality of their final presentation. Marks for ‘second correction’ and ‘presentation’ were left blank, to be given after students had presented their final work. 

Assessment Rubric

 Using a Marking Code

When marking students’ work previously, I had noticed that many students would happily copy my corrections into their final drafts but would then repeat the same mistakes again and again in subsequent texts. To try and avoid this, I decided to use a marking code that would allow students to know what type of error they had made but would not give them the correct answer - they would have to find this out themselves. This therefore gave them the opportunity to practice important grammatical skills such as choosing the correct article, selecting the appropriate verb tense and using appropriate personal pronouns all within the real world context of completing a piece of their own writing. 

My dad checking out the writing as one of our special guests
Correction Practice

Before giving students back their corrected second drafts, we completed several ‘correction’ exercises on the board using sections from actual student work (after seeking students’ permission) and using the marking code so there would be no confusion for students once they received their corrected second drafts. I also took a ‘zero tolerance’ approach to any work that appeared plagiarised or completed by an older sibling. Students handing in such work were required to submit another text, written during their lunch break or after school where they had little opportunity for ‘village crowd-sourcing’. 

Yeshey and her poems
Interim Feedback as Formative Assessment

When giving students back their corrected second drafts, I also let them see their assessment rubrics including an interim overall mark presented based on their work so far. I let them know that if they wanted to improve their overall mark, they would need to do well in their ‘second correction’ and ‘presentation’ elements of the project. 

The Conference in Action

The Young Author’s Conference: Presentation and Celebration

The last step in the process was for the students to write their third and final draft and publish their work by presenting it at the Young Author’s Conference. The conference itself involved setting up the students’ classrooms as exhibition galleries by arranging the tables into a nice, inviting circular shape, removing the chairs and having students stand behind their work proudly displayed on the tables in front of them. Teachers were invited to bring their classes, school leaders were invited to come and help with the marking of students’ presentation and in the case of my classes, my visiting parents and mother in law were also invited as ‘special guests’. 

Suren...proud as punch
Class VIII girls checking out the prose

Madam Tashi reading some persuasive essays
 Storytelling at its Finest

Students were encouraged to read their work to visiting teachers, principals and students and at the end of the session, I selected certain students whose work was particularly well suited to being read aloud, to read their work to the whole group. The students loved this so much that I am now planning to give a chance to the other students to also read their work to the rest of the class at a later date.

As for the young authors, these students got a huge buzz out of having so many people, especially their peers and some special guests, read and comment on their work. As they had been allowed to choose their own topic and level of difficulty, and had been given lots of structured support to correct and improve their work, all students were able to present something that they felt confident about and that they knew they had worked hard to perfect.

Sital reading her story, The Blind Girl, to Class VI and VII students
Chimi reading her personal essay My Late Father to students and special guests

An Authentic Space for Reading

The other students were also impressed and inspired, so much so that a colleague of mine who teaches Class III told me that all her students now want to do the same and were handing her piles of unsolicited poems and stories for her to mark so they could be presented later. “So much marking!” she told me with a laugh. I also noticed, that many of the visiting students, including the junior Class I and II classes were highly engaged in reading – or trying to read – the Class VI and VII stories. In particular I love this photo of one of my Class VII boys – not an avid reader himself – bent over totally immersed in reading one of the Class VI stories.

Tenzin, hooking in to some good old fashioned reading...

After marking the students’ presentation and second correction, I adjusted their overall mark if I thought it warranted and gave them back their work to be displayed around the classroom. Student were then asked to write a short reflection piece on the project, writing about what they felt they had learnt through the writing and editing processes, what they enjoyed most about the experience and what kinds of writing they would like to do in the future.

Other Possibilities for Extension

Other teaching opportunities that could be included in this kind of project include using peer and self assessment to triangulate overall marks and to have student type up their final drafts so that the collected texts could be presented in a single volume, copies of which could be given to the students (if affordable) and placed in the library. Particularly outstanding texts could also be forwarded to state and nationwide youth magazines for publication.

Class VII Girls