Becoming a Student Again

This year I decided to take Russian with the 6th graders.   I did this for a few reasons.  I wanted to experience what my students experience when they learn something new – all disorientation along with all of the excitement, and the gradual mastery of a topic.  I also wanted to learn Russian because of my family’s Slavic heritage.  I love languages, and I also wanted to observe our Russian teacher (Shannon Johnson), who I consider to be a creative, masterful teacher and human in general.   I joined the class on the second day and Shannon put up a slide on the board.  The students immediately started reciting something (in Russian), and I looked at the board for some indication of what they were doing – but it was all written in Russian and I couldn’t find anything to latch on to – nowhere on that screen was a clue as to what the students seemed to be doing so easily.  First mission accomplished – disorientation!

I eventually did catch up, but I’ve been learning a lot about what the students seem to get instantly (and I have to really work on), and what seems easy to me, but more difficult for the 6th graders.  For example, their oral learning seems leaps and bounds beyond mine.  I needed to write down phonetically everything I was asked to remember, but the kids could remember it writing down nothing in many cases.  Eventually, I moved to writing it in Russian, but I still have to write it down.   I was a full two weeks behind memorizing the alphabet than they were – they recited rings around me.

However, I seem to catch on to applying what we learned in new situations a little faster than my fellow students.  When we learned the alphabet, even though they had learned the sounds of each letter, they had trouble to applying to it reading words they had never seen before.  At my table group, I had to convince most of the students that they did have the ability to read the group of words we’d never seen, because they knew what sounds the letters made.  It took them longer to be willing to try it.

I have enjoyed the relationships I’ve formed with the people in my class as a fellow learner, and not as a teacher.  I have enjoyed seeing an amazing colleague in her element.  I fear that my busy work schedule will soon be taking me out of my class more and more.  I truly regret this – I feel like I have so much more to learn, and not just the language.  I am learning to be a learner, and I am learning how to reflect on my own learning.


About Paula Montrie

I am a Middle School Librarian at Friends School of Baltimore. I have been a librarian for 11 years, serving 6 years with the Howard County Public School System before arriving at my current school. I teach two classes: SpeechCraft (a combination of information literacy, public speaking and theater), and Media Literacy at the middle school level. I also collaboratively co-teach with a number of teachers at the school, including Music, Geography, and U.S. History. I love it! My professional interests are: information literacy, multiple intelligences and learning styles, teaching through movement, curriculum-writing, technology integration, and bridging the gap between digital natives and digital immigrants. My personal interests are: dancing, singing, knitting, sewing, art, living history, writing and of course - reading!
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