We are Sahar, a teacher in Gaza, Palestine, and Alex, a Hands Up Project volunteer in Krasnador, Russia. We have been working together for two years. During this time we have built a strong bond between each other and the girls from Sahar’s school. Here we would like to share our experience of our team work within the Hands Up Project.
Is Distance an Obstacle?
Sahar: A great question in this era of fast communication. I’m in Gaza but we are in touch all the time. Our voices arrive there in Russia, our videos and photos are alive there. My students can ask, answer, give opinions and perform plays. Alex’s nice smile is also here in Gaza. Her voice and her interaction with the girls is so clear. This is why the internet is so great. Distance is not an obstacle at all.
Before the sessions
Sahar: Alex and I ask what we need to carry out the sessions. Sometimes we have activities like picture dictation, so I prepare colour pencils and A3 paper. On other occasions we need to perform plays , so we prepare masks.
Alex: Throughout the whole process Sahar and I stay in touch over FB messenger. We discuss what is doable given the circumstances and conditions.
To begin my preparation I always keep in mind Sahar’s expectation of our sessions which is ‘lots of language practice, with an emphasis on speaking’ and involving in the action as many girls as possible. We might have from 20 to 40 girls in one session.
Then I think of a story. My belief here is to expand the girls’ view of the world, so we try to include stories from all over the world. These could be either funny ones or those with a moral lesson. But the main request from the girls, as Sahar always reminds me, is to have the stories illustrated. I often use stories from Andrew Wright and David Heathfield.
We do not often have time for everything we discuss and the main reason is connection. Over to Sahar!’
Sahar: As you might already know, we suffer from power cuts in Gaza , so sometimes we have cuts during the session or disconnection to the internet. In my room, I have to keep the situation focussed and calm when the power goes off. The girls try to do a kind of dialogue of what they did with Alex, or try to prepare questions for Alex. Sometimes they discuss what they learnt from the stories. I do my best to keep the girls motivated, enthusiastic and looking forward to completing the session. So, it’s a kind of challenge for me.
During the session
Alex: As soon as the session starts we spring into action. Sahar manages the girls while my work is to give instructions and listen attentively and react to the girls responses. Sahar doesn’t usually know what exactly is going to happen in the session, but she is quite good at adjusting any classroom situation to each activity we do, e.g. repeating my instructions if the sounds disappears. If something is impossible to do for any reason then I try to adjust such activities to new conditions, e.g. lack of time or the activity is not appropriate to the level of the students. (We often have different classes, so sometimes the level might be higher or lower)
Sahar: There is always time for a game. The entire process is learner-centred. In our everyday teaching situation our main focus is to prepare the children for the future, therefore there’s exam preparation and a lot of curriculum-based work taking place. But the sessions within the Hands Up Project provide extra-curricular activities, which our learners enjoy so much. Below is a video of a moment from a session – these little teachers giving instructions to Alex for an activity.
After the session
Alex: After the session we usually have a short Facebook chat on what worked well and not very well, and possible ideas for the next week. Sahar tells me what the girls’ reaction to the session’s content was.
Sahar: After each session, we discuss what to consider for the next time . Sometimes it is easier to bring stories with pictures. Alex asks me what kind of games the girls like during the session. We also discuss how their speaking abilities are improving.
What the girls say
It is important for us to know what students liked or didn’t like. We are always very keen to do what meets their needs. I always like to get feedback after sessions to see what we can improve. Here what the girls say…