Our friend and colleague, Sara Wall, recently went to Myanmar (Burma) to volunteer for two weeks at an education monastery in the northern Shan State. We were excited to hear that she took Super Simple Songs along and wanted to know more about her experiences.
Tell us about the project.
There were 17 volunteers, including team members from Japan, France, Denmark, the U.S., and Myanmar.
The monastery is located on the shores of Inle Lake, a famous tourist spot, but it took us four hours by boat to travel from the closest city to the monastery. It’s located on top of a hill, with beautiful views all around. I loved to wake up early and watch the sun rise over the lake.
We were there in May, which is summer holiday in Myanmar, but over 200 students were still living there, mostly between the ages of 12 and 20. We also offered lessons to primary school kids (ages 6-12) from the nearby villages. Classes were taught by grade level, and we had between 20 and 80 students in each group.
Our main goal was education; not just English, but also about the language and culture from our home countries. The Myanmar team members gave lessons on subjects like hygiene, environmental awareness, and democracy.
What were the facilities like? What equipment did you have?
Because the monastery is so remote, they don’t have electric facilities. There is a generator that runs from 7:00 to 11:00 p.m., but no power during the day. We brought some portable speakers with us, but they weren’t loud enough to use with such large groups. We asked the head monk if they would turn on the electricity for a couple of hours in the afternoon so we could use their sound system. That way we could play music, and show videos.
There was a chalkboard or whiteboard in each classroom and every student had their own notebook and a pen. That was it. I had brought a few teaching supplies with me, but hadn’t planned on such large classes. On our day off, we went to a local town and I bought copy paper and enough colored pencil sets for students to share. That helped a lot. It’s amazing how creative you get when you don’t have your classroom supplies to rely on!
Our living accommodations were simple, but comfortable. We had two dorm rooms, one for the guys, one for the girls, with futons and mosquito nets. The bathrooms were Asian style and outdoor showers. The food was amazing, with lots of fresh, local produce and special rice that is grown in the area.
What were lessons like?
The primary school students met for three hours each afternoon in a large, open air pavilion. On average, about 60 students came each day. There was a big difference between the ages and levels of the students. But using music made it easy for all of the students to participate.
When working with a new group, I like to start lessons with a simple warm-up exercise. I say a command, and they follow the directions. For example: touch your head, clap your hands, turn around, stamp your feet, stretch up high, touch your toes, etc.
It’s great, because there’s no equipment involved, the students are up and moving right away, and it helps me to start assessing their language level. Within a couple of minutes, we are all laughing and having fun.
They didn’t know it, but I was getting them ready to sing our first song, “Hello Hello!” from Super Simple Songs 3. Even though the kids had never heard the song before, they were able to follow along immediately because we had already practiced the commands. They were so excited that they could understand, it was a great confidence booster!
I followed a traditional lesson plan format from this article on Teaching 2 and 3-year olds. We always did a warm up activity, hello song, an active song, and then went into our theme. We followed that with alphabet practice, story time and the goodbye song.
I had loaded up my iPad with Super Simple Songs music and a few other favorite songs, and some ebooks, like Dr. Seuss’ “Green Eggs and Ham.” Of course, I had the “Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star” app with the video. That was a huge hit!
The themes that we learned were:
- Parts of the Body
- Action Verbs
The students were so eager to learn, that even after a three hour lesson, they were sad to end the day. We were able to cover a lot of material during our two weeks together.
How does using music help your teaching?
Music is my favorite teaching tool! I love how music brings language to life. When I put on a song, the kids and I just can’t sit still. We have to get up, dance, sing, and wave our arms around. It makes the classroom a fun, and safe, place to be. Kids feel confident, because they can participate at their own level. Some just follow the gestures, others are singing and later speaking the lyrics. Mistakes don’t matter, we just keep going.
I love how much we use our imaginations. We are kangaroos and elephants, we ride the bus, roll over in bed, and pretend we are angry, even though we are having the time of our life. Music takes us places that other teaching methods don’t.
What was your favorite part of your trip to Myanmar?
Definitely working with the students. They were so enthusiastic and committed to learning. Even though it was a lot of work and long hours, I loved every minute of it.
Myanmar is a beautiful country and it’s going through a lot of changes right now. It’s very exciting to see the country opening up, I feel lucky to have visited there.
There are two more workcamps at the monastery this year, so I plan to go back. Currently, they are putting together a library. Before I go, I will fill my suitcase with some of my favorite books, like “The Very Hungry Caterpillar,” “Brown Bear, Brown Bear,” Dr. Seuss and more.
I love being in the classroom, and traveling. This experience gave me the chance to do both.
Sara Wall is originally from the United States. Six years ago, she was inspired by a volunteer trip to switch careers and move overseas, where she became an English as a Second Language teacher, and teacher trainer. Sara taught with Devon, Troy, Tanja, and Mike from Super Simple in Tokyo, and was the Social Outreach Coordinator for Super Simple Learning before taking some time to do what she loves most…travel.
She currently resides in Thailand, where she splits her time between writing and working with students. You can read about her adventures at www.travelsara.com.