“The moment one gives close attention to anything, even a blade of grass, it becomes a mysterious, awesome, indescribably magnificent world in itself.” ~ Henry Miller

Day in and day out, since the first rays of sun until the birds return to their nest, our united efforts to bring in self reliance in students by learning communication and thinking skills, go on ceaselessly.

Here’s a story of a student from the center Samaspur : 110091A.

Back in March 2013, when I was a facilitator at this center, a girl (lets’ call her K) joined the Free English Class. On most days, she waited outside the class ahead of her scheduled session. When I asked her why she wanted to learn English, she replied, “Sir when the time comes, I’ll tell you.” I was intrigued.

One fine evening, just before the class she asked me, “Sir, is it true that a student from a government school can never speak English as well as a student from a private school.” I answered, “That’s not true.” She probed further, “So please why do my friends , their parents laugh at me when I try to communicate with them in English.”  Without waiting for my response and with tears in the eyes she touched my feet and requested, “Sir, I will put on my heart and soul into learning. Please continue showering your blessings.”

Rainy day, festival, celebrations, exam – she was always there, waiting outside the class ahead of her scheduled session.

Life moved on and I joined as the Coach (Music-based Learning). Aabout 8 months later, when I met her, she jumped with joy, with beaming smile that spread ear to ear, she said, “Sir, I have graduated.”

The best was yet to come. She insisted that I accompany her as she had something to show me. She took me to a very nearby market to meet a vegetable vendor and proudly introduced,   “Sir he is my father Mr. Hari Prakash and father he is my teacher from the English class.” She was as fluent and well punctuated as the best student from a private school.

It was my turn to shed some tears – tears of joy. I was moved by her words and touched by her zeal.

With grit and determination, there is no adversity that cannot be overcome. NO adversity at all.

K has taught me that for she is the living example of Vince Lombardi’s belief, “…..any man’s finest hour is that moment when he has worked his heart out in a good cause and lies exhausted on the fields of battle – victorious.”

 

Avishek Singh

Coach (Music-based Learning)

As a Music-based Learning Coach, I visit different centers to engage and interact with students. Most of our students are first generation learners of English language and have little or no opportunity to practice the language outside our center. Therefore, our facilitator are expected to maintain an English-only learning environment in the centers.

As with any policy, making it is the easier part, implementing it is the more difficult part. Both the facilitators, despite being well-intentioned, and students often breach this. The habitual comfort of the mother tongue or vernacular prevents both the facilitators and students from maintaining an English-only environment in the centers.

I tried a trick to enforce the policy. I explained the trick with help of the question. I asked the students, ‘Who is your good friend?’ I got answers such as, ‘One who helps us’, ‘One who tells us when we are wrong’, ‘One who is happy with our progress’ and ‘One who understands us.’ Thereafter, I joined the dots for them saying, ‘A person who uses Hindi with you does not understand that you need to practice English or maybe is not happy with your progress because if you use more English, you will learn English. He/she is not telling you that using Hindi in the center, will not help you learn English. Therefore, that person is not your good friend! So, don’t respond to that person.’ Students seemed to like the trick, but, it was not very effective in preventing the use of Hindi in the center.

Thereafter, I asked students the reason for speaking Hindi in the center. I overruled reasons like problems in expression, not knowing how to say a word in English and hesitation stemming from embarrassment of speaking incorrectly. I concluded that speaking Hindi was a habit and came naturally. Even in a completely controlled environment, when asked something in Hindi, students would respond in Hindi, as it by reflex action. It was this cycle of input-habitual processing-output that had to be disrupted for students to overcome this habit.

So far I had been out-focused with little success. Now, I decided  that it is the input of Hindi that needs to be stopped. To do so, I developed a new trick and tried it in one of the centers.  I explained to students that they are free to speak in Hindi. But, starting that day, they must stop listening in Hindi. They need not ask the person using Hindi to switch to English, neither remind nor reprimand.  Simply ignore that person , student or facilitator, by putting hands on their own ears, showing that they are not being listened to. I explained that listening is input and speaking is output. So, if we stop input of Hindi and the output will be stopped automatically. I figured that gesture of putting hands on ears was funny and explicit and so would work – non-verbal communication of a powerful message

Photo Courtesy – http://www.chinasmack.com

 I asked the facilitator to enforce this consistently. After a few days, the facilitator informed me that the trick was working like magic. Students have started using the trick without reminder and speaking in English more often. Encouraged by this response, I tried the same trick at a few other centers and, so far, I have received positive feedback.

Thus, another alternative to ‘Don’t speak in Hindi’ can very well be ‘Don’t listen to Hindi.’

 

Chintan Parekh

 Coach (Music-based Learning)

 What’s a miracle?

Seeing a child who was quiet and shy,

not speaking English as his vocabulary was dry,

afraid of the world and ready to cry,

 but not willing to give up with a regular practice and a daily try,

and with an each passing day learn the language and get ready to fly,

touch the sky bidding good bye to the shy.

 The joy comes from our encounters with new experiences, and hence there is no greater joy, no sweeter fruit than to see our endless united efforts bearing fruits in form of students turning into lyricist.

I am an ordinary person who has been blessed with extraordinary opportunities and experiences. Today, was one of those experiences. I went to the Sundernagri Center (PIN 110093A). There I sang A Few of My Favorite Things (from the movie, Sound of Music) with the students. After the music activity, students were asked to compose their own lyrics titled, My Favorite Things.

The magic they wove with their pens was awe-inspiring. I share here two compositions from the students:

Composition  1  

Everybody likes to sing a song,Everybody likes to be a king,

Every girl likes to wear a ring,

These are a few of my favorite things.

I like to drink cold drink in spring,

I like to play with wings.

I like gifts tied up with strings,

These are a few of my favorite things.

Composition 2

When the child smiles

When the birds fly

when the rain comes,

I love to sing in the month of spring.

These are a few of my favorite things.

When I fall down

When my friends fight

When you cut my kite

I simply remember my favorite things 

  and then I don’t  feel so bad. 

The innocence and delight that I experienced was truly magical and enchanting. I was puffed with pride that these students who a short while ago could not even speak a word in English are turning lyricists.

Move over, Bob Dylan!

 

Avishek Singh

Coach (Music-based Learning)

The Naraina Free English Class center was started in November, 2013.

I was appointed as the evening facilitator of this brand new center and entrusted with the responsibility of getting it to take off successfully. While new is exciting, it is also a  tad bit overwhelming. For first few weeks, I had a hard time connecting with my students. Students found it difficult to understand my accent and the fact that I did not speak any Hindi, a language that came naturally to them, made matters worse. Sometimes when I corrected their pronunciation, they ridiculed it and that made me feel uneasy. But as they say, “No pain, no gain.”

During the oral communication activities, they showcased their individual talents and zeal for learning new things. Although there were a few students who came just for fun and interrupted the class.

During these trying times, I was very grateful for my our seniors – their patience and guidance. Every day brought me one step closer to understanding my students and their learning needs. Aw we began to bond, I started enjoying the classes.

One of the most memorable day in my AAMF journey was December 31, when Mr Avishek came to my center to conduct music-based language learning activity in my students. The key highlight for me was the part where students were asked to make a New Year card for me. I cherish it till today and one look at them makes me smile when I am feeling low or lost.

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As my Hindi is poor penny’s worth, I struggled initially with my students. But adversity is our greatest ally. My poor Hindi is the reason for my students comfort in English. In each of the 4 sessions, I chose 5 or 6 students as my interpreters and I solicit their services when a student is unable to understand the lesson; when a prospective students or his parents visit the center and need info. This has forced my students to be better listeners as they need to them translate it for me in English. I find this technique as an advantage for the students as they are forced to speak to me in English.

Last month, I conducted the first Parent Teacher Interaction (PTI). For the first time, I got to meet the parents of each and every student. My Compliance Supervisor also visited the center and led the first two sessions. Both the students and the parents had a good time with her. For the third session, when I took the floor, there was an uneasy silence as I started speaking in English. But I was unfazed. My students were my interpreters. I let my students translate what I said into Hindi for the comfort of their parents. All I could see was faces with pride written large across them -  I am not sure how well they listened, even though it was in Hindi.

They seemed too busy feeling proud of their son/daughter translating English into Hindi.

 

Shimreiyo Soro

Evening Facilitator

Naraina Center

I used to pen my thoughts regularly, but for unmentionable and uncountable reasons, I stopped. Or rather, my penmanship became dormant. But now I have reason to resume writing, so this blog.

When I joined AAMF as a Compliance Supervisor, my twelve-year experience prevented me from learning, unlearning and relearning. In my earlier avatar with AAMF, I was a successful Free English Class facilitator, but as a Compliance Supervisor, I struggled. Until Dec 26, 2013.

On Dec. 26, 2013 I got a chance to interact with Ashish Trivedi and that changed my professional outlook. I learnt that the secret to learning new things willingness to unlearn–even if your behaviors previously brought success. The key takeaway from Ashish’s session was learning, unlearning and relearning is a journey and destination in itself.

Now I practice the following to stay focused:

 Begin at the beginning

I try to start every work every day with a fresh approach. For instance, when I had to address the issue of inactive students in the centers under my supervision, I failed. Next day, I tried different strategy and was successful. The third day I applied same strategy at a different center but results were frustrating. I realized just because one solution worked for one problem in one center, it might not work at the same center the next day or at another center. Instead of treating my solutions as magic bullets, I need to have a rich repertoire of solutions keeping in mind the nature of problem and people involved.

 Stay open-minded

Many times we work with a fixed mindset and are hostage of our own perceptions/prejudices, blinding us to reality.  That does not help.

In one case, I made up my mind about one facilitator, giving up on her abilities but she surprised me with her hard work. While I do not overlook my facilitators’ ranking and their past performance, I am becoming increasingly open to accept and learn again based upon daily observation and data. I am stay objective – a facilitator is as good or as bad as they perform on a given day based on empirical evidence.

 Be the change

Many times we carry two mirrors – one for others and other for ourselves.  We tell others to do something we do not display in our own behavior and conduct. If we expect students to imbibe the appropriate body language and intonation, we must also expect the facilitators to demonstrate that. If we want the facilitators to imbibe that, we must as Compliance Supervisors demonstrate that.

How I interact with the facilitators, can modify the behaviour of the facilitators and can set my expectations for how facilitators interact with students.

Examine beliefs

While human values are common to all, our socio-cultural beliefs vary. Beliefs can transform into prejudices if they are not revisited and reaffirmed regularly.

The facilitators under my supervision belong to varied backgrounds and experiences. I fail if I use the same socio-cultural lenses to look at all of them. I am learning to look at them as individuals from a specific context and not a homogeneous group. This helps me focus better on individual strengths and weaknesses.

Everyday, I continue to enjoy this challenging yet satisfying journey of learning, unlearning and relearning.

 

Praveen Kumar Sharma

Compliance Supervisor

Sometimes, smiles on students’ faces make us feel like millionaires. Sometimes, success of others makes us feel happier than our own success. Sometimes, a small efforts on our part can make a huge difference in someone’s life.

Accumulation of such small moments makes for a beautiful life.

I would like to share one such moment. There is a student, let us call him R, who always pronounced “SH’’ as ‘’S”. For example “English “as “Englis, “Sharma” as “Sarma” and so on. No matter what the facilitator or I did, R. just could not overcome the MTI (mother-tongue influence) to pronounce it correctly.

When I went for music session to this center, I made everyone sing any 2 stanza of the given song.  R. raised his hand and asked me permission to sing. His peers started sneering and his sister tried to hold him back. He did not mind being mocked at. With no fear and confidence in his heart he got up to sing. The moment he sang the second line the class went silent. The line was “I SEE YOUR TRUE COLORS SHINING THROUGH”. The word ‘shining’ was pronounced correctly for the first time. The class broke out in applause. He looked at me and said, “ Sir, I will sing this song to my English teacher at school.” I noticed, with a smile in my heart, that he had pronounced even ‘English’ correctly.

At the end of the session as students were about to leave, R. asked me, “Sir, can I hug you?” I was overwhelmed as he hugged and thanked me.

That moment made me realize that things I do for myself will be gone when I die, but things I do for others will live on as my legacy.

 

Avishek Singh

Coach (Music-based Learning)

The young members of the AAMF supervisory team have the unenviable job of getting ground staff to adhere to policies/programs; troubleshoot; nurture and enable them; execute innovations and be the eyes, ears and limbs of the organization – a tall order even for Hercules! This can be physically, emotionally and spiritually strenuous at the best of times.

They work extensively and implicitly on personal and professional development of those in their charge. That can chip their edges and deplete their reservoir of stamina, perseverance and strategies. Therefore, replenishment and rejuvenation needs to be a regular feature to keep this team motivated and focused. Limiting as it can be, we had been doing this in-house. Till last week.

On December 26, Ashish Trivedi very magnanimously spent a whole day interacting with our team of young facilitators, mentors, nurturers and supervisors. Although he did not know about our program and people except for what is posted on website, the learning curve of AAMF team was steep- something that was anticipated given Ashish’s credentials and persona. And they seem to have been rejuvenated beyond belief.

Ashish shared some of the precious and forthright thoughts on what excites our young Turks about their work:

….meet very good people and learn new things from them.”
….students’ interaction and results excites me to work hard.”
….continuous learning.”
….teaching and learning simultaneously.”
….uncertainty of what kind of students might come in.”
….respect of my students.”
….seeing people try to speak English for the first time.”
….learning during trainings.”
….a good relationship with my students.”

If excitement is one side of the ‘work’ coin, anxiety is the other. Some of the things that makes our staff anxious are:

…..limited vocabulary.”
….support from my team.”
….traveling to difficult areas.”
….being emotional about students.”
….lack of cooperation from some parents.”
….managing students.”
….effective role-modeling.”
….help students overcome shyness to talk.”
….be impartial to my students.”

Based on these undiluted thoughts of our foot soldiers, I reconstruct the prism of my work for 2014.

 

Payal Mahajan

Head of Training & Curriculum

As the Coach (Music-based Learning), I visit different Free English Classes centers and use the medium of music to engage students to communicate and articulate in English. Implicitly, I endeavor to instill positive attitude and habits of mind.

One day, when I was at the Basti Vikas Kendra center while discussing the word ‘inspire’ with students, I chanced to lay my gaze on the portrait of Mahatma Gandhi on the wall. I asked the students, “Does he inspire you?”. Some responded in affirmative while others were non-responsive. Then I named a few more prominent persons. Even then, I could not get a universal response. Then I asked, “Does your facilitator inspire you?” Boom! Instantaneously and unanimously, at the top of their voices, the students said, “Yes!”

It’s not the case with only this center, but at almost all the centers the students love their facilitator. Our facilitators do not just teach but counsel, guide and help the students mould their personality and life. Our facilitators make their students realize and actualize their own uniqueness.

The bonding between the facilitator and the students is so strong and sweet that most of the facilitators, even when they are unwell and are advised rest, report to their centers because of the love and affection of their students. Their student’s love energizes them. Some of the facilitators even take up extra sessions and organize parent-teacher meet even on holidays. They do not perceive it as duty but as responsibility.

At a few centers, the facilitator wears the additional hat of parent and counselor.

So, here is a video showing that unique bond – their smiles are eloquent.

Soumya Appalabathula
Coach (Music-based Learning)

We have something, which is inevitable.

We have something, which is unbelievable.

Respect and love, we receive is unforgettable.

Our will to succeed is indomitable.

We have something, we just need to visualize.

We have something, we just need to realize.

We didn’t know we could be inspirations.

We didn’t know we could be aspirations.

Sometimes we are counselors, sometimes motivators.

Actually, we are just facilitators.

white-pearl-in-oyster

We have something we need to protect.

We can break the silence; we just need to connect.

We raise the bar, beyond expectation

We are AAM Foundation.

We are doing something, it’s unique for this world.

We are doing something, it’s going to change this world.

 

Amit Matchell

Morning Facilitator
Aman Vihar

My training at the head office of AAM Foundation was over. With the joining letter in my hand, I set out to find my centre in one of the largest urban slum settlements just outside Delhi. As I trudged along, extra careful to avoid splashing into puddles where the road and the drain miraculously became one entity, I had a sinking feeling of losing my way. Just then I received a call from the Student Mobilizer at AAMF, to fetch her as she was lost too. I had mixed feelings about my new job.

After sometime, reached the center with the brilliant blue flex poster flashing on an otherwise empty wall ‘AAMF CENTRE CODE 201307A’ of the newly commissioned Free English Classes (FEC) centre. On entering the center, I thought aloud “It’s a big and clean room.” On one hand, I was excited about pioneering the new center, but on the other hand, I was concerned if I had it in me to deliver on the dreams and aspirations that my students would walk in with. All my speculations were put to rest when a bunch of 14-17 year olds made their way to the centre with expectancy in their voices, a gleam of enthusiasm in their eyes, and a big question mark on their faces. Even before they settled in, I rolled out the first lesson, “Next time you enter the class, you must ask for permission.” They happily agreed.

My first day at the centre was quite a humbling one. Most of the students, acknowledged that their desire to learn English had been hampered because of their financial constraints. They asked me, “Sir, will you charge money for these classes?” Not that they didn’t know what FEC stood for, but they wanted to be sure. As I went on with my necessary ranting of “Dos” and “Don’ts” all the students listened with rapt attention.

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I have been a ‘teacher’ earlier, but this was different. My training at the head office kept buzzing in my head, “Don’t give direct answers to your students, but eke it out of them in complete sentences.” Clearly, it was not an easy job. My past teaching experiences involved a lot of talking and some amount of discussion. Constantly engaging the students to scaffolding learning through discussion/dialogue/think-alouds is an arduous task. As a facilitator, this was my job. Moreover, this was the first time I was teaching language. Soon I realized that not only cajoling the students to speak in complete sentence works in building comfort with the new language, but also insisting that they listen attentively of immense importance.

In the last 6 months, I have experienced a plethora of situations and challenges with the students. Most of these students came from backgrounds that some of us may not even be able to relate to. They lead stressful lives and for them coming to the centre was not only about learning to speak in English, but finding solace in the company of other students with similar goals. There were times when it became extremely difficult to retain the students due to their domestic or personal issues. No matter how much they wanted to be present everyday at the centre, their personal issues sapped their morale/time. I had to be the motivator, guide and problem-solver for them – a call beyond the role of facilitator.

With the onset of summer vacations, number of students per session started dwindling. I asked students to become mobilizers for the centre. The idea worked wonders and enthusiasm of some of the students fetched me new students. From mere 30 students, today I have almost 70+ students in the morning shift.

Marching along the road of shaping and fulfilling dreams, September 11 was a special day for the centre- the first student evaluation. Thirty-one students were to be evaluated and I was confident of their success. All I had to do was to keep their morale and self-confidence high. Each of the 31 students surpassed all my expectations. And they didn’t fail me. The external evaluator was very pleased with their progress and issued  31 Level-1 certificates. As one of my students pointed out, “Sir, had one of us failed or got a provisional pass, we would have failed you.” Now that was a beautiful red cherry on a perfectly baked cake!

It has been an incredible journey with a few life changing experiences. I had never thought I would get so deeply involved with a certain section of our society that most of us simply choose to ignore in our daily lives.

 

Anshu Bhowmik

Morning Facilitator @ Khora Colony