On Thursday mornings my alarm goes off at 7 a.m.
I get ready, eat breakfast, and embark on a 37-minute walk towards the University of Malta. Instead of walking my usual route for class, I'm greeted by a Nun at the front door of St. Francis Primary School in Msida. Thursday mornings are when I have my service learning placement as an English reading assistant for Year 3 students.
When I first started this placement, I was nervous. Actually, I was completely terrified! I'm not an education major, I don't know Maltese...I'm not even from here! I was worried that I wouldn't be able to help the kids. I was scared that my lack of training would make it a waste of time for all of us.
Those fears were put to rest on my first day. The Year 3 teachers were and still continue to be incredibly kind and grateful for my service. I'm always offered coffee or tea (dealing with 7 & 8 year olds is not always easy). Although they have their hands full with numerous students and have to keep up with a jam-packed curriculum, they're enthusiastic about their job (but probably not always; the 7 & 8 year olds like to cause trouble).
I'm handed a stack of books and am directed to a different room — basically anywhere that is available. The first week I was in the health office and last week I was in the school lobby! The books are color-coded and correlate to a reading level that the kids have tested into. Once the kids have tested into their respective levels, groups are arranged so the students have a guided reading session with classmates reading at the same pace as them. They come group by group, temporarily leaving their classroom activity to practice reading with me.
Although some students are still struggling in level one, it's important to keep in mind that all are, at the very least, bilingual. Some students learned English as their first language while others learned Maltese. Some even learned both languages simultaneously in the household. Reading sessions at school are in both English and Maltese. After desperately trying to grasp Spanish from 8th grade until sophomore year of college, I'm in awe at their language abilities. It is truly inspiring to watch the young students flip back and forth between languages with such ease.
What I appreciate most about the guided reading groups is that the point of the sessions aren't just to read through the book, learn how to tackle tricky words, and be done. Instead, the intent is to get the students excited about reading. Yes, I do make sure that they can read each page correctly. In addition I also ask them questions and build conversations off of their responses. The teachers want them to be able to relate to the story and pull their own life experiences into the discussion. It's so much more than mastering the skill of reading.
When I began this incredible opportunity, I knew (or at least I was hoping) that I could help the students learn. What I didn't realize was how much I'd learn, too. I've learned how to best approach situations when words are initially too difficult or the students are being shy. I've even learned a lot about Malta! I struggle to stay on task when we all have so much fun during our random, tangential conversations.
I could easily choose to spend my Thursday mornings sleeping in or strolling along the shore, but I'm so glad that I don't. In all honesty, I jump out of bed on Thursday mornings and eagerly walk to school. I love helping the reading groups.
I'm learning from the students as they learn from me. It is truly the highlight of my week and remains that way until the next Thursday.