Rainbows and Reading Homework

As April begins, I am thrilled that it finally feels like spring outside. For the first time in what feels like forever, it’s warm enough to go outside without a winter coat and if we’re lucky, we might even see some sunshine! This week at ACH, the kids were equally ready to get outside and enjoy the good weather. All of them know that they have to finish all of their homework if they want to go outside to the playground after dinner. Since some of the students are in the same grades, many of them are assigned the same homework. This week, a bulk of their assignments were vocabulary and grammar worksheets. As a junior English major at a university, it’s easy to take for granted the ability to construct and understand a story. As I helped a few of the students work through their English homework, teaching them about how a sequence of events is used to construct a story, I gained a renewed appreciation for the complexity of a simple story. For these kids, just recognizing rhyming words is still a challenge.

            Yet, the students at ACH also demonstrated for me this week how lived narrative experiences are often accessible even without an understanding of grammatical intricacies. It made me wonder whether we should be putting more emphasis on the creative passion which often fuels narratives, grounding them in real life. Monday afternoon, I spent almost an hour working with three children on a homework sheet about vocabulary words with long o sounds. While they struggled to understand the ins and outs of sentence construction and phonemes in their homework, just an hour later they were diligently working to create entire story worlds in a virtual reality program on the ACH laptops. Without hesitation, the same child who had insisted he was “just bad at English,” was dropping unique virtual characters into a complex virtual story about good versus evil. Alongside him, a young girl who is more than likely to be dancing around the room during homework time was focused on her screen, creating an army of colorful dragons and assigning them each unique animation tasks. Bouncing around the room, I wondered whether the kids recognized that this creative project which left them giggling and shouting with excitement at their computers was an application of the same lessons their vocabulary homework was trying to teach them. After all, doesn’t all narrative begin with imagination?

            The kids at ACH surprise me every week with their ability to come up with unique stories and their eye for detail. In many ways, helping them with their first or second grade homework brings me back to a time when I barely understood bits and pieces of what makes up the stories I’m assigned to read today. These students are just starting out in the world of English. At the same time, these kids teach me something new each and every day. Earlier this week, the kids were left with pieces of high quality art paper and a bin full of water color paints. Sitting alongside them, I marveled at the simplistic beauty of the rainbow one child had made and arched across the art table. Just a week earlier, on a trip to Niagara Falls, New York, I watched a real life rainbow reach up across a waterfall. Somehow, the rainbow they had lovingly painted in ten minutes was so true to real life. In looking at the kids’ art work, alongside their work in virtual reality worlds, I recognized the unique ability children have to see beauty and truth in the world around them. Despite their basic understanding of English as a formal language, the kids at ACH are already experts at telling their own stories. I can only chalk this ability up to an innate human desire to tell our own stories.

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