One Sentence at a Time

Today is the first day of the new term at Roshan Learning Center. In spite of the flurry of activity required to get things ready–scrubbing floor mats, cleaning air conditioning vents, juggling complicated schedules in tightly packed spaces–the excitement of new beginnings is always worth the hard work. With all the focus on logistics, it can be hard to focus on the real reason behind all the work, which is to see student progress.

As I reflect back on Term 2, one of the most fun and effective projects that emerged from Roshan also started as something that seemed like hard work for the students, but ended up being well worth it, according to the secondary students. They improved their writing skills one day, one sentence at a time.

Writing in one’s native language can be a daunting experience, but English language learners face the more daunting challenges when they write. Some experience the difficulties of reading and writing from left to right while some struggle with understanding text organisations. At Roshan, our teachers encountered common writing problems in student writing, but they didn’t give up on their students. They cranked up their brains and came up with a creative solution to make their students write a little at a time.

Teachers Francisca Mignano and Dea Sardiyana encouraged their secondary students to “write at least one sentence a day about something positive they experienced, saw or heard or something that made them feel good or happy.” The inspiration comes from an Italian book “Momenti di trascurabile felicità” (Moments of Negligible Happiness) by Francesco Piccolo.

Click here to see what they wrote.

Not only did the students write their daily sentences, but also the teachers compiled their work and published it in a small collection.

“With this collection, we hope that the students can feel proud of the improvements they’ve achieved in their writing. Even if it was only one sentence at a time. It shows improvements in their punctuation, their spelling and in the grammar points that they’ve studied,” wrote Dea and Francisca in the book’s introduction.

Initially, the students found it silly to write a sentence on a post-it note each day. Their reaction was “Oh no, not again!”. However, towards the end, they did it willingly and more creatively. As a result, they were able to make progress in their writing because they could identify common errors and make corrections. Mustafa can now write using past tense verbs in his sentences. Instead of using only present tense, students are now able to also write in the past tense and the past continuous tense.

The compilation of students’ daily sentences reveals the process behind learning English–the value of punctuation, small improvements in grammar, and increasingly sophisticated vocabulary. The reader sees how students made improvements and how they approached the task over the course of 6 months, progress which otherwise can be hard to see if there is no record of it. The practice of daily writing, no matter how brief, gave students the opportunity not only to improve their writing, but also to focus on the good in their lives, rather than the hardship. They learned about happiness, one sentence at a time.

I can’t wait to see what the students will learn about language–and about themselves–in Term 3.