In preparing for her group’s sessions, Bianca starts by asking her students what they would like to cover and tries to incorporate their suggestions into a conversation. For example, she recently created vocabulary and a dialogue after Ahmad asked to cover vocabulary related to running for political office. Regarding her approach, Bianca says:
“I strive to make my lessons as culturally relevant and up-to-date as possible. I always think, “If my students were to travel to America or another Western country, what are some things they should know to make their experience successful and comfortable? My goals are to always maintain an open, non-judgemental atmosphere that is fun and conducive to learning. It is so important to me that my students are learning, and, if they’re not, I want to know that as soon as possible so I can do what I can to make the situation better.”
Conversation group sessions aren’t necessarily just discussion either: Bianca brainstorms topics prior to each lesson and writes out lesson plans, which always include key vocabulary and a sample dialogue where the students fill in the blanks. They start off each lesson with life updates and, recently, a word game. Bianca chooses a letter and gives her students several categories to fill in using that letter in sixty seconds. They usually play five rounds, and according to Bianca, “it’s a fantastic activity to wake up their brains, and they can get competitive!” She and her students love that no two sessions are the same, and that they can use the material she prepares or spend a whole meeting on life updates if it feels more natural, for example talking about the Syrian food one student cooked.
Bianca and her students are clearly dedicated to their group, and both Bianca and Ahmad had wonderful things to say about their time together. Ahmad appreciates the structure Bianca brings to their sessions as well as the group’s flexibility and understanding. Bianca also highly values their group’s flexibility, but even more significant for her is the bond her students have forged: “I think my group does well because we all have a lot of respect for one another, and my students come to the conversation group motivated to learn and practice. Our group dynamic has changed in the sense that we’ve just become comfortable with one another the more we’ve met, and we’re friends now.”
Bianca and Ahmad’s group is a fantastic example of the many ways tutors and students in the Paper Airplanes community go above and beyond the boundaries of a traditional classroom to not only learn, but make deep and lasting connections. We’ve loved hearing about tutors who have written letters of support for students as they apply to jobs and universities, tutors and students meeting up in person, meeting each other’s families, and generally forming relationships that bridge borders and oceans. We are always looking for new ways to facilitate these connections, and are grateful that our community is made up of dedicated individuals like Bianca and her students who continually inspire us to grow.