A TEACHER THAT CHANGES LIVES AND CULTURES
As a university student Maya Almugheiri used to come to the Writing Center where I taught at the University of Nizwa in Oman for additional classes, workshops and consultations in English.
Maya was brilliant, resourceful and indomitable! She was so pro-active that I used to call her ‘Maya the Bee‘ from the famous ‘The Adventures of Maya the Bee’ a German comic book series by Waldemar Bonsels, which was later animated in many languages and enjoyed worldwide. Like the ‘Bee’, Maya was a high achiever and I bonded with her immediately.
What I remember most about her was that she never took ‘no’ for an answer and stood up against anyone for what she believed. She says:
My mom’s dream, and mine as well, was for me to become an English teacher but I had a scholarship in biotechnology which I hated. The hatred was so strong that it somehow gave me the strength to work hard to find a way to change my major despite my scholarship and the stipulation that I could not change it.
First I managed to switch to English translation where my teachers thought I would make a great translator. But I had a one track mind leading to education. I’ll always be grateful to a friend in admin who turned the tide for me and got me the major I wanted!
It took me five years exactly to do what other students could not do. But it meant carrying a very heavy academic load. The last semester was humongous with five academic subjects, my practicum, my graduation project and a part time job!
To this day I don’t know how I did it but my determination was unshakable.
After Maya got her BA in English and Education she joined the EFL teaching workforce and immediately faced two problems, First, reading is not ingrained in her culture; this had to change if students were to become global citizens. She was determined to empower young people academically through the written word.
Most of all she wanted them to want to read!
The second problem was that the School where she was working was new. There were no English books or stories in its library! Additionally there was no funding for them.
How could she improve comprehension, critical thinking, pronunciation and diction with nothing fun to read? Reading would also help students acquire syntax and additional vocabulary which would extend into spelling, writing and verbalizing.
She simply needed a project that would be challenging and competitive.
She investigated her students’ background and found they didn’t have a good foundation. Many of them were Bedouin with no learning support at home. After school they worked with their parents and did not study. Her colleagues didn’t have an answer except to follow the curriculum.
THE READING PASSPORT IS BORN
Thinking about how much fun it was to travel she suddenly got the answer. She would create a ‘Reading Passport’ as a gateway to virtual travel. Her search for suitable stories on the internet began. These had to be line with the ethics of their society. She recalls:
At first the project was done manually (I mean the stamp, paper passport and all). The passports were larger and more colorful than a normal passport, more appropriate for young children. But this year I have an electronic program created by a programmer!
For the audial component I asked Mr. Malcolm Veitch, an ex-colleague, at the University of Nizwa during my part time job, to record the stories for me. He has lots of experience in that area and a British accent which goes with our curriculum. Here he narrates ‘The Little Red Hen’ with clear precise diction suited to young English learners:
The electronic program is in the final designing stage with a user name and password for every pupil in the competition as well as for the evaluating teacher who uploads books for every ‘country’ students will ‘visit’. Students prefer real books they can touch and hold and I’m confident people will donate books soon. The program also has evaluation pages. One is for pre-reading where we ask the pupils about the title and the illustrations. For the reading stage, we ask about the events and characters and creating new titles. After the reading we listen to the children read the story out loud. We score them on, pronunciation, fluency and diction and ask them about the general idea and the specific details.
Good scores, mean their passport gets stamped. Then they can visit the next country. The passports have a photo of the student, name, class, and available countries to visit. There is a space for departure and arrival dates as well as a picture of popular attractions in each country like: Big Ben in UK, The Sydney Opera house in Australia, the Statue of Liberty in US. So far they only visit English speaking countries but in the future this may extend to other cultures as long as the stories remain in English, our target language.
It’s a voluntary competition which encourages self-learning and motivates reading.
The project has now been implemented for the third year and now with the help of the technical engineer it is largely virtual. Maya hopes to get an App created for it and real books in the library.
I like to add more vocabulary to my own dictionary.
Mohammed Ali 3rd grade (Pakistani)
I enjoy reading comic books.
Asia Mohammed, 3rd grade (Russian)
LRC is my best place to enjoy listening to the recorded stories which are provided in the competition.
Jana Ibrahim 4th grade (Egyptian)
I will do my best level to win in the competition
Khadijah Al-harithi 4th grade (Omani)
I like the traveling idea
Manar Al-alawi 3rd grade (Omani)
This competition helps students learn new vocabulary. The recorded stories help them in recognizing word pronunciation and focusing on the intonation.
Raya Almugheiri, Maya’s sister, English teacher and an assistant in the project
I think it’s a great project since it enhances and improves all skills.
Muna Alhinai English teacher, colleague and assistant in the project
Maya states that at the end of the program, ‘we had a celebration to honor the participants and the ‘little travelers’.
Have passports will travel
The parents were elated and full of compliments especially since they had never given reading much credit for what it could do for their children.
They really liked that this extracurricular project was so motivational. They thought the ‘spirit of competition’ to earn their travel privileges was an incentive that helped students get involved in reading. It also helped them learn about other countries while at the same time encouraged their peers to do the same.
They loved how the project strengthened language skills. They were surprised at how useful books were, and how their children had benefited from reading.
The children need supplementary handwriting books, phonics books, sentence building books and easy readers for the school library. Children enjoy virtual books but they enjoy real books best. Book donations and contributions for the library are welcome. See all contact information below:
Contact Maya: Alsagier Nasser Almugheiri:
Donate money: Paypal: LRUTHWH@gmail.com
Mail books: Ash Sharquyah North, Bidiyah 421, P.O. Box 103, Oman
Maya’s efforts have received national recognition which gave her a two year specialized training provided by The Ministry of Education as well as an invitation from His Highness Dr. Al-khattab Al-hinai (Vice-Premier of the State Council) to visit the Finland-Oman School in Muscat and talk about the project with the Finnish faculty.
After Maya developed her reading passport project, Ray Petersen wrote an article about it in the December 25th 2018 edition of the Oman Observer. You can find it on page 27 and 28 at the end of the paper.
Subsequently he wrote another article featuring Maya’s teaching experience and skills in the March 8th 2019 edition of the Oman Observer (Features, page 13).
Way to go Maya, let’s pay it forward!