Puerto Varas is a tiny town on the lake Llanquihue, not too far from Puerto Montt, located in the Lakes region of Chile. It is a town of great beauty: compact, surrounded by pastures, forests, and even two volcanoes.
I spent three days visiting Colegio Puerto Varas. I observed classes, even co-taught a senior class, and had informal interviews with teachers, librarians, and administration. I saw an 'initiation' ceremony at the library where students were welcomed by the staff and introduced to the library and how to be responsible and life long readers. I observed multiple 'middle level' classes on reading, creative writing, and language. Saw students working in 'stations' (Ms. Donahue and Mrs. Bachler, I was thinking of you because you two are absolute queens of stations). Observed a class where a teacher was teaching students how to use a dictionary [I think we should do it, too, in 6th grade].
Talked to teachers of various levels about strategies, how they teach reading, what books they like, what's it like to teach in Chile, and whether they would change anything in Chilean education system. The last one was a very popular question. Trust me, if someone would ask U.S. teachers what they would change in the U.S. education system, it would be a popular question, too.
Semana del Libro
I really lucked out with this trip because many schools were celebrating the "Week of the Book". That made me wonder, do WE celebrate "Semana del Libro"? I don't think we do. And I think we need to because it was awesome.
As you can see, they had a book drive, story times, a talk, and literary café.
Some of the activities are above, on the poster. But some are not. For example, on Friday, 'Violeta Parra' has been visiting classes, completely impromptu and unannounced. One teacher dressed up as Violeta Parra [a shawl, an embroidered skirt, dark colors] and paid unannounced visits to multiple classes. She walked in and recited one of the poems of Violeta, interacting with students by approaching them, looking into their faces, smiling, and using gestures to emphasize her points. Students looked around and smiled, puzzled. After ‘Violeta’ left, the teacher who was teaching the class asked her students who that was and students responded in unison: “Violeta Parra!”
I felt really inspired after this and admired this teacher’s energy and desire to put herself out there to surprise her students. Big kudos!
Another strategy is similar to the Violeta Parra visits but this one was an initiative by two senior students, enrolled in theater program. They also popped in and out of classes to recite a poem by Pablo Neruda "El hilo de la poesía"- "the string of poetry". As one student was reciting the poem, another girl was using the string of wool to ‘connect’ the students in the classroom to demonstrate how poetry connects us all. That was a beautiful initiative that was brief, didn't take away a lot of time from instruction, and, most importantly, the students were intrigued. I would be too :D
My three days at Colegio Puerto Varas were packed with observations, interviews, and writing. But one also has to experience this beautiful area. There is a national park called "Vicente Perez Rosales". It has cataracts "Saltos de Petrohué" and a beach that is completely made up of volcanic ash. Unfortunately, one of the two volcanos- Osorno - was shy and wouldn't show itself on that particular day in the national park. However, the other one - Calbuco - did reveal itself the day before for a few minutes so I could snap some pictures before it enveloped itself in the clouds again.
In addition, I was invited for a Chilean asado- a barbecue! Man, oh man, were those burgers good... I ate mine so fast, I forgot to take a picture.
In this picture, you can ALMOST see the Osorno volcano hiding behind the clouds.