Bring Literacy to Indigenous Women - Oaxaca Mexico

by The Circle of Women
Aug 6, 2012

Back from July Trip to Oaxaca!

Edith's literacy class

As is so often the situation in development work, our literacy program underwent some exciting changes in direction.  Because of the pregnancies of both master teachers, Augustina Garcia Lopez and Edith Espana, it was decided it was not a good idea to move the program yet to additional villages because of the extensive walking required and the danger long travel might pose to pregnancies. The plan to expand the literacy program had been delayed until the Fall of 2011.
Bilingual Literacy for Mixtec Children
After the birth of their daughters, the master teachers, Edith and Augustina, presented The Circle of Women with a new program. This involved the teaching of Mixtec to Spanish and Spanish to Mixtec to young children in their communities.  There are children who are totally Mixtec speaking who enter the first grade in the state schools where only Spanish is used and have some difficulty adjusting at first. On the other hand children who do speak Spanish are faced with losing their Mixtec.  Both of our teachers are bilingual and have been teaching both languages to adults.  They have also done a pilot Spanish program with children.
There are two classes (8-10 children each) of 5-10 year-olds being taught by Edith and Augustina, one Spanish to Mixtec in Miramar and the other in a more isolated village, Union y Progresso, is in Mixtec to Spanish. The bilingual Mixteco/Spanish language classes have been in session since Fall 2011.  Classes meet once a week at each teacher's home and each class is comprised of girls and boys, however the girls heavily outnumber the boys.  The teachers have met several times to plan curriculum together and find that they are moving at a similar pace. 

In July 2012, Lynne Rowe and Judith Radtke, The Circle of Women’s Executive Director, visited the classes  and worked with the teachers in the villages of Union y Progresso and Miramar.  Lynne taught a class with Edith. Lynne Rowe, the supervisor of the Literacy program is an experienced Spanish language teacher with a MS in Education from the University of Michigan.  She has written the curriculum for children in Maine.  She will be helping the Mixtec teachers move away from the more stilted form of language education commonly used in Oaxacan schools.

Learning New Teaching Methods
In July, Lynne conducted a demonstration class with Edith's class using English as the target language.  She demonstrated games and skills to depend less on the written word and use more props and actions to increase comprehension.  She also spoke with both teachers about using the concepts of Comprehensible Input (CI), based on Stephen Krashen's Theory of Second Language Acquisition. Krashen believed that, "We acquire language in only one way, when we understand messages, that is when we obtain “comprehensible input.”  Thus, we acquire when we understand what people tell us or what we read, when we are absorbed in the message.  More precisely, we acquire when we understand messages containing aspects of language that we are developmentally ready to acquire but have not yet acquired.”  Krashen’s theory has led to the development of the Total Physical Response and then to Teaching Proficiency through Reading and Storytelling. The use of storytelling was used during the demonstration class with students.  The class was developed after Lynne corresponded with Ben Slavic, a leader in the field of Comprehensible Input. Slavic has also assisted in helping the Saul Nation in Oklahoma to develop curriculum to engage very young children in their heritage language.

The Children
Both teachers and students are excited about the classes, are having fun and are full of energy.  Classes meet weekly for three hours.  Edith and Augustina have been teaching for the Circle of Women for over five years, primarily with adults.  This is their first experience teaching Mixteco to children, although, they have had one previous class with children teaching Spanish.

Edith has a class of 8 children ranging in age from 5 to 10.  Since many of the kids walk an hour, they are often accompanied by a mother who tends to take some part as well.    

The children have just completed their Dictionarios (one is pictured) which includes some of their basic vocabulary.  Mixteco is a tonal language which is very difficult for English speakers but these children have heard it all their lives and are moving along with literacy much more quickly than the older women did.  Edith's class is probably moving the most quickly because the grandparents of these children with whom they usually live speak Mixteco.

Edith is also completing the two year class of women in Spanish/Mixteco literacy which she has worked with since the beginning. This class was not completed at the end of 2011 because of a problem pregnancy and birth.  (All is very well, her new baby Serena is on her back at all times). The women in this literacy class will become part of the microenterprise doll makers (see above) as they finish their curriculum.  This group, in addition to the doll making, works to retain their Spanish language and literacy through reading, talking, and writing.

kids dictionary
kids dictionary

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Organization Information

The Circle of Women

Location: Chelsea, MA - USA
Website: http:/​/​
The Circle of Women
Project Leader:
Judith Lockhart Radtke
Staff Member
Chelsea, MA United States

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