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Sinble School Observation

On Tuesday, May 22nd I visited Sinble Elelmentary School to observe three Grade 1 classes.  The purpose of the observation was note the class size, resources and dynamics, as well to look at the teaching styles being used by the teachers there.  The plan is to use the information gathered during the observation to organise something to give the teachers new ideas for teaching activities and ways of constructing resources to use in their lessons.

Grade 1 (A)

the ‘super teacher’ that everyone has hopefully had

Student-centred teaching is utilitarian.  It can be used to train new teachers, and the students can benefit from these types of activities because they are learning from each other.  The idea is to avoid boring classes taught from a textbook by an unenthusiastic teacher.  But nearly everyone can remember a teacher that captured the attention of the class in a way that was not boring.  This type of teacher just seems to belong in the role:  a sort of mother hen type figure.  This was the atmosphere in the first Grade 1 class that I visited.  I am not sure if it would matter if this teacher had any resources at hand.  She would have had the class engaged all by herself.

Obviously she was a very experienced teacher, and I think she just switched to an English lesson so that I could watch something I could understand.  There was a lot a choral drilling and the volume of the answers was deafening with 50 students in the room.  The students really enjoyed taking the roof off the place.  Then it was the students turn.  They would come up to the front and lead the class in the choral drilling of body parts and basic classroom items.  They would ask ‘What am I doing?’ and then perform some sort of action.  This may sound like pretty straightforward stuff, but there are a lot of classrooms where the teacher just writes on the blackboard or reads from a textbook, and the students are just expected to write.  It was refreshing to feel the energy in this classroom.

After these drills and performances were complete, individual students would come up to the blackboard and write the alphabet from A-Z.

The classroom seating was arranged into groups of 5 or 6 students facing each other.  There were about 9 of these groups spaced throughout the classroom.  The classroom had the English alphabet and the numbers 1-100 in posters on the wall of the classroom.

Grade 1 (B)

hamming it up for the camera

The lesson in this class is not being conducted English, and I believe the lesson content was about the properties of water.  Despite my limited understanding of Amharic, it was fine to observe the activities of the teacher and the students.  Once again, there were about 45-50 students and the seating arrangement was the same as the A-class.  The classroom teaching resources were also the same, with the ABC`s and numbers hanging from the classroom walls.

The teacher roamed through the desks talking and asking questions.  The students were responding to his questions.  Asking questions of the students is considered to be a new, active learning method by some.  In comparison to the teacher just talking, never asking or accepting questions, and expecting students to take down notes, it is a step forward.

I felt a bit intrusive in this lesson as about half of the class was staring at me at any given time.  The teacher had the attention of the students immediately around him, and all of the others stared at me at the back of the classroom.  When the teacher shifted his position to another part of the room, a new staring crew would start their shift.

Grade 1 (C)

This is a tough one to write about because the lesson was about Amharic grammar.  The teacher has a national curriculum to follow and the students are expected to be mastering Amharic from an early age.  Amharic is not the lingua franca of the local population, who are Afar and speak Afaric.  Amharic is spoken by a lot of the shopkeepers, and bureaucrats who come to the Afar from Amharic speaking parts of Ethiopia.  Certainly anyone who wants to get a job in Ethiopia will need to speak Amharic, and any skilled job requires literacy in Amharic.  But Ethiopia`s literacy rate is not that high.

The gap I feel most comfortable filling in Ethiopia`s education sector is in student-centred pedagogy, but my biggest impression walking away from this class was in the gap in inclusive education.

It was just one observation, and I do not know the students or the curriculum/administrative demands placed on the teacher, but here is what I saw.  There were 45-50 students in the class.  75% of the students had notebooks.  In the back corner of the class were 5 children that were dressed more shabbily and looked dirtier than the other children in the class.  None of the students in this corner had notebooks or writing materials.  It struck me that these students were grouped together, some with their heads down, whispering to each other and not paying much attention to what was going on around them.

There was an Amharic grammar point written on the blackboard, and the teacher explained the grammar point.   The students sat and listened to the explanation.  Two were called to the front and asked to read the sentences aloud off of the blackboard.  Two or three students were writing the sentences off the blackboard into neatly organised notebooks.

Summary

The way forward, I believe, is to try to present a lesson in a way that really concentrates on what the students will be doing during the lesson.  Each lesson that I observed was on a different topic, and it is impossible to deny the effectiveness of the first teacher that I saw.  But student activity in each of the lessons was nearly identical.  They were always focused on one individual:  either the teacher or some teacher appointed reader / writer / performer.  The majority of the class was expected to listen, write, or answer questions from the focus person.  Students did not interact with one another or have a chance to learn from one another.

The need for this type of cooperative learning can be justified from at least two perspectives.  On the one hand, Vygotsky’s theory of ‘social constructivism’ says that students will learn from more capable others when given a chance to work independently in groups.  The other perspective is that the ability to work in cooperative teams is an overarching demand of the 21st century job market.  If neither of these reasons are compelling enough to encourage the teachers here to try out new methodology, there is always the fact that the Ethiopian Ministry of Education demands that they do so.

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