Ed 250: Literacies and Education

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alesnick's picture


This is the online community conversation and resources space for Education 250: Literacies and Education, a course in the Bryn Mawr/Haverford Education Program taught by Professor Alice Lesnick.  Please feel free to join us -- via individual and course blogs and mico-blogs (via Twitter) -- as we explore literacy learning as a process of ongoing personal, cultural, and political negotiation and invention among and across people’s ways with words. The focal contexts of our studies will be the U.S. and West Africa, specifically Northern Ghana, where some of us will travel over spring break as part of the interdisciplinary cluster of courses making up 360: Learning and Narrating Childhoods.  


Course Syllabus

About the Learning and Narrating Childhoods 360

Twitter feed

About Titagya Schools and Ghana

Titagya Partnership Blog


Class Trip Blog



Interactive Blogging: Reflections, Connections, Questions, and Information

Jenny Chen's picture

Ghanaian Education System

One of the most intriguing aspects of Ghanian history that I learned is their intense grading system. I was incredibly surprised by how rigorously grades were incorporated into the Ghanaian education system starting from a young age. For example, Ghanian children would probably have pictures graded in kindergarten, and this continues into university where an entire class is based on the final exam. Then, when talking to the Liberian therapist, he mentioned how even the education system is much more rigorous that that of an American education. He described the American education as a “spoon feeding” system and while I was slightly taken aback by this statement, I started to realize what he meant when as I reflected on my own education.

Throughout my education in the US I have gotten much guidance from my teachers. I went to private school from 7th to 12th grade because my parents wanted me to be in a smaller setting where teachers were more available. However, even when I went to a middle sized public elementary school from kindergarten to grade 6 I was receiving a lot of attention from teachers, the only difference being that things were taught much more slowly in elementary school in order to give this individual attention to large groups of students. I am not saying that “guidance” is bad; in fact, it is one of the strengths in a good education. However, in many ways, education is also “handed” to us.

JBacchus's picture

Education System in Ghana

I wasn't entirely sure how to write this follow up post from our presentation last Thursday on the education system in Ghana. When I emailed Alice she sent the following to me: "perspective/analysis: what was important to you about what you learned and tried to convey?  What did it shed light on (new insights, questions)?  What did you learn from selecting what to share?  How did that connect with what you are interested in already?"

I want to first start with discussing choosing the topic and how the topic grew. I chose the topic mostly because I'm a straightforward and I wanted a straightforward topic. Also, I found it interesting that in class we were discussing Ghana and its education system in terms of literacy, without really knowing anything about its education system. I felt that this topic was a necessary groundwork. I mentioned in class that when researching for this topic, many of the articles/resources were from an American perspective (one even went as far to mention outright that that certain article was for American students looking to study in Ghana or Ghanaian students looking to pursue their tertiary degree in America). The other information I was able to find were from governmental resources or international education resources. I had expected to find more sources almost from the "people" of Ghana about their education system, although I realize now that that might not be considered "official" information. 

nmofokeng's picture

Representing Africa: Field Trip Experience

When I asked our host at the museum how long the exhibition had existed in its original format - she sighed deeply and said a long, long time. This was no surprise at all but reminded me of a book by "journalist and writer Charlayne Hunter-Gault called "New News out of Africa" (2006). The whole idea of the book is to present a more nuanced image of Africa, with updated stories about what was really happening on the ground to subvert the narratives of the "four d's" i.e. death, destruction, disease and despair which dominate media coverage. It struck me on Friday that the high school students were aware of the singularity of the image they held of Africa and were very interested in learning about the experiences of their peers in environments such as school or their interests in things like music or fashion.

The "old"exhibition was dated in that it was from a time when the archeologists and anthropologsts were focusing on Africa as an object of study and not engagement. The new section was well-designed to update the ways in which people want to interact with Africa and represents a symbolic transformation in the approach to representing the continent.

I'm curious to revisit with more leisurely time to really pore over what the choice in artifacts on display is trying to achieve and to think more about what new narrative is possible considering their dated collection.

abeardall's picture

Reflecting on Class Discussions, Higher Education in Ghana, Kathy Knowles, and Imagine Africa

This week was quite the exciting week in terms of our class! On Tuesday, we had the chance to reflect on our progress throughout the semester and discussed what it meant to be writer. On Wednesday, I had the opportunity to hear Canadian author Kathy Knowles speak about the literature that she writes for Ghanian youth. On Thursday, we learned about the education system in Ghana and heard Theresa Cann talk about her experience in Ghana, specifically talking about language. On Friday, we were up bright and early for our field trip with Parkway West to the Imagine Africa exhbit at UPenn. Throughout all of these discussions and experiences, a theme that has really stuck me has been the disconnection between academia and "real-life" and the values we place on different literacies. Something that I found really striking was when Kathy talked about how most Ghanaians do not find reading to be a pleasurable experience. Our initial reaction was one of horror since so many of us grew up homes where reading was encouraged and an activity associated with love and family since our families would tuck us into bed with a story. Many of those who grow up in low-income homes may also experience this disconnection from reading and pleasure. Due to lack of access to literature as well as the fact that most literature that Ghanaians read is in English, often their third language, many of them see in strictly in an academic sense. Only 4% of Ghanaians go onto tertiary education and only those who can afford it make it there.

allisonletts's picture

What is a writer in first grade?

I had an amazing experience in my field placement on Friday. I'm in a charter school where the special ed program is primarily inclusive. I frequently work with a student named "Jeremy" who often struggles to stay with the lesson, especially in large group instruction. One specific behavior that can be disruptive is when he calls out in the middle of the lecture--it is frequent enough that his classmates are distracted and that it interrupts the flow of the lesson. Throughout my time at this school, the teacher and administrators have been working on various interventions for him, including a paycheck for good behavior, check-ins with the teacher after every subject, and "choice time" when he makes it through a lesson. On Friday during the Writing mini-lesson, when he started to interrupt, the teacher told him to get a piece of paper and write it down. He did! He makes so many connections to the material, and he wants to share it with everyone, but in the middle of the lecture is not the most appropriate time. By writing it down, he got to express himself without requiring anyone's immediate attention. He made it through the rest of the mini-lesson and worked productively and independently throughout Writer's Workshop, specifically answering the prompt from the mini-lesson using appropriate vocabulary and responding to the feedback I gave him.

pyiu's picture

Thoughts on Improving Education in Ghana

After skyping with the founder of an NGO which provides libraries and Ghanaian children novels in Ghana (I forgot the name of the NGO but I believe Kathy Knowles is the name of the founder) and learning more about the history of formal education in Ghana, I became to reflect a lot about what could be done to improve the education system in Ghana. According to Ms. Knowles, literacy is a problem in Ghana because reading is not seen as a leisurable activity, and is only associated with academic work. Moreover, education there is based upon repetition and memorizatioon, thus school can be very boring and dry to students. Also, students are constantly anxious about being graded since the whole curriculum and attitude of the teachers is based upon doing well on the exams. Additionally, I personally feel that such a system does not cultivate appreciation for the art of learning. We've virtually discussed (via twitter) the importance of making mistakes for one's learning and education. However, such a system in Ghana appears to leave no room for mistakes, or creativity for that matter. These aspects along with many others compose Ghana's education system and consequently do not appear to be conducive towards a positive, fun, and interesting learning atmosphere for students (or the teachers).

Jenny Chen's picture

Busy Lives: Distracting or Multitasking?

On our field trip to the Penn Museum I met an Autistic boy. He was incredibly inspiring as while we walked through the museum he could ramble off facts about every exhibition we went to. Esty and I called him the “walking encyclopedia” as there was very little we could bring up that he didn’t know about.

            While we walked around the museum, this students mentor explained to us that he views the world differently than we do. He told us that the student wanted to be social and make friends but he does not know how to interact with people. But at the same time, he is happy where he is. He said that the student loved computers and would sit in front of a computer all day just reading about history. He can’t even convince him to play games. The idea of “distractions” then came up, and the mentor stated that many Autistic people are incredibly focused on what they are interested in; in this student's case, history.

            This made me begin to think about our distractions and how it relates to our education and our literacy. While this student may have many problems that inhibits him from being able to socialize the way we are able to, he also has retained so much information that we haven’t been able to. Could this be because he is FULLY focused on his interests? Were people 200 years ago more able to retain information and knowledge because there weren’t distractions such as Facebook, Tumblr, Youtube, video games, TV, movies, etc…?

bsampson24's picture

Imagine Africa

The imagine Africa exhibit drew me in with its bold colors, interactive activities and use of technology. Until someone pointed this out to me, I had not realized we could change the images by touching the screen. BANANAS! It was a perfect mixture of colorful fun with a touch of unexpected mystery. Although confused by some of the content- the picture of Eddie Murphy from the movie “Coming to America,” they did a great job at engaging patrons. The whites boards and consisted of white boards underneath each topic focus allowed us to engage in an open discussion, sharing insights on the question posed on the board as well as our thoughts about the exhibit.

            Although it is difficult to see I wanted to share some pictures of the discussion boards. (I have not figured out how to upload multiple pictures so you may receive a slew of post of just images-sorry in advance.)

miaashley's picture

Colonial Education

In the class presentation about the Ghanaian education system one specific fact stood out to me. The students in the class presenting said that there was an emphasis on reading, writing in math in the colonial education that was used for Ghanaian students. I immediately thought about our own US public school system and what we focus on. Standardized tests question and evaluate our capabilities in math, reading and writing and put great pressure on teachers to have their students achieve high scores. Because of this, many teachers are left with little time to teach social studies, language, culture, art, history, or anything other subjects. What differences exist in ideology towards education between colonial education and post colonial education? Have any changes been made since the end of conquest in colonized countries? I do wonder if it is possible that currenty the education system still does exist in such a manner as to stifle the embracing of culture, history and language that relates the academic to the individual. In my English Language Learners class last semester we read an article called “True American – Language, Identity and the Education of Immigrant Children” by Rosemary C. Salomone. In the article, the author wrote ‘schooling by its very nature is a prime vehicle for indoctrinating the young in a common core of value and political principles.’ The author argued that school systems are supposed to promote good citizenship, our ‘common destiny’ and are the ‘most vital civic institution for the preservation of a democratic system of government.’

ckenward's picture

Imagine Africa

Like many others who were on the field trip on Friday, I really enjoyed the interactive Imagine Africa exhibit.  There were a couple of parts which really engaged me and I really appreciated sitting in on the focus group afterwards and hearing thoughts from both Bryn Mawr and PW students. 

HannahB's picture

Imagine Which Africa


                Exploring the exhibit “Image Africa” sparked the realization that I have in fact become an entirely critical academic. On the one hand, I was excited by the nature of exhibit—writing on the walls, participating in a focus group and generally enjoying the hands on experience truly engaged me in the exhibit and made me think far more actively about the content than I would during my typical museum visit. Yet I left “Imagine Africa” deeply confused. Just what they were trying to get at? It seems to me that the creators of the exhibit had failed to develop a clear conception of the purpose of the exhibit.

                To me the title “Imagine Africa” conjures up images of the future, questions of what will Africa become.

ashley's picture

Technology in the Classroom

Given the nature of our course and our affinity towards the inclusion of technology, as well as comments made via Twitter recently, I’ve been considering the impact technology can have in other educational settings than our own.

I’ve been thinking back on my own education and the slowly growing incorporation of technology into it. I remember when it used to be if you had a projector in your classroom you had advanced technology. How is technology currently used in a public high school? When I was a senior in high school, we had ONE SmartBoard in the school, in my A.P. Physics class, and we must have used it about two or three times throughout the duration of the school year. For the most part it was off to the side of the room and no one was inclined to use it. When our teacher brought it out, it was mostly for play - what he was showing us was physics-related but it was just for fun as it was after we had already taken the A.P. exams, so it was never really used in the daily lessons.

On a visit to a public high school last year, I talked with some teachers who expressed frustrations with the increase in technology brought into their rooms as they did not know how to use the products brought in, i.e. SmartBoard or otherwise, and were given no instruction as to how best to incorporate them into the lessons nor any orientation towards their functions.

kayari's picture

Field Trip

I really enjoyed the field trip and the high school students’ incites and reactions to the Imagine Africa Exhibit. The pre-field trip activity was really engaging and I was so impressed by what the high school students had to say in my “Changing” group and in all the groups. It was great to work with the three students in the Changing group because a couple of them have recently come to the Student Success Center where I tutor and have worked with us. I got to get to know the high school students on an intellectual and a social level- some of the things the girls were saying were hilarious and Mia and I enjoyed ourselves talking to them on the bus. The Imagine Africa exhibit was very interesting. It was engaging and I liked a lot of the self-guided area- especially the Healing section. Some positive things that were said in the focus/feedback group is that being able to touch and interact with the exhibit was a plus. Being able to watch clips and listen to people talking about their own current practices added depth to the exhibit. I liked being able to create my own collage with the photos and listening to music. We were a little confused though whether the exhibit was meant to portray historic or current Africa because some of the concepts were current yet the artifacts were historic. I thought that the juxtaposed media was very interesting with the Disney representations of Africa like the Lion King, yet there was no signage asking us to be critical of these representations or to think about stereotypes and representation.

et502's picture

One red thread

Our discussion in class last Tuesday made me think of this song by Blind Pilot (shameless plug for my favorite band). 

Oh from the first that the line got drawn
It was poisoning the land it was on
One red thread through the middle of a song. 
I was thinking about how Africa was kind of arbitrarily divided up, and how those divisions have had lasting repercussions on culture, on the “song.” On that note, it seems like most places have been divided up in strange ways. Consider the line between neighbors, the invisible boundary between towns and states. Does where you’re “from” really make you different from people in “other” places? What about those homes or properties that are located on boundary lines?
We could really look at capitalization and privatization as the source of much confusion about identity and place. What do boundaries do? How do they enable culture to be centralized and also limited/cut off?

From the minute that the line got drawn
See video
couldntthinkofanoriginalname's picture

Imagine Africa Field Trip Reflection: Healing & an Unforgettable Experience

I have three words: What. A. Week!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! There are so many things that I want to blog about but I will stick to my incredible experience at the Imagine Africa Exhibit at the UPenn Museum.  I’ll do it in two parts:

Part I: I really enjoyed the field trip with the high school teenagers—I don’t think the trip would have been the same without them. My favorite part of the museum was the exhibit that allowed us to “create” Africa or, better yet, to reveal the many “stories” of Africa. Aside from the fact that the exhibit was limiting because you could only “imagine” Africa with the images/words/media clips available, I felt empowered. I felt empowered in the sense that I had the ability to determine whether or not I wanted Africa to be described as “beautiful” vs. “Unique” or “Modern” vs. “Rural.” Of course, Africa can embody both components but having a say in what Africa meant to me instead of having someone impose their views on Africa, particularly in education settings, on me was a powerful moment. My group happened to have the word, “healing.” And although, initially, we thought that there was no healing in the world, or very little, seeing the high school sophomores excited at the chance to define Africa and to make meaning out of her history was healing happening right before my eyes.

elchiang's picture


I have a confession to make. In eighth grade, I was first exposed to a documentary called Invisible Children that exposed the longest running war in Africa with all its atrocities. From that point on, being apart of this organization was my life and passion. I felt so enraged that human beings could be treated as animals and slaves in this day and age. I was a founding member of the club in high school as well as at Bryn Mawr where I hosted many fundraisers and participated in peaceful demonstrations on the behalf of the children of Northern Uganda. However, this past summer after six years of involvement, I came to the realization through divine intervention per se that Invisible Children as an organization had consumed me and made me into a monster. Instead of continually being empowered to help children abducted and forced to fight in a terrible war, I was more concerned with receiving the recognition and glory for my good works. The irony in all this is that the initial spark that created this passion for activism came from this deep belief in human rights. I really started thinking about how this passion is connected to the 360 program when Teresa came to our class and asked us why we were in the class or program. Originally, I applied because I had a passion to help from a position of privilege as well as compassion. However, through the 360 program, I no longer see a single story. I had compassion for children that were used for rape as a weapon of war, but I did not allow myself to see the an amazing culture.

JBacchus's picture

History/Structure of Ghanaian Education System Sources

“History of Education in Ghana”

“The Educational System of Ghana”

“Higher Education in Ghana”

“A Brief History of the Ghanaian Educational System”

“Ghana Education System”

“Evolution of the Educational System in Ghana Since Independence in 1957”

et502's picture


This is a brief 360 related post - but I think we can connect this to most Education classes.

I’ve been thinking about how useful it is to have so many different majors present in this literacy class and 360 - In a discussion on Tuesday in Psych, many of us were really confused about how to proceed with the unfamiliar psychology terms. But Manya was able to give us a really good explanation - we kind of drilled her for information! Also, Lucy and I were talking about her background in Anthropology this morning - this will be useful in our explorations of culture.

We are a community of many different skill sets - and we can benefit from all of those disciplines when we are open to learning about and from each other. It’s really difficult to ask for help - especially when (often) our previous education calls for independence and individuality. However, knowing your resources and using them effectively - that does not imply dependence, but a kind of fusion or interdependence.
OliviaC's picture

Resources on NGO Impacts in Ghana

I was recently asked to post about assessing the impact of NGOs in Ghana.  Here are some resources that I found:

Be sure to check out the Institutes, Think Tanks and Reports section of your course guide.  It lists several websites that will have reports from major non-profits in West Africa.

In addition to the general social science article resources (e.g. JSTOR, ProQuest, Google Scholar, etc.) two databases that will have international NGO reports would be:

Search these databases for keywords like (NGO or non-governmental organization or intergovernmental organization) and (accountab* or monitor* or evaluat*).  Here are links to two productive searches I ran in Google Scholar's Advanced Search screen:

juliagrace's picture

Is this working? #IrefusetosayTweet

In case anyone missed what my face looks like when we discuss Twitter in class just picture a child in a sauna who keeps going outside to get ice cream, bringing it in, and watching sadly as it melts for the seventh time in a row. I go through these phases with Twitter, I think I vaguely get it, I get a little excited because I (kind of) know what's happening, and then I log on and see a massive jumble of tiny snippets of conversations I can never catch up on with a thousand links that send me all over the place and I'm back at square one. I think part of the reason I am so bad with Twitter is that I don't like it. That is my main point and already I would have used about three or more Twitter posts to say it, unless I simply wrote "I dislike Twitter and suspect it is mutual". I grew up in a house with more books than furniture, I've always read the book before the movie, and I still prefer to thumb through giant reference books for information. I am not built to sum things up succintly (as you have probably guessed by now).