Having A come in this week was a great “reality check” for me. It also made me think harder about all of the literacies I have gained this semester and year in my field placement. My placement is in a very vocabulary-y school--there are catchphrases for everything, from “catch a bubble” for not talking to “X is off the team, but working hard to turn it around.” When I first started there last semester, I was constantly overwhelmed by the vocabulary. I could usually understand it in context, but I was unable to apply most of it independently. Now, I’ve led a small group lesson, I regularly work with individuals, and I’m preparing to teach a writing lesson to the whole class on Friday. I’m also going to get a pull-out small group for word study.
When I started thinking about this post, word study was really the connection. I recognized so much of what A was talking about--digraphs, blends, welded sounds, the idea of a picture representing every sound. I also learned that my school uses a balanced literacy program. It fits with my experience in the classroom, and it was great to hear a different teacher talk about the same curriculum. I really have developed an understanding of what’s going on in the classroom, and I no longer need (although obviously I still appreciate) my mentor teacher’s input on vocabulary when I’m moving throughout the classroom and working with individuals.
As I thought about this past week's speakers and read through people's posts (i.e. Amanda's reflections on the speakers, and Lucy's thoughts about using music to inspire learning), the main question that kept coming up in my head was: How do we make learning more fun and interesting for kids?
This past summer my internship centered around improving educational disparities in China. Moreover, my focus was on teaching English because that is the subject that separates the rural students from the urban students on the college entrance exam. The main problems surrounding teaching English in China were the teachers' lack of experience, and students' lack of interest, which in turn affected teachers' motivation to teach English. Many students did not see the use in learning English; they said they were never going to use it. And teachers, believing the harsh reality that many of their students would never get the chance to even leave their villages to ever use English, cannot convince students otherwise and easily lose motivation to teach English. In addition, as mentioned before, teachers are inexperienced in English, rarely using it themselves, even with their fellow English teachers. Classrooms also already lack resources in general, let alone any effective English teaching materials. Thus all these factors combined, including many more, discourage (English) learning in China.
I really enjoyed Tuesday’s lecture in class by Amy because I found the information on the traditional literacy process very interesting. Furthermore, it reminded me why I do not desire to be a traditional educator. If I could achieve her level of knowledge on reading and the reading process, I would consider being a teacher, but I over analyze too much to be able to be a good teacher in action. Being able to think about Tuesday’s lecture in comparison to Thursday’s lecture, I think about learning in a classroom versus learning a new type of capital that the women in Zimbabwe acquired through the women relatives in their lives.
Last week's keyword for me was, "Disconnect." Although I appreciated the guest lecturers, I found myself either not paying attention at all or zoning in and out. When the first woman, I forgot her name, came in to speak, initially I was intrigued by the handouts -- I liked that they had practical teaching methods for reading. I also payed attention when she explained how the iPad was used in the classroom as a tool for gathering data and as a tool for visual communication between parents and teachers. However, I'm not going to lie, I barely listened to her speaking for most of the lecture and the same thing happened when Mary came in to speak about the Zimbabwean (?) women and their role in the trade markets.
The fact that I paid very little attention to the guest lectures bothered me. So, I began to wonder, is it me or is it what was being said? I think it was a combination of both.
The more we talk about literacy, the more I realize about myself as a learner. I know now that I get completely lost when a connection between what is being taught and the overall "picture" is not made. Take for instance Mary's lecture, it would have never occurred to me that the women of Zimbabwe had become literate in a different setting, the market, if Mia had not made that connection for me. And I find myself experiencing similar disconnects in Pim's and Rob's class during discussions.
Right off the bat I want to thank Jenny and Jamey for handling the presentation so well in spite of my abscence due to illness. (Still sorry about that guys)
My part of the project focused on primary education in Ghana because primary education has always been my passion. What was most important for me to convey was the awe I felt when looking at how much work had gone into the education system. I know it seems strange because so much of the formal education history is filled with failure and inequality, but I found myself inspired by how many times the education system was built back up in the face of failure. Obviously there is still a long ways to go and a lot of improvements need to be made, but I was struck by how resilient people were in terms of pushing the education agenda. I wanted to convey some of that because I think it can often be too easy to get lost in the government policies and issues surrounding funding and jurisdiction and we often miss the drive of the people.
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.
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).
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.
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.
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.