Five years ago I was teaching remedial reading/phonics lessons in a local government primary school in Gulu (Layibi Techo). I was using my UK ‘flashy’ flashcards from a commercial phonics programme I bought out in my suitcase, however I soon learnt that the Quentin-Blake-like drawings of snow, clowns, jack-in-the boxes and aliens wouldn’t really fly too well here. This was the beginning of my slow and long journey to try and adapt resources to the local environment. And not only to adapt and create resources, but also to teach, explain and demonstrate in a way that teachers could then transfer these skills into their own classrooms.
The rough journey went something like this:
- Write my own little teaching phrases suited to the local environment and ask my mum to draw pictures of these for me to put on my own flashcards I laminate.
- This progressed to asking a local artist to draw these pictures to suit the local environment even more. He drew them, I printed and laminated them. But there was still a barrier… most teachers here don’t have access to laminators.
- So next we made our flashcards by hand, using cardboard, and using sellotape to ‘locally seal’ them. Score!
- But what about other resources? We would do a general training and then mention what resources teachers could make for their appropriate year groups. Fail! Merely mentioning anything doesn’t work.
- Then we started making resources and demonstrating to teachers how to use them up the front at the end of the training. Hmmm fail again! Teachers need to feel, touch and smell them!
- Over the past 2 weeks we hosted some practical resource-based trainings where we have 5 stations that teachers rotate around. We trained about 70 early childhood teachers over 4 separate sessions. Teachers picked up the resources and completed the activities like children would in their classes. We used local clay from ant hills, grass, sand, flour, chalk, water, local beads… We also supplied handouts for teachers with photographs of the resources they used and a brief explanation of them. I thought we had almost reached the end of our journey and training was completely transferrable. A couple of teachers thanked us for teaching them, for giving them new ideas and commented how they had never learnt these things from college. Score? Maybe? However there was one teacher who took my contact details so she could call me to ask me how to make the resources. Sigh. Possibly for some teachers we will make the resources together with them…
This long journey to help teachers improve ‘teaching and learning’ practices is completely understandable. We have been taught to transfer abstract ideas into our daily lives from a very young age. We also take for granted the research skills we have learnt since, realistically, we were in primary school! As adults and professionals we have instant access to information and we know how to find things quickly. If we can’t, there’s always a forum, blog, journal article, friend, Facebook group, etc that can help us. There is no barrier to our quest for knowledge. Here, the barriers are piled high! Critical thinking skills are rarely taught in schools; neither are research skills.
So when teachers start to implement these ideas in the classroom – that’s pretty flipping awesome! I am excited to see more practical classrooms over the coming months as our own learning journey continues.