CODE

What I Learned in Liberia

By Dr. Wendy Saul

In January 2014, CODE expert-volunteer and International Book Bank (IBB) Executive Director Dr. Wendy Saul traveled to Liberia. Dr. Saul was in the country to witness how IBB-donated books were being used in classrooms, as well as provide prospective children's authors, illustrators and photographers with training on how to write high-quality children's literature as part of CODE's Reading Liberia program. View the original post on the IBB website

What I Learned in Liberia

I am always suspicious when I walk into a school in the developing world and see students being passed brand new, shiny books. Of course, I am delighted that each young person has a book in his/her own hands, but signs of use provide an “unobtrusive measure” that the books have done their work and gotten into not only the hands, but the minds of the young people for whom they were intended.

But this was not the problem I noticed at one school we visited in Liberia. Students were in the middle of an anthology that IBB had sent and were reading with comprehension. The teacher had written several words on the blackboard that all appeared in the story and as she pointed to them, the students chanted the words aloud in unison.

“I wonder what would happen if I tried some onset and rime exercises” I thought to myself. And so I walked to the blackboard where the teacher had written the word “air” for her first graders, and wrote the words hair and fair and pair. The students could read all these words, and I was delighted. “What is a pair” I asked, and there were many responses. “A pair of shoes,” “A pair of butterflies,” “A pair of twins.”

I began looking carefully at the books the students were using. They looked pretty well battered.

“How long have the children had these books?’ I asked.
“About a month” answered the teacher.

As she went on with her lesson I watched her turn the page of the book she was using, grabbing the page in the middle, the way someone might grab a piece of trash on the street or a paper towel from a stack on the counter. No wonder these pages looked so mangled. And then I noticed children doing the same thing.

The monitor from We-Care and I looked at one another. We talked about the need to teach students ways of book handling and browsing. She spoke to one of the children: “These books are our treasures” she began. “How do we treat something we care about, something that we want to last?”

She then demonstrated the way a reader should pick up a page from the corner and turn the paper carefully. And the students looked at her model and followed her lead.

It is all about balance, I thought to myself. The books should not to be put away to keep them pristine, but they do need to be handled with respect.

This was an easy lesson that all of our recipients could pass on, I thought to myself.

We learn so much from visiting real classrooms.

*Photo by B.D. Colen

Wendy Saul is a Professor and the Allen B. and Helen S. Shopmaker Chair in Education and International Studies at the University of Missouri-St Louis. has worked with teachers and teacher educators in Eastern and Central Europe, Central Asia, and Latin America under the auspices of the Open Society Institute. Her recent work in Liberia, supported by CODE  has helped her to better understand how few children really learn to read and write from the blackboard. Dr. Saul has received over $8 million in grants from the National Science Foundation for her work on reading and writing science. 

Teaching, and exploring, photography in Liberia

By B.D. Colen

In January 2014, professional photographer B.D. Colen travelled to Liberia with CODE expert-volunteer and International Book Bank Executive Director Wendy Saul. Dr. Saul was in the country to provide prospective children's authors, illustrators and photographers with training on how to write high-quality children's literature. This is in preparation for the next round of Reading Liberia books. So far, 31 locally-produced books for young readers from Grades 1 to 6 have been published as part of the Reading Liberia/Reading Sierra Leone collection. He wrote the following post for the MIT Comparative Media Studies/Writing blog. To view the original post with a slideshow including many more of the pictures he took on his trip, go to: cmsw.mit.edu/teaching-exploring-photography-liberia/  

Teaching, and exploring, photography in Liberia

Photo by B.D. Colen

Rather than suffer in Boston’s cold, I spent the better part of two January weeks in Liberia, in West Africa – where the temperature hovered around 90 and the “comfort index” pegged at 107. I went to the war-ravaged country, first colonized by free American blacks and freed slaves, on behalf of CODE and the International Book Bank, two literacy NGOs dedicated to the proposition that literacy, reading, and critical thinking are the keys to every other kind of improvement and success. I spent the first week running a workshop for Liberian writers, illustrators, and photographers, whom IBB, and the Liberian group We-Care, hope to teach to produce non-fiction school books for primary school students. This required teaching the students in the workshop the difference between fiction and non-fiction – which was much more difficult than you might imagine, and starting with the most basic principles of photography. It also required five days of teaching from 9-5, a far cry from one, three-hour, night-a-week at the Institute.

I spent the second week photographing in urban and rural schools, documenting, where possible, the work of CODE, IBB, and the We-Care Foundation. The photos you see here should provide a sense, if nothing else, of how privileged we in this country are. I have returned from Liberia thinking, as I returned from Somalia two decades ago, that we in America do not even know what poverty and true deprivation are. And I returned ready to do more of this work anywhere it is offered to me.

You may see more images, a color collection called Liberia Through My Eyes, and Liberian Schools in Black and White, in galleries on my website.

B. D. Colen is a writer and photographer who during 27 years at The Washington Post and Newsday shared a Pulitzer Prize and covered medicine and health care for 17 years. He pioneered the coverage of bioethics in the mainstream media, and created and served as the editor of Newsday's weekly science section, and wrote a nationally syndicated column on the intersection of health care, policy, and politics. Since 1999, Colen has been teaching science journalism and news writing courses at MIT.

Workshopping in Addis Ababa

Excerpt from Canadian writer and CODE expert-volunteer Robert Rayner's blog posted during his recent trip to Ethiopia on behalf of CODE. More posts at http://raggedbeliever.wordpress.com/

It was fun being a minor player, though still with the label Special Guest, in the second round of CODE-Ethiopia workshops in Addis Ababa. This was for writers of supplementary curriculum material for Ethiopian schools, and was partly conducted in Ethiopian Amharic, leaving me in the fog of incomprehension which I’m sure some of the participants at my workshops were in at least part of the time.

The level and ubiquity of English is staggering, and I constantly found myself apologising for my concomitant ignorance of Amharic. About the best I could do in Amharic was to ask where the loo was.

Still on the topic of language: Ethiopia has over fifty (keep that in mind the next time we’re worrying about bilingualism in Canada), very few of which exist in written form, so you can imagine the challenge and cost of developing education and providing written learning material. There are also political consequences if one language becomes dominant (in government, publishing, dissemination of information, etc.) (think Canadian bilingualism), and in this context, English forms almost a kind of unifying force, by serving as a quasi-national language.

Back to the workshop: My session was on ‘Children’s book writing, editing, illustration and design in other countries’ (i.e. Canada), the most useful part of which, I think, was my sharing of a selection of Canadian books for children and young adults, and the ensuing discussion of participants’ responses to front and back covers (why they ‘worked’ – or didn’t), and design generally.

Then it was a walk through the Friday-night-teeming-with-traffic-and-people Piazza district to the Taitu Hotel, the oldest in Addis Ababa, built at the whim of Empress Taitu in 1907, for supper as a guest of the CODE-Ethiopia people.

And I’m humbled and moved all over again by their kindness and hospitality, especially when the evening culminates with a goodbye gift of an elegant traditional vest, which – you never know – may set a fashion trend in St. George, New Brunswick. 

Robert Rayner with some of the participants in the workshop

Ghanaian Lead Trainers Ready for the Challenges of Training Teachers

By Pamela Winsor

CODE expert volunteer Dr. Pamela Winsor, Associate Professor in the Faculty of Education at the University of Lethbridge, was recently in Ghana to run a workshops with 19 Lead Trainers to continue their preparation as trainers of teachers from classes 4 through 6.

This blog post recounts the volunteers’ experience during this workshop.

This has been a busy week of Reading Ghana activities!  Extending the Reading Ghana training to upper primary marks significant development in the project’s reach. There will now be representative teachers at all class levels 1 through 6 who have received training focused upon improving reading and writing instruction. The Lead Trainers engaged in serious study of reading response concepts and practices as well more light-hearted activities such as competitive word games to reinforce sight word recognition. Veteran and new trainers worked side by side to be ready for the challenges of training teachers for classes 4-6 as they help their students’ transition from Twi to English as their language of instruction and learning.

High level of activity continues on Wednesday and Thursday as Head Teachers from the Ashanti Region participate in training to orient them to the training their Class 4, 5, and 6 teachers will receive. Like the Lead Trainers, they too, are engaging in both focused study of concepts as well as interactive activities that demonstrate child-centered learning for the upper primary level. After just one day’s experience with Reading Ghana, they have requested the program be offered across Ghana! Such enthusiasm bodes well for the support they will offer as the teachers in their schools endeavor to change their practices to offer children the richest opportunities possible to grow as strategic readers.

Read more about Reading Ghana

Better Teachers For A Better Education

By Hila Olyan, Project Manager, CODE

“Our school is poor, we have no desks, but we value education so we come to school anyway!” chant grade 4 students at Escola Primária Completa do Treva.  Admittedly, the song has a better ring to it in Portuguese, but the message is universal.

At this particular school, in Matola, a growing suburb of Maputo, students arrive at school in four shifts.  Some students start as early as 6:30 in the morning and others attend evening classes to make room for the growing number of students at the school.

Still, even early mornings don’t seem to subdue the excited students.  As we arrive at the school, we are met with curious glances from students popping in and out of classroom doors. Smaller children run up to us anxious to say hello to the new visitors.  “Como se chama?” I ask.  (What is your name?).  “Florentina,” says one. “Jacinto, Paula, Lurdes, Afonso,” yell out others.  Everyone wants to say hello.

Their excitement is contagious.  “Meu nome é Hila (my name is Hila),” I reply.  “Eu sou do Canadá. (I’m from Canada).”  The students giggle. They’ve never heard of someone with a name like Hila (to be fair many Canadians haven’t either), and Canada is a far away sounding place.

We, (myself the CODE Project Manager, Francisca the Progresso Education Officer and two CODE volunteers, Dr. George Hunt, from the University of Edinburgh and Dr. Lourdes Dionisio, from the University of Minho, Portugal),  pull ourselves away from the students so that we can meet with the school director before settling in to observe a number of classes: third and fourth grade natural science, and grade two math and Portuguese. 

As we enter the classes, I am reminded of how similar kids are in every part of the world.  Just as at home there are eager students towards the front of the class and the trouble makers calling out from the back.  There are students eager to ask questions and others who are excited to show us their workbooks. As the teacher progresses with the lesson, the students follow along and scribble in their notebooks.  The teachers pace amongst the students doing their best to attend to their students.

But this is where the classroom differences become apparent.   

The grade 4 natural science class has 67 students.  All of them were sitting on the floor.  Some of them are not wearing shoes.

“It’s difficult,” say the teachers during the debriefing meeting.  “How do you motivate students?  How do you create a learning environment when there are so many kids and so few resources?”

And this is where CODE comes in.

Through our project, Promotion of a Literate Environment in Mozambique, CODE and Progresso (our local partner), provide teaching and learning resources, train teachers, create literacy building activities, and strengthen education networks throughout the country. 

Last year alone, CODE and Progresso trained over 250 teachers, providing them with techniques and strategies they can use in their classroom to better succeed at bilingual education, encourage critical thinking and active learning, and get students to develop a love of reading. Over 200 teacher-librarians also received professional development.

The training of trainers and primary school teachers and adult literacy instructors was also a
focus of 2012-13. In order to improve the level of instruction for students, 263 teachers and
trainers were trained on specific methodologies for approaching bilingual education. Another
200 trainers and school pedagogical directors were trained on pedagogical supervision in
Niassa and Cabo Delgado and specific training on the teaching reading and writing also
Promotion of a Literate Environment in Mozambique
CODE | Executive Summary 5
occurred. In total 84 teachers took part in the training while 56 teachers from Niassa and 61
from Cabo Delgado benefitted from the feedback and coaching provided through pedagogical
supervision. PLEM also provided support to librarians. During 2012-13, 206 teacher-librarians
were trained.
In
The training of trainers and primary school teachers and adult literacy instructors was also a
focus of 2012-13. In order to improve the level of instruction for students, 263 teachers and
trainers were trained on specific methodologies for approaching bilingual education. Another
200 trainers and school pedagogical directors were trained on pedagogical supervision in
Niassa and Cabo Delgado and specific training on the teaching reading and writing also
Promotion of a Literate Environment in Mozambique
CODE | Executive Summary 5
occurred. In total 84 teachers took part in the training while 56 teachers from Niassa and 61
from Cabo Delgado benefitted from the feedback and coaching provided through pedagogical
supervision. PLEM also provided support to librarians. During 2012-13, 206 teacher-librarians
were trained.
In

The hope is that, through the training they will receive, teachers like the ones we met today will be better equipped to deal with the challenges they are facing every day in their schools and therefore provide a better education for the future generation of Mozambicans. 

learning approaches.

Letting Creativity Shine Through

By Christine Earnshaw, Program Manager, CODE

Zawadi Omary is an 11 year old girl in standard 5 at NDC Narco Primary School in Kongwa, Tanzania.  I would not be surprised if one day she became a famous Tanzanian author.  I met Zawadi today when the training coordinator for the Children’s Book Project (CODE’s Tanzanian partner), Marcus Mbigili and I visited her school and toured classrooms meeting teachers and talking to students.  To understand students’ interest and familiarity with the reading materials supplied by CODE/CBP’s Reading Tanzania project, we asked questions about what books they like reading from the library.  “Babu Ne-Musa” offered the first student to respond.  “Why,” asked Marcus.  “By the end of the story the father believes his daughter should go to school, not just his son”, responded the student.  “Alright, what’s another book you like?”, he asked.  After listening to several responses and seeing nearly all hands shoot up to get noticed, it was clear not only that the students were familiar and appreciative of the books in the library, but they also enjoyed being asked to express their opinions, a rare thing in most Tanzanian schools, where teachers tend to dominate the class by lecturing.  

Following the discussions about books, Marcus reminded students of the importance of writing.  Hearing that their teacher has begun encouraging them to write stories in their Kiswahili class, Zawadi told us that she is writing not just a story, but a book.  “Ah”, said Marcus,  “vizuri sana, can you show us? “.  Zawadi opened her notebook, which was filled —page after page —with her neat handwriting.  She shyly read out the chapter names and when asked, described the storyline.  It was called ‘The Twins’, a story about a brother and sister who were very different and had great adventures.  I could tell Marcus was impressed.  He asked Zawadi if he could read the beginning of her book out loud to the class.  She agreed, but while Marcus read, she kept her eyes lowered.  At some points a sly smile was apparent.  From the reaction of the other students, I could see that she had written something that was thoroughly engaging and interesting to them.  After reading the first chapter out loud and gathering predictions from the students on what would happen next, Marcus enthused to me, “She’s a very talented writer.”  He commended the teacher who has clearly encouraged reading, writing and communicating in the classroom. 

It was a perfect, spontaneous moment capturing the power of the comprehensive readership initiative CODE and CBP have been implementing to develop children’s literacy skills and harness their creativity and potential.  As one teacher who is going through CODE/CBP’s Reading Tanzania teacher training program put it, “I truly believe children have a lot to say and a lot of good ideas.  With these new teaching strategies, we are able to appreciate children’s own experiences and knowledge”. 

Top Left: Students listen as their teacher reads part of a book written by their classmate.

Top Right: The author, Zawadi Omary

Bottom: Marcus Mbigili, CBP's Training and Monitoring Coordinator, reading part of the book to the class

Write my Life Away

By Linda Yohannes

Dreaming to be an established English writer in Ethiopia, many told me, is a disappointment waiting to happen. And they were not without truth; as such a dreamer, on top of worrying about my craft, which all writers everywhere have to do, I have the added worry of a bunch of otherreal challenges.

My choice of language is one. In the European colonial scramble for Africa, Ethiopia was never colonized. And unlike some other African countries, English was never a pervasive second language, which makes Amharic and other local languages the expected medium of creative writing. There are also circulating views that argue writing in English in a society where a majority of the people speak a different language, is a kind of westernization —which is looked down upon. A second challenge could be that books generally command little readership in Ethiopia. With a low, but growing, percentage of literate people, reading is not a popular pastime or social practice. The third real challenge is finance – which affects authors’ capacity to publish, and readers’ to buy their work. An underdeveloped economy, Ethiopia, and her people have to prioritize resources and there’s usually not much left to spare for ‘luxuries’ such as fiction books.

But against all odds, I went ahead and dreamt. I spoke of my dreams – to people who caringly tried to coax me out of it and to unconvinced faces who seemed to say ‘she’s in for a real disappointment’ or ‘I used to dream just like you when I was younger, before reality hit hard’ – I spoke of my dreams purposely making myself accountable to fuel my devotion to the accomplishment. 

Of course I feared at times, like the first time I entered and lost the Burt Award for African Literature in 2011. When I stared into the e-mail that announced the three winners, my name not among them, I think my heart froze for a few seconds. I felt foolish for holding on to a childhood ambition that I should have been mature enough to let go. I felt everyone was right. But more often than the fears, is the obvious love I have for the written word, my passion to smith words and to articulate the thoughts I entertained, perspectives I felt I uniquely held and wanted to share. So I persevered. I recovered from the heart attack and began working on my manuscript for the 2012’s Burt Award competition, which sprung me back into life the way writing always did to me.

So you can imagine the depth of elation, and reassurance I felt when I received the e-mail which carried my name this time. I screamed on top of my lungs and also held still as joy quietly travelled down into me. I was grateful and it all seemed anything but foolish. This dream of mine was starting to materialize itself, in a more meaningful way than I had so far been able to show for my insistence on pursuing writing – previous accomplishments had been blogs, columns on a youth newspaper and magazine articles.

All fiction is to some extent biographical, I believe. And my first book, The School Newspaper, is too. It’s about Menna, a teenage aspiring writer, who thrusts herself into the career the same I did and gets into complications and pays prices before she learns important lessons. But what I was privileged to have, even Menna the fictional character wasn’t. It is almost too good to be true but at the same time something I had been quietly and earnestly waited for in my life. I am forever thankful for the Burt Award, for Code-Ethiopia and Mr. Bill Burt for laying down the stepping stone for me to climb higher in this difficult business of being a writer. My only return to them is a promise that I will step right up and continue to write another book and then another and another…  

Linda Yohannes is the second-prize winner of the 2012 Burt Award for African Literature – Ethiopia for her novel, The School Newspaper.

 

Training the Trainers in Ghana

After a successful workshop for tutors in August 2011, CODE expert volunteers Dr. Pamela Winsor, Associate Professor in the Faculty of Education at the University of Lethbridge, and Dr. Alan Crawford, Professor Emeritus at California State University, went back to Ghana in February 2012 to run a second workshop with forty tutors from twenty-six Colleges of Education. While the first workshop focused on reading and writing instruction in lower primary schools, especially the instructional strategies included in the recently implemented national reading program, the second one aimed to reinforce what had been taught in the summer.

This blog post recounts the volunteers’ experience during this workshop.

 

The objective of this workshop was for participants to review and practice the instructional strategies introduced in August. When it came to practicing the Language Experience Approach (LEA), a strategy that involves children dictating stories to their teacher, participants practiced their skills in taking dictation from their peers. Among many small groups, lively discussion ensued as they dictated stories about their hopes for Ghana’s famed Black Stars in the on-going soccer championships. It was readily apparent that they genuinely appreciated the goal of having children talk and write about things meaningful to them!  

After exploring the benefits of LEA, participants then turned their attention and creativity to writing storybooks for young children and beginning readers. Working their way through the writing process from gathering ideas to sharing finished products, the tutor-authors increased their understanding of the complexities of composing quality texts. They wrote, revised, edited, and published.  On Friday morning, it was time to celebrate. Taking turns reading from the author’s chair, they proudly shared their books and accepted compliments from their peers. As indicated in the following comments, many left the workshop with heightened enthusiasm for writing in general, and writing with their teacher trainees, in particular.

“ The class was simply fascinating and enjoyable. Now we can teach our students how to help children become good authors.”

“We now know how to guide the zeal in our learners to become creative writers.”

“Marvelous! The writing process is very interesting and could be used at all levels of education.”

Just before gathering for the closing ceremony and presentation of certificates, participants were asked to finish the statement, “For me, this workshop...”  Many  responses referred to a sense of accomplishment in acquiring practical knowledge of learning strategies that, in turn, they would pass on to their teacher trainees.  The following comments sum up that commitment.

“I will systematically take the trainees through all the strategies learnt in addition to trying them out in the demonstration schools.”

“I will use all the strategies to help the teacher trainees to sharpen their own writing, reading, and comprehension skills.  Other teachers in the department should know about these strategies, too, so we will organize a workshop to that effect.”

Finally, the tutors expressed desire for on-going professional growth opportunities—a sign of workshop success and a reaffirmation of their commitment to ensuring their students’ success.

Dr. Pamela Winsor, Associate Professor in the Faculty of Education, University of Lethbridge

Dr. Alan Crawford, Professor Emeritus, California State University

Training Better Teachers: CODE’s Capacity-Building Work in Ghana

In August 2011, CODE expert volunteers Dr. Pamela Winsor, Associate Professor in the Faculty of Education at the University of Lethbridge, and Dr. Alan Crawford, Professor Emeritus at California State University, travelled to Ghana to hold two week-long workshops for college tutors who prepare preservice teachers to teach English.

A Reflection on World Teachers’ Day 2011

In 2005, I travelled to Tanzania, a country where CODE works, to visit schools and meet with educators. I saw the classrooms through the eyes of a teacher. I remember wonderful, welcoming classrooms full of many visual aids, caring professionals and highly motivated learners. I also noticed the large class sizes, which could rise to 80-100 students for one teacher.

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