The Learning Lab Project
WorldTeach volunteer Chelsea is getting creative while finding ways to engage her students.
I’m not going to lie, teaching with no resources is a challenge. I have to constantly be on my toes thinking of ways to make a class interesting and understandable with very little to work with. However, learning a foreign language with no resources is 100X more daunting. How can my kids learn without dictionaries or textbooks? How can they become interested in such a difficult language with no fun, interesting stories to read? While I’m here I am a resource, of sorts, for my students but I am only here for a few more months and come on, I’m not THAT interesting.
I never realized how much I took for granted when I was going to school. I had libraries full of books and the awesome scholastic book fair every year (that really was awesome even if I wasn’t allowed to buy everything in the magazine like I so desperately wished). My kids aren’t so lucky.
We recently created a library in an old, unused classroom and madam librarian (that’s me) is desperately trying to fill in with books, posters, desks, and chairs to create a welcoming learning atmosphere. We were incredibly fortunate to receive some science and math textbooks a few weeks ago but they are at a high level of English which makes it difficult for the students to get any real use out of them.
Over the last number of weeks I have been attempting to make resources with scraps of this and that. I sewed a wall dictionary for English / KiSwahili flashcards, made a “Parts of Speech” tree with both English and KiSwahili nouns, verbs, and adjectives, and created a huge poster with drawings of things found in Tanzania with a note at the bottom about prepositions (to allow students to practice on their own or with the help of a teacher). All the paper was bought in the city, as these things are not found in my village. It was an amazing feeling to watch kids come into the library and stand in front of the posters and dictionary and to hear them ever-so-quietly trying to read out loud. They were reading! They were interested! It was AWESOME. My next plan is to have a couple of bookshelves built so we have somewhere to put the books where the kids can see titles and become interested in that way as well.
The most exciting part of all of this is the change I am seeing in the culture of the school. Students are beginning to realize that they can take charge and control some of their own learning. The acquisition of knowledge is in their hands and does not just come from the chalk in the hands of the teacher. The happiest I have been has been a result of sitting in the library, or perhaps more appropriately titled “learning lab”, with some students as they tried to read me a story. By the end they were starting to pronounce words correctly and better yet, they were enjoying themselves. I sat beside them with a big smile across my face possibly looking foolish but I couldn’t help myself; I was SO HAPPY. At the end they told me they were coming back the following week to read again! The teachers are also beginning to see that a positive environment can nurture learning and that the students aren’t lazy (but quite the opposite). These are small changes but perhaps over time it will make a difference.
|The wall dictionary, clearly not on the wall at the time the picture was taken.|
Resources are not the be-all end-all, it is the new culture seeping into the school and the students’ power in their learning that is needed. However, in order for the students to do this we are still dying for some easy-to-read, attention-grabbing, colourful English books that might spark an interest for these kids. They are already at a huge disadvantage because they are in such a rural area with many teachers who would rather not be in the middle of nowhere.
Seeing my kids excited about learning is the best part of my day. Now they have a place to go, sit, learn, read, and become inspired. We just need a few resources to help them along their learning journey!
|Salma, a form 2 student, with the “Parts of Speech” tree|
If you are at all interested in getting involved with the Usangule Learning Lab Project (wish to contribute funds to purchase books in-country, or if you have any old simple books, young readers, or educational posters kicking around that you want to send) please contact my mom, Debbie Reist, at [email protected] because I will not have access to email for some time.
If you are interested, please keep in mind that the books should be culturally appropriate and while they need to be simple, they should not be too childish, as we do not want the students to feel as though everything is dumbed down.
-Chelsea Reist, WorldTeach Tanzania Year
WorldTeach is now accepting applications for 2015 summer programs. If you are interested in learning more about WorldTeach, check out our website at www.worldteach.org. If you have any additional questions, feel free to email us at [email protected] or give us a call at 857.259.6646!