Thursday, June 19, 2008

Mimi ni mwalimu!

(I'm a teacher!)

Finally, on Monday, we started what we came here to do: teaching. Michelle, Minette, and I are working with a math & science class of thirty-two students in standard 7 (about 12-13 years old). On Monday, we entered our class at 8 AM and introduced ourselves and our program ("Literacy Through Photography" has somehow become called "Learning Through Photography" as we've been working with the Tanzanian teachers, but it works). We began, as is usual in LTP, with a "reading pictures" exercise. We asked the students to get into groups and gave them each a picture to examine. They first listed details that they saw and then wrote a story in first person, pretending that they were a person or object in the picture. All of this proved to be somewhat of a challenge - as the week progressed, we slowly realized that students here are rarely asked to be creative at all. They mainly learn what the teacher asks them to or what is in the book. Eventually, though, most of them managed to complete a short writing about the picture.

On Tuesday, we did a 80-minute special project with a standard 3 (around age 9) French class. There are 35 high-energy students in this class, and we really weren't sure what we were going to do with them. Luckily their regular French teacher showed up to help us (that has been rare) and told us that she had planned to teach a few French verbs that day: walk, jump, swim, fly, and dance. We then divided the class into four groups and used Polaroid cameras to take pictures to illustrate the five verbs. It was really cool - by the end of class, all the students seemed to have the verbs down pat.

On Wednesday, we had a total of four forty-minute periods to work with our standard seven class. During the first two, we divided the class into five groups and asked each group to come up with a list of six important concepts under their blanket topic (the five topics were circulatory system, endocrine system, skeletal system, first aid, and family planning + HIV/AIDS). Most groups went straight to their books and copied "important" sentences, so we spent quite a while helping the kids try to think of their topics more holistically so that they could think of six very important things on their own. After that, we asked them to think of a way to represent their concepts with a photo and to draw a sketch. This also proved to be a huge challenge, and in the end we found that we would be better off just going out to shoot and brainstorming along with the kids.

During the second two periods on Wednesday, our standard 7 class did all of their photo shooting. Most of our LTP DukeEngage group came to help us that day, so small groups of 2 or 3 students worked with one LTP teacher at a time. We've realized that this is the best way to do shooting - the kids can work together but they receive personalized instruction on the technical aspects of setting up pictures and using the camera. Finally, we were able to get most of the kids to think more creatively about how to represent their concepts, although with some groups we had to make a lot of suggestions during brainstorming. The kids seemed to have a great time directing their friends while setting up their pictures as well as learning how to use the cameras (framing, zoom, etc).

On Thursday morning, we gave the five groups in standard 7 the pictures they had taken. After allowing them to spend some obligatory time laughing at the pictures, we asked them to take one picture (each student had a picture they did not take) and write a story that showed the important of the concept that that picture illustrated. Then, later that afternoon, we gave the students time to make posters using their photos.

On Friday (today), the each group in standard 7 made a presentation in which each student was required to talk about at least one photo on the poster. Afterwards we had them do a writing describing something they learned from another group's presentation, and we were happy to observe that it seemed like they had actually learned a lot.

Walking into my first class on Monday morning, I was more than a little terrified. For one thing, teachers here for some reason are often not where they are supposed to be. They seem to have a lot going on outside of teaching, and a lot of the time a teacher won't show up for a class that he or she is supposed to teach and the students just kind of sit there... it's pretty much the opposite of America, where the teachers are always there and the kids skip class. The teacher of our standard 7 class was nowhere to be found throughout the days we were teaching, but we found out in the middle of the week that it was because he feared that his presence would hinder the students' creativity (which is a very valid concern). The result, though, was of course that we were on our own with thirty-two 12- and 13-year-olds.

Very quickly, however, I realized that I had little to worry about. From the beginning, the kids respected us a lot. They were very quiet during our first class, and I was a bit worried that they didn't like us at all. As soon as I said "class dismissed," however, they all came running up to the front of the room to ask us questions about ourselves and America and to get our contact information. In a way, the students are "trained" to do very specific things during class time - when we enter the room, they all stand up and simultaneously recite, "Good morning, teachers." Throughout the week, however, we succeeded in getting them to open up and become more creative while working with them. After our presentations today, the entire class decided to stay in the classroom and play "Heads Up, 7-Up" with us during their 30-minute tea break.

The enthusiasm I have observed in the students at Arusha School - kindergarten all the way up to standard seven - is remarkable. I was afraid that, because I am working mainly with 12- and 13-year-olds, my students would act like they were too "cool" for us or something to that effect. I've observed the exact opposite, though. They respected our instructions during class but also love spending time talking and playing with us - many wrote little notes to us on their writings about how they love us and are excited to be our friends. They show so much potential, and I only wish that they all had the same opportunities that I had as a child.

1) Me with some kids I worked with in standard 3. I helped Alia and Ami with a project they did on the five senses - we were the "taste" group, so we're pretending to be eating.
2) Two of my standard 7 students shooting a photo. They were in the "First Aid" group.
3 and 4) Standard 7 students putting together their final posters.
5) The finished product of the family planning & HIV/AIDS group. Each group did a short presentation during which each student had to explain one of the pictures on the poster.

1 comment:

kc said...

Hi Hilary,
Your cousin, Casey, here. Wow, what an amazing experience you must be having. I love your photos, and your words on the lack of creativity that you see, I find particulary interesting. I can't imagine how much the children will benefit from your teaching there. I look forward to reading future blogs!

p.s. you should try to find time to climb Kili