Changing Pedagogy

It’s been nearly two months since I last sat down to express the enormity of working in Tanzania. My emotions have soared and plummeted, only to soar again the next week. But, as though through the eye of a scientist, I am learning to: slow down, study with a questioning eye the ponderous inefficiencies, observe the general patterns and tendencies, and take note of the possible ways I can make small wedges to widen the potential for positive shifts. In short, I’m working on changing pedagogy in the rural Tanzanian classroom – every day is fun, challenging and frustrating. I love it.

Mungere Secondary School

Changing pedagogy in the rural Tanzanian classroom
Some of the girls finishing lunch.

The school currently has 102 students from Form I – IV (7th – 10th grade). While Form I and II are large classes (around 30), the graduating class has dwindled down to only 12 students. The reality here is that girls are more expected to get married and have children than get an education and many of the boys are more needed on the farm or to find work than to finish school. So attrition is inevitable.

But each of the Forms has a great group of kids studiously working towards passing the required government tests. They are amazing at memorization. Truly. But understanding the deeper meanings and concepts of the subjects they study is very limited by no fault of their own.

The teachers, as I mentioned in my last post, are also doing as they were taught. They teach to the test and focus on making sure all the required information is memorized – in exactly the way they write down on the whiteboard. The problems I see with this method are numerous. One simple example is, if the test does not ask for an answer that requires the exact way a student memorized it, then the student has no capacity to answer correctly. They are not taught to critically think, but to regurgitate. And as the past tests I have seen are written with very poor English, many of the questions are extremely hard to understand/interpret.

So tweaking how information is presented to the students is vital. Supporting their English language acquisition is vital. Teaching critical thinking/problem-solving/inquiry-based questioning etc. is all vital. I could go on and on. Trying to figure out which area to start with has been a huge challenge.

Understanding the Teachers

Changing pedagogy in the rural Tanzanian classroom
Post Volleyball Game

I have been observing the teachers regularly and then working with them in small doses to give them ideas for making small changes. One such suggestion was to tweak how they run their class. They tend to spend the majority of an 80 minute class period writing the notes on the board while the students write those notes in their notebooks. One simple suggestion I made was to prewrite the notes and copy them, hand them out to the students, and then do an activity that would enrich the learning, and force the students to think about the problems/concepts. This, of course, would mean that the teachers would have to think about what they wanted to teach and how to create an activity – in advance of the lesson. Most of the time the teachers simply create their lesson plans in their prep period just prior to class that day – since they are only copying down on the whiteboard, there has not been much need for planning.

When I asked them to try this they looked at me confused. “What will I do with the class then?” was the look I rightfully interpreted. Asking them to create activities that were student-centered and had the students dive deep into the information they were to learn, well, they didn’t have any idea what I was talking about, nor any idea of how to do it. Remember, they have never seen this type of teaching themselves. They grew up copying/memorizing/taking a test and that is how they were taught to teach in teacher college.

So I have been giving them simple ideas to change up their teaching (group work, simple games etc.) while I have been developing small workshops on specific areas that I would like them to try.

Professional Development

Changing pedagogy in the rural Tanzanian classroom
Reworking the Library

So, in between working on developing the other parts of the school (collecting past-due school fees/budgets, setting up new policies, designing student and teacher handbooks, reworking the library, creating after-school clubs (that are fun!), helping out with visiting service/tourism groups etc.) I have begun creating mini-teacher workshops to help understand (and hopefully not overwhelm) the areas that I have been mentioning to them. They have never had professional development before, it is not a norm here. But after three months of suggesting areas to tweak and hearing that they would like further information (and specific examples), I have seven areas that I am now going to focus on. They start next Saturday:

  1. Developing a Student-Centered Lesson Plan
  2. Informal Assessments and Grading
  3. Activities and Effective Group Work
  4. How to Research on the Internet
  5. Games for Interactive Learning and Review
  6. How to Plan a Unit
  7. Behavior Management

I am really excited to start these workshops. Nothing will be too complicated, nor will I expect immediate change. But I am hopeful that explaining the ideas and techniques in small doses – these are 2.5-hour workshops – that they will be able to absorb the information/concepts and have actionable methods to implement.

So stay tuned. And cross your fingers. My goal is to make the workshops about how learning can be fun and meaningful. The teachers do not believe me…YET!

Beyond the Classroom

Changing pedagogy in the rural Tanzanian classroom
Waterfall near Moshi, Tanzania – on the slopes of Mt. Kilimanjaro

I have also had the great pleasure of exploring a bit of this stunning country. But I’ll share that in my next post in a few days.

Until then – keep me (and my workshops) in your thoughts! I need all the positive vibes I can get. 🙂

~ Gretchen

3 Comments

  • Christine Funk

    well done Gretchen!!! you are amazing and I am sure little by little things will take on a new meaning for the teachers and students … sending love and enjoy the countryside too.

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