Thursday, 16 May 2013

'The best laid plans..........' Amawus School - Monday

After a good nights sleep, a cold shower and a vegetable curry (but not necessarily in that order) we rose bright and early. Breakfast pickings were sparse but people sipped coffee, discussed the evenings slumber (and those who got locked in the bathroom) and started to get ready for the day. 

Armed with our fashion-forward t-shirts and a smile we set off. 10 of us to Mr Dlamini's school and 10 to another school in the area which is run by Mr Dlamini's sister. 

In my group, at Amawus School I started by meeting Mr George and 2 teachers from the day. Together we discussed the days events. We were to start with observing some classes before taking the students after their break to play games and sing, then possibly teaching our own classes in the afternoon. The biggest shock was the number - 216 children in total and we, 10 of us, had to see them all. 

When I went back to the group they could already tell this was going to be different from yesterday - our introduction with the teachers was very formal and the sheer size of the groups was a daunting prospect. We started to plan, choosing eventually to split the group into 5 separate groups with 2 facilitators each. 

We were feeling pretty terrified to be honest, but were buoyed by our experience yesterday. Whatever happened we were determined to crack it. 

In the observation Holly, Sophie and I went to see a maths lesson. Although we had tried our hardest to not be disruptive we were rubbish at it - merely being there was a disruption. They were so keen to show us their work books, proud of their achievements and their 100% scores. 

It was here we first started to notice the types of teaching that are happening in the classrooms. There were a lot of worksheets, all in English, and the learners had to fill in the sheets, before taking them to the teacher to be marked. Rather than pulling the students through the understanding the work was either 'ticked' or 'crossed' and students would go back as many times as it took to get them all right. Others commented on how much of their education seemed to be about repetition and rote learning. This made a lot of sense of the games and songs yesterday - really happy to repeat things over and over. We saw this a lot through the day and it told us a lot about how to move forward.

200 people are a lot in one small space.......

We started to break groups up but the language barrier quickly started to become apparent. These students didn't have the same grasp of English that we had experienced the day before and we realised how much we relied on language and text for some of our games. 

What followed was a chaotic, difficult, frustrating, exciting, challenging and enlightening 2 and a half hours as we fumbled our way through exercises with groups of mixed ability and mixed ages who seemed to keep leaving at will and going off for lunch when they were called. By the time we ended we  were exhausted and feeling downtrodden. How could we take these many learners to a performance conclusion? Could we keep working in this format? Is there something else they're expecting from us?
Most importantly, what next?

What worked - Rhythm games, imitation, sports with older kids. 
What didn't work - text based games, any game with lots of instructions, asking the smaller children to take initiative in the drama, asking the children to speak to the large group. 

Over lunch we regrouped and already started to discuss tomorrow. We had all taken a lot from our experiences and started to work out the 'key' - is it age groups? Is it gender? Is it the staff we need to get on side. We definitely needed an agenda for tomorrow and go in asking for something specific. 

It's going to be a long night ahead...........

P.s. the other group also had an interesting day, and are chatting bout their lesson plans for tomorrow. I'm listening to them as I type about past progressive tense and past continuous tense. I'm hoping to blog more about them tomorrow.............

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