Salone Entry 21: Getting Around the Resource Barrier

December 10th 

Today was my favorite training session yet. Rashid did a magnificent job. He delivered the single most engaging and practical training yet in what was his first scheduled session, “Getting Around the Resource Barrier”.

I was very curious about how this session would go- more than any of the others- as this was the one that I had designed entirely with the logical constraints of Bumpeh Academy, and Sierra Leone, in mind.

The main concept, as the title states, is to find ways to be effective in your craft as a teacher while working in a situation where you lack proper resources and support in your classroom. It’s a very real and common problem for teachers not only in Rotifunk, Sierra Leone or Sub-Saharan Africa, but in any developing region world wide.

The reason the session was such a resounding success was that Rashid made the material his own. He took full ownership over the topic. He started with my ideas and activities, and incorporated many of his own examples for each. As he said, “I like your examples because they give me an idea, but I want to use my own”.

The three main techniques discussed in the session were Peer Teaching, Everyday Objects, and Reporter/Reflector. Peer Teaching is the idea of partnering strong students with weaker ones, whether in a partnership or a group, to better help weak students understand topics, while reinforcing stronger students’ understanding.

Everyday Objects is particularly valuable for a place like Bumpeh Academy, as the whole purpose of the idea is to imagine multiple, if not 5-10 uses for any one object to help maximize teaching and classroom understanding. Everyday Objects is not so much a technique in itself, but rather a paradigm shift for low-resource teachers.

Finally, Reporter/Reflector was presented as a great review activity where students were given topics and then tasked with quizzing each other about the topic to both check their own recall as well as another students’.

Teachers Uma Bangura and Abdulai Bangura demonstrate how to use Reporter/Reflector in the classroom.
During his session Rashid used examples for each, and several for Everyday Objects, as it was the hardest point for teachers to grasp. One of his brilliant examples of Everyday Objects was to demonstrate the difference between proper and improper fractions.

He had me and a much smaller teacher, James Kargbo, come to the front of the room. He assigned us numbers, James as 1, and myself as 2, reflective of our sizes. To demonstrate a proper faction, where the denominator is the greater number, I picked up Kargbo and put him on my shoulder. To demonstrate an improper fraction, Rashid then asked Kargbo to then pick me up over his head. Kargbo quickly sized me up, shook his head and refused. The teachers burst out laughing, and Rashid drove the point home saying “It is improper!

It was a perfect example of relating everyday objects- in this case students as resources- to help clearly illustrate his teaching point. I doubt any of the teachers will ever forget it.




The best moment of the session, however, was at the very end. A teacher asked what one should do if there was no chalk available for a lesson, resulting in the chalkboard- the best resource- being unusable. Rashid responded that the teacher had yet to grasp the whole purpose of the session, and that activities like the three we detailed were perfect ones to launch into in the case that something like chalk was not available, a common issue in Rotifunk.

As Rashid said, “have the students do reporter/reflector for review, while you ask another teacher to fetch chalk from the shop.”

It was a moment that I did not prep Rashid for at all, but he handled perfectly. It was almost as if the teacher had asked a planted question to help me gauge Rashid’s comfort with the subject and in his position as a trainer. As I’d said in one of the previous posts, only when Rashid and Daniel were challenged on the material and could defend it with their own reasoning and examples, thus demonstrating their comfort and showing their expertise, would I know they were ready to start passing the baton to other possible trainers as well and eliminate me from the chain.

After the training, Rashid, Daniel and I again discussed the issue of late-comers, and stipend deductions. Teachers had been far more punctual over the last few days since we enacted the changes. Daniel suggested that we no matter what give teachers the full stipend, as independent of some late-comers, they were dedicated to the trainings and working hard.

I warned him that it might make us look inconsistent, having only days before announcing that we were starting deductions.

After discussing it for a few minutes, the three of us came to an agreement. We would give the teachers the full stipend, but individually inform teachers how much we would have deducted. The key point in our agreement, was that because our decision to set deductions was an addendum anyways, it wasn’t fair to enforce them halfway through the trainings. It was very easy to use the idea as a moderating force for teacher punctuality without needing to enforce it at the end. But by keeping track of each teacher’s arrival, we could still flaunt our accountability.

We decided that in future trainings, the parameters would be more clearly set, and deductions enforced from the beginning for late comers. So, with our current iteration, we would inform teachers of their (not enforced) deductions, so they’d see how their tardiness affected them, but their stipends will be fully intact so that they feel vindicated in the effort and commitment that Daniel, Rashid, and myself have seen in them the last week.

Tomorrow Rashid will give his second training, “Facilitating Group Work”. He’s set the bar very high today for all three of us, I’m looking forward to Daniel and I matching it over the remaining sessions.

Rashid's notes
Rashid’s notes and ideas scribbled above my template for the seminar on “Facilitating Group Work”.

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