PASA Workshop #1 - We're taking off!print story
August 13, 2012
In terms of immediate results, the first day of workshops was a success. Out of 29 teachers registered, only 16 showed up, but they were involved and excited to not only engage with the material offered but to work with it at the level of analysis and application.
It was apparent from classroom observations and informal discussions with teachers that the need and interest was high but that a general enervation permeated many teachers’ response to the workshop invitations. Collecting survey data from the participants helped to shed some light on the possible reasons behind workshop turnout being low. The same survey data also drives home several points about the importance of undertaking workshops such as these.
Demographic data on the 16 participants, 15 female and 1 male, showed that the average and median age of the group was 35 (ranging from 19 to 56). Slightly more than half (56%) work with kinders while the rest (44%) teach first grade. The majority came from rural public schools in the district. Their average teaching experience was 7.9 years (median, 7 years) with a range from only 1 year of teaching experience to 30 years of experience reported. Only 9 of the 16 teachers, slightly more than half, reported having at least a high school diploma, only 31% reported having a college degree (or being in the process of completing one.)
Extending this data out to the larger population (after all, about 30% of the district’s kinder teachers were present, and at least 10% of the district’s first grade teacher), this lack of training is problematic for an education system attempting to improve outcomes, especially when one considers that these are the teachers through whom a child is introduced to school culture, vital academic basics, and important social behaviors and norms. Only half of the kinder teachers had completed secondary education, and only a quarter of them had a college degree, while 71% of the first grade teachers reported having completed their secondary education, less than half of them (43%) reported having a college degree.
Many of the responses from participants are not surprising given the current state of economic and social development in the country. All of the participants reported that they sometimes or often lack the necessary supplies for their classrooms, which makes their work much more difficult. They also reported that they feel that their students sometimes do not learn as well as they could due to life challenges outside of their control and that the practices and philosophies children bring from their homes are sometimes difficult impediments to classroom learning.
While such variables are outside of teacher’s purview, and therefore outside of the PASA workshops current mission, there were concerning factors that do fall within the purpose and goals of this workshop series. These factors were the ways in which the teachers perceive their students and their students’ abilities to learn. Concerning indications about their perceptions of children included that on average the teachers feel that some children are not intelligent, and that while children almost always learn mathematics easily, they sometimes struggle with reading and writing. This also indicates, at least to me, that teachers are probably much more comfortable and capable with math skills than those related to language arts.
However, on average, they are a very positive group, and this goes a long way toward explaining their participation in the PASA workshops. They reported like their jobs and the act of teaching almost always, and they reported high levels of positive feelings of efficacy: about their own teaching ability, the importance of the skills and information they are required to teach, and their ability to make positive changes in their schools. They report high rates of behaviors that indicate positive dispositions, including liking to work with other teacher, feeling high levels of responsibility for the emotional wellbeing of children in their classrooms, and taking time to think about their teaching outside of school hours. Another factor that might help explain these particular teacher’s participation is the support of their families three quarters of participants reported living near their families, which can be an important social support in a country with minimal infrastructure.
To include the many topics requested or indicated by teachers and classroom observations, the overarching theme of “Involving children in their own learning” was chosen. For the first session, topics included brain development (especially memory, attention, and visual development), physical development (especially the trajectory of development through gross motor to fine motor and strategies for assisting fine motor development necessary for pre-writing and writing), and positive relationship building with children (especially the use of positive statements and the awareness of how much school expectations differ from those in the home). I think I surprised many of the participants by being willing to listen to their comments, encouraging discussions, and being constantly on the move (including sitting on the floor to explain some parts of children’s gross motor development, not something you would see dignified teacher educators doing—sitting on a possibly very dirty floor!)
Informational periods were interspersed often with group activities for the teachers. One of these was “the banana project,” in which teachers were given first the word “banana” on a card, then a drawing of a banana, then a photo of a banana on a tree, and then an actual banana to explore, peel, and eat. This helped us to examine the ways that concrete experiences can make learning a much more engaging and profound experience than the gathering and reporting of verbal and visual information. It helped to bring home to the teachers the extent to which learning can be given depth when it involves all of the senses. Teachers then worked in groups to identify those local resources that were either free or very affordable and to consider the resources of the community members around them. One teacher pointed out that it is easy to consider using these techniques for teaching science, social studies, or even math, but what about language arts? This led us into the discussion of how, one day, while the children are working on “g” words such as gallina, gallo, granja, granjero, gigante, garganta, grande, etc. a community member who owns chickens (gallinas or gallos) could bring one to school and talk about them using words that begin with “g.” That would be an experience the children would never forget, after all.
After a brief traditional lunch of baleadas (flour tortillas with refried beans and cheese), the teachers enjoyed a brief “recreo” (recess) with centers set up around the meeting room and activities that utilized and worked on the skills and abilities we had been discussing, many of which they received copies of as part of their participant packets. All of the teachers really enjoyed lacing different card shapes, completing puzzles made out of calendar pictures, sorting rocks and shells and bottle caps, drawing with stencils, sculpting with wire, and using paper shapes to make patterns and pictures. As I moved from table to table, demonstrating some of the ways to use the materials (all of which had been gathered or made here in country), I was ecstatic to hear teachers discussing the ways these materials would challenge children or improve the depth of their learning, utilizing the language and ideas we had been discussing that morning.
The teachers also worked together to create simple meta-cognitive processes for children, 3 step instructions for how to do a complicated process such as catching a ball, washing one’s hands, paying attention, getting ready to write, and greeting a friend. The workshop wound up with the completion of our S-Q-A Chart (a KWL chart in Spanish, documenting what we knew starting out, what we had identified we wanted to learn, and what we had learned.) All of the participants received a tracking sheet to help them document whether or not they were engaging in the new teaching behaviors we had discussed and whether or not those same days were positive in terms of learning and/or behavior. Teachers also eagerly signed up for slots on a schedule to have me visit their schools over the coming week to spend more time in the classroom on specific concerns they have with their teaching. They have every intention of keeping me very busy over the next six days!
Because the group was so positive, I was glad to have received so many donations of classroom materials from teachers and professors in the US. It was wonderful to reward the fabulous participation of these dedicated educators with door prizes that will hopefully add a little fun to their students’ learning experiences.
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