Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Learning - January 15, 2007

Teaching and learning. Having been out of the classroom for a year now, I’ve been thinking a lot about learning and formal and informal teaching. Each day brings new insights into the ways that children learn through observation, imitation, and socialization (and how quickly schooling can undo the informal “peace education” that takes place in the community and home). Last night we had our first “official” computer class and almost all of the class of eight had a chance today to try their hand at one of our two computers. While the learners (most of whom are teachers) helped each other experience the joys and frustrations of technology, I flitted about in the background answering questions while dealing with GTZ applications and meeting with visitors. This was followed up with my daily break in the garden, joined today by Ya Mabinty, the daughter of the late chief, and Kadiatu, the first person to teach me to prepare food here, both wise women I’ve come to respect. When I mentioned that I liked to sit under the mango tree with my book, Kadiatu told me that she wasn’t able to read and laughed at length when I told her I’d teach her. Our first lesson (held under the mango tree) was based on her name and the names of her daughters, written on a scrap of paper from my little notebook. As I’ve mentioned before, it’s a sobering experience to come to know almost an entire community of women who have not experienced formal schooling.

One of the most common compliments or highest words of praise here is “You tried” or “You really tried”, or “You tried for us.” Every time I hear this, I think of the strong focus put on “trying” rather than “getting it right” in a learner-focused classroom, and how interesting it is to see this philosophy in place at the community rather than classroom level. As I’ve mentioned before, there is much to be learned about learning and teaching from life at the community level.

Tonight I received an email from a teacher in Kingston, Ontario, who is interested in connecting her grade five and six students with Sierra Leone, and using this connection as a way for her and her students to come to understand life in the world’s “poorest country” and how this relates to their own lives and actions. As I’ve just passed the halfway mark of my first year’s stay here, I will be focusing more intensely on work with schools here and in Canada and welcome contacts with interested teachers. The best way to reach me is at cvangurp-at-gmail.com.