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Thinking Better

October 1, 2015 In Malawi Blog
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A couple of weeks ago, I asked each student to pinpoint something that he or she had learned in a recent class, something that was particularly resonant. Aleme Chitanje shared an idea she had learned from Tim Hurson's book, Think Better, which the students are reading in Professor Karl Elder's class, Means for Mastery of Reading Pedagogy. I saved her comments because I wanted to devote at least one post specifically to the Hurson book.


"One thing I learned," wrote Aleme, "is to let go of patterning, or  'Breaking the Elephant’s Tether' [as Hurson calls it]. Patterning refers to making decisions or doing things by following routines without making inquiries about whether the old way really works or not. This is one of the problems that we have as teachers [in Malawi]. Often times, we follow and use teaching strategies that we clearly know are not helping our children learn, but we follow them anyway because 'it says so in the book,' [or] 'that’s how I learned it in college,'[or] 'the principal or the head teacher said so,' or 'everybody else is doing it that way.'"

IMG 2135

As he did for Cohort 1, Professor Elder has introduced the graduate students of Cohort 2 to the book Think Better. In it, Hurson talks about how to let go of old ways of thinking, and he lays out a compelling plan for how to solve problems better by using "productive thinking." Similar to last year, the book is creating a stir among the students and is the basis for some very interesting discussions.

A week ago, the students were asked by Professor Elder to bring 25 "itches" to class. An "itch," as Hurson describes it, is a problem that has been bothering someone for a while. It is something that has proven itself to be difficult to solve. This week, Professor Elder had each student look at his or her 25 itches and pick five that were the most "itchy." From those five, each student selected two to put up on the chalkboard. The list included problems from "large class size" and "lack of creativity in teaching" to "lack of parental involvement." The 22 items were then categorized in three groups: economic issues, professional issues, and administrative issues.

In the coming weeks, the students will continue to work on their combined list of "itches," seeing how some problems are linked to others and which problems teachers in Malawi might have some control over, even in the most challenging of teaching conditions.

As Aleme wrote, "If [we] can learn to think better and be focused on what we are doing and the effectiveness of our ways of doing things, I believe we are going to achieve great results and things are going to change for the better."

IMG 2137MaryFlorence Mzama captures all the "itches" identified by the group.


This post was prepared by Lisa Vihos on behalf of Lakeland College. The program is made possible by the generous support of the American people through the United States Agency for International Development (USAID). The contents of this blog are the responsibility of Lakeland College and do not necessarily reflect the views of the USAID or the United States Government.

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