The M.Ed. graduate students have arrived at the end of the 12-month stay in Wisconsin and are preparing to return home to Malawi on June 7. Last week, I had brief exit interviews with all of them. I began with the question, "if you had to pick one word to sum up your experience at Lakeland this past year, what would that word be?" I heard words such as "awesome," "wonderful," "marvelous," "great," "productive," "enlightening," "eye-opening," and "success." As we continued to talk about their Lakeland experiences, the students shared more specifically what they had learned. They talked about the importance of assessment, differentiated learning, and reading across the curriculum. I heard their passion for teaching and new confidence in being "agents of change." I also heard how grateful the students have been for the kindness of the people they have met here in Wisconsin. I could not report everything that everyone said during these interviews, as much as I would have liked to. Instead, I provide a summary, a "slice" of what I heard, the essence of each person's commentary about his or her time with us and what the students plan to do when they return home.
"I learned that I should not be satisfied with the knowledge I have; I should be a life-long learner, always striving to improve myself, always trying to be a better teacher. I plan to be a more self-reflective teacher in the future, one who focuses on the learner and what that individual learner needs to be successful. Those of us who have been here, exposed to new strategies and knowledge, we need to work together, to help one another. In oneness there is strength."
"I have realized that people are the best resources for making something happen. It is people that make a program work or not, their attitude, their feeling about what they are doing. We should work hard to train teachers as the #1 factor in improving the quality of reading instruction in Malawi. I also hope, as an individual, that I can help to prioritize early grade reading instruction at the government level. I feel more confident now, than I did before, that I can be an agent for change in Malawi."
"I can say today that I am more knowledgeable about how to teach reading, through the strategies of phonemic awareness, de-coding, book concepts, and bringing prior knowledge to the text. At Northview Elementary [in Howards Grove], I learned about reading workshops and the value of discussing texts with learners in a way that is fun and flexible, not rigid. I am dedicated to lobbying at the curriculum development level in Malawi for devoting more time for reading in the early grades, for creating true interaction around reading."
Mary Florence Mzama
"While I have been at Lakeland, I have been struck by the farms nearby and by the hugeness of these farms. I have also learned something new about myself, that I am a slow reader. I have always read slowly because I read to understand, not simply to finish quickly. Being here has improved my reading curiosity. I have been exposed to so many new books. I look forward to extending the opportunities for reading to children in Malawi. Pamphlets, flyers, even an advertisement for soap! All these things can provide reading material to young learners. Once I return home, I know I will implement everything I have learned here."
"One of the best experiences for me at Lakeland was developing my philosophy of education in Dr. Kutney's class. I am also so much more aware now of the importance of assessment. Reading does not go on alone; you must assess for learning and create running records so you can identify challenges for each individual learner. My experience here in Wisconsin has changed me a lot. I know now that when I look at something, I need to think outside the box. I've learned to view things from many perspectives."
"While here at Lakeland, I realized that I really do enjoy working hard. If I can continue in that spirit, I will be successful in the future. I am excited to go back to Malawi and get more involved in the field of educational research. I want to gather data that will help us replace less effective practices with more effective ones. Lakeland has given me an opportunity to feel more confident in myself, and to know that I can make a difference. I am determined to improve students' reading in Malawi. Change will be gradual, but with effort, we will push on."
It was enlightening to me to see young learners at both Northview and Longfellow elementary schools who were able to read in kindergarten. If we can help our children in Malawi read at that early age, the world will open up to them. When children can read, they can write their own stories. When we empower them to write their own stories, they can then share their lives. We must look at the gaps we have in Malawi and begin to design programs that will support learners to read at that very early age. By focusing on reading first, a child's struggle through his or her academic career will be greatly lessened."
"In Malawi, we have a 'one size fits all' approach to our classroom reading instruction, but I have learned that this is not how children learn. We must differentiate when teaching reading. Also, reading is not one thing; it is made up of many component parts: comprehension, fluency, accuracy. Each of these parts must be assessed, in order to help the individual learner be successful. Everything we have learned here in Wisconsin, we can adjust to suit our kids and our particular challenges in Malawi. I know as a teacher that I must have passion for what I am doing. If anything fails in a classroom, it fails because of the teacher."
"We were so busy in the fall this past year, it was like pushing a mountain. But we made it. I learned that teaching reading requires thorough preparation. You must know your learners strengths and challenges through ongoing assessment. We also need to extend and elongate the time devoted to reading. This is one of the major things I hope to accomplish when I go home. I have been teaching a long time, and I know now that there were things that I was doing wrong. I will make adjustments. There will be challenges ahead, of course. Malawi is a poor country and resources are one of the challenges, But, I know I've got the potential now to do something better so learners will learn."
"While I have been at Lakeland, I have learned that I love kids and I love teaching. I feel a passion for them. I am also aware that we need to dedicate 75% of the learning time to reading instruction, practice, and independent reading in Malawi. We need to set targets and make our kids aware of those targets. We also need to create more reading materials for the children in Malawi. I would like to see the students in the upper classes writing stories that the younger kids can read. Finally, our attitude toward teaching needs to be more positive overall."
"For me, this year at Lakeland has been a year of success. Lakeland College is a culture where people are socially interactive. Most people are so loving and caring here. Rapport is good between people, despite differences of race or culture. And the professors! They are dedicated to helping their students succeed. There is also a culture of learning here. I will remember this dedication of our Lakeland instructors and I will cherish it. When I go back to Blantyre, I would like to explore the idea of creating a reading laboratory at the Teacher Training College. This would be a place where reading workshops can happen. There will be six of us in Blantyre who have been trained at Lakeland. Working together, I think we can really make a difference.
This post is written 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.