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Forging the Future

September 30, 2014 In Malawi Blog
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With today’s post, we have finally met all of the graduate students from Malawi. It has been more than three months since the group arrived on campus. The students are keeping up with their reading and writing assignments, and also managing to fit in some occasional off-campus activities like attending a poetry event in Sheboygan this past weekend. Let’s meet Elymas Tembwe and learn about his plans for forging a productive future back home.

Meet Elymas Tembwe

elymas resized

Elymas is from the capital city of Lilongwe, and he received his bachelor’s degree from Domasi College of Education in 2010. Upon graduation, he went to work at the Teacher Training College (TTC) in Machinga in southeastern Malawi, where he is still employed. His wife teaches at a “commuter” high school, which means that the students come from many surrounding communities on foot or bicycle each day. Elymas and his wife have four children: three girls, ages seventeen, nine, and six, and a boy, age fourteen.

For his master’s thesis, Elymas is planning to explore the impact of graphic organizers as a strategy to enhance reading comprehension. He explained to me that a typical graphic organizer would be a Venn diagram, two overlapping circles. Using such a tool, learners can explore a text by organizing the relationships between things in a visual manner, which increases overall comprehension.

This past summer, when Elymas first arrived in Wisconsin, I asked him what had surprised him most about his new home. At the time, he said he was surprised to find that people are extremely helpful and friendly here. He felt very welcomed, and he greatly appreciated all the kindness shown to him and his fellow students.

When I recently asked him again what things have surprised him, he became energized and told me about a book he is reading in Karl Elder’s class, Means for Mastery of Reading Pedagogy. The book is called Think Better, and in it author Tim Hurson outlines a step-by-step method that groups of people can use in order to work toward solutions to complex problems. The steps involve what Hurson calls “productive thinking,” as opposed to “reproductive thinking,” which is what we generally engage in when trying to move past challenges or difficulties.

I recently read this book myself and found it to be helpful and inspiring. “Reproductive thinking just follows old patterns, and old patterns cannot take us anywhere new,” Elymas said. “Productive thinking does not ignore the past, but learns from the past in order to manage the present, in order to forge the future.”

It would seem to me that productive thinking is going to be put to very good use by Elymas and the others when they return home. He added, “When thinking productively, one must always ask, ‘What else? What more can we do?’ We should have a lot of questions. Those questions will help us think better [about early grade reading instruction in Malawi, for example.]” 

When the graduate students go home, they are going to have many new ideas, new teaching methods and new classroom strategies at their fingertips. There may be many challenges, but as Elymas said, “I need to be a really good role model [for other teachers].” Together, Elymas and the others will lead many discussions with their peers and with teachers-in-training, finding more and more ways to “think better” (and do better) in the furtherance of early grade reading instruction. One key, as Elymas emphasized to me, will be to always ask, “What else can we do?”

by the river

From left to right, Benjamin David, Ndamyo Mwanyongo, Elymas Tembwe, Bertha Singini and Margaret Mulaga
attended the global event “100 Thousand Poets for Change” at Glas Coffee House along Sheboygan's riverfront on Saturday, September 27.
Michael Simawo took the photograph. Ndamyo shared a poem written by the writer of this blog, translated into Chichewa.

This post is written by Lisa Vihos, the Director of Sponsored Programs and Research at 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 USAID or the United States Government.


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