Recently, Karon Harden, a consultant from RTI International (a major global consulting firm with headquarters in North Carolina and Washington DC), came to Lakeland to meet with the graduate students for a two-day exploration into the Early Grade Reading Assessment and the Early Grade Reading Activity (EGRA). The assessment program has been instituted in other African countries to measure literacy levels, and the collected data show that improvements are taking place due to follow-up interventions through the subsequent Early Grade Reading Activity. All of the M.Ed. students came away impressed with Karon’s knowledge about reading programs and her experience in Africa. One thing Karon shared with the students was a rubric called The Five Ts, which is described below. I’m also happy to pass along some of what the graduate students came away with from the workshop, expressed in their own words.
The following summary was submitted by Ndamyo Mwanyongo: “One of the significant things that I learned at the RTI workshop is “The 5 Ts”. These are Time, Teaching, Text, Tongue, and Testing.
- Learners are supposed to be given more time to read so that they have a good foundation.
- Teachers should use good teaching techniques that will help learners learn to read. Activities done by teachers and learners should be well distributed so that learners practice more. Teachers succeed in this by considering some clues like: “I do,” “we do,” and “you do.” Thus, the teacher demonstrates, then does it together with the learners, then finally lets learners practice on their own.
- Learners should be given more chance to use the text for reading. They should be encouraged to read even outside the classroom.
- Learners should be allowed to express themselves, and to be assisted in their mother tongue. This helps them to understand the concept easily.
- Learners’ progress should be monitored by testing them regularly.”
Building on Ndamyo’s explanation, Michael Simawo pointed out that:
“We looked at each of [The Five Ts] in detail and related them to the situation in Malawi. We discussed how we can make sure that these five factors are considered in our literacy curriculum. It was felt Malawi needs to do more on the factors, and that we should lead the efforts to implement the factors in our respective Teacher Training Colleges, and in Malawi, in general.”
Michael and others reported that much of the discussion focused on essential early literacy components, such as phonemic awareness, alphabetic principles, vocabulary, fluency, and comprehension. The M.Ed. students were also shown video clips of teachers implementing these techniques. Bertha Singini told me that she learned a lot from watching and discussing the video clips. Their task was to identify and talk about each “real” lesson and to think about what was working for the teacher and why. What was the teacher in the clip doing that led to success?
From Elias Lyson: “On the second day, we worked in groups listing challenges affecting education in Malawi. What interested me and is really a good lesson to me is how we can work with the Malawian government…to change some of its education policies that are impeding education per se. I really feel that this is indeed our responsibility to lobby with [our government officials] to have at least good political will towards improvement of our education [system]…[Karon] inspired us to keep on learning.”
From Elymas Tembwe: “We also discussed the challenges that we face in Malawi with early grade reading which include large classes; lack of teaching, learning and assessment resources; lack of monitoring and evaluation systems; and insufficient time to train teachers. We [discussed] how we can put our Lakeland College expertise to use when we go back to Malawi. Some of these actions are: to stay abreast of best practices, to use critical thinking, [and to employ] research and data-based decision making, to mention just a few. [The two-days with Karon Harden were] REALLY WONDERFUL”
Benjamin David, when looking at the challenges ahead, created a list of things he would like to do when he returns home. He wrote:
1. Consider what to do in the curriculum, like giving reading more time in the early grades.
2. Emphasize the best practices of teaching reading in Teacher Training Colleges, such as full courses in phonemic awareness, phonics, vocabulary, fluency and comprehension.
3. Give the teachers efficient knowledge and enough practice on the way reading should be taught in early grades.
4. Guide the Ministry to initiate effective monitoring and evaluation systems that will reinforce trainers' efforts in improving teachers' work in the schools.
5. Find mechanisms and strategies of dealing with teaching and learning problems that arise due to large classes.
6. Find research-based methods that can help to improve teaching in elementary grades.
Through their Lakeland classes, their interactions with Wisconsin teachers, and workshops like this one with Karon Harden, the Malawian graduate students continue to build on the knowledge and skills they will use as reading specialists in Malawi.