August 23, 2012
The second day of PASA workshops focused on motivation and the processes in which children come to learn to read, write, and think mathematically. After the previous week’s in depth classroom visits, I saw that teachers seemed motivated by understanding the reasons and ways that children learn. I saw a variety of strategies that were not always motivated by a strong sense of when, why, and how to apply them. I also saw a lot of teaching from ideas for activities rather than from explicit goals for children’s learning. As a result, the second workshop focused on the different ways of learning, the different ways that children can be intelligent, how to motivate children to continue learning, as well as background on how children develop strong concepts of reading, writing, and mathematics. Interpersed through this information were opportunities for teachers to play games appropriate to learning certain topics, create books they can use in the classroom, and grapple with examples and difficult topics together as a group.
A total of 13 teachers took part in the second workshop, 4 of them new to the program and coming after hearing from participants over the previous week. This means that a total of 20 teachers received materials and 6 to 12 hours of training as a result of these workshops. The sense of camaraderie amongst the 9 participants who attended both workshops was quite obvious, and it is my hope that these relationships continue to bloom and extend as teachers meet for different events over the course of their careers.
All participants completed pre and post surveys, which served to collect basic demographic information and satisfaction levels and suggestions for future workshops, as well as to measure changes in the participating teachers’ dispositions toward their work. Participants responded to a series of 16 statements about teaching using a 3 point Likert scale (almost always true, sometimes true, almost never true). Surveys were coded to be anonymously tracked in order to measure individual as well as group change. A different code was used to separate out those participants who participated in both workshops from those who participated in only the second workshop (participants who participated only in the first workshop were not post-tested). The changes measured, not yet tested for statistical significance, do suggest that PASA workshops has positive results on teacher’s dispositions toward their students, the challenges to learning, and the teaching process. All teachers reported intending to change their teaching either a lot or some. All teachers also reported wanting to take part in more such workshops in the future should they be available.
Several variables did not show any change. Teachers continued to be almost always pleased with their current job, to almost always like teaching, and almost always feel they are good teachers. This indicates that those teachers who participated in these workshops already strongly felt positive toward teaching and have strong senses of themselves as professionals. It seems, therefore, that future workshops might want to explore ways to recruit participants from those teacher who feel less capable in their profession or less pleased with the profession overall and to explore ways to improve these variables for such participants.
In addition, there was no change in the way teachers perceive reading as sometimes being difficult to learn. There are several reasons that I expected little change in this variable. First, it is a rational conclusion that reading is going to be difficult for children sometimes. Secondly, PASA workshops did not focus on reading instruction per se, as reading instruction is heavily regimented within the national curriculum and is significantly different from the ways in which children are taught to read in English, as this researcher was. As a result, I did not deem it culturally sound to critique reading instruction beyond some simple suggestions to specific teachers to clarify instruction and workshop information on the connections between spoken and written language and how these can be used to strengthen existing reading instruction practice.
Some of the changes in teacher perception may seem on the surface to be negative, but there could be positive explanations behind the results.As a group, the teachers came to see their work as slightly more difficult, although this could be the result of more deeply understanding children’s development and the importance of the many nuanced areas. This level of change was equal for teachers who participated in both workshops and those who only participated in the second session. Post surveys also revealed that participants viewed teaching as more important and felt more responsible for their students’ emotional wellbeing than they did at the beginning of the workshop process. These changes were stronger amongst teachers who participated in both workshops.
After the workshop process, teachers responded less often that the challenges to student learning were coming from outside the classroom.The extent of this change was essentially the same whether teachers participated in a single session or both. Less sense of outside challenges to learning could be the result of deeper acknowledgement that there are also challenges to learning coming from within the classroom as well. However, teachers reported a higher rate of having to correct behaviors and philosophies that come from student’s home environments, although in further analysis this change came only from those who participated in the full workshop process. I hope that this is the an unintended result of teachers’ feeling more aware of the challenges their most disadvantaged students face, rather than the result of any unintended messages regarding the value of Honduran culture in general. A point explicitly made in the workshops is that the culture in which a child lives at home is often different than that of their classroom (in terms of vocabulary, values, and responses to behavior) and that this dissonance can create a great deal of confusion and conflict for children as they enter school for the first time or after significant absences. During the second workshop, two participants engaged the group in a discussion that brought home the fact that practices in public schools and private schools differ not because one is better than the other necessarily but because one (public schools) more often have to deal with a greater dissonance between the culture of the home and the culture of the classroom. The one topic that teachers felt they could have used more guidance on was how to positively motivate and involve parents in their children’s learning. Covering this topic more explicitly in future programs could help to mitigate any accidental enlargement of teachers’ sense for the cultural conflict between home and school.
The information presented about children’s development during the workshops may explain why in the post-survey participants indicated a change toward feeling that both writing and math are more difficult to learn than they believed at the time of the pre-survey, particularly math.
This change was more pronounced in teachers who had participated in the full workshop process. The workshop process included information on the nuanced ways that children can show that they are or are not comprehending and learning mathematical concepts and the pitfalls that could arise later if basic mathematical understandings are not sound.
Several variables showed positive changes that do not require deeper analysis, although further reflection on which portions of the workshops fomented these changes would be useful for future programming. Teacher’s reported a more positive sense of children’s intelligence and ability to learn; in post-surveys they responded more negatively to the statement, “Some children are intelligent and some not.” Teachers also reported more positive feelings toward working together with other teachers, more sense that they can create positive change in their school environments, have more awareness of the resources available around them to teach their students, and spend more time reflecting on their practice as teachers. All of these changes were more pronounced in participants who attended both workshops, except for thinking more about their teaching practice, which was more pronounced amongst those who only attended the second session (perhaps because those who attended both sessions were already fairly reflective practitioners.)
The most significant changes came in the sense of math being more difficult than previously thought, less focus being put on challenges to learning coming from outside the classroom, teachers seeing themselves as being more capable of creating positive change and their seeing more of the resources available around them. For teachers in a developing nation, plagued with violence and poverty, in peri-urban and rural areas, these last two sentiments are very important if positive change is to continue to occur in the classrooms. As I pointed out to the group during the discussion mentioned above (about public and private school differences) they must take care when talking about “the system,” because that “system” is made up of people, which means not only that they are part of it, but that the positive changes they find they can make are positive changes they can imagine others managing to make, too.
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