Stenhouse books in Belize

June 17th, 2010

A few months ago we received a request from Jennifer Sanders from Oklahoma State University to donate a couple of Stenhouse books for a literacy project she is leading in Belize. We happily obliged and in March she and a group of undergraduate and graduate students from OSU traveled to Belize City to work with teachers, children, and community members to improve literacy education. Jennifer is now back in the U.S. and she shared some of her experiences with us.

Teachers in Belize show off their copies of Strategies That Work

The two story, concrete school buildings had open-air classrooms with louvered windows for light and the occasional Caribbean breeze to pass through.  The classrooms reminded us of classrooms in the U.S. with educational posters, alphabet lines, mathematics conversion charts, and children’s work hung on every available surface.  But nearly everything in the Belizean classrooms was hand-made.  Hand-made alphabet cards, with both Spanish pronunciations and the English letter names, were posted above the chalk board, and clothes lines were strung across the room to hang and display student work.  Since resources were scarce, the teachers were innovative by necessity, using clear packing tape to “laminate” word cards for phonics games or turning cardboard boxes into tables for the reading corner or the drama center.

My eleven education students and I had the privilege of working with teachers in two primary schools in Belize City during spring break, March 12-20.  Eight of my students were master’s degree students seeking a reading specialist degree, one was an elementary education undergraduate student, and two were doctoral students the literacy education program at Oklahoma State University.  All but the undergraduate student were practicing teachers, and their expertise was invaluable.  Our main goal was to provide literacy education training for the Belizean teachers, many of whom had little formal teacher training. 

We provided afterschool workshops in comprehension strategies, writing craft lessons, and phonics/word study along with classroom demonstration lessons on these topics that the OSU students taught during the school day.  Stenhouse generously donated copies of Strategies that Work, Crafting Writers, and Spelling K-8  for the 15 Belizean teachers and administrators with whom we worked.  The professional books were extremely appreciated by the teachers: The day after the writing training session, we saw one teacher run into her classroom, grab her copy of Crafting Writers off her desk, and go out into the hallway to show another teacher something she read in the book.  The teachers were hungry for information on effective teaching strategies, and we were excited to see this type of enthusiasm!

We also brought five high quality children’s books for each teacher, purchased with grant money from the International Reading Association, which we used as mentor texts for craft lessons and as read-alouds to teach comprehension strategies from Strategies That Work.  All of the teachers, Belizean and American, said that one of the most significant things they learned that week was that they could teach many literacy skills with “just a good book” – that they didn’t need all the teachers’ manuals, pre-packaged curricula, or bells and whistles; just a good book and their knowledge about effective literacy instruction.

 The OSU students also led a poetry workshop after school with students in Standard 3-6 (approximately U.S. grades 4-7).  The children read a variety of free verse poems, learned about various poetic elements, and wrote poetry of their own.  Craft lessons from Crafting Writers, such as her lessons on word choice that demonstrate how to put words on a continuum based on variations in meaning, make for excellent poetry craft lessons.  Paper and pencils are luxuries in most Belizean schools (one teacher said, “Paper is like gold.”), so the children were eager for the opportunity to read and write poetry and were even more excited to be able to keep the poetry “books” they made that week.  This poetry workshop was the highlight of the OSU students’ day and a very rewarding experience for everyone.

In the end, the literacy training seemed to be a success: the Belizean children enjoyed the lessons and were excited to participate in the reading and writing lessons we modeled; the Belizean teachers seemed to find the strategies and training useful and relevant; and the OSU students gained confidence in their own teaching abilities while learning a few new strategies themselves.  All of this teaching and learning was possible because of the collaboration and contributions of the many partners involved: the Peacework nonprofit organization, Stenhouse, Pearson, the International Reading Association, the Belizean Ministry of Education, the Belizean teachers and principals, and Oklahoma State University students, faculty, and administration.

Entry Filed under: Literacy

1 Comment Add your own

  • 1. Mrs. V  |  June 17th, 2010 at 10:52 am

    What an inspiring story. I am glad that you shared this experience with us!

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