Stenhouse books in Rwanda

September 2nd, 2010

In June we told you about how some of books made their way to Belize to help teachers there improve literacy education. Now we have another report from Rwanda, where Juliana Meehan took copies of Yellow Brick Roads and Words, Words, Words by Janet Allen, Strategies That Work by Stephanie Harvey and Anne Goudvis, and Nonfiction Matters by Stephanie Harvey. Juliana and her professor, Kathleen Malu, a Fulbright Scholar at Kigali Institute of Education (KIE), and professor of education at William Paterson University of New Jersey, used the books in two different level classes: a large class of 160 freshman and sophomore students and a smaller class of juniors/seniors. But before they could get down to the business of teaching strategies, Juliana and Kathleen had to tackle some language barrier issues. Here is Juliana’s report:

Professor Malu shows off Nonfiction Matters

My original plan was to center the lesson on how we can use high quality picture books to teach literacy, and then to show how each of your books contains strategies to help students master reading and writing skills. However, I found that my lesson needed adjustment because of the current language situation in Rwanda.
The traditional language of Rwanda is Kinyarwandan, although Swahili is also widely spoken. For decades, the language of education and commerce has been French, since Rwanda was once a Belgian colony.  In January of this year, Rwandan President Paul Kigame (who has just been re-elected for another 7-year term) mandated that the official language of Rwanda is now English and that all education must be conducted exclusively in English.  You can imagine what a difficulty that poses for teachers and students who speak fluent French but who may have little or no practice with English!  So, my classes–especially those with the younger undergraduates–as well as my interaction with teachers in the field had to be adjusted for the fact that most of them are beginning English speakers.  With the large undergraduate class (see picture), I periodically stopped during the lesson and defined words before we could go further.  (We were reading the picture book Mr. George Baker written by Amy Hest and illustrated by Jon J. Muth, a Candlewick Press publication.)  After the story we reviewed the Stenhouse books.  The students were very interested in them and wanted to know more.  They are excited that they will have full access to them and will use them in their subsequent classes at KIE.
With the older junior/seniors whose English is more advanced, we were able to explore the materialsin more depth and have pedagogical conversations.  In fact, the students took the books home and evaluated them.  Their assignment for Dr. Malu and me was to examine a text and report back what they thought of it and how they might use it as a teacher.  Here are excerpts of their reactions, unedited, straight from the students’ pens (the names have been changed).  I’m sure you can see that these books will not be lost on these young teachers!

Juliana talks to a group of students about Strategies That Work

Strategies that Work:

“This book details strategies, methods and ways to teach comprehension to students … as a future teacher I like it! … the elements found in this book are helpful to me in my career of education. It is the modern way of teaching which puts the student in the center of education and the teacher as a helper and not a dictator. … In teaching I will be using some of these methods found in this book to help my students to read and understand … –Jacqueline

Strategies That Work. “I have been exploring this package and I found it interesting as well as very helpful.In fact, I have liked it and I am still enjoying reading it. The choice and arrangement of the materials are some of the factors which make the book likeable. It seems to be selective in its structure, consistently well organized, and developed in a concise manner. … It is rather practical than theoretical. This is why it falls under my favorite choice. .. briefly, I really like this book mostly because it gives responses and hints for success while dealing with teaching young learners. I consider it relevant to both current and prospective teachers, as I am.”

Yellow Brick Roads: “… the book shows how much the participation of both teachers and learners is needed so that students get knowledge about reading skills. For many reasons, I liked this book.  It reminded me that it is better for the teacher to have teaching aids while teaching. For example, while the teacher is teaching how to read effectively, he/she has to give the textbooks to learners and guide them by correcting some mistakes … in teaching, this book can help me because each of its pages contains guidance for both students and the teachers.” –Marcel

Words, Words, Words: “After reading this book … I got interested in the topic called “Why teach vocabulary?”   –Auguste

These reactions show that the students are engaged in the difficult tasks of perfecting their English while training to be teachers (in that new language!), but also show that the ideas and methods proposed in the books are new and exciting and vastly different from what they have been taught, both as students and as future teachers.  For example, the idea of a student-centered classroom is revolutionary!  They have been raised on the “I-talk-and-write-notes-and-you-copy-and-memorize-them” method!

A great need still exists.  The people are intelligent, hard working, and motivated.  However, at present resources are few.  On a visit to the KIE Library, I saw scores of large boxes of donated books which, on closer inspection, were manufacturers’ leftovers and of no use to the Rwandan students at KIE.  For instance, one box was filled with workbooks to accompany an outdated textbook (which was missing) on the economy of China!  So, the Rwandans need books, but they need quality, relevant, culturally appropriate books, not leftovers.  You at Stenhouse can be proud that the books you’ve given them are the best available to teachers, the very top of your pedagogical line. That was not lost on the students, either.  They knew and appreciated they were getting materials that teachers in the United States are using right now.

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