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  • Richard Manu

Our first week of literacy classes

So, our first week of teaching the literacy programme has been a great experience, with challenges but also lots of laughter and fun. We thought it’d be interesting to share how the 4 days of teaching went.

On day 1, we had 11 students turn up to our class. This included a girl who wasn’t on our initial list but she was extremely enthusiastic to learn to read. The 5 of our previously selected group who didn’t come had not been at school that day. Not being able to read has a pivotal effect on their education in other lessons and therefore many of the girls who struggle, often do not turn up to school. The lesson kicked off with getting them to understand what a sound is. By the end of the lesson, the students had grasped the understanding of sounds and had learnt the phonics of the letters A-G and were starting to make words out of the 7 letters learnt, such as bed and egg.

Lesson 2 was more of a success with attendance; having talked to the head teacher, we were very pleased that 15 attended. There was already a noticeable difference in the ability of those who had previously attended compared to those who hadn’t, so we started with lots of recapping. The room then became a ‘dodgeball pitch’ with a sponge being thrown around and each student catching it and saying ‘the name of the letter is…, the sound of the letter is …’ We continued by teaching the sounds of H and I. The class was then split into competing teams of 3 and 4, with a mixture of abilities in each group; they were set homework supporting each other, in their teams, to remember the sounds of all 9 letters and come up with 10 words (real or made up) ending with ‘ab’. They would be sounding these out the next day to see which group had been the most successful. As we drove off on the motorbike after what had been a very enthusiastic and fun lesson, we looked back and saw them walking excitedly in their teams, already supporting each other and preparing for the next day’s competition.

The next day, unfortunately there was a riot in the local area, which meant many students were kept at home by their parents; only 9 of our group were able to come to school so naturally, in order to not disadvantage those who were absent, we postponed the team competition. With those who were there we initially did a fun activity to recap the sounds from A to I, with the majority being able to remember them all. Interestingly, having reinforced the sounds by looking at them visually, several confused the ‘e’ and ‘c’ sounds since they look quite similar. There were gleaming smiles on their faces as we handed out exercise books for them to write in; we realised the importance of resources, and found from talking to them that many could not afford to buy books and equipment for their lessons. They were eager to use them straight away and worked in pairs, writing words beginning with the letter A and then sounding them out. This was to get them starting to understand the concept of blending letters; as they came up and wrote them on the board we found they were actually learning new sounds, like ‘n’ and ‘t’ in the word ‘ant’. After doing a similar activity individually with the letter B, we showed them how to blend and sound out ab, ac, ad, af, ag, and ai. It was great reviewing the lesson today and seeing the improvement in some of the girls already; for instance, Vera, who in the initial assessment had only read about half the words through guessing and had been extremely shy, was now showing commitment by attending every day and demonstrating ability and self-assurance when answering. At the other end however, we have one student who could not read a single word in the assessment and hasn’t attended all the classes, which is something we need to work on. At the beginning of next week, with the head teacher, we will be reviewing the attendance and discussing ways to improve the presence of the students. In Ghana, if a child does not achieve a satisfactory level in their end of year exams, they are held back to re-do the year, which is likely to happen if they do not attend classes for whatever reason. We hope that our classes will make the difference that enables them to move forward instead of being held back.

With the effects of the previous day’s disturbances, only 6 students attended the following day; however one girl’s younger sister began to attend, since she waits for her older sister so that they can walk home together. There was also a young boy who was actively listening from outside the classroom so we invited him in to join the lesson. We are trying to be creative in opening up and including as many as we can! We managed to have an enthusiastic and practical lesson, with the class all interacting. The focus was on looking at words that had a sound that emphasised a particular letter e.g. for the letter A, emphasising its sound in the words ‘clap, cat and apple’. Their homework was to come up with at least 5 words that start with J and be able to say them phonetically by the next lesson; secondly, they had to think about what the sounds of J and K were.

So in summary, the week has definitely had its challenges, particularly with attendance; but for those that have attended, their confidence and understanding has definitely grown.

We are so excited in anticipating the weeks ahead and seeing the further progress we hope the students will make.

Richard and Katie

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