Creative Teaching Methods: Linking theory and practice

The concept of “learner centered pedagogy” is embedded in education policies and theoretical jargon in teacher training colleges, but rarely reaches the pupils it is intended to help. The connection between theory and practice is often lost when teachers are forced to manage large classes in poor environments with a dearth of materials and the pressure of covering an ambitious syllabus. Many teachers find themselves reverting to lecture-style, teacher-centered methods. How can this theory of learner-centered pedagogy be transmitted from the theoretical world of academics and politics, to the classroom realities in rural Tanzania?

Teacher uses locally available materials to create learning materials for class, this keeps students interested

Teacher uses locally available materials to create learning materials for class.

The “Teaching In Action” (TIA) training, established in 2007 by Columbia University Professor Francis Vavrus at Mwenge University in Moshi, Tanzania aims to bridge this gap between theory and practice, helping Tanzanian teachers actively engage students in the classroom through the use of learner centered pedagogy. In 2012 and 2013 the Mbola Millennium Villages Project (MVP) sent a selected group of teachers to attend this TIA training, and in October 2013 MVP Mbola, MDG East, and NY Education teams undertook a joint study to see whether the lessons learned at the TIA training were in fact being implemented in the classroom. The goal of this study was to observe teachers in their classrooms, interview teachers and head teachers to understand how the techniques from TIA were implemented in the classroom, and what additional need there was for in-service training for primary school teachers within the Mbola cluster.

“I prefer individual assessments, not chorus answers because you cannot assess. I ask them to lie down and raise their hand if they understand it. I tell them don’t open your eyes, so it’s anonymous.”
(Teacher at Madaha Primary School)

The ten day study included interviews with representatives that were involved with leading the TIA training, head teachers in schools in which one of the teachers participated in the TIA training and schools that did not, as well as interviews and classroom observations with the teachers themselves, both those who attended TIA and those who did not. In total, 10 teachers and head teachers were interviewed, and 7 classes were observed.

Teacher assess and understand the skills of individual learners by engaging students in the classroom.

Teacher assess and understand the skills of individual learners by engaging students in the classroom.

So, what if any techniques from the TIA training did the teachers implement in the classroom? What does ‘learner centered pedagogy’ actually look like in practice? The most evident implementation of the strategies from TIA was the use of locally available teaching materials. Teachers who had either attended TIA training, or had discussed the content of the training with those who participated, stood out due to their use of unique teaching and learning materials.

Based on the interviews with teachers and head teachers, the main sentiment was that the new methods learned in training have helped them:

  • steer away from the lecture methods previously employed
  • assess and understand the skills of individual learners better, check for understanding
  • engage students in the classroom more
  • provide students with specific praise and rewards for mastery of skills
  • using locally available materials to create learning materials for class, this keeps students interested
  • help students work in groups and interact with each other as well as the teacher

All the teachers and head teachers interviewed commented that they would like trainings like TIA to be conducted at the local level, so as to include more teachers. However, the content and language (translation to Kiswahili) of the training material would need to be tailored toward primary school teachers, in order to be the most useful.

“Most teachers have the same ways of teaching and when they see a fellow teacher doing something new they get motivated and learn to prepare theirs.”
(Teacher at Kasisi B)

Plans are underway to collaborate with experts from TIA to adjust the training content towards the needs of the primary school teachers in the MVP cluster, train a group of education experts to hold local trainings, collaborate more closely with various levels of stakeholders, and continue advocacy at the local, national, and international level based on this case study to develop a framework for teacher training best practices.

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