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Hi! My name’s Jamie and I’m a school social worker 1.

Everyday - that there is class - I have time dedicated to try to increase learner academic performance and / or their leadership, confidence, and motivation.

Some days, we do activities that increase learners’ study skills, such as making flashcards, noting homework assignments in one place, and analyzing parts of our body we use while learning. These were all techniques and knowledge that I’m pretty sure I’d seen before middle school. I remember flashcards used for multiplication memorisation; I never remember not using a planner - at least I never remember not being told to use a planner; and I’d taken a learning style inventory at latest by mid-middle school.

Burkinab√® learners do not typically have exposure to any of this. The primary, and often only, study technique of the learners in my village - and from what I’ve heard, is ubiquitous throughout Burkina - is read, read, read, read, read. Not read a variety of books, but rather read and reread the lessons copied in the learners’ notebooks.

Textbooks are not a sure thing. So, a typical lesson format, particularly in a content-heavy course such as Earth & Life Sciences or History & Geography, is : present material, review material, apply. The material presentation is often given in the form of dictation or, at the lower levels, simply copied onto the board. After the material is copied into their notebooks, learners review the material outside of class time, and respond to questions that test to the lowest levels of Bloom’s taxonomy.

I’d argue that this style of a typical lesson is unfortunate but generally necessary given the amount of time available, the lack of resources, and the amount of material required to know in advance of the high school entrance examinations. (I’m not happy about the exam format, but PCV’s aren’t likely to change anything about that.)

What I believe is wrong with this style of lesson is that it assumes learners can read. My learners do not enter middle school with strong literacy skills. I’d compare their literacy to an average literate American reading an advanced text on Quantum Electro-Dynamics. We can read the words, and sound out the ones we haven’t yet heard before, perhaps we can give definitions for a third of the words we see; but that does not mean we understand. Neither do my learners.

When I pose questions in a form rephrased from a statement that the learners have copied, perhaps three-quarters of the class will show obvious attempts to participate. When I pose questions that are slightly altered, the attempts to participate drop to one or two in one hundred.

I think that the lack of literacy is obvious to most Education Volunteers in Burkina. It’s my opinion that Burkina Faso would benefit more from Volunteers working at the primary school level than the middle school level.

  1. I’m not sure if “school social worker” is a licensed profession. I’m pretty sure the title requires a certificate for the Swiss, but I’m not sure about the States. Anyway I’m not licensed and only qualified in the sense that I’m already practising. I guess that applies to me being a teacher too. [return]
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