Thursday, September 30, 2010


For those of you faithful readers, you will remember a time a year ago when I pronounced my dislike for phonics throughout my university studies.  I never wanted to teach early literacy, ever.  And yet I find myself in the middle of Ghana as the reading facilitator and chief advocate for the school and orphanage. 

I went to Accra last week in order to purchase some free books for the rewards for reading program, as well as some readers for our primary 1-3 classes. (Thank you to the generous donors who made that possible!)  I am not teaching p.e. at all this year, so I am teaching mostly reading with a little bit of social studies mixed in here and there.  Last week we received 48 new students on campus that were child trafficking victims on lake volta. They have been rescued through the Touch a Life Foundation.  They will be staying on our campus for the next year.  I was already overwhelmed with the amount of children  unable to read, or read well.  Then came a whole batch of kids who had never set foot in school before, and who don't speak english.  I have realized I need to focus on encouraging and equipping teachers with resources and ideas for how to incorporate reading into the classrooms or my work is in vain.

One young boy who is one of the most recent children rescued is named Jacob. Jacob has some hearing difficulties due to an unattended and inflamed ear drum rupture/infection a few years back.  I found him outside of class on his first day in first grade refusing to enter.  When I realized the situation, I sat down with him and we thumbed through a few literacy books I was holding at the time with ABC's listed inside.  I then lead him into class and we sat down to learn how to write his name.  He is a sharp kid.  He made connections between the alphabet on the page and his name.

Ever since that moment he seeks me out in school and in the evenings to learn letters and numbers.  He doesn't have to speak any english for me to realize how intelligent he is.  Every alphabet card I showed him today he made real life connections to by pointing or imitating the pictures displayed on the cards.  For example, the letter "F" card had a picture of a fox holding a fan.  So he picked up a book and began fanning himself.  He grabbed his chair and positioned his chair so close to me he blocked the view of the other three boys to the book we were looking at.  He leaned intently in to look and listen to everything.  I was playing an alphabet song for him to listen to and point to the letters as he went along.  It took him a few minutes to realize that the song and the letters were connected.  Then he would seriously shout "A!" B, C, and D.  because those are the only letters he knows.  The rest he doesn't know, so he would just keep shouting those four.  I couldn't help but smile at his over enthusiastic shouting.  Both at the letters and objects that matched the pictures in the book.  I am excited to watch as his english proficiency grows and his first year of school unfolds. 

Tuesday, September 14, 2010


Today I learned a valuable lesson.  When eating lunch at the school, you must b.y.o.s.  (Bring Your Own Spoon).  Lest you be caught sitting in the back of the library spoonless, chopstickless, knifeless, forkless, staring at a bowl of rice as I was yesterday.  I was left with two options:  drink my rice out of the bowl or eat with my fingers.  The first option has its obvious problems.  The second has no immediate difficulties, except how to wash your hands afterwards.  There is no sink or running water at the school.  The only prospects for hand washing is a bowl of dirty water the children have all been using all day to rinse their hands.  I didn't feel like have tomato sauce all over my hands was very professional either. 

I finally decided to use bits of bread to eat as much of the rice as possible.  Turns out bread is not really an effective rice scooping tool.  When the slice of bread was gone, I resorted to more embarrassing means of eating my bowl of rice.  I won't be caught spoonless again.

Friday, September 10, 2010


Thanks to Pam Mears I have been dibling it up this week.  By that I mean that I have been administering DIBELS reading tests to all the 1st-5th grade classes.  Thus far, with the help of some volunteers, I have made it through all the 1st-3rd graders along with about a quarter of the 5th grade students. I am pretty sure I could recite the materials in my sleep.  Each test must be administered to a single student at a time as it is not a written test, but oral reading.

One aspect of the 1st grade test is phoneme segmentation.  For everyone who is not a teacher, that means taking apart the phonetic (sounds) in a word.  So the word hit becomes /h/ /i/ /t/.  I asked one particular student to tell me the sounds he heard in cat.  He said "meow." 

Despite the cute answers, the overall outcome has been quite discouraging.  Of the couple hundred students tested so far probably only about 5 are on or above grade level. I expected as much, but without the concrete stats it was a little easier to imagine I was wrong.  Reading is not a subject on their syllabus, or in their timetable (subject allocation).  Therefore the only direct reading instruction comes from me.  I have my work cut out for me this year. Especially since the teacher they hired to take over teaching reading has decided not to come.