Classroom Observations, Day 2

Yesterday, we visited EFACAP, which is the public government school for the area. We visited the first-graders and the second-graders.

The first-grade class was taught by a Marie-Carmelle. The lesson was reading in French – the kids were looking at the “gn” sound. The kids were seated in three rows, with two to three students on most of the benches. Often, girls sat with girls and boys with boys, but a few of the benches were mixed.We stepped in for the last period before recess and lunch, so we weren’t sure how everything was going to go. We also knew this was the largest class out of the three grades we’re working with, with 71 students. However, we needn’t have worried.

Although she was dealing with all those kids all by herself, the teacher did a great job of getting their attention and keeping it. She transitioned into the new activity by telling them “Now we’re going to change to something else – put your hands on the table, please.” Then, they warmed up by reading through letters and syllables that she had written on the boad in different colors. They had a way of associating every letter with a sound by calling it “the man who does an action” – F plays the flute.

The teacher asked if everyone wanted to hear a story. She told them about how she had gone to the market in town and told a kid that she would give him a treat to eat if he successfully identified which sound was most often repeated in a song of hers. The kid didn’t get it right, so she didn’t give him anything. The teacher told all the kids that she believes in them. If they had that opportunity, they wouldn’t have “left hungry.” They would have gotten it right.

She read a short three-sentence story from the book that involved mountains, signs, and swans and walked around the room showing the kids the picture. The name of a character in the story involved the “gn” sound, so the teacher called on several kids to ask “What’s the woman’s name?” and “What sound are we learning again?” before launching into the more written part of the lesson.

The teacher wrote “gn” on the board and drew a series of lines leading from it to a column of French vowels. This is a common way of teaching reading in Haiti – you “tie” consonants with vowels to make syllables. The teacher went through the syllables with the whole class, and then row by row. When they messed up because they weren’t paying attention, she was patient: “Let’s start over.” She also used a short song that ended in “chalalalala” to get the kids focused on her again. Later on in the lesson, she mentioned that preschoolers would need to be taught a certain way, but she expects more from them as first graders.

After working with rows, the teacher called on individual students. When calling on students, she announced each time whether she was going to choose a boy or a girl. When someone got the answer right, the whole class applauded them. The teacher gave the readers advice, like “Arrange your mouth” and “Louder.”

Next, the teacher read a series of words out loud and told the kids to clap twice when they heard the “gn” sound in them. First, they practiced the skill of clapping twice – it was hard for everyone to get their timing right and then stop at two instead of going on to three. The teacher took what seemed like a long time to try to make sure everyone got the claps down. When certain groups made errors multiple times, she commented “we’re not paying attention” and “there are people who don’t respect the rules.” She started calling out individuals and benches, saying “You’re not going to be part of the game” because they weren’t doing the clapping right.

The class did a fairly good job on the clapping activity, only messing up a few times. Then, the teacher told them to pull out their books. The kids who had them got them out pretty fast, because she added a sense of urgency, saying, “Let’s go!” She passed out handwritten sheets with a similar exercise on them to the students who didn’t have books, and she walked down the rows while they were working to monitor their progress.

After class, we congratulated the teacher on a well-taught lesson. She was animated the whole time, and she clearly cares a lot about her students – they can tell, and they respond to her effort by putting in their own. She commented that everyone’s got something to do, and her thing just happens to be education.

After the kids were done eating lunch, we headed over to the second grade class, where they were starting a science lesson. This one had 64 students, 1 teacher, and an assistant. The students were divided into four rows, and again the boys and girls were mixed with two or three to a bench.

First, the teacher had the students sing a song they already knew about whether birds fly in order to get them engaged. Then, she pointed to a bird that had been drawn on the board, and asked the kids to name body parts. Everyone started shouting out at once, but she told them not to do that and started calling on them. Then, she called kids up to touch individual parts.

Once all the parts had been given, she wrote the French names on the board with arrows towards the bird drawing. Most of the words were basically the same, with the possible exception of “wings.” In Creole, you say “zel” but in French it’s “ailes.” It does sound like “zel” when it’s got a “les” in front of it, but it wasn’t clear from the kids’ pronunciation through the rest of the lesson whether they understood that you only put the “z” sound in front if you’re saying “the wings” in French.

After that, the teacher wrote the French words out again in a column and had the kids recite them, beginning with “the parts of a bird’s body are…” in French. Then, she started calling on individual students to recite the same thing. The first few did well, but then the teacher started calling on the weaker students (“You didn’t raise your hand – stand and recite for me). The kids started laughing at each other for making mistakes. The teacher got frustrated when the kids spoke softly: “The way you make noise in the class, why can’t you talk louder when I call on you?”). At one point, she startd banging an end of her pointing stick on the table, and I realized that it could very easily be turned into a weapon if you wanted that.

For the last set of kids, the teacher decided to erase the words she’d written on the board so that students would have to work from memory. They didn’t do too badly, but because they were concentrating harder they forgot things like the intro phrase (“the parts of a bird’s body are”), which the teacher didn’t think was acceptable.

After that, time was up and they needed to move on to the next lesson. The teacher told the kids, “We’ll stop there for the day and we’ll do a cooler lesson next week.”

We hung around for the next subject, which was reading in Creole. The teachers moved us to the front of the room, and seemed to be waiting on us to leave, but once I found out the next lesson would be exactly what we’re doing I decided to stay.

Although these kids are in second grade, they’re still learning some of the more complicated sounds. That day, they were working with “tch”, which you don’t actually see in too many words. I found myself wondering why there’s a whole page for it in the book.

Just like in the other class, the teacher had a passage to read where the “tch” sound is repeated. She launched right into the reading, telling the kids to play close attention. She called on kids to identify the sound that the passage had emphasized, and they didn’t seem to have much trouble – it’s pretty easy to hear. While she moved up and down the rows to talk to kids, her assistant wrote words with “tch” in them on the board.

The assistant directed the class as they read through all the words. Then, she called up individual students to circle the “tch” when it appeared. One girl ran up without being ccalled on, bu the teacher let her anyway. After that, they had a problem of too many students trying to come up at once, and the teacher had to speak up to stop it.

Next, the assistant wrote syllables on the board and had the class read them. Then, she called on students to identify individual syllables. At first, some of them messed up because they thought the point was just to circle “tch” again, instead of listening to what the teacher said and searching for it onthe board. They particularly struggled with “gò” for some reason, maybe because it’s not very common in Haitian Creole. The main teacher advised the assistant after that to only ask the class about syllables that actually had “tch” in them.

At the end of the lesson, the teacher asked the kids “What did we just do?” When someone said “Creole,” she commented, “But we didn’t do the whole book.” Someone else volunteered “the tch sound,” and that answer was satisfactory. After that, they moved onto a new lesson, and we headed out.

Classroom Observations, Day 1

Today, we went to the Catholic school, St. Gabriel’s, and observed classes for two of the teachers we’ll be working with.

First, we stopped by the first grade classroom. Filomenn was teaching – I know her because she participated in the December workshop. She also had an assistant helping out. Lydia and I counted 46 students divided into three rows: one row of boys, and two of girls. The school is run by nuns, and was originally supposed to be for girls-only. The director, Sister Micheline, explained to me that they’ve taken on a few boys, but they have to keep them separated because they tend to pinch the girls.

All of the children were wearing uniforms, which is the norm here. The girls have their hair done up nice in ribbons, the guys have their hair cut very short and trimmed in neat lines, and everyone’s shoes are shined. Sister Micheline told us that if we come on Friday, we’ll see the kids in shorts instead of skirts and pants, because that’s the day they play sports. We visited the government school last Friday, and noticed that only the preschoolers had opted not to wear their uniforms. The director there explained to us that most of the kids don’t have anything nicer to wear at their houses, so they’re embarrassed to show up to school in their own clothes. That’s why they wear their uniform even if they don’t have to.

The room set-up, with benches in rows, was also very typical. Two to three kids sit to a bench, facing a board at the front of the room. The room is illuminated by light passing through slotted holes in the wall, which also provide ventilation.

The kids had just finished a math lesson about place values when we walked in, and they were starting an exercise in their government-issued textbooks. Each student had their own textbook, so no one had to share. Both teachers walked up and down the rows, assisting as needed. The exercise involved counting objects in rows and writing how many groups of tens and ones there were in appropriate boxes. Most students were not arriving at the answer the way the book seemed to intend – they were counting all the objects one by one, instead of grouping them. Some students seemed confused about how to start, and the teachers gave them special attention to try to explain what to do. The page was full of tasks, but most students seemed to be losing steam after completing the first few. The teachers were still tied up with helping the stragglers, so they weren’t able to prompt the kids to continue or suggest another activity to hold their attention span.

Filomenn stopped a few minutes in and went up to the board to explain something. She drew the box with the tens and the ones place, and explained that when there are three groups of ten and no ones left over, the students need to remember to write a “zero” in the box. Since she framed the mistake as a matter of forgetting to put a zero, I’m not sure she got across the message that the kids needed to focus on the idea of groups when filling out the worksheet – only one of the problems involved the zero, so they could complete the rest without really recognizing the idea of tens and ones. I noticed that the word for “ones” was not very similar to the Haitian Creole word for “one” (she used a word that sounded like “unity” instead), and I wondered if that was throwing the kids off, too.

After a few minutes more on math, Filomenn collected the books. She explained that sometimes they grade the problems together as a class, and sometimes she checks them. We asked whether she divides the kids up based on what scores they regularly get, and she explained that the kids can sit anywhere in the room they want – provided the guys are separate from the girls, and tall people don’t sit in front and block short people’s view. We noticed that there was very little collaboration between the students when doing the assignment (sometimes, people tried to cheat off each other, but no one was helping anyone else), so maybe the idea of grouping wouldn’t be effective without other changes. Filomenn mentioned that they sometimes do group work, when she has materials she wants them to count or handle and doesn’t have enough for each child. But, book work is done individually. The children are also assigned homework pages from the book every night. They are supposed to spend 30 minutes (or less) per subject, so it can be up to 2.5 hours a night. However, that number is a little misleading, because the only reason the assignment would take a student that long would be if they had no idea what they were doing.

For example, the kids get assigned a passage from their reading textbook one or two times a week. After we finished with math, the teachers started checking reading. Theoretically, the rest of the class was supposed to be rehearsing to prepare for their turn while the teachers called students up one by one to read, but the students used the time to chat with one another. The teacher would turn around to tell them to be quiet. Several times, she hit people who came up to ask her a question. Most of the time whoever was reading would keep reading even when it was clear the teacher was not listening – maybe they saw it as an opportunity to get away with making a mistake. The best reader in the class would stop and wait until the teacher turned back around, which I found interesting. Maybe he became the best reader because he’s eager to please and wants to show off.

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Most of the students were reading about half a page. Sometimes, the section included a passage with full sentences, but more often they were pronouncing words or even parts of words. Each student was at a different place in the book based on how fast they had moved through it. For example, one student pronounced several words from their section poorly and read slowly, so the teacher told them they had to relearn it for next time. The teachers marked exactly what the next assignment would be right in the textbook. Another student pronounced everything correctly and read quickly, so the teacher assigned him more to read (a page and a half) so that he could advance faster. The textbook contained both Creole and French, starting with Creole. Since it’s almost the end of the year, almost everyone was on the French section. When reading, most students made a few mistakes, which the teacher underlined and pointed out but permitted. For several readers, she interrupted them to remind them to “Read louder.” For those reading passages in French, it was clear from the errors that some of them made that they did not know basic grammar rules and probably did not understand what they were reading, but I don’t know about the rest. One girl reading a recipe read the steps out of order, but that might have been because the teachers always have them go from left to right.

I can’t say how our presence affected how well the children read. Filomenn proudly told me “They can read in both Creole and French” at one point. She knows I place a lot of value on Creole, but clearly reading in two languages would be better than reading in only one. I was surprised they were learning to read French so early, because I thought it doesn’t start until second grade, but maybe I’m wrong about the rule or they’re using old textbooks. I’ll find out later when we discuss curricula in the workshop.

After Filomenn’s class, we went to see the third-graders. There were only 30 minutes left in the day and the kids were getting restless, so I’m not sure how fair it is to talk about how the lesson went, but I’ll report it anyway. This room contained 37 kids, divided into three rows again with two rows of girls (again). Two to three kids sat on each bench (again).

The lesson was social science, and the male teacher was just launching into a review when we arrived. It was his first time meeting me, so first he asked whether I speak French or Creole. I explained that Creole is better for me, but I can understand French. Lydia and I sat down at his desk, but he made us move into the aisle with our chairs just in case he wanted to use the board. It was a small thing, but then when he asked us whether it was okay to continue with the review and to use French during the review, I started getting the vibe that he is unsure of himself as a teacher. Maybe he was just being nice to us, but I prefer people to cater to their students instead of visitors – even when I’m the visitor.

The kids had evidently learned about the Minister of Culture – it was listed as “Content” for the day on the board (although the day’s “Objective” involved the Minister of Agriculture, so either they learned two things that day or they learned Agriculture yesterday and he tested them on it today. I never confirmed that). The teacher called on a kid (in French) and asked him to give two responsibilities that the Minister of Culture has. The boy immediately started reciting, “The minister’s responsibilities are extremely important” in a rhythmic, “I’m-reciting” tone. The teacher cut him off and asked for two responsibilities only. The boy said something that was very close to the correct answer (encourage production and control the quality of this production), but it didn’t satisfy the teacher, so he moved on to someone else.

As it turned out, one had the exact wording memorized. I was very confused myself – the phrasing was “encourage production” but I didn’t know what the products were. I assumed they were things like film and paintings because the title says the Minister of Culture, but I wondered whether that had been explained to the kids.

As he called on more and more people who didn’t have the answer, the teacher got increasingly frustrated. He told every student who answered to “Stand up straight” (most of them were leaning or slouching), he started telling others who started talking to “Be quiet”, and he told multiple people “You don’t know the lesson.” He started wondering aloud, “Do you understand what I’m asking?”

Finally, he asked everyone “Would you like an explanation?” in Creole. The class responded “Yes,” but instead of giving one he commented that if they didn’t know the lesson already they should study more. He told them they’ve been working on this material for three months, and he’s confused about why they’re still confused.

Then, he asked me whether I had anything to do with the kids in the remaining classtime. Luckily, I had come prepared with some books and an electronic reader that records your voice for each page of a book (more on that later). The kids seemed to like it, and Lydia helped out by working with other groups when I was busy with the reader. The teacher looked on.

I noticed that at least for the Creole parts, the kids were pronouncing everything correctly, but they still weren’t very fluent (that means fast, and able to add expression / pause in the right place). Of course, they were reading aloud together in small groups with their fingers on the line, so maybe they’d do better individually. I think being able to listen to their own voices surprised some, because they heard themselves reading very slowly and realized that in order to communicate a story the pacing would have to be different. But, maybe they were just surprised to hear their own voices.

The teacher did mention to me at one point that the kids aren’t too good yet at reading French when he saw what I was doing. The books we were handing out are in Creole, French, and English, so some had been attempting the French but quickly switched to Creole when they realized they were allowed to.
The kids seemed to like the books – some even started trying to answer the questions at the end. However, my magic bookreader was a little bit of a distraction. Interestingly, once they had recorded a book some weren’t interested in hearing themselves – they read over the voice-over, perhaps because like I said before they realized they had been too slow the first time.

Our Big Idea

Our team’s entry for the student social innovation competition Big Ideas @ Berkeley was selected as one of three finalists for the Global Impact category of Grand Prize Pitch Day. Basically, that means we get to fly out to California in a few days to present our plans to a panel of judges in the hopes of winning more money. We’ve already received $10,000 from Big Ideas as a first-place winner in the Mobiles for Reading category.

Thank you to everyone for your support leading up to this. Here’s a little blurb we wrote about the project, plus a video we made presenting our work’s context:

Learning to read from words on a screen is not inherently better than reading on paper. However, technology is a good investment if beginning readers can use it as a tool. First, I create software that students can use to read, write, and share stories. Then, I work with local teachers to create lesson plans that accompany new materials. The teachers will go on to present the curricula during a six-week summer literacy camp. Small class sizes and time dedicated to reading and writing activities will give teachers an ideal space for trying out new techniques. The test group uses laptops to access the content, and the control group reads and writes on paper. In my model, technology has a positive impact on both teacher and student behavior. Both teachers and students are participants who are split between the groups. I will administer a pre- and post-test early grade reading assessment to all students to gauge whether technology leads to higher score increases. I will analyze student writing samples and monitor their reading and writing habits to observe which technology tools, if any, students use when they are available. I will also survey teachers to determine whether receiving training in and using technology has an impact on their teaching methods and attitudes. 270 students and eighteen teachers from three schools will participate. Each school represents a different side of the Haitian educational system: one is public, one is Catholic, and a local women’s group runs the last one.

Big News

Screenshot from the Haitian Creole version of iloominate, available here: http://iloominate-haiti.herokuapp.com/edit)

Screenshot from the Haitian Creole version of iloominate, available here: http://iloominate-haiti.herokuapp.com/edit)

Pleased to announce that the book-making software we piloted a few weeks ago has been awarded $12,000 as one of three finalists in the All Children Reading – Enabling Writers competition. The credit goes to Nick Doiron for stepping up as the lead guy on this, and to everyone who offered their help, including Adam Holt, Caryl Bigenho, and Jennifer Shotwell. Over the next few months, we’ll be expanding on what we started; stay tuned for the latest. I know I’m really excited.

Solar for Silar

A little awhile ago, we plugged in the final component to the solar power system here at the orphanage. There’s still some tweaks to be made over the coming week, but I can officially report that everything is actually working. We’ll be able to provide 24/7 power to the server, charge 25 laptops, and light 10 rooms during the evening hours. Before, the city was only giving 5 hours of power a day, on a good day. Now, the 65 kids here don’t have to wait for the grid to switch on. As long as there’s sun, they’ll have access whenever they want to computers and Internet. And there’s plenty of sun here.

I want to take this opportunity to thank three groups that made this possible: Oyster Point Rotary Club, the Rotary Club of City Center, and the Office of Community Engagement at William & Mary. We’ve installed a pretty ambitious set-up here, and we would never have been able to dream so big without their support.

Unloading the panel off the truck.

Unloading the panels off the truck.

Heading up the stairs with one of the panels.

Heading up the stairs with one of the panels.

Silar talking about the right angle for the sun to hit things.

Silar talking about the right angle for the sun to hit things.

Passing wire through the window to the battery room.

Passing wire through the window to the battery room.

Hooking up the panels.

Hooking up the panels.

Of course, none of this would be possible without people also contributing their energy and expertise. Thanks to the Unleash Kids team – this is the fourth solar installation our members have worked on in Haiti, and they’re getting bigger and better every time. Also, shout out to Ben and Shuyan, who stepped in at the last moment to build some charging set-ups for the school they support and then generously let us borrow one to use at the orphanage instead. Finally, Silar himself, the pastor in charge of the orphanage here, used to be an electrician. In the end, when I say “we”, I actually mean “Silar did it while I watched and Adam and George advised on the phone.” Of course, I’m learning a lot through this whole process too, and gradually getting to the point where I can do a little more.

When I went to the hardware store here in Haiti to buy the last pieces, there were some other foreigners also looking at panels. They turned out to be a solar installation group from a university. They asked what I came here for, and the list was a little longer: “Well, we do solar, but we also work with servers and Internet. Plus laptops. And, you know, education.” Sometimes, all those pieces really do feel overwhelming. Often, at least one of them is getting to be extremely frustrating, at any given moment. But, at the end of the day, I’m glad our group is looking at the whole picture. Our volunteers don’t just address half of the problem. We look at it all, and we keep coming back, making improvements, and moving forward.

Lascahobas Workshops: Final Review

After five pretty intense days, it’s worth considering how much was accomplished and how much farther we have to go.

In terms of the actual writing process, I was pretty impressed with what the teachers produced. Many had never used computers before, and I didn’t exactly sit down with them to explain things – they learned about things like pressing the shift key to make an uppercase letter as they went along. The fact that teachers were supposed to be selecting words from a pre-approved list wasn’t as much of a restriction as I thought it would be. They were creative enough, and the lists were long enough, that they could produce a variety of texts that at least made sense. Of course, not everyone actually used the lists to write, and everyone used the lists less and less the more time they spent in the workshop. It was something that happened naturally, as teachers shared books with one another and got more comfortable with trying to tell a story and express themselves on the computer screen. I’m still not sure if it’s something I should have tried to stop. The teachers clearly understood the purpose of the lists, based on the earlier work, and were trying something new. They also told me that if they were integrating these texts into a school program, it would make more sense. If your students have only learned five letters so far, you want books with those five letters. We also talked about how books can be used for different purposes. Books that students can’t read independently because they’re too difficult might make good read-alouds. Perhaps if they’d had a longer time to sit with students and observe whether they were able to read the texts or not, they would make changes to keep things easy on the beginners. I did notice that when we moved into the teaching stage teachers generally chose to work with the texts with more list-words. It might be a question of what the ‘market’ decides in the end. At least now, they have a range of materials to draw from, instead of just government-issued textbooks.

Group shot - all the workshop participants.

Group shot – all the workshop participants.

In terms of teaching, one thing I observed during the tutoring sessions with the teachers is that personal energy and patience may be more important than technique. Of course, some techniques work better than others, but they can vary from student to student, and a good teacher will be able to adapt to each learner. Of course, that also means giving them the training and resources they need in order to be capable of that. Time and energy are resources as much as books – if teachers are working with sixty students at the same time, there’s no way they’ll be able to put any of their training into practice.

So yeah, it all comes down to money in the end. And when your project is partly based on technology, you’ll definitely end up spending larger amounts of time than you planned making sure everything is working. I was lucky to have Nick taking care of that side of things, but even so there were some scary moments: the server would go down and people would lose their work; computers would run out of juice and there would be no replacement batteries because of trouble with the electrical system. Teachers complained about the XO’s small keyboards and slow processing power. I lent them my laptop, Nick lent his, and we found a USB keyboard to plug in, and everyone else just made do.

I think in the end the biggest thing I’m leaving with is my connection with the teachers. We brought together a group of educators and got them talking about how to write in their own language. People didn’t always agree with one another, but the debates were productive and important for the most part. In any institution, change takes a lot of courage and confidence to implement – the teachers have to be brave enough to try something new and the directors have to trust the teachers to know what they’re doing. It’s especially hard in a school, where the government is constantly evaluating performance and the lofty goal of ‘education’ or even ‘literacy’ is so hard to define. I was excited to be having these conversations. People didn’t mind speaking frankly about the tough questions, which in my mind is the first step to making changes.

Fifth Workshop Day: Last Session!

This was the last full day of the workshop, and I’m pleased to report that in many ways it was also the best. Although it was Saturday, people left behind their friends and families in order to get together one last time. We started out by writing some more texts. I told the teachers that we were going to do things a little differently this time with the kids. Instead of using their own texts, they had to choose someone else’s and then provide that person feedback on how it went. We’d made modifications to the server to make it easier for teachers to access all of the books being published there, which encouraged everyone to start editing each other’s texts. Of course, that process sparked debates about what was the “correct” way to write things, in between adding in capital letters and commas and accents. We discussed concepts such as how to make contractions (is it ‘m ap’, ‘map’, or ‘m’ap’?), and there was a particularly rousing debate about whether names get Creolized. Technically, “Roro” should be written “Wowo”, but what if Roro prefers to write his name the first way? The same problem pops up all the time when you’re translating. Is it Internet-in-a-Box, or Entenet-nan-Bwat? Depends on who’s deciding what the value of the name is, sometimes.

Anyway, I was happy to hear everyone talking and making decisions. For the most part, both the editor and the original writer were able to come to a consensus on what to finally put down – perhaps with a consultation from Petiville, our resident Creole teacher. Sometimes, though, the writer would use a phrase the editor wasn’t accustomed to hearing, and it was hard to determine who was really “right” about the “right way” to say it. Normally, those debates ended with the editor appealing to the fact that these books are for children – they should include words that everyone would recognize. But, I often took the side of the writer. Doesn’t it lose some of its richness that way? And isn’t a big part of reading being exposed to things you don’t already know?

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At that point, kids started showing up, and teachers peeled off into classrooms to work with them in small groups. This time, I saw a lot of the same techniques as before – reading in unison, pointing to the words, prompting the kids to sound things out when they were struggling. I noticed our improvements to the way the app displayed books seemed to be working – we made the words much larger, displayed only three per line, and placed more space between lines. It was all especially important considering that several people would be clustered around the same laptop.

One teacher worked with the kids until they were successfully able to get through the text, and then started talking about how important it was for the kids to “go home and practice reading” in order for them to actually learn it. I recalled the unresolved problem of the overcrowded classrooms from yesterday, and realized the teacher was right. The only way these kids could learn how to read would be if their parents or someone else took the time to help them at home, given how many obstacles the teachers had to overcome during the schoolday.

Once we got together again and talked a little about how things went, I brought up the grant proposal that a team of students from my college and I have been writing, and asked for their input. The basic idea is to use this software to write more books that kids can read on the computers as part of a summer reading camp. We discussed details like dates, how much time for day, and incentives to get people to come. According to the teachers, the parents who lived close to the school would have no problem sending their kids, but we should provide them with a small snack to keep them coming. Teachers recommended restricting the number of kids per teacher to 10 or 15 – we talked about how adding more kids meant more people would be helped but everyone would receive less attention.

We got into a long conversation about what age ranges and grade levels would benefit the most (ages don’t always correlate to grade here, since many students start school late). Everyone seemed to agree that by the end of third grade, kids are comfortable with reading, so the group to target would be kids who have just finished second grade. First-grade graduates can also learn a lot, but since they only begin the alphabet and letter sounds in first grade we shouldn’t go any lower than that.

Once we had grade levels, we started getting into who should participate. We quickly ruled out advanced and middling performers – if teachers were going to invest time and energy into helping someone out, they wanted to target the students who needed it the most. That attitude was a little surprising to me – I was thinking they might be frustrated with the slower students’ lack of progress and make what might be the safer choice, of sticking with the middle group who had at least demonstrated some ability already. But, the teachers were motivated to see some dramatic improvements, so they wanted to start on the bottom. They told me they believed that most of the students having difficulties aren’t innately unintelligent; they just haven’t had access to the same resources and attention as others.

All in all, everyone seemed pretty excited about the idea of moving forward, even though we were all a little unsure about how it would look. If kids were coming from 8 to 12 every weekday over the summer, like the teachers recommended, how would they spend that 4 hours? What extra activities would the teachers integrate to support what they’d normally cover in a lesson? How would they transition from merely controlling a class of 60 pupils to working closely to support a much smaller group? At this point, everyone appreciates that they’ll finally have the resources to make some of this happen, in terms of time and reading material. But, I know we’ve got much longer to go before we’ve got it figured out.