Thoughts on teaching in Tanzania, by Ian Harwood

During our teacher workshops at Arusha school, I sat next to a man named Joseph who was very enthusiastic about LTP and was also curious about education in the United States. During our conversation, he explained that in teachers’ college in Tanzania, all future teachers are told the five steps of teaching any lesson:
1) Prepare the classroom for new knowledge by asking questions about the new topic.
2) Present the new knowledge to the class.
3) Reinforce what you have taught.
4) Reflect on what has been taught by connecting it to other things.
5) Conclude the lesson by providing a summary of what has been taught.

My first impression of what Joseph told me was that it was rigid at a very basic level to provide teachers with a generic method with which to present all lessons. But as I also thought more about what was involved at each step, I could see that I had received many lessons throughout my education that followed this basic progression of teaching. I imagined that the methods by which the teachers in Tanzania presented knowledge, reinforced, and guided reflection might be very different than some of the more student-centered lessons I had received in my own education, however. For example, a worksheet could be considered a method of reinforcing what has been taught, but perhaps a more effective method of reinforcement is to do something more interactive and interpretive, like dissecting an actual flower and labeling its parts to learn about plant reproduction. I asked Joseph what step he thought LTP best fit into- he believed that LTP fit into the reinforcement category, providing students with a chance to apply their knowledge in a more creative way.

I have noticed that while we (Duke students) worked at Shalom, a private primary school, we generally followed some of these basic steps in our own teaching. We usually do:
1) Prepare the classroom
2) Present new knowledge
3) Reinforce/ Reflect

We usually don’t conclude with a summary, though. With our forty-minute classes, we often run out of time during our reinforcement activity. There is also a very hazy line between reinforcement and reflection. My understanding is that reinforcement is more along the lines of memorization, and that reflection is more along the lines of applying that knowledge. I think there’s a primary difference between the kind of reflection activities we are pushing in the LTP program and the kind of reflection that takes place in many classrooms in Arusha classrooms. Many Arusha teachers do not connect the dots for the students. There are very few “reflection” activities that involve students’ critical thinking and applying new ideas to problems or prompts that deal with their own life- or that deal with the creative or personal at all. The idea of having students connect what they’ve learned in the classroom to other things for the sake of practicing critical thinking and also for the sake of mastering curriculum material hasn’t been reflected in the classrooms I’ve observed.

Perhaps this is where LTP best fits in here. As a case study, I distinctly remember working with students on plant reproduction and seeing that, as they drew the parts of plant reproduction that they had just learned in class, many students were somewhat lost. As we found and dissected real flowers, and students saw that, in fact, different flowers have different looking reproductive parts, the students could better recognize what was the real nature of the plant reproductive system. They also gained the memory of something they did—something they discovered while picking apart a flower themselves. This memory of doing and of seeing, and also importantly, of thinking (as they had to determine without a labeled diagram what parts of the flower they were seeing) will serve them well for the next time they’re asked about the reproductive system. Perhaps on an exam, for instance.

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