Taking Over the Reins, A Photo Reflection by Michelle Stackmann

I see rows of desks and chairs, all neatly aligned in parallel lines. I see bookbags lying on the floor, notebooks resting on the desks, and pens ready to start copying whatever is written on the blackboard. I see a towering blackboard on the front of the room, with some traces of chalk on it, looking down upon the children sitting on the chairs. I see a teacher in front of the classroom, filling the room with his/her powerful voice. What would happen to this portrait of a classroom if we let the children take over the reins of their own lesson?

Yesterday, we (the 2014 DukeEngage group) had the opportunity to lead a Science lesson at Arusha School. We divided the 50 kids of 4B in eight groups. I was in charge of leading seven boys. We brainstormed on the topic of transportation and took a picture that represented it. I saw how letting the kids take charge of their own lesson led to compelling results.

To represent transportation, my group of kids and I went outside to the school field to look for something we could photograph. Since we could not easily find a car or truck we could use for our picture, I suggested the boys that we could act it out. Readily, Collin assumed the role of the driver by reaching for a glove he had tucked in his pocket and wearing it on his right hand. The other boys, in the midst of laughter and remarks, lined up and gave each other piggyback rides to resemble cows being transported in a truck.

This activity — which relied on the participatory method — unleashed creativity, promoted teamwork, and encouraged the practicing of motor skills. The kids portrayed cow transport by giving each other piggyback rides and lining up, creating an imaginary truck transporting cows. They assumed roles within the group: a driver led the line while the others lined up. They engaged the mind and body by going outside and acting out a concept.
Scan 57

We printed the picture and proceeded to paste it in the center of a piece of paper. As a group, the kids discussed the importance of transportation in Tanzania based on what they already knew. They wrote down on the paper their thoughts.

This process created an artistic outlet for the kids, let personal talents flourish, and encouraged divergent thinking. Kelvin, a very talented artist in the group, had the chance to draw a car and motorcycle in the poster they made. He was able to use his artistic skills in Science class! The boys also were given the chance to think about concepts they already knew without me lecturing them or revealing to them the answers.

The LTP method was very successful in this scenario because it used the kids’ energy in a positive way: letting them play around outside led to amazing results. It also let the kids use multiple senses — seeing, hearing, and doing — to understand a topic instead of just listening to a lecture. Although we might have not covered all the planned material for the lesson, LTP was used not to replace the lecture but to supplement and reinforce topics by encouraging divergent thinking and participation.

Some teachers have mentioned that LTP is not compatible with standardized tests, which require memorization and right/wrong answers. In this activity we might have not encouraged rote learning, but we did boost divergent thinking, creativity, and thinking outside the box. These are all skills necessary to succeed in life and in real-world situations, where problems have to be faced with innovation and resourcefulness.

In my portrait of a classroom, I do not see students sitting down, staring at the blackboard, and copying down words in their notebooks. I look out the window and see them acting, working in teams, learning from each other. Ironically, my portrait of a classroom is not even inside a room. Kids took over the reigns of their own lesson, and they were great drivers.

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