This week's blog entry is dedicated to Angi whose summer fling in TZ is slowly winding down. She has about two more weeks in-country and then it's back to Boston with her and I'll remain here for another six weeks, then off to New York for the most dreaded part of running my own show: fundraising. (My most faithful readers are guaranteed to be on the receiving end of some whinging blog entries during the months of September, October, and November!!)
But though we'll be separated, Angi and I will still be doing the same work: figuring out how to introduce simple yet effective teaching interventions into the Tanzanian public school system so as to support the most vulnerable learners in the classroom. In this way, they will be able to better grasp the concepts presented in the standard Tanzanian syllabi and sit the same national examinations as their stronger cohorts. We also hope that for those students who present the most difficulties with academic work, we can find non-scholastic aptitudes within them to nurture and foster. Even basic life skills and vocational proficiencies have value in this community and showing others that people with disability can pull their own weight and take care of themselves is hugely important.
Similarly to me, Angi has been keeping a blog based on her professional work. You can find it here: http://blogs.umb.edu/angelastone/. Though we have different tones and writing styles, I think a lot of the subject matter overlaps and you might find it interesting to compare our two viewpoints of the same event.
In this case, rather than writing my own synopses of the events of the last couple of weeks since we have been on school vacation, I am going to shamelessly bite off Angi's. Here are her notes on (1) our meetings with Dr. Derrick Matthews, an American pediatrician working at Seliani Hospital in Arusha and Dr. Robin Peterson, a clinical psychologist, also working in Arusha, and (2) our sessions with Vumi where Angi introduced to us some new teaching methodologies we can use with the most troubled students we identified from the assessment; there are just under twenty who we will separate from the rest of the class for an hour or so each day and team-teach in cohorts of three.
(1) "This week we went to several meetings with pediatricians and a clinical psychologist. One of the interesting things that was discussed at the meetings was the question, "Why do we need to know the cause or severity of the disability?"
In the US, we want to know the cause of the disability and to test using CAT scans and MRIs to look at neurological damage. I think wanting to know is important in many cultures, but then after we know that a child will have an intellectual disability, what do we gain from it?
Using medical and psychological tests coupled with adaptive behavior scales and ruling out other causes, we can somewhat determine that a child has an intellectual disability. But then that information is used to label the child and develop the Individualized Education Plan.
In Tanzania, it is expensive and unrealistic to do CAT scans or MRIs, and we have already determined that the children we are talking about are significantly behind their peers in the classroom, and that the educational system they are experiencing is not working for them. Does knowing or communicating a specific cause and term help these kids?
Knowing doesn’t provide them access to a special classroom when that classroom doesn’t exist in their school. It doesn’t change their situation.
Instead, it seems that trying to find ways to support them with extra tutoring, giving them books to look at during the lesson, or making sure that they develop their adaptive and vocational skills as well as academic is a better solution."
(2) "This week I have been working with Sarah and Vumi, teaching them more about disability, behavior management, and intervention strategies for teaching children with disabilities in the classroom.
When school starts again in July, Vumi is going to work with various children who we believe need extra help in a resource room model using various techniques and materials/manipulatives we have discussed.
Today, we talked about functional behavior assessment and various intervention techniques such as chaining, task analysis, prompting, use of authentic activities, shaping and using models. We are focusing on strategies to support reading, writing, and math instruction first.
We also discussed the importance of adaptive skills and vocational skills, but most of the children we are working with have learning disabilities, so their adaptive skills are good, but they need support with academics.
After some instruction yesterday, Vumi used a picture book as the basis to create a lesson and I was very impressed. She did a great job. We brainstormed some other days to add to her ideas and general concepts for improving the classroom for all children."
And so I'll sing along with CSNY and we'll "feed them on our dreams." Polepole, The Toa Nafasi Project is getting there....