Monday, February 13, 2012

Orientation Week: Days 4, 5 and 6

Well, I've been a bit slack in the updating of this blog.Frankly I didn't expect the course to be this exhausting. But it's also so much fun! What other tertiary education programme gives you the opportunity to put make-up on the head of the department, or has thirty year olds squealing with joy over being given sweets?

Yeah, we're a bunch of silly kids, and it's exhausting, but so much fun.

Let me break it up into days.

Day 4 -Why teach?

George gave a long talk about the importance of being ourselves, rather than taking on the role of being a teacher. It felt perfectly timed, as I had caught myself thinking the day before about how, once I've bought appropriate teacher clothes, I will act more like a teacher. He said that's bad. Rather be yourself, and teach. Kids can spot hypocrisy from a mile away, and they don't like it. Authenticity keeps credibility with the kids, and that makes you a better teacher. He made us write down 5 characteristics that best described us, and then systematically put them down on the table and pretend they weren't part of who we are, and then pick them back up and be ourselves again. Okay, it all felt a bit woobedy-woobedy to me, (woobedy-woobedy being the latin for "a bit out there and new-agey") but it must have been effective because that night I had nightmares that I wasn't myself. Eep.


After the teaching interaction for the day, we went to some short talks by our method lecturers to answer any questions we might have before confirming our teaching subjects. Apparently my combination - English Home Language and English First Additional Language - is an awesome one. So that's good. The fact that our university is one of the last that still offers them as seperate methods is great, because it means more time being spent on each of them. It also means I don't have to teach maths literacy, which would have been my only other option because I didn't do any other "teaching" subjects as part of my undergrad.

Day 5 - What is Quality Education?

This followed on a bit more from the previous day. The lecturer did get into some interesting things about quantitative and qualitative studies that have been done, like benchmarking tests and so on, and how useful those might be at understanding the strengths and weaknesses of the education system in SA. Well, I should say weaknesses and weaknesses - we come stone cold last in most of the tests. So, to remedy this... They're going to do more tests, more frequently, so that the students are more used to answering them and therefore do better at them. I'm not sure if that's such a great idea - clearly the tests indicate problems in the education of these kids. Getting better at doing the tests does not mean that those problems have been fixed. It also doesn't help when the teachers marking them do so badly at it that the problems go unnoticed because it was quicker just to tick everything (even if it was wrong). Hmm... Anywaaay.

More time-consuming marking, but it is SUPER EFFECTIVE!

Another question was whether the tests themselves are a good indicator of quality.

Day 6 - Academic Reading and Writing

Ugh. I know, I know, standard prattle about how to read academic papers and a massive assignment so we can practise doing so. This was a very dry day. But it meant getting things done, and I suppose there are some dull bits in this. It can't all be fun and games.

Tomorrow we're off to Hobbiton for some team building and high-wire obstacles and cockroach squishing and waterfall splish-sploshing. I'm quite looking forward to it.

By "looking forward to it" I mean "terrified"

Thursday, February 9, 2012

Day 3: My first lesson, and the Exchange Trip to Switzerland

Wow, talk about being over-eager, over-prepared and early. Luckily other people were there early too - also people who were teaching today and scared shitless about it. I spoke to the IT guy about how to log on. The password is not "Sparky" after all. Phew.

My cunning plan with the mask worked really well, as did the bribery with sweets. You see, I think that nerves are an expression of the fear of making an idiot out of yourself. So I deliberately made an idiot of myself from the start, and then it was over and done with and I could get on with the lesson. Checking out the venue first helped too, so I was able to see that there were facilities for a slideshow and so on.

Comments and Criticisms from other students:
"Spoke slowly and clearly"
"Confident, very fun"
"Kept [content] clear and simple"
"Very interactive eye contact (and yummy sweets of bribery)"
"Very interesting topic with good props"

"Should have moved around a bit more" - I was trapped behind the lectern
"Couldn't see props clearly - should have laid them out in front of the class"

"Good pictures and presentation"
"Questions and Answers/Quiz section could have been a bit more structured instead of having people just shouting out"

All in all I think it was a success. But having seen a few more lessons taught by better or more experienced teachers, I think I need to work on approaching it as a lesson (eg using worksheets and making them do groupwork) rather than as a presentation which might be overly reliant on slides.

Some of the other lessons were fantastic, in particular one girl who got us all to dance around like idiots and taught us of the value of song and dance in any subject at any level, as a way to gain control of a class, energise them, settle them down if they're rowdy, get them to work in groups, have fun learning, illustrate difficult abstract concepts and so on. She also used the space of the whole classroom, and her use of the board was very natural.


It turns out that the selection process for the trip to Switzerland consists of two phases. First the class nominates people who they feel meet the criteria (namely good students, good teachers, good ambassadors and have a passion for understanding different cultures). Then the top 8 nominees will send letters of motivation, and a panel will select four to send to Switzerland; two from the Junior (foundation and intermediate) phase, and two from the Senior Phase. About a quarter of the class have prior commitments that mean they can't make it even if they are selected, or they don't want to go, but either way it's going to be very competitive. A bunch of us are worried that it's going to turn into a popularity contest, which particularly disfavours anyone who did not do their undergrad at this university. So we've proposed that the people who really want to go give short talks on why they would be a good choice, possibly on one of the free nights in Hogsback next week.

So it's quite likely that I won't get to go. I've been thinking about what topic to choose for my research assignment, and am leaning towards something to do with language as a barrier to education, so data from a school in which lessons are taught in the kids' second language (schools teach in German but the kids speak Swiss German at home) compared to data from a township school could be quite interesting. However, having direct contact with my supervisor, and doing a more intensive kind of research in the township school, could give me better focus or a better paper altogether. So, if I don't get to go, it's not the end of the world.

That doesn't mean I'm not going to fight to the death for a chance to go though.

So, like, guys. If you're reading this. Um. Nominate me pls kthx. :D And I apologise for the lack of pictures in this post. My internet connection is dodgy and can't handle my googling.

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Orientation Week, Day Two: The state of Schools in SA and Teaching our Own Lessons

Whoops, this post is a little late. To tell the truth, I was so exhausted by the time I got home that all I managed to do was a little emergency grocery shopping before collapsing onto my bed at about 7pm.

So here's a little catch-up post about what happened yesterday.

Schools in Post-Apartheid SA

 Di showed us Molly Blank's film, "Testing Hope" which follows the lives of 4 South Africans in a township school during the build-up to Matric, the exam, and the aftermath. And I cried like a baby. Beyond what I've already discussed, about the language barriers and so on, these kids have to learn in classrooms that don't have all the facilities available to those in ex-Model C and Independent Schools. And they have to compete with students from those schools for places in Universities. Even if they're the top student in their school, they might lose out to the worst student in an Independent School simply because that student has access to a well-stocked library, computers, the internet, sports facilities, and even basic nutritional requirements.

Di told us that one of her research students has discovered that the biggest barrier to education in South Africa is fetal alcohol syndrome. Teen mothers are given a grant which is supposed to be spent on food for the child, but instead they spend it on alcohol for themselves. And if the father is drunk at the time of conception, the risk for FAS is increased as well.

My, what great role models they have.

Watching it made me wonder if my decision to go to South Korea is a selfish one. But I thought about it some more, and now I think that if I can rake in quite a bit of money in South Korea, then I could possibly return to SA and work in a State School for a year or so (as my salary then won't be as important) and maybe in that way I can try to help. I can always go and teach overseas again after that. I've also decided to apply to tutor English Home and/or Second Language at the GADRA Matric school, which helps matrics who have failed or not achieved the marks they need for university to do so.

Teaching our Own Classes
 A major part of the course consists of us teaching our own classes. First we'll present lessons to our peers - today I am going to be teaching a lesson about Scuba Diving - and then later in the year we'll go to schools and teach real classes. So, last night I planned my very first lesson! I'm starting with a fun quiz about dangerous fish as an ice breaker, bringing in my gear and log book to hand around, and most of the class will (hopefully) consist of them providing the knowledge - I was really impressed with the sense of "Communal Development of Knowledge" that I noticed in Hennie's lecture on Day 1.

Of course, last night I dreamed that I couldn't log onto the computer in the venue in order to play the slideshow, and that the password was "Sparky", and woke up with a sore jaw from grinding my teeth. I woke up at 6 this morning to make sure I was ready in time. Well, I am. An hour and a half early. Gawsh. Anyway, my nerves are killing me, but I think that starting the lesson by standing in front of them with my scuba mask and snorkel on should help to break the ice a bit more. One guy taught the entire year group yesterday, and he was very good and very brave. The class seemed to be very supportive - I think we're all so scared of teaching an unresponsive class of blank faces who can only criticise and are unimpressed that we're also all trying not to be that class. Hal asked a lot of interesting questions in the class, and all the comments on Brett's teaching were in the form of [compliment]+[criticism], which worked nicely and naturally.

So I'm afraid. But I think it will go well.

Monday, February 6, 2012

PGCE SP Orientation, Day One

Phew. It's been a hell of a long day - started by waking up at 7. My cunning plan of putting some tea on while I had a shower worked like a bomb - by the time I was sparkly clean, the tea was ready to be gulped down before I walked with a couple of friends to our very first lecture. Now, at 16:30, I can finally put my feet up and take a breath.

First impressions
After months of no information beyond our term dates, today has been something of a bombardment, with about 20 staff members' names and other important information. There are about 100 of us doing PGCE this year, and that is split into Foundation Phase, Intermediate Phase and Senior Phase/FET (which I am doing).

We spent a good 2 hours (with a short tea break) going through introductions to all the staff members, whose names I've forgotten already, and getting to know our classmates with a fun icebreaker and a lengthy but interesting introduction of each person and their background, goals and expectations of the course. It's a fantastic mix of people - some of them have families, some have already been teaching for years, one guy sells longboards, another has already taught in Japan, and everyone seems pretty friendly and excited about the course so far. We also got a big booklet, full of all the information I've been so antsy about.


Teaching Interaction
After a lunch in which I rushed across town to buy stationery, acquired delicious sushi, bumped into freshly-returned-from-holidays friends and showed my friends a nice shady gazebo sort of thing, we launched into our first lecture. A friend mentioned a particular lecturer as being amazing, and Hennie definitely lived up to his reputation.

We watched some clips of hollywood movies of teachers like The Dead Poets Society, set to Pink Floyd and Queen (which got Hennie my instant respect), and then talked about various elements of teaching. What do we talk about when we talk about teaching? Well, the lecture itself was very interactive, with Hennie posing the question and asking us to fill in the blanks with basic observations of the lecture itself. Things like diction, the power dynamics between the lecturer and students, interaction, intimacy, informality, control, and different learning styles were mentioned.

Then he showed us some clips of real teachers teaching. First a grade 1 teacher who was teaching a small group of about 20 young kids to count, using everything from counting blocks to her toes, to their ears, and it was amazing. Once again I find myself wondering if I have chosen the right phase, as it definitely looks more fun to teach younger children. I can't imagine what a teenager would do if I tweaked their ears and noses to teach them maths. Hmmm...

Language in Schools
Another clip showed a high school teacher who was teaching maths to disadvantaged Xhosa kids. She gave them a problem and told them they needed to work it out in pairs, and left them to it. It was interesting that the kids discussed the problem in English even though they shared isiXhosa as a home language. Maybe they see English as the language of School, which could be good. Or maybe they see it as the language of Knowledge, which worries me (having had post-colonialism and the colonisation of the mind drilled into me during my English Literature studies).

I think that shows the importance of home language education, which is not quite fully available in South Africa yet. Granted we've come pretty far since the kids were forced to learn in Afrikaans back in the days of Apartheid, with every school now teaching an African language as a subject. But it would be ideal to see schools that taught kids the major subjects like Maths and Science in their home language so that a) they can understand the concepts without having to translate them first and b) they don't feel that knowledge belongs to a specific language or culture. Of course, there's a hell of a shortage of teachers in this country, and looking at my class, 95% of them spoke English as a home language. People in the class who speak other South African languages at home, now in their early/mid-twenties, have been educated in English or Afrikaans, and so tertiary education is also in either of those two languages, so it's clear that having fully isiXhosa or isiZulu schools are quite a bit far off, but I do hope it happens.

I think that might be why basic isiXhosa is a compulsory part of doing the PGCE, and while I'm terrified of having to learn a new language that is so different to either of the languages I speak fluently (English and French), I am keen to both learn it, and observe how they teach it to us, so I can put some of those ideas into practice when I get my own classroom.

And the grand finale!
It turns out that our university has an exchange program with Switzerland, and they will select 4 applicants to send to Switzerland to do our teaching practicals there. I cannot even begin to tell you how much I want to do this. More information on that to come, though. SO KEEN.