The State of Teaching and Learning

May 24, 2017

Aditi Adhikari

Education  Field

Our visit to the Sewalung School in early March was very encouraging – especially considering that the school construction was completed only last year. We assessed the state of teaching and learning at the school and found it to be excellent thus far. Third and fifth grade reading levels were above average. The Early Childhood Development (kindergarten) teacher had already implemented many changes in her practice based on techniques we had shared with her on our previous visit. Most of all, students were enthusiastic about the new school and the new children’s books we brought with us.

One of our objectives on this visit was to assess the state of learning and teaching in our new school. We started by testing the reading levels of the third and fifth grade students. We used books that were written for each grade level. We assessed each student’s reading level individually, and then compiled their scores. We graded each child on a scale of 1 to 4. Both third and fifth grade students tested above average, with scores of 2.8 on the four-point scale. Some of these students scored a solid four, exceeding their grade level, while others scored two or one – ‘satisfactory’ and ‘needs improvement,’ respectively. Our objective is to bring the average up to four to ensure that all students receive the highest quality education. We make it a practice to carefully track the students’ learning as they progress through school.
In addition to the reading tests, we introduced a new teaching method – using storybooks to teach Language Arts. We read out loud to the fifth and second graders, with teachers from the school observing the class. The students listened intently, even though there were a lot of words in the text that they did not understand. All of us can remember our own second grade classes watching our teachers embodying the characters of each story – reading with emotion and enthusiasm. This emotional embodiment allows students to enjoy the stories and be attracted to books in general. We focused on helping the students understand the story, to spur contextual learning, and learn new words along the way.

Finally, we orchestrated three hours of Language Arts training for all six teachers together. Age-appropriate storybooks can increase students’ interest in reading and teach them to empathize with others. It can also help them learn new vocabulary and language usage and become better writers. The teachers were excited to learn about the variety of activities they can do with the ample supply of books we brought. They practiced some of them during the training session by playing the role of students, learning by putting on the students’ shoes. It was a pleasure watching the teachers read books to their students during the remainder of our trip and to see the students captivated by the books.
During my first trip, I had been impressed by how one teacher, Ms. Adhikari, talked to her students about their day-to-day experiences and helped them explore and interpret the world in which they live. After their morning meeting, Ms. Adhikari spent a significant amount of time making her students repeat words that begin with each letter of the Nepali alphabet – “ A for Apple, B for Ba ...”. Ms. Adhikari was well aware that her students were not engaged when they looked at isolated pictures and recited the alphabet. “They keep asking for bathroom breaks and fighting with each other,” she said. This time around, I watched Ms. Adhikari read one of the big books that we had brought took for the kindergarteners. The little ones were completely enchanted by the stories and talked excitedly about the markets they had gone to and the fruits that they recognized!

As we continue to introduce new teaching methods and improve the quality of education of our school, we will carefully monitor and evaluate the effectiveness of these methods and the progress of our students’ learning.