Sunday, June 1, 2014

Koinadugu Young Writers Clubs

We've just returned from Koinadugu District and had a great time interacting with students who like to write, and with the teachers who are making that happen.

In this village pocketed among these magnificent mountains, we were so glad to find Young Writers in the SELI club at Dankawalie Secondary School reading their work aloud during teacher editing so the facilitator can call their attention if the written version does not reflect the pauses and word endings in their speech. Or call their attention when they change the idea they are discussing and need to start a new paragraph. The facilitators in this club, Ishmael K. Mansaray and Amara K. Tarawallie, have learned that when the students stay in possession of their writing throughout the editing process, they come to own their errors better and do something about them.

All the schools were conducting exams this week; DSS was one of the two that did not consider exams a reason to suspend club meetings. 

A Good Place for Writers

The Kabala Secondary School JSS SELI Young Writers club is a place where students like to be. The facilitators, Alieu S. Kanu and Fatmata A. Kamara, have done a good job of communicating the student-centered idea of a writing workshop.

The students understand what their role is. They stamp a heading on their papers, they staple content conference forms to their drafts, they move on from one writing stage to another without being told. . . they have to participate and they have to want to learn. They are engaged in personal experience topics and they are prepared to write and read and think and write and read and think until their writing improves.

We were pleased to visit the club last week, and we were also pleased to see that SELI Young Writers meetings continue in this school even though the school is taking examinations. 

Thursday, May 15, 2014

Peace Corps–Sierra Leone Staff Development

During May, SELI has been conducting an eight-session staff development training in Business Writing for the Peace Corps–Sierra Leone staff.

We've all enjoyed the sessions, mixing writing skills (style, cohesion and paragraphs) with genre writing and ongoing job writing requirements.

This is a great group of people to work with and they perform such an important function in Peace Corps–Sierra Leone. Hope we've been able to enhance that a bit.

Wednesday, May 14, 2014

Process Writing for Researcher Trainees

SELI gave a presentation on process writing to the Institute for Development's Researcher Trainee program at the British Council on May 14th.

This morning's session was twice as long as the March session we conducted with IfD trainees. We therefore delivered less and interacted more—all good—and with the support of Maryam, the trainer today, our presentation linked into the whole training better.

Everyone was very engaged and they asked a lot of good questions. I very much like nonfiction writing and research, myself. I enjoyed the morning, and I hope they did, too! 

Tuesday, May 6, 2014

Discourse Politics

The world is full of discourse politics (otherwise referred to as business communications)—power stances people assume in meetings to acquire control. You can't disregard people's stances and keep reacting to the words they say—as if you're a representative in congress objecting to a telephone number a colleague read from a phonebook while he's filibustering.

Here are a few of the strategies that come to mind: 

  • remaining behind your big desk when people enter your room, using the distance the size of the desk provides to gain power; 
  • making people wait when they have arrived for a meeting you called, to make it appear as if they are the petitioners; 
  • using Krio instead of English to convey that you hold casual regard for a topic someone else takes seriously; 
  • asking people to repeat what they've already explained, or account for things unnecessarily; 
  • or just asking questions (especially confrontational ones)—question posers are automatically in a position of power, but if you don't answer, or don't directly answer the question, you take some of their power away.
These strategies make it difficult to take minutes at meetings because what is accomplished by the strategies is often unrelated to the content that was discussed. Maybe they were just trying to acquire the upper hand. . . maybe they were trying to make the meeting come to naught so they could take decisions privately instead. . . .

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Having Trouble Reading? Write!

There are a few schools in Sierra Leone that have shelves full of reading books (as opposed to textbooks). However, in nearly every case where SELI has found such shelves to exist in schools, the books are not being read. Not only does the school not lend them out, but the students do not ask to read them. The sad fact is, many students would not understand the books if they did borrow them.

Much has been said about the lack of reading instruction in Sierra Leone's schools. Many of our secondary students have very poor reading comprehension skills and lack successful, positive reading experiences. Programs are being carried out to remedy this situation by improving reading/literacy instruction at the early primary level, and some of these programs also provide reading materials. What SELI does not see being implemented is process writing instruction at any level at all of the educational system.

After decades of teaching process writing in Sierra Leone, we are convinced that developing academic writing skills through process writing also improves reading comprehension. The literature supports our view:

 "Writing practices complement reading practices and should always be used in conjunction, with each type of practice supporting and strengthening the other. . . .Our evidence shows that . . . writing activities improved students’ comprehension of text over and above the improvements gained from traditional reading activities such as reading text, reading and discussing text, and receiving explicit reading instruction. . . . Students who do not develop strong writing skills may not be able to take full advantage of the power of writing as a tool to strengthen reading." (p. 29) 

Graham, S., and Hebert, M. A. (2010). Writing to read: Evidence for how writing can improve reading. A Carnegie Corporation Time to Act Report. Washington, DC: Alliance for Excellent Education.

Thursday, March 20, 2014

Buttons at Sussex Junior Secondary School

The junior secondary SELI Young Writers club at Sussex village is functioning as a true process-writing writing workshop should.

As you can see from her button, Ramatu has just completed her final draft of a multi-draft personal experience and along with Kadiatu, is working on her next topic. Behind them, two boys are completing their journal entries.

Sussex JSS serves a wide area along the peninsula, and many of its students and teachers have long walks home, so we appreciate their willingness to stay afterschool twice a week to work on their writing skills.

Buttons are the newest motivators. You also see here a pen SELI has given students who complete their first final drafts. This student belongs to the senior secondary Young Writers club at Ahmadiyya Muslim Agricultural Secondary School in Yogomaia, Kabala.
Both the pins and the pens carry the same printed message: I am an author!

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

World Storytelling Day

Thursday, March 20th, is World Storytelling Day. Are you ready?

The theme for 2014 is Monsters and Dragons . Get started writing now, so you can tell your story aloud to someone tomorrow! Just in case you need help, click here for some good names for your creatures.

Happy writing, and let us know how your storytelling went! 

Sunday, March 16, 2014

Where Are the People of Color?

"Then I read a story by James Baldwin: “Sonny’s Blues.” I didn’t love the story, but I was lifted by it, for it took place in Harlem, and it was a story concerned with black people like those I knew. By humanizing the people who were like me, Baldwin’s story also humanized me. The story gave me a permission that I didn’t know I needed, the permission to write about my own landscape, my own map."
In this quote from his New York Times opinion piece, "Where Are the People of Color in Children's Books?" children's book author Walter Dean Myers is asking an important question.  The publishers of this catalogue of children's books written in Sierra Leone and Liberia, also wanted the children who read them to recognize themselves and their own "landscapes" as they read.

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Kabala Secondary School Senior Club

The senior Young Writers club at Kabala Secondary School has been meeting in this well-lighted space adjacent to the school library.

This club, too, was overwhelmed by new intake last week because the SSI students, who have been waiting for their JSS exit-exam results since school opened in September, have now begun attending senior secondary school. Here you see one of the club facilitators, Abdul Karim Koroma, giving an orientation. The principal, Mr. H.B. Conteh, assured us that new accommodation would be arranged so everyone would have a place to sit and write.

One of the students is holding the Young Voices newsletter issue 4.1. The poem on the back page was written by a member of the group.