Saturday, May 16, 2015

Developing Student Voices

We had a great time today. Ten teachers from five rural schools on the Freetown Peninsula and in the Koinadugu District participated in a full-day workshop on Developing Student Voices, offered through the Seli River Writing Project of the Sentinel English Language Institute in Sierra Leone. The workshop was partly needed because circumstances have changed staffing in the schools where SELI operates, and we all needed a reconnoitering after the extended "ebola break" this year.

All the teachers are facilitators of SELI Young Writers clubs in their schools, and basically, we spent the day with our students. Nothing could have been more exciting. At every step along the way, our ELL junior secondary students' writing formed a central focus.
We spent the morning analyzing and gaining an appreciation for their voices using SELI's analytic writing rubric; practicing getting good instructional conversation going during conferencing to enhance English language acquisition; examining how to model revision and what happens when we don't model it; and discussing which changes make teacher editing effective.

Our afternoon was spent learning about and practicing teaching research writing, contemporary poetry writing, and short story writing. We took a preference poll at the end, and found about an even balance in the number of teachers who were interested in introducing one of these three in their clubs. We can't wait to see the results! 

Tuesday, March 3, 2015

What the ESL teaching field stands for

The TESOL International Association has notified its members of the death of Dr. James E. Alatis, one of its founding members. I have been a member of this organization since the 1970s, and his writings meant a lot to me over the years.

As the notice says, "Jim Alatis, as he was known to many, will be remembered for his energy and his commitment to TESOL International Association and to the field of English language teaching. 'Our kind of teaching,' he once said, 'which accepts other peoples’ languages and cultures as equally valid to ours, is essential to cross-cultural communication, mutual educational exchange, social justice, and, ultimately, it is devoutly to be wished, world peace.' As the association works to support and encourage the work of English language teaching, he would urge us, as he told one interviewer, 'to continue to insist upon quality above all.'”

Friday, February 20, 2015

Happy Mother Tongue Day!

It's International Mother Language Day again! Why not spend Saturday enjoying your mother tongue—reading, singing, writing, and talking only in your mother tongue?

For several years SELI held a celebration of this important UNESCO celebration on February 1st, commemorating the diversity of mother languages that exist in Sierra Leone and helping to do what it takes to keep them and the culture and identities they carry with them, alive.

We praise the efforts of The Institute for Sierra Leone Languages in encouraging pride and literacy in our mother tongues, and the goals of PEN Sierra Leone's Translation and Linguistic Rights Committee.

Here's how an area much bigger than ours (and with substantial financial support) celebrates this important day. We all need to put our heads together to come up with a meaningful celebration of our own. 

Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Writing Back

Happy New Year, everyone! SELI would like to thank each and every individual person who has contributed to its efforts in the past year. We are so indebted to you!

Ebola has hampered our activities in the past six months—and this is only an understatement of what being out of school for an entire school year has done to a whole nation of students. We live every minute of every day hoping that the Ebola infection rate will subside soon and desist from taking its terrible toll in Sierra Leone. 

SELI has begun a new Seli River Writing Project called Writing Back. Its purpose is to restart the writing activity of as many junior and senior secondary members of SELI’s Young Writers clubs as we can during the Ebola outbreak in West Africa. Because schools are closed, the conditions under which these clubs normally operate—the school settings, the workshop-style meetings, the box of supplies, and each person’s files of ongoing work—are currently unavailable.  Yet we’ll be writing to each other, and writing back. Watch the blog, and we’ll be giving you more information as it evolves!

Friday, September 12, 2014

Modeling the Ebola Outbreak

This video is a great explanation of what is happening in the Sierra Leone Ebola outbreak, and what some of our alternatives are.

The author, Sibyl Harleston, presents the mechanics of how EVD is spread, ways to interpret the results that models present, and suggestions for slowing the transmission rates.

Monday, September 8, 2014

International Literacy Day

It's International Literacy Day today! First conceived by UNESCO, it has been recognized since the 1960s, so today, nearly fifty years later, we should all jump up and celebrate!

Well, not really, because literacy is about development. The first image on the UNESCO infographic (pictured here) illustrates how vital literacy is to all aspects of development. And reading further down, and looking at the information in this link, tells us in Sierra Leone we should worry, instead.

Literacy happens in schools. Few could have predicted all the specific, immediate events in the past that have brought about temporary (but usually prolonged) school closings in Sierra Leone—Ebola being only the most recent.

Nonetheless, we all know that reacting to sudden events is neither an educational nor a development strategy. Education only happens where it is valued. We reveal what we value by what we spend money on. Instead of being buffeted out of school by every passing wind, children in Sierra Leone should be well buffered by an unshakable, well-funded educational system that offers alternatives when things get tough.

Saturday, August 30, 2014

You Can't Talk to Ebola

Always rifle-shaped, the virus
used to ride on scowls.
Came in clusters piled snarling
on roofs and backs of trucks.
Shoulder-butted. Ready-charged.
We've come. Hand over your youth
or yield to our torch.
I'd greet them;
hail one, and they'd all turn,
How's your mother?
Did the tablets ease her pain?
Mock their faces—
what frowns!
We've no food, sir.
They'd reach for my gifts and leave,
all those long gray barrels
resting on their knees.
And the virus
adapted. Barreled still, but earless,
piggybacking on smiles.
On children come to plead.
We love them,
we feed them.
And then we're cracked apart.
Our slain youth here, now,
wait for transport, laid out
upon the hearth.

© 2014 Jacqueline Leigh

Thursday, August 28, 2014

Action Against Ebola

One of SELI's principal donors, Edward Davies & Associates Consulting Engineers Ltd, is taking action against Ebola. We're glad to be partnered with them: along with being a health crisis, Ebola is a humanitarian and educational crisis.

Won't you help to fight Ebola?

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.