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Saturday, May 14, 2016

They Hadn't Wanted to Come



After all, who'd want to join an English writing club?

Sometimes it's hard to persuade students to join the SELI Young Writers club at first. In this rural primary school on the Freetown Peninsula, students have been very reluctant to take part.

But when the members carried out content conferencing at their lunchtime meeting on Friday, May 13 to this audience, they may have won some converts! The onlookers were completely absorbed through the whole meeting, as you can see from the astute gaze of these two girls in front of a Sierra Leone National Anthem poster.

What might they have been noticing? Whether anyone was made to feel embarrassed? What the members did while the student was reading her personal experience aloud? What everyone did afterward?

What kinds of questions were asked? Whether only the best students were given the opportunity to read?

We will have to wait to find out exactly what meaning the children made of this experience—whether any of the observers ask to join the club. To me, this was a good lesson in how the "hidden agenda" works. We teachers do a lot of talking—encouraging, persuading—but children assess our true agenda from the way things play out in class.

Sunday, April 17, 2016

At the Crack of Dawn

It's 7:00 am and we're in a SELI Young Writers meeting, so this must be DSS!

Dankawalie Secondary School, located in Dankawalie village eighteen miles east of Kabala, has hosted a Young Writers club for 5½ years now, and what can we say,  it just keeps improving! As you can see from the photo, there is ample space in the school library for their meetings, where there is often content conferencing going on as well as peer and teacher editing groups. I conducted a mini-lesson on Friday using The Shy Scarecrow by Mary Packard, to demonstrate how the students can read books aloud to their younger brothers and sisters using the library's picture book section.

The club meets from 7:00 to 8:30 am twice a week before school. The corridor you see in the photo that looks out over the rest of the school, is where they wait to enter the library. The 30-or-so members work throughout the 1½ hours and the time is never enough. They prefer early morning meetings to staying after school, when many have family duties to carry out or public exam prep lessons to attend. We expect that at least three members will have earned "My Life" booklets this year, having progressed all the way through final drafts of five or more personal experiences. In anticipation, they have already prepared their book dedications and "about the author" paragraphs.

Unfortunately, the wonderful light you see in the library is soon to dim: it and the light in the other classrooms comes from a few translucent pans in the roof which turned out to be of such poor quality that they melted, turned brittle, and leaked their substances onto the corrugated sheets near them, eroding them as well, so before the rains begin we will be replacing them with regular zinc sheets. We are constantly struggling against the poor quality of imported building materials in Sierra Leone. Hopefully, before too long someone will make available good quality translucent roofing sheets and we will be able to get our light back. 

Thursday, April 7, 2016

The Verbs Have It

In a class where English language learners are thinking of personal experience topics to write about, the verbs have it. The verb is crucial when you are trying to convert a whole experience into a topic of a few words. These class 4 and 5 children know the verb in Krio, but not in English:


skrap (cut)
wun / bɔs (injured)
ros (burnt)
balans (swerved to avoid)
fɔdɔm (fell)
tif (stole)

ledɔm (lay)
fɛt (fought)
bang (hit)
pat dɛn (stopped the fight)
wan day (almost died)
bɔk mi fut (stubbed my toe)

Wednesday, April 6, 2016

Working with Primary Schools

SELI Young Writers clubs have begun in the schools that participated in our March 5th workshop. As I go around to visit them this week, I have seen a lot of careful listening and thinking, as you see these class four and five students from R.E.C. Primary School, Bassa Town and R.E.C. Primary School, Kent doing here, as we work on the rehearsal stage of writing.

Learning to facilitate a Young Writers club is a transformative experience for teachers, because it means conducting a child-centered classroom.  I find these teachers, just as I have found so many
others, most willing to learn the role so long as someone is at their elbow for a while reminding them: let the topics come from the child's own experience, let the child choose which topic to write on, let the children decide when they need to stamp a new piece of paper, or staple their papers together. . . and in the end they are always astonished that it's actually in the children to do all these things. Soon we're all experiencing an elevated respect for the children's ability to listen and think.

Sunday, March 6, 2016

Leading Young Writers, Part I

Despite the heat this time of year, SELI spent a breezy day on the 5th talking about Young Writers clubs with teachers from six primary schools in the Waterloo area, Samuel Town, Joe Town and Kent. Our gracious hosts were Heaven Homes in Joe Town and we were very glad for their hospitality and accommodation.

Because of the tight schedule schools are on as they make up time during this post-Ebola period, we have had to break up our Leading Young Writers training into single-day sessions, and Saturday was the introduction. This is the first time we are working with primary schools under the Seli River Writing Project, although personally I have had the delightful experience of conducting many writing workshops with primary-level ESL classes.

Here you see teachers asking questions in a content conferencing group, and one of the teachers doing author sharing. It is a gradual thing: developing an appreciation for taking part in a supportive writing workshop, and then taking the leap to understanding that that same room for learning growth is what children feel in the club—in a child-centered setting.

Our thoughts will be with our teachers as they begin their clubs in the coming weeks, and we look forward to visiting them to lend our support.

Sunday, January 17, 2016

Young Voices Issue no. 5.1

A new issue of the Young Voices newsletter is out! You can read yours here: be sure not to miss out!

Students publish their club writing by reading their typed final drafts to friends and relatives, or by displaying them in the school, but some students' final drafts are published in this newsletter. Individual print copies are given to all the members of all the clubs, and the students eagerly look forward to each new issue! We hope you do, too.

Tuesday, December 1, 2015

A Brief Visit in Kabala

I was so glad to again visit Kabala over the past few days. I have missed the hospitality I always enjoy there, and the open, fresh air. This time of year, there are also very chilly nights! Here you see my view of the Yogomaia field.

It was luck for me to be able to meet as many of the Koinadugu area Young Writers club facilitators as I did, knowing that many of them were undergoing training for various positions in the 2015 census project. I also appreciated that many of them made special effort to come and hand over their club work. We all agreed to what we know: that it is difficult to keep clubs functioning normally while the school schedule is so focused on getting through public examinations at a faster pace. We also agree that it's important to try.

Tuesday, September 22, 2015

A New School

This term we began working with a new school, Abundant Grace, in Sussex. The club of junior secondary school students meets in the early childhood classroom because it has round tables where writers can easily spread out their multiple drafts, and meet in groups.

During our visit today, one of the facilitators, Balla Kamara, was conferencing with a student while another student was working on revision.

Wednesday, September 16, 2015

Back to School

This year schools in Sierra Leone are on the post-Ebola fast track timetable, so when we visited the Lady Patricia Kabba Memorial junior secondary school Young Writers club today they were beginning the second term of the 2014-2015 school year, instead of starting a new school year.

It isn't easy for either the students or the teachers to adjust to the pace. We see the effect of this in the clubs, too. Still, before long everyone was settled down working at their own stage on their own topics.