Saturday, August 27, 2016

Encouraging Writing Teachers to Write

Have you been looking for a writing group to join that will understand your cultural references to Sierra Leone or West Africa? If so, please come to the Seli River Writing Project Workshop!

Over the years, SELI has found that most teachers in Sierra Leone were never taught the writing process—rehearsal, drafting, getting feedback, revising, editing, and then producing a final draft. This is the reason that our LYW participants work on their own personal writing during workshops. We always hope that after the training the participants will not only be more prepared to teach writing, but also continue to write, themselves.

But there is an obstacle to continuing to write: the difficulty of finding a writing group to share drafts with. This stage, which we call conferencing at SELI, is one of the most enjoyable parts of writing both for our club members and for their teachers.

We therefore are providing a forum, or a writing group, which you and the teachers can join and use from any part of the world—because it’s online! Since Sierra Leone is moving (yes, slowly, but) steadily in the direction of getting and staying online—if not so commonly yet by computer, at least by mobile phone—most of our LYW teachers will have access to this forum.

Come and join us online at the Seli River Writing Project Workshop if you are a writer and have been looking for a writing group to join that will understand your cultural references to Sierra Leone or West Africa, or will understand mixed-cultural settings in which you have lived, or live now. Register—it’s free! We welcome anyone who is willing to give other writers helpful, constructive feedback and post their own in-progress writing. Whether you are experienced and published or unsure how to begin, you are welcome. No one ever outgrows the need for feedback. We’ll help each other write.

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)