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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,
distracted.
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. 

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.