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Class size of 70, thoughts?

Discussion in 'Teaching abroad' started by simondemontfort, Sep 24, 2014.

  1. Muli Bwanji all,

    I hope the wonderful world of International Teaching is treating you all well. Since my last post, I have abandoned the land of foie gras and half decent plonk, and headed to the land of nsima and hippos. (not our own august Hippo, I should add....)

    I am currently volunteering as a history teacher at a poor rural school in Southern Malawi. The place is horrendously underfunded and in somewhat of a poor state of repair. Since I arrived I have raised a few bob to have the place repaired and painted but since term started a few weeks ago, the challenge has somewhat become clearer.

    How to teach and inspire a class of 70-100 kids? Firstly, there are the practical challenges. The classroom is designed for 40 and there are simply not enough desks and chairs, let alone space. I would love to do some groupwork, but they barely have enough room to turn and face the person next to them, let alone work on a task around a group table. (It is cramped, and bless em, washing is at a premium, so there are other practical problems too....)

    The other key issue is that their level of English is very varied, some of it extremely poor. Its is very difficult in the short time I have with the class (40 min periods) to get to grips with individuals. So far I have found myself basically lecturing with a powerpoint, trying to get feedback when possible. I am a teacher who loves to get kids up and moving, doing role-play, going round to different groups, and generally having fun. History is a fantastic subject to inspire and enthuse kids about learning, but I have to say I am at a bit of a loss how to connect with 70 blank faces staring at me.

    So if any of you sages out there have had a similar experience or just want to chuck out an idea or two, it would be most appreciated. And if any of you (you know who you are) just want to respond with a snide comment about grammar or my lack of teaching stamina, I will get the local witch doctor to send a choice curse winging your way. (They have some crackers here, makes your head spin!)

    All the best,

  2. Sounds like you are doing a heroic job. Don't have an inspection visit though as they will merely point out your differentiation in lessons isn't thorough enough...
  3. BarryRiley

    BarryRiley New commenter

    Have you thought of differentiating your tasks for each individual student? They can't all be at the same level and should be receiving individual, personalised learning. :)

    If you think it's bad now - wait until coursework marking time
  4. miketribe

    miketribe Established commenter

    How old are they?
  5. That makes me all nostalgic of my VSO days in another African country.

    Not sure I have any solutions but I'm very impressed you have a projector (and power!) to use PPTs. I used to buy flip-chart and get the students to work in (big) groups around them. My biggest class was 110 and I remember having to look under the desks to check if the person asking me a question was a boy or a girl. They all wore the same uniform except trousers and skirts and no glasses and shaved heads made it very difficult at the beginning! We did manage eventually and I spent 2 wonderful years there. Some of my ex-students are still in touch via fb and are teachers themselves.

    I think the main thing is that they enjoy your lessons and learn something and that you do your best with what you have. You might have to forget everything you've learned about what is a good lesson... adapt to the situation. Nothing wrong with some talk and chalk from time to time! Feel free to PM me and good luck, you'll have a great time!
  6. roamingteacher

    roamingteacher Established commenter Forum guide

    Do you have the resources to create stations that they could work at in groups? Possibly suggesting something incredibly impractical but could also include some investigations to take them out of the classroom to ease the cramping. Or a series of tasks they complete in small groups and then present to another group - kind of a carousel thing?

    I'm thinking something that allows you to maybe deal with half the class at once, while the others are occupied / preparing and then swapping it over. (For example, maybe one half completing a quiet reading and responding to some prompts while you are facilitating a discussion on a related topic.)

    I'd say that assessing them to find out where they are in terms of language would be a priority and it'll allow you to identify some 'teaching assistants' within the class.

    Wonder if this is of use.

    Literally just throwing out ideas - imagine that the obstacles are massive but indeed - a heroic job!
  7. Thanks guys, a mixture of the amusing and the helpful, both appreciated. I had a right old giggle when I tried to imagine what our beloved inspectors would make of the teaching here. The school is a Community Day Secondary School, the lowest tier of Malawian government schools, kids pay fees, currently 3000 kwacha (£4.50) a term, and that has to fund the whole school. Ages vary dramatically as kids can come and go, so roughly its from age 11 to 25 in the four years that they do secondary school here.

    The school has some resources, approx 10 textbooks per 100 kids, I have brought my own laptop and they do have an ancient projector which you can just about make out on the rough walls, so really its pretty good! The kids are just so used to copying off the board that it will take time to set up the concept of other teaching mechanisms, I am game though!

    Today I managed to prove that well known history teaching fact. It does not matter where you teach, or to whom, Roman toilets are hilarious! Bless their cotton socks (in this case bare feet) they were in stitches over a photo of a communal roman bog. I declined to point out that as the Roman toilets had flushing water, it made them considerably more sophisticated than the Malawian pit latrines which exist at the school and in all their homes. (The girls toilets at the school dont even have doors, which is a major reason for kids absences.)

    Keep the advice (support) coming, its great to able to share all this. Zikomo!
  8. Karvol

    Karvol Occasional commenter

    What do you need in terms of resources? If you were sent something through the post, would it get to you or would it be intercepted on the way there?
  9. InControliThink

    InControliThink New commenter

    As someone who has fond memories of living in Malawi as a child I have nothing but admiration for the work you are doing. Keep going, those children are lucky to have someone as committed as you clearly are!

    Practical ideas:

    Due to group size and differing abilities of the children could you perhaps put the more able children in charge of teaching a small group about a particular issue relating to your topic, by providing them with some information, or getting the groups to work together to teach the rest of the class? For example with Romans you could have each group working on a small aspect, eg entertainment, food/drink, laws, and then come together to teach each other?

    Or perhaps you could also try using music to help? From my long distances memories of Malawi music was always hugely important and children loved to sing - maybe you could find some historical songs (think horrible histories etc) and teach through song? resource wise just your laptop and some speakers may do the job?

    If I think of anything else I will come back!
  10. jpgreenwood

    jpgreenwood Occasional commenter

    Karvol sounds like he was hinting at sending you resources. I'd be happy to too - if there are things you need that can be posted to you with a reasonable chance of getting to the school, just let me know. We could make a donation.
  11. That is an extremely kind offer from both of you. I have set up a charity fundraising page, PM me if you would like the address. Another option would be to set up some kind of school link, what do you think? I will be doing a few things with my school in France, but I would be delighted to get other schools involved as well. Posting things here is very expensive but possible, we do have lots of old textbooks but rarely more than 7 or 8 copies. At the moment I am fundraising to try and get a few computers hooked up to the internet. It would be great to bring the world to this small corner of Africa.

    One of the other main issues which I have not mentioned yet is the fact that the kids I teach will sit national examinations next summer. The history syllabus is dense to say the least and it seems totally unreasonable what they are expected to cover in a short time. If I have any hope of covering it sufficiently I have precious little extra time for anything that might engage them on a different level. It's so tough for these kids. They speak Chichewa as a first language, yet they are expected to sit all their exams in English as taught by those that dont really have a fluent grasp of it themselves. This then condemns those at poorer schools that can't attract university educated teachers to a very low level, and serves to create a two tier education system.

    Sorry for the rant it's been a tough day, thank the gods that Malawian Gin is both dirt cheap and utterly wonderful, sadly all the shops have run out of tonic though......

    Thanks again for the tips and advice.
  12. ian60

    ian60 New commenter

    Malawi Gin is truly wonderful! I've always thought that they could see off a sizable chunck of the national debt through proper marketing.

    Your experiences remind me, also, of my VSO days in Nigeria over 30 years ago.

    You seem to be getting involved to an amazing extent.

    I really hope I do not sound too dismissive if I say that in my experience, I felt the best thing I did was to talk to people and raise awareness of the reality once I was back in the UK.

    Having said that, I get the impression that you have already achieved more than I ever did in terms of teaching.

  13. ValentinoRossi

    ValentinoRossi Star commenter

    Bl00dy hell, Simon!

    This is my first post on this particular forum and I just have to say your commitment and enthusiasm speaks volumes.

    I have been thinking vaguely about teaching abroad in a third world country some time within the next five years or so. As a very young 55 year old with 34 years teaching experience in a wide range of schools, I'm hoping that I'd be able to be of some use!

    Your experience excites and enthuses me.

    Good on you.
  14. Been watching this thread with mixed interest/awe/guilt...

    Epic effort, my friend: you're a better man than me. More power to you.
  15. squeakyhaggis

    squeakyhaggis New commenter

    Resisting the urge to ask if the school needs a physics/chemistry teacher...........
  16. yasimum

    yasimum New commenter

    Also in awe of your wonderful efforts Simon. It is difficult, your situation because although it would be relatively simple to get a rotating group thing going, you need to physical space to be able to do that effectively and that you do not have.

    Probably a dumb question, but are you able to set up more than one PPT? Two groups independently on the PPTs and one teacher directed??

    Just the fact that you are a native speaker of English should give your students a bit of an edge at exam time. The very best of luck to your and your students.
  17. Guys, am feeling the love, thanks, I really do have to say that I do not deserve such respect. It is a great experience being here, but it has been a struggle too. My wife is a doctor and volunteering at the hospital nearby and both of us have had moments when we just want to jump on the next plane. The people here are wonderful and very positive but they are battling so many issues and some of those could easily be solved right here in Malawi. It can be incredibly frustrating at times. If any of you are genuinely interested in the warts and all truth, please don't hesitate to PM me, some of it is quite difficult to write about so not really appropriate for a public forum. That said, things are progressing in terms of fundraising and its been so nice to have offers here on the TES and elsewhere. If the moderators allow, here is a link to a page I have set up.


    It is just a start and I will be updating it soon. To answer Yasimum's question, we only have one projector and my laptop, not to mention a lack of non electrocuting plug sockets so that idea may have to wait. I am hoping that they will pick up some English, just getting them to stop putting an extra 'e' at the end of each word is a constant challenge! Finally, the school is looking for more volunteers to take my place when I leave at the end of the year so........Malawi awaits!
  18. Hi guys, sorry to ressurect this thread but it has been a particularly tricky morning. Arrived at school with lessons prepared and raring to go. I had one on powerpoint and the other was following some great advice above, picking bright pupils and giving them textbooks to do structured groupwork. However, I found out that a number of teachers were absent including the Head, having taken all the keys to the library and the office with them. Therefore I had no projector or any books and I was forced to resort to chalk and talk. The temperature in the airless classroom was about 35 degrees. Needless to say it was not my most successful lesson. A large amount of the time, the kids just sit about in classrooms with no teachers, when the teachers do turn up they are invariably late, some of them are currently listening to loud music in the staffroom and playing a board game. I understand that I cannot expect things to be culturally the same as the UK but it is pretty hard to see when ultimately the kids are suffering. Grrrr, just want to put a bomb under the whole school but it is not my place to do so. If any of you have time to spare some thoughts, it would be much appreciated.
  19. miketribe

    miketribe Established commenter

    I've also been lost in admiration for your dedication and daring... I'm not sure any of this would be any help or even if you've tried it before, but history does lend itself quite well to a story-telling approach, especially if you have any latent dramatic skills. This would also probably fit really well into what is, I understand, a primarily oral culture. There are any number of history "stories" to be told, and, in my childhood in the dim and distant past, that's mostly what primary school history classes consisted of. I know it's not ideal and probably wouldn't be much help in getting them through the exams, but it might be a useful ploy on days like today which seem to conspire against anything better organised! There's probably also a local story-teller in the village who could be persuaded to come in to the school and tell stories based on local history as a "starter"...
  20. yasimum

    yasimum New commenter

    I agree with Mike. Narrative is a lost art in teaching in these pressured, test driven times. Also I was wondering if in a country like Malawi, which I have heard spoken about numerous times on this forum, there might be some trailing spouses with time on their hands who may want to help out. A bandaid solution I know but better than nothing.

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