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    Talking Stories training for Khanya Facilitators

    July 1st, 2010

     Today a group of Khanya facilitators attended training in the use of Talking Stories software in schools.  These facilitators come from different districts and work with large numbers of schools, helping teachers to integrate technology into teaching and learning.  

    If you attended today’s training, please leave a comment outlining your thoughts about the workshop.  Was it beneficial?  How could we improve our training programme?  Do you think this software will be useful for raising literacy standards in your district?

    “Jaime didn’t just teach math. Like all great teachers, he changed lives.”

    March 31st, 2010

    Jaime Escalante, the charismatic former East Los Angeles high school teacher who taught the nation that inner-city students could master subjects as demanding as calculus, died on Tuesday. He was 79.

    In 1963 Escalante arrived in the U.S. as a Bolivian immigrant, and got a job washing floors in a coffee shop. He enrolled in English classes and eventually won a scholarship to study to become a teacher.

    After qualifying as a teacher he took up a post at Garfield High in Los Angeles – a school made up primarily of lower-income Mexican Americans. Standards were low and the pupils lacked motivation.

    Within a few years Escalante’s pupils were performing advanced calculus on a par with a handful of the best schools in the U.S. This passionate teacher managed to transform a school with a history of underachievement.

    “His passionate belief [was] that all students, when properly prepared and motivated, can succeed at academically demanding course work, no matter what their racial, social or economic background. Because of him, educators everywhere have been forced to revise long-held notions of who can succeed.”

    This man’s life is an inspiration to those of us working within the South African education system. Poverty should not be an excuse for underachievement. Every child matters.

    Click here to read more in the Los Angeles Times.

    Thank you, readers!

    March 15th, 2010

    Today this blog reached a new record of 460 visitors in one day (and that’s before afternoon tea)!  Thank you for your visits and your encouraging comments.  I hope you are enjoying and using the links to educational resources on the net.

    If you keep following our weekly guide on the use of Talking Stories with your class, then by the end of the year you will have covered every book in your level, and touched on every assessment standard for the South African home language curriculum.

    A number of people have asked for this blog to be provided in other South African languages.  I would love to do this!  It’s a work in progress…  This year I will compile a complete English-language year plan for the use of Talking Stories.  (You can already conveniently access the first term’s weekly planner by clicking on the Level 1, 2 and 3 tabs at the top of the page.)

    If this blog continues to be well-supported, then next year I will add weekly comments in at least one more language… It will be more challenging to find links to useful internet resources, since these are currently drawn from English websites from around the world…  If you have ideas, please let me know!

    Please keep adding your comments…  It helps me keep writing if I know you’re out there reading and responding.

    Seven years in school and still can’t read!

    February 21st, 2010

     A few days ago I was asked to visit a South African high school to help teachers with some strategies to improve reading levels.  I was shocked to discover that between 10 and 20% of children entering that high school cannot read a single word.  A further 60% of these learners were reading at a very weak level.  This is an ordinary school.  I had just spent 15 minutes chatting with a lively class of Grade 10s – ordinary, intelligent kids.  How is this possible?

    We cannot blame the poor teachers for all the ills of society.  Socio-economic status and parental involvement are the two greatest indicators for academic performance in learners.  But this should spur us on to do whatever we can to help these kids overcome barriers and difficult circumstances.  Every child matters!

    So let’s start in the Foundation Phase.  I have heard and read about many different methods of teaching children to read and write.  There is no shortage of experts telling us how to do it!  Sometimes it can get quite confusing trying to apply different methods or follow the latest trend.

    Essentially, teaching someone to read is not difficult!  For a moment, just think about how you would teach reading if you were on a desert island without resources.  Where would you start?  What would you do next?  Sometimes we get so caught up with our methods and documentation that we can overlook the obvious…

    Start with the alphabet…. sounding the letters, not naming them (‘a’ as in ‘pan’ not ‘pane’).  Then build small words with these letters.  Let children have a go at building some of their own words – writing them down.  Then let them try a sentence on their own.  To begin with they will probably just write the intiial sound in each word… with a few extra sounds here and there. e.g. ‘I w t the pk.’ (I went to the park.)  Then you can write the sentence out for them to copy correctly and draw a picture.  It’s that simple!  Done regularly, together with the learning of key words (and lots of other reading activities) children WILL make progress in reading and writing.

    Which key words should you teach children?  In any language there are some words that are used more often than others.  We call these high-frequency words.  If you want a child to be able to read story books independently, then clearly you should teach them these words first - so they will recognise more words on the pages of story books!

    I have selected and sorted all the high-frequency words for you in the Talking Stories package.  I’m introducing them week by week on this blog.  First your children must have mastered the alphabet.   Then you can teach them to read the words in the lists I have given you. 

    It may seem a bit boring doing a letter sound each day and following it up with the same kind of worksheet or practice at writing the letter.  Similarly, it may sound tedious doing a list of key words each week and using them for a simple spelling test on Friday…  But this is EXACTLY the sort of repetition and reinforcement that is needed at this stage.  You can use easy games (I spy; guess which word I’m thinking of; find the matching words…) to liven things up a bit.  But please don’t give up!  Keep at it day after day; week after week. 

    The most important thing of all is that your heart is in what you’re doing.  Do you walk into your classroom with a spring in your step and expectancy in your heart?  Do you believe that your children will learn something new today?  Do you look at each one with love and compassion?  If you can answer “Yes” to these questions, then I am confident you have what it takes to get your children reading fluently!

    Did you enjoy the Talking Stories training day?

    January 13th, 2010

    Yesterday 250 teachers from 14 schools attended Talking Stories training in Cape Town, and the day before yesterday a further 100 teachers from 9 schools attended.

     How was it for you?  Was the training beneficial?  Do you feel it has prepared you to use the Talking Stories resources with your class?

    Start of the School Year

    January 5th, 2010

    Your new children have arrived. Some are bewildered and apprehensive. Others seem confident and happy. It’s going to take a while for them to settle down, and for you to establish your classroom routine.

    There are a number of ways to help ensure that Day 1 is successful:
    1) Be really well prepared. Make your classroom a clean and welcoming place. Have interesting pictures up, and perhaps a vase of flowers on your desk. Make sure that all your photocopying and admin are completed.
    2) Introduce an open-door policy in your classroom. Invite parents to stay and help their children settle. Keep your eye out for those who might be able to assist you regularly in the classroom. Look for people who are available during the day, and who are warm and kind towards ALL the children. Parent helpers can be a Godsend in large classes.
    3) The start of the year is an important window of opportunity with parents as well as children. Make contact with as many parents as you can. Convey love and warmth to each child.

    What are your Day 1 tips and reflections?