Thursday, 19 April 2018

South Africa’s reading crisis – time for a digital and playful solution?

There is a solution to the Foundation Phase reading crisis that the education system in South Africa currently faces. The early introduction and integration of digital tools in the classroom can and has proven to improve literacy levels amongst children, a SchoolNet South Africa (SNSA) study has found.


The country’s reading crisis has once again come into the spotlight through the latest findings of the Progress In International Reading Literacy Study (PIRLS). It has revealed that many of country’s children are struggling to read; that as much as 78% of Grade 4 children cannot read for meaning in any language.

While the research study of this project, called Learning Gains through Play (LGP), showed learning gains in all foundational literacies tracked, the most interesting findings were of gains in oral English language skills acquired subconsciously through play by second language learners.

The Methodology

Ten schools in KwaZulu-Natal and the Western Cape each received a bank of learner tablets and an Xbox Kinect (including carefully selected apps and games) which, along with intensive teacher development and support, were integrated in teaching and learning activities in Grade R and Grade 1 classrooms. Learners were tracked over a four year period to assess their progress in foundational skills.

Data was compared with control school learners who were assessed and tracked in the same manner (but did not enjoy the benefits of any of the LGP project inputs). Results showed improvements in achievement in all five foundational literacies of gross-motor skills, fine-motor skills, numeracy, visual literacy and oral English communication skills.


This last literacy is of particular interest as the learning gains were substantial and furthermore, because the language of learning and teaching is a hotly debated topic in South Africa. With eleven official languages there is little consensus on which is more beneficial, for children to learn in their mother tongue or in the universal language of English.

This issue is particularly contentious in the first grades of Foundation Phase in South Africa. SchoolNet’s Learning Gains through Play project has shown that in the early grades, children can acquire English language skills “on their own” through engaging with learning games and apps that use English as the medium of instruction.


This acquisition of English is very different to the formal learning of a language with its structures and rules. Acquisition is a subconscious immersive method to understand and make meaning, similar to the way in which babies learn their mother tongue.

For the LGP children learning was mediated by their educators; it was not really learning “on their own” but learning driven by a need to make understanding of the games and apps in order to engage and entertain themselves with the digital tools that they found so exciting. One of the LGP findings was that learners’ curiosity was sufficiently enabled to trigger self-driven learning.


The theory of second language acquisition (SLA) was proposed by linguistic professor Stephen Krashen (1981) and according to Krashen and Terrell (1995), students learning a second language move through five predictable stages: Preproduction, Early Production, Speech Emergence, Intermediate Fluency, and Advanced Fluency.

“With the majority of learners in South Africa learning in their home language in Foundation Phase and then making an abrupt switch to learning in English from Grade 4 (and this coupled with the addition of three more subjects), providing tablets, Xboxes, apps and games in English for learners in the early grades is an effective strategy for preparing learners for success in the Intermediate Phase and beyond,” says SNSA’s Executive Director, Janet Thomson.


The worst hit from the reading crisis are poor and disadvantaged children, who make up 25% of the population who live in extreme poverty. An alarming fact is that learning deficiencies in the early grades accumulate and have a far greater detrimental impact in later grades and across all subjects including Mathematics.

Only the top 16% of Grade 3 Maths students are achieving at the Grade 3 level (Spaull & Kotze, 2015). Clearly the vast majority of South African learners are not meeting the curriculum requirements even at the very start of their journey through the schooling system.


In addition to the county’s poor reading culture, reading is also generally taught badly resulting in what the The Conversation has dubbed a “cognitive catastrophe”.  The publication argued recently that “failing to learn to read is bad for the cognition necessary to function effectively in a modern society.” This essentially means that we are raising generations of cognitively stunted individuals who then become stuck in intergeneration poverty.

One of the reasons why the PIRLS Study tested 13 000 Grade 4 children is because it is in the Foundation Phase “that the base for all future learning is established, and if the rudiments of reading, writing and calculating are not firmly entrenched by the end of Grade 3, then both learning opportunities and the larger life chances of young citizens will be curtailed” (National Education, Evaluation and Development Unit, 2013).

For more information, please see the Executive Summary of Learning Gains Findings


Thursday, 12 April 2018

Register with a Microsoft account on the Microsoft Educator Community

Many South African teachers have joined the Microsoft Educator Community to complete online professional development courses, to be part of a global community of teachers, to participate in Skype in the Classroom activities and to share lesson plans and quick tip videos with teachers from around the world.

As of 12 March 2018 new users will only be able to join the Microsoft Educator Community using either a personal Microsoft account or an Office 365 account. According to Sonja Delafosse - Microsoft Senior Education Manager, "We’re phasing out accounts so we can optimize user experiences with Office 365 and Microsoft personal accounts".


Teachers who have already joined the Microsoft Educator Community using a Facebook, Skype or Twitter account need to change their login details to reflect either an Office 365 or Microsoft personal account by 8 May, 2018.

After 8 May 2018 Microsoft Educator Community users who are currently accessing their accounts through Facebook, Skype or Twitter email addresses will lose access to their account and badges, certifications and any published content will be permanently deleted. 


Don't lose the badges, certificates, points and connections you have worked so hard to achieve. Log in to the Microsoft Educator Community now to convert your login details to a Microsoft account. 

Wednesday, 14 March 2018

TechnoGranny uses Skype to create a Classroom in the Sky

This week, eleven South African teachers, are attending the E2 Education Exchange in Singapore. This prestigious conference brings together over 300 innovative teachers from around the world to share their best practices and to learn more about how to use Microsoft technologies in the Classroom.


Phuti Ragophala, a Microsoft Fellow and passionate advocate of using technology to enhance teaching and learning, was selected to present a session on how she uses Skype to break down the walls and bring the world into the classroom at E2. 

Phuti says: "After retiring from being a school principal at Pula Madibogo Primary School in Limpopo I recognized a digital gap amongst youth and educators in my community. From my home I am able to access many schools nationally and internationally to share innovative ways of learning and teaching using free Microsoft resources like Skype".

Through leveraging the power of Skype, Phuti has been a guest speaker to a class in Texas; she has spoken to children at the KAKUMA refugee camp in Kenya; and she has presented at Microsoft events and webinars. Phuti has also used Skype to be part of global collaborative projects on climate action and supporting victims of sexual abuse. 



Phuti leverages Skype in the Classroom resources to provide opportunities for children in her area to travel virtually beyond the dusty streets of Limpopo. Phuti and her learners have been part of a collaborative project with Middle school Zweetle in Austria; they have taken a virtual field trip to Florida to study turtles; they have played the Mystery Skype game with a class in the Ukraine; and they have discussed water problems with another MIE Expert's class in Japan. 

Whilst Skype is a powerful tool to connect classrooms and teachers with friends in other countries, there is still power in face-to-face opportunities to meet people from other countries. At a previous Microsoft Global Forum, Phuti and USA teacher Julie Hembree shared stories about their respective schools. Julie was so touched by the lack of resources at Pula Madibogo that she organised book collections to be able to send reading materials to South Africa. She then listened to the Limpopo learners read to her via Skype and finally traveled to South Africa to meet them in person and to see Phuti's school first hand.



We are sure that Phuti and the other South African teachers who are attending E2 in Singapore are busy making teacher-friends from across the world. We look forward to hearing how the E2 delegates are going to leverage these friendships and shared love for using technology in the classroom to set up collaborative projects in the future. We are sure that whatever they do, Skype will play a role in ensuring that teachers from different countries will be able to stay in touch virtually after the conference. 

To learn more about Skype in the Classroom - and to get your class involved in Mystery Skypes, Virtual Field Trips and Skype-a-Thons join the Microsoft Educator Community.

Thursday, 8 March 2018

Port Elizabeth Telkom Connected Schools Teachers show how they are using digital tools

In March 2018, SchoolNet SA's operations manager Omashani Naidoo visited two Port Elizabeth High Schools that are part of the Telkom Connected Schools project to see how they are using their digital resources and to provide some on-the-spot coaching and mentoring. Here is a round-up of some of the best practices that were observed where digital tools were being used to enhance teaching and learning.

At Ndzondelelo High School:


Ms Busi Hlongo, a Grade 8 Life Orientation teacher, was teaching a lesson on how media influences Sexual and Cultural Perspectives. The lesson was presented using the Smartboard and lesson plan prepared on PowerPoint.

Mr QweQwe a Grade 8 Maths teacher was teaching a lesson on algebraic expressions. He was comfortable using the Smartbook and Smart Notebook software, and learners who did not have textbooks were able to copy examples from the Smartboard on to paper.



Ms Magibisela, the grade 8 English teacher had downloaded an e-book on Narrative essays. Her lesson required learners to draw a Mindmap and to use the brainstorm strategy to plan the different aspects of what their essays. Even though learners did not have access to digital devices, there was a lot of interactivity between the teacher and learners and between the learners themselves.



Ms Nokwazi Nokufa the Consumer Studies and technology teacher worked with Omashani to find a way to do 3D drawings using a mix of Word, the grid and ruler when the Smartboard software in her classroom could not access the 3D measurement and shape tools. Omashani also helped Nofuka connect to the Sun International Digital Hospitality materials which will help her in teaching Consumer Studies.

Ms Nomakule Mahlaza the grade 8 Natural Science teacher proudly shared the YouTube videos that she has downloaded to help bring topics to life in her classroom. She told Omashani that she could stop any learner to ask them about topics she had completed including photosynthesis and respiration and the learners would be able to answer questions about them based on remembering the topics from the videos that they had watched.

At Khwezi Lomso:

Mr Dasi the Grade 8 Maths teacher is very ICT literate, and uses the Smartboard with ease. He says that he usually relies on the internet to complete online tests and assessments which are sourced from a joint project with the NMMU where curriculum resources have been developed for teachers in the Eastern Cape.



Ms Lantu was teaching Natural science and working through Micro-organisms. The teacher had a PowerPoint presentaion prepared with images and links to online resources. Omashani showed her how to download and save videos to make her lessons even more interactive. 

Ms Kawa the Geography teacher was using the Smartboard to teach her lesson on the rotation of the earth and the globe (latitude and longitude). The teacher had a lesson prepared, but went back to drawing on the screen alongside the Smartboard instead of using the lesson more creatively.



Mr Doyi was also teaching a social sciences (Geography) lesson on the globe and rotation of the earth, and had shared the same PowerPoint as Ms Kawa. This is indicative of sharing of resources which is great to see. Oh how we would love to see these Geography learners playing Mystery Skype in the future as a fun way of testing their understanding of geographical terms. That would really keep them engaged and would ensure that they remembered the parts of the globe!

Ms Mapikela was teaching Xhosa in the most exciting way. She downloaded a YouTube video about Umshato (Xhosa wedding) and the learners were alive in the class. They could all identify with the song and could also then interact when the teacher asked questions about the dress colours during different seasons. 
 

Ms Landiwe Mapapu taught a lesson in EMS about the National Budget and was able to show the breakdown of budget income and expenditure.

Ms Thembisa Ntlangiwini, the Technology teacher used the Smartboard and a prepared PowerPoint lesson to teach Structures. She used images of different structures so that learners could see the various structures in their everyday application.

We salute the teachers of Ndzondelelo High School and Khwezi Lomso who are doing their best to fully utilize the resources that their schools have been given. We know that as these teachers gain in confidence and learn from one another and their training sessions that they will be able to enhance their lessons even further.

Mr Nicholas Matshele - a principal who leads by example

Mr Matshele of NM Tsuene Secondary School is an exemplary principal who leads by example. He has been attending the SchoolNet SA Change Leadership course as part of the Telkom connected schools project.



In addition to learning some new skills as part of this program, Mr Matshele has got some great strategies of his own that help him to successfully lead his school. These include:

1. Accept criticism – accepting criticism is a sign that one is willing to learn and become better at what they do.

2. Sacrifice – A good leader leads by example. If the principal tells his staff to attend training on a Saturday then he too must be willing to attend training. Even if the focus of the training will be on teachers, the principal must attend to motivate his staff members. The same applies for early learner support lessons, the principal is supposed to encourage learners to attend morning classes by being there for them.

3. Be prepared to learn new things and be ahead were possible – A good leader learns and grows with his staff members and where possible he must learn more so that he can help those he is leading.


When we interviewed Mr Matshele, his passion for teachers and learners at his school was clearly evident. In knowing that change is inevitable Mr Matshele helps his staff accept change better by being supportive, leading by example and caring for his staff members.

Circumstances have also forced Matshele to learn digital skills and he acknowledges that teachers need to learn these skills, and share them with their learners, to be more efficient and to communicate more effectively. Matshele says that two years ago he could not write an e-mail however the changing society and the need to be a global citizen has prompted him to learn how to write and send e-mails. Communicating with parents has become easier using e-mails and WhatsApp as teachers are no longer dependant on learners passing messages on to thier parents. Learning how to use the different Office Applications, such as Excel, enable teachers to do calculations more quickly and without errors, when compared to calculating manually.

It takes some effort for schools to implement any new skills and this is why NM Tsuene teachers and school leaders make time for meetings to discuss changes that they need to implement at the school. These meetings are sometimes informal yet they are useful for teachers because this is where they learn from each other. Having ICT devices and service providers who are there to help teachers to build their skills helps rejuvenate their intended accomplishment of the school vision.

Teachers at NM Tsuene are motivated by the generous sponsorship by Telkom Foundation – each of the Grade 8 classes received an interactive board and learner tablets for teaching and learning. Sadly, the learner tablets were stolen from this school in a burglary, however this has not changed the teachers enthusiasm towards technology and the school is constantly seeking ways in which they can recover what they have lost through civvies day donations and other creative ways of fund raising.

This picture shows the teachers of NM Tsuene working in their computer lab before the burglary.


We look forward to hearing more about what this inspirational principal and his staff members are able to achieve at NM Tsuene.