Wednesday, 10 September 2014

Robbie and the Cards

When making new cards becomes an
impromptu private lesson (Photo: D.Petterson)
A common interchange while in Gulf Province went:

‘Is Robbie ready?’
‘He’s just sorting/making/organising his cards’

Don’t get me wrong, we love Robbie and his literacy flashcards, but the consistency with which they emerged was amusing.
Robbie has made it his personal mission to improve literacy in the province, including through uniskript. His enthusiasm for these things meant that in every place we went, we would meet with the community to discuss literacy. It was a meeting that generally ended in a uniskript teaching session.

In village after village, we would hear parents express their concern about their children’s education. We would emphasise the advantages of learning to read in the vernacular first, as then children have the advantage of already being fluent speakers of the language. Learning to read in a language you are still learning to speak is a much bigger challenge. This was illustrated as trying to walk on two separate logs at once. It is hard to take a step on the new language log while also taking a step on the reading log. If we first walk on the reading log, it is then easier to step across to the new language log and concentrate on that.
 Teaching the teachers in Maipenairu

Parents easily caught Robbie’s enthusiasm for uniskript as they quickly learnt to recognise the symbols for their language. Introducing the symbols was done by combining sounds, hand signs and flashcards. These were the cards Robbie was always producing, as he would leave a set behind in each place and create a new set for the next place. We left a trail of flashcards in our wake. Soon parents and teachers were able to use the cards to build words and to recognise words that Robbie built.

We also did some uniskript sessions with school children. They too were quick to catch on, and enjoyed the process. It is our hope that these students will use their new skills to help the younger children learn.

 Ara’ava kids and cards (Photo: D.Petterson)
Just as a bush knife can be used to build a house or to cut someone in anger, uniskript is a tool which can be used poorly or well, and we saw both things happening. In one school, uniskript was mixed in with other unhelpful teaching methods and became just as unhelpful. In another school, the teacher was using uniskript well and the kids were learning quickly. The good thing in this situation is that they have someone, Robbie-of-the-cards, who is willing to keep providing training and resources so that the tool may be used well in more and more places.

I was also able to drop in on Ara’ava, the village where we first introduced uniskript over Christmas. It was encouraging to see the trainee teachers we’d worked with running their classes and the kids clearly learning and enjoying doing so.

The true impact of this approach to literacy will only really be seen in the longer term, but it is encouraging to watch and participate in the first steps.
Teaching parents uniskript at a community meeting (Photo D.Petterson)

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