Everyone that knows me knows that I’m a little *A LOT* Type A and that I’m accustomed to using most of my “free time” for work (unhealthy, I know!). However, coming to Jo’burg, I knew I needed to be intentional about creating a healthy work-life balance; otherwise, I would miss out on all that South Africa had to offer. So, this blog will focus on my work, as well as all of the incredible adventures I’ve gone on over the past few weeks!
Research and Development
Today, we set out for Limpopo, a rural province northwest of Jo’burg, to observe school-based coaching support provided to grade R (kindergarten) teachers. The coaching is aimed to help teachers utilize the pedagogy, content knowledge, and assessment practices discussed in professional development trainings to ensure grade R students are ready to enter the Foundation Phase and formal schooling at the end of the year. These areas focus on academic, emotional, social, and physical development. Over the course of the week, we will be traveling to various schools, observing coaching, and talking with the coaches, principals, and teachers on the benefits/struggles of the program. We have designed qualitative interview questions to discuss with the team and will collate the data when we return to Johannesburg to debrief our colleagues and the project’s funders.
Historically, schools with English as the language of instruction have learned Afrikaans as a first additional language (FAL), and schools with Afrikaans or African languages as the language of instruction have learned English as an FAL. However, there has been a recent push towards teaching African languages in schools where the language of instruction is English or Afrikaans in an effort to promote decolonization and continued reconciliation since the end of apartheid nearly 25 years ago.
So, Sharanya and I are designing lesson plan templates to teach African languages in the Foundation Phase (Grades 1-3) in English-medium schools. My knowledge is confined to very basic greetings in one of the nine African languages, which has greatly increased the difficulty of this task (and definitely forced me to face my positionality). However, we are reading through the government standards for First Additional Language (FAL) materials and the cultural background of the different indigenous tribes in South Africa to give us a better understanding of subjects that must be taught in the Foundation Phase (ex. phonics, vocabulary, decoding, reading comprehension, writing, etc.) and relevant themes to teach in each of the languages. Once we have our template with an overview of tasks for each lesson, a language expert will work to provide the content in each specific language.
A couple of weeks ago, we watched a webinar about the international use of early grade reading benchmarks to access progress in reading proficiency. It provided a great opportunity for a community of practitioners to contribute to the conversation in-person and virtually, sharing experiences and previously used approaches. Eventually, the discussion moved towards the use of EGRA as an “end-all, be-all” assessment, rather than a formative assessment that is used to guide instruction. Our supervisor stated that the organization has struggled with this mentality when working with local partners, so Sharanya and I wrote a report detailing what EGRA is, its purpose, and research-supported positives/shortcomings. Our supervisor plans to use the report as a reference when discussing the subject with partners.
Now onto the adventures! First, let me just remind you all of this:
I’m still not over it. Each weekend, Sharanya and I make it a point to do as much exploring as possible—We have a really intense Google Doc named “Nicole and Sharanya Do Fun Things” to ensure that we make the most of our limited number of weekends. Besides bungee jumping, we’ve done a lot of other really cool things. We went to Cape Town where we hiked Table Mountain and Lion’s Head, saw penguins, and went to the southern-most point in Africa (despite the never-ending rain). We also went to the Lion and Safari Park where we fed giraffes, pet lion cubs, and saw tons of animals on a driving tour. We were still feeling adventurous after leaving the Lion and Safari Park, so we went to the Croc City Crocodile and Reptile Park down the street to hold snakes and a baby crocodile and zip-line over 2,500 crocodiles. If you need a good laugh, check out my Facebook to see a view of my attempt at holding a baby snake. Sharanya cried real tears because she was laughing so much. I was a disaster.
Less adventurous but equally cool experiences include: hiking at a nature reserve, seeing a musical, and visiting Constitution Hill, the apartheid museum, and the Top of Africa (the tallest building in Africa). I only have a few more weeks in South Africa, but don’t worry, we have plenty of things on our calendar! Stay tuned.