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Titagya - Bryn Mawr/Haverford Education Program Partnership: Ideas, Field Notes, Linkages

alesnick's picture

This web page is designed as a place to collect and generate ideas, experiences, and connections useful to developing a partnership between the Titagya program to build preschools and kindergartens in Northern Ghana and the Bryn Mawr/Haverford Education Program, at Bryn Mawr and Haverford Colleges, outside of Philadelphia Pennsylvania. 


To begin, the partnership is focusing on exploring cross-cultural curriculum development, with a focus on the themes of conflict resolution and the role of creativity, interaction, and play in learning. Bryn Mawr/Haverford Education students are invited to post notes and reflections based on field work they are doing with young learners. These will be found in the discussion forum below.

We invite people with knowledge, ties, ideas, or generative questions connecting to these topics or the partnership more generally to participate in the online forum below.


Maggie Powers's picture

Respectful & Empowering Classroom Practices

This week I tried to pay close attention to the types of respect and power that the children have in the classroom. I noted a couple of specific instances while I observed and worked with them.

During free time, the children still have the freedom and more importantly the belief that they can be creative and decide (have the power) what their work/activities look like (a red, yellow and purple mermaid, little green dinosaurs who "set traps" or legos that turn into ships). I think activities like "Junk Box" really encourage this creative license because it simply consists of lots of boxes, bottles and other random items that can become whatever the children imagine. There is no pressure to create something specific or typical. When I ask what children are making, at any of the free-time stations, many consistently answer "I'm not sure," which I interpret as a contentment to just explore without having to constrain their work with limits and labels.

Another classroom practice that Ms. P uses is to support children's interactions, is asking them to be in control of their learning, often through peer questioning. For example, during morning meeting we often practice numbers by trying to find them on the calendar ("Can anyone find 12?") and at this age this task can be quite challenging (trying to decipher 12 vs. 21) so children often get stuck. When this happens, Ms. P may ask if anyone can help the child who is trying to answer but instead of calling on them herself, she will ask the child to call on someone. Ms. P hands over her power to be the one who gets to decide who speaks and answers to the child and he or she can then be the one to ask his or her peers for guidance or help.

The feedback process during morning meeting also seems to be another clear instance of respecting the children's ideas and curiosity. After the "schedule reader" reads the schedule every morning, there is always time set aside for any questions or comments the children have or want to make. Within this very standard classroom practice, Ms. P makes room for feedback and the children's voices, allowing them to add in their own experiences and expertise, as well as providing them with more information about certain items, so that they are informed and valued participants.

Later, during story time, Ms. P again made space for the children to pair-share their thoughts and predictions and later in the book, asked them "what are you thinking?" I think this really sends a message to the children that Ms. P, probably a figure the children look up to and believe in, is interested in their thoughts and ideas, they're important too.

One other classroom practice that Ms. P uses gives both a lot of responsibility and power to students. 1, 2, 3 Magic, a positive-discipline approach created a clinical psychologist, presents children with warnings when they are behaving inappropriately (i.e. someone is playing with his/her chair, turning it upside down, etc … the teacher says the child's name and "that's one."). The two main tenants of the practice include not having any discussion of the actual behavior and not using emotion (the teacher doesn't become angry or raise her voice) but simply giving the numbers and then, if a child reaches three, having him/her sit out. I think this system presents a good warning system that allows children to stop and realize their behavior is pushing the limits and allows them to try and control it - sending the message that the teacher respects and believes in the child enough to have faith he/she can do that. If a child does reach three, he or she is asked to get the timer and a teacher helps him/her to find a good place to sit quietly, alone, for five minutes. The practice appears to work very well, with a "one" or "two" usually being sufficient to stop inappropriate behavior and for those children who simply cannot control themselves, it provides a way to give them space to regain that control without creating a negative experience.

Thinking about these practices, I wonder how many of them are easier because of the school environment. Do teachers who are pressured by state standards and achievement levels have the time to make these types of spaces for children? When classes are bigger (there are 20 in our class) do these practices work as well to create a respectful environment for children? I would think that, even if they might be harder to implement, these types of practices would be worth the time it would take to establish and support them because it really seems to create a positive classroom environment where children feel empowered and also work very well with their peers.

Andrew Garza's picture

Helpful examples

These are some great examples of how a teacher can empower students to contribute their thoughts and learn by teaching their peers.

The 1, 2, 3 Magic system sounds interesting. Do you see any potentially negative consequences of not discussing the behavior in question of the child? How do the teachers make children understand why a particular behavior is not working well? It sounds like the policy has some success, and it's helpful to hear about very specific policies like this.

Thank you!

Maggie Powers's picture

11/2 Reflections

I really appreciated having some of our field mentors come to class last week. Having just been to my placement (A Kindergarten class in a private Friends school in the city) that morning and hearing my field mentor talk about the importance of social relations and play presented a very stark contrast to one of the other mentors in a public school. I was glad that this issue was brought into the open because I think it is a very concerning problem in our current education system and one that is enveloping more and more classrooms, without leaving any space for teachers to try and change the system. I really struggle with the idea that children, especially very young ones, will learn better by being pushed to know specific facts, achieve certain levels and abilities. The added problem of this notion seems to be that in order to measure and therefore validate all of these measures, children have to be tested, frequently - valuable time that could, instead, be spent in play and true, innate learning. I think it is so interesting that the creators of these standards and curricula are so quick to latch on to test results and statistics while ignoring the equally valid studies that have proven, with hard evidence, that children not only learn through play but that they learn a lot that way.

I find it hard to believe that children in independent schools, whose educational experiences are not as structured and standardized (and often more play/project-based), are achieving at much lower levels than children who are following these strict, achievement-based curricula. I felt that the teachers who were coming from a public school environment really expressed a feeling of pressure and restriction as to how they could teach and how much freedom they could allow their children. It almost seemed like the whole concept of learning about or from a child was negated because none of that matters to the school system or the test. The only thing that matters is what the children can leaner about from teachers and whether or not they can correctly represent that knowledge on a test.

I consistently come back to this poem, written by the pedagogical theorist Loris Malaguzzi, who started a new approach to early care and education in Italy but I think it really expresses this dilemma between standardized achievement and play well. He argues that children have a hundred or really innumerable languages or ways to express themselves and their ideas yet "the school" tries to steal these away. Forcing the child to see work and play as separate and separate thinking from doing (concrete learning and theory form exploration and discovery). I really like the idea of stopping to actually listen to the child, who tells us that "the hundred is there." As an observer in my kindergarten field placement, i have the unique opportunity to just watch the children sometimes and when I do, it is so clear that they are learning and discovering so much "just" by playing with cardboard, trying to manipulate a block structure so cars can balance on it or designing art creations. Watching these interactions and listening to the dialogues they have, it seems obvious that giving children the space for play and self-expression really is the answer … but I don't know how to make that acceptable in this achievement-based education system or visible to politicians and policy makers.

The Hundred Languages

No way. The hundred is there.

The child
is made of one hundred.
The child has
a hundred languages
a hundred hands
a hundred thoughts
a hundred ways of thinking
of playing, of speaking.

A hundred always a hundred
ways of listening
of marveling, of loving
a hundred joys
for singing and understanding
a hundred worlds
to discover
a hundred worlds
to invent
a hundred worlds
to dream.

The child has
a hundred languages
(and a hundred hundred hundred more)
but they steal ninety-nine.
The school and the culture
separate the head from the body.
They tell the child:
to think without hands
to do without head
to listen and not to speak
to understand without joy
to love and to marvel
only at Easter and at Christmas.

They tell the child:
to discover the world already there
and of the hundred
they steal ninety-nine.

They tell the child:
that work and play
reality and fantasy
science and imagination
sky and earth
reason and dream
are things
that do not belong together.

And thus they tell the child
that the hundred is not there.
The child says:
No way. The hundred is there.

-Loris Malaguzzi (translated by Lella Gandini)
Founder of the Reggio Emilia Approach

Liz Scholom's picture

Response to Amy's 10/25 Post

In thinking about Amy's idea that the best way to resolve conflict is to prevent it (see last paragraph in 10/25 post), it struck me that there are very productive things that can come out of the experience of conflict. Amy and I have our placement in the same kindergarten classroom, so in hearing our two different voices, perhaps our complementary "takes" on the question will shed light on the continuum of different ways to view/approach conflict in the classroom.
One thing that I've noticed about this particular classroom is that conflict is frequently resolved-as Amy explained-through giving the children the verbal tools to generate peaceful dialogue from the conflict. However, the way in which this dialogue is encouraged frequently comes at the cost of a significant educational moment. Fundamentally, this method leaves the underlying cause of the provoking behavior/words unacknowledged. I have seen it happen in many instances at my placement that a child (let's call her Sally) will say something hurtful, such as "I don't want to play with you, Billy." The standard procedure in such a situation is to give Sally a productive verbal alternative to the hurtful thing they've just said, such as “It's not that I don't want to play with you, Billy, it's just that I don't want to play the game that you want to play.” While this is a perfectly useful way to operate, what is lost in so doing is the opportunity to work through the emotional/developmental underpinnings that sparked the comment in the first place. Taking a moment to ask Sally why she is saying that she doesn't want to play with Billy, or how she thinks Billy might feel when she says she doesn't want to play with him (which may entail asking her to think about how she would feel if Billy said that to her) can open up a whole new realm of understanding for a child. This kind of emotional exploration can push a child to reflect upon his or her own feelings, see things from the point of view of the other, and in so doing cause them to be more self-aware of themselves and others around them in their social interactions. Furthermore, examination of the situation in such a way might give Billy some insight into the situation too-especially, for example, if he was doing something to make Sally not want to play with him. This kind of discussion could help Billy to think about Sally's comment and understand why she may have said it in the first place.
Lastly, it can be very helpful-even reassuring-for kids to talk directly about their unpleasant feelings, such as the one sparking the comment. Taking time to discuss childrens' feelings of anger, self-effacement, jealousy, or resentment not only legitimizes such feelings, but makes it okay for them to have those feelings and gives them the emotional space to work through them. A child's capacity to sort through his/her own feelings-and to understand the feelings of others-equips him or her to get the most out of a classroom setting and interpersonal learning environments throughout the rest of his or her life.

Andrew Garza's picture

Analyzing such a specific

Analyzing such a specific situation is very helpful. Your comments illustrate some of the potential tension between immediate 'peace-making' in the classroom and the need to help the children understand their feelings and underlying causes behind the conflict.

As you suggest, the best outcome is when the situation is resolved and the children also learn something about themselves and identifying and controlling their emotions. As Professor Grobstein notes, the tension that argument causes can spur great learning opportunities.

Ann Dixon's picture

A 5 year old's way of dealing with conflict

Here's my againstness example d'heure:

8:45am Audrey picks out fleece pants to wear today, when it will be in the 60's. I tell her to pick something lighter weight. She gets mad at me and sits and sulks.

8:55am Audrey comes downstairs, wearing lighter weight pants, and presents me with a picture that she has drawn of jail.

9:00 We proceed happily to school.

Art is a very powerful, non-verbal tool!

Paul Grobstein's picture

conflict and education

"it struck me that there are very productive things that can come out of the experience of conflict"

I've been thinking a lot about conflict in the classroom recently (cf The Brain and Open-Ended Transactional Inquiry: A Story of Three Loops and of Conflict and The Brain and Education: Three Loops and Conflict Resolution), and have come to a very similar conclusion, one I might state even more strongly

"without confict there is no education"

The basic idea is that we learn by experiencing dissonances between ourselves and the world, between different aspects of ourselves, and between ourselves and other people, and using those dissonances to conceive new ways of thinking/being.  Inherent in that is both the value of acknowledging "unpleasant feelings" and of reflection on them.  From this perspective classrooms ought actually to be organized to encourage conflict, rather than to prevent it.

That's not inconsistent with a "Be nice" rule.  But it does perhaps usefully put a different spin on such a rule.  One isn't asked to be nice to people in the sense of not disagreeing with them, but instead to be nice in the sense of valuing other peoples' perspectives/feelings as a potential contribution to the further development of one's own.  To be "nice" doesn't mean avoiding conflict but rather avoiding behaviors that will discourage others from displaying their own feelings/perspectives.   For more along these lines, see "againstnesses, internal and external"

"my sense is that much of the discomfort over the idea of "againstness" itself derives from the presumption that it necessarily involves a choice between embracing and destroying.  An alternative is to treat differences, both internal and external, as generative opportunities, as the creative tensions from which emerge new possibilities."



alesnick's picture

appreciating conflict

This exchange seems to be a very fruitful conflict in its own right, and raises such rich questions about the integration of negative feelings, about connections between social, emotional, and academic learning, and about how educators frame and address the struggles of students.  Thank you.

Amy Thomas's picture

Amy Thomas November 1st,

Amy Thomas
November 1st, 2009
Education 310
Alice Lesnick

. Weekly Reflection #5:
Play-based education

Links to articles that are referenced:
1. New York Times article on executive function and play

2. Tools of the Mind website; the program cited in the NY times article

As I was reading the New York Times online at the start of the year, I came across the following article: “Can the right kinds of play teach self-control?” The article speaks a lot about executive function, which the author defines as “the ability to think straight: to order your thoughts, process information in a coherent way, to hold relevant details in your short-term memory, to avoid distractions and mental traps and focus on the task in front of you.” This task seems central to most educational objectives and the basis for academic achievement throughout life. What this article recommends as an effective way to teach children this skill is lots of play in the classroom. Specifically, the author speaks about the importance of “mature dramatic play: complex, extended make-believe scenarios, involving multiple children and lasting for hours, even days.” I will write about how I see this type of play—that increases executive function—fostered and encouraged within my placement site.

I am in a kindergarten classroom and the children’s day is set up as a combination of “kid-choice” and “teacher-choice” time. Kid-choice time refers to the less structured free play times the kids have. For instance, they have kid-choice time when they first arrive at school, during their outdoor recess times, during indoor playtime and at select transition times throughout the day. Teacher-choice time, on the other hand, refers to the periods in the day that are structured and the children are meant to focus on a particular task that is of the teacher’s choosing. Often they will be expected to listen to one speaker, whether it is the teacher or one of their peers. For instance, at Calendar Time the children are called on to recite the day of the week, the month etc and every other child is expected to sit quietly until it is his or her turn to respond. In many ways, you could say that the children are expected to rely highly on their executive functioning skills during these periods of teacher-choice time.

During the kid-choice time, many of the play activities have an educational basis but are still very fun in nature. For instance, usually there are puzzles set up at a table in the morning. Instead of simply allowing the children to work on them blindly, the teachers use this as an opportunity to scaffold the types of skills that one can use to effectively complete a puzzle. I have seen and heard teachers use the following sort of think-aloud: “Hmmm…. This piece has blue and yellow. Do you see any pieces with blue and yellow on them?” This is a way of modeling the appropriate skills to complete a puzzle. In doing so, the teachers are helping the children learn a sort of problem-solving skill that is relevant in their lives.

The following is an example of the “mature dramatic play” that the New York Times article cites as key to the development of executive functioning in children and how the various teachers support the activity. The children have a game they like called Puppy Pound. It is a sort of chase game that involves some children being puppies and hiding around the playground equipment. The other children are the dogcatchers and they try and chase them around and catch them and put them in Puppy Pound. How this differs from a simple game of tag is that the children have developed story lines—how the puppies work together to escape from the Puppy Pound, why the dogcatchers are chasing them and how they plan to trap them etc. This game is played almost every day at Recess. The teachers recognize this as a way of teaching certain behaviors and will tell the puppies to “be still” or “sit quietly” so the dogcatchers cannot seem them. For children that may struggle sitting still in a structured classroom environment this offers them the chance to practice the skill without fear of admonishment and with clear social benefits. Additionally, the teachers encourage shy children to participate and although they often fear being vocal as themselves, it is inspiring to see them flourishing and being active participants when they are able to embody their respective role.

Andrew Garza's picture

Thank You

Amy, On behalf of Titagya Schools thank you so much for your reflections and thoughts on these early educational issues. Executive function is an area that we're focused on, and I appreciate your comments on that. Any other insights you have on that would also be valuable. The 'kid-choice' / 'teacher-choice' concept implemented in your classroom sounds very interesting. Our staff in Ghana and I look forward to hearing more of your reflections!

- Andrew Garza

alesnick's picture


I am struck by how the rules described above are communicated to the children in terms of spatial location: everywhere, circle.  In this way, setting becomes an important feature of instruction.

Amy Thomas's picture

Week 4 Reflection: Classroom

Week 4 Reflection:
Classroom Management as Prevention

General Placement Description:
-co-educational school with a full day kindergarten program
-two classes of kindergarteners
-13 students in my class (4 girls, 9 boys)
-some students went to pre-school, others did not
-primary teacher and assistant teacher there full-time

“Everywhere Rules”:
1. Be Nice.
2. Be Safe.
3. Take care of our things.

“Circle Rules”:
1. Empty hands.
2. Sitting pretzel style
3. Raise your hand
4. Listen to the person who’s speaking

The first set of rules is given its name—“Everywhere Rules”—because the children are expected to follow the rules throughout the school day no matter where they are. They apply in the classroom, on the playground, on nature walks and on field trips. The rules are obviously meant to be very simple so the children can understand both the rules themselves and why they are important to the classroom community. I was lucky enough to attend the first week of kindergarten and I watched how the teachers presented and taught the rules. They were very explicit about what they expected and also what the consequences were when the rules were not followed—usually this was sitting in their cubby (to calm down more than anything else) or to finish an activity during recess. Additionally, the teachers aimed to have the children become personally invested in the rules. They had each child choose a rule and draw a picture to match it. For instance, one child drew a picture of children being safe at Recess. They then hung these images around the classroom and they continue to stay on the walls as a visual reminder of the rules. Beyond these child-inspired depictions, there are actual clip-art type images that the teachers have laminated and mounted next to the formal list of “Circle Rules”. At the beginning of each circle time—Morning Meeting, Calendar, Story Time etc—the children are reminded of the rules. Again, the teachers make sure that the children are involved in this process. Each week the children have a different classroom job, one of which is “Rules Reminder”. This child announces the rules at the start of each Circle Time and then the other children verbally repeat the words as well as acting them out. For example, when the children say “empty hands” they open their hands in front of their bodies to signify that they understand and are following the rule.

Not only did the teachers emphasize the rules at the beginning of the year, but they continue to tie their admonishments to these rules. For instance, when I was there last week the children were banging plastic animals against each other in a violent manner. The teacher asked them to stop because they were breaking the school rules of “being safe” (they could hurt each other because they were being rough) and “taking care of our things” (they could have broken the toys which was not taking care of them). The other children also feel an investment and an ownership of the rules. During recess last week one child told her friend to stop grabbing her during their game of tag because it was not “being safe.”

Tying all of this together, I would argue that the most effective way to resolve conflict in the classroom is to prevent it. It is rare that issues between children get out of hand because the teachers have given the children the tools, especially the language, required to work things out themselves. And when they are unable to resolve conflict themselves a gentle reminder of the rules is usually enough to solve issues because the children already have such a grounded framework to work from.