Serendip is an independent site partnering with faculty at multiple colleges and universities around the world. Happy exploring!

Making Learning More Appealing

pyiu's picture

As I thought about this past week's speakers and read through people's posts (i.e. Amanda's reflections on the speakers, and Lucy's thoughts about using music to inspire learning), the main question that kept coming up in my head was: How do we make learning more fun and interesting for kids?

This past summer my internship centered around improving educational disparities in China. Moreover, my focus was on teaching English because that is the subject that separates the rural students from the urban students on the college entrance exam. The main problems surrounding teaching English in China were the teachers' lack of experience, and students' lack of interest, which in turn affected teachers' motivation to teach English. Many students did not see the use in learning English; they said they were never going to use it. And teachers, believing the harsh reality that many of their students would never get the chance to even leave their villages to ever use English, cannot convince students otherwise and easily lose motivation to teach English. In addition, as mentioned before, teachers are inexperienced in English, rarely using it themselves, even with their fellow English teachers. Classrooms also already lack resources in general, let alone any effective English teaching materials. Thus all these factors combined, including many more, discourage (English) learning in China.

I bring up my experiences in China because as I wondered about what Kathy Knowles said about the education system in Ghana and what techniques Amy used in the classroom, I was reminded about the obstacles I faced while teaching in China. And now I wonder about how I could use those past experiences and the lessons I learned to attempt to make learning more appealing to students in Ghana.

Similar to China, English is not the first language of most (if not all) students in Ghana. Also, education is based off repetition and rote memorization, and test scores and sticking to the curriculum is highly emphasized. Thus concerning the language issues, I wonder how students in Ghana see the value of English in their lives. Do they find it useful or simply a language they’ll rarely/never use? Furthermore, concerning the teaching methods used, I found that many of the teaching methods used by Amy were based off technology and much time investment on the part of the specialist, teachers, and parents. Thus I feel that these methods could not be used in Ghana. Nevertheless I do wonder about the Wilson teaching strategies she was talking about and question if those would be useful in teaching English in Ghana. I do now know much about these Wilson teaching strategies so I’ll try to look into it more. On that note, I wonder how we could develop strategies to make learning appealing for teachers and students in Ghana using simple resources.

In China, I used simple games to help with memorizing words (e.g. matching games). I also placed students into teams (of like 15 due to large class sizes) and found that competition peaked students’ interests. Additionally, I utilized prize systems where students were awarded for getting answers correctly. Of course I also realize that awards can sometimes be resource-demanding, thus a star-chart system could also be used to facilitate awards. And we taught songs, showed movies, and connected words to culture in an effort to make English less abstract and more applicable (and hopefully thus interesting).

One thing I didn’t do, but after talking to Kathy considered doing for Ghana, is bringing word games to facilitate English learning. Kathy suggested games such as Scrabble and Bananagrams to help students learn words.  I think in addition to books I will look into games we could invest in to bring to Ghana. Or better yet, maybe we could make these games with students and teach them how to use them. It's pretty simple to make Bananagrams. I think it could be a great activity to teach the alphabet and make letters on index cards. Then use those cards to play Bananagrams and show them how to make words, assign point values to words. Moreover, for the books, I'm looking forward to making books with the students. An alternative method to bounding pages to make a book is to use an old book, cover the pages and have the students draw and write their own stories on the blank pages. (Credits Professor Jen Callaghan for that suggestion!)

In terms of questions I am still pondering, I would be interested in finding out what the Ghanaian exams consist of (i.e. what subjects)? In other words, what causes educational disparities in Ghana? Also I plan to look into ways to make learning more interesting for students. What are the educational roadblocks present in the classrooms? Lastly, on that note, what can be done to empower teachers to teach students more effectively? I will continue to research and reflect upon these questions before we go to Ghana and when while we’re in Ghana observing the students and teachers in the classroom and outside the classroom.    


alesnick's picture

"I wonder how students in Ghana see the value of English"

This is such a rich post, with many helpful signposts (bad pun intended) for our trip.  Your question about how students in Ghana see the value of English in their lives is excellent: a strong qualitative, interpretive research question that attends to meanings people give their experiences.  Let's see if we can explore this when we go.  I think you make a lot of sense when you say that learning needs to include significant fun, engagement, a sense of purpose and hope.  And these have to balance more immediate with longer-term gratification -- it can't be all one or the other.  

I have a set of bananagrams to bring.  I think making games together is something we might be able to enjoy with the teachers of Titagya.  Also, while Amy did highlight tech at certain points, she also emphasized low-tech approaches using index cards, big books or chart paper, and songs.