March 9, 2012
Students in Alison Schmidt’s “Theory and Practice in Teaching Reading” (from left) Ellie Kleber, Celeste Tannenbaum, Eve Boonin, Katie Kirkpatrick, Ellen McIlvaine, Catie Herst, Emma Frank, and Ann Berkow, review the alphabet books they created for use at the elementary school in the Ghanaian village of Akaa.
WOOSTER, Ohio – Even the most basic elementary reading and teaching materials are scarce in the Ghanaian village of Akaa, but a group of students at The College of Wooster is on a mission to change that — one book and one lesson plan at a time.
Frances ‘Boo’ Flynn, a senior, and Katie Darling, a junior, became aware of the need through Lauren Grimanis, a senior who established the Akaa Project — an initiative to improve the educational opportunities for the children in the village. Flynn and Darling approached Alison Schmidt, associate professor of education, and asked if students in her Theory and Practice in Teaching Reading class could supply the local school there with materials. Schmidt enthusiastically embraced the proposal, and developed three assignments that would have a direct effect on the children in the village.
The first assignment was the creation of a basic text to help children learn the alphabet in a community where English is spoken, but not fluently. Each page was to include a photo taken on a smartphone that featured an image of something that begins with that letter. (The purpose, according to Schmidt, was to include an element of easily accessible and authentic technology in the assignment).
The second and third assignments involved the development of two lesson plans — one to accompany the book they created and the other to cover a general class session. “The teachers there asked for guidance in developing a lesson plan, so we are helping to educate them as well,” said Schmidt.
The assignments were designed to complement Wooster’s theory-to-practice model of education as well as its emphasis on global initiatives. “This makes it more meaningful, more authentic,” said Schmidt. “Instead of creating books and materials that will never be used, this assignment will have a significant impact on the children in Akaa.”
Throughout the semester, the students have been reflecting on their experience in their Portfolio, an online tool that helps them learn and understand the six standards set forth by the International Reading Association, including foundational knowledge, curriculum and instruction, and assessment and intervention, as well as the seven standards set forth the Ohio Department of Education, which include content knowledge, learning environment, and collaboration and communication.
“It gives the students a chance to collect, describe, and assess what they are learning and how it applies in the classroom, including the school in Akaa,” said Schmidt. “They will be able to reflect upon how the book and lesson plans contribute to the education of the young students in Akaa.”
Flynn, who traveled to Akaa last summer and again during winter break, said she was inspired by what she witnessed. “I had never seen such dedication to learning,” she said. “Even though they had few resources and limited use of the English language, they were riveted to what was being presented.”
Ultimately, the objective is to help the students in Akaa to become better learners. “Our goal to get resources and ideas to the community,” said Flynn. “The teachers have little training or few tools. We want to give them materials they can use over and over again.”
Flynn and her fellow students also hope to broaden the children’s vision of education. “We want them to recognize the importance of education and to generate interest in learning beyond the basics of letters and numbers,” she said. “We want them to realize just how valuable it is in our world.”
To find out more about the Akaa project, or to donate items, visit Akaa Project website.
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