As you will be aware from previous posts, I have been spending greater amounts of time visiting the Hatcliffe area in Harare. Home to a huge number of people in extremely poor circumstances, I have been working alongside the teaching community – namely 7 pre-schools, whose teachers were able to attend our teacher training programme in December 2013.

I was blessed to be asked back to Hatcliffe by the teachers, who requested that I provide them with some further Phonics training as they were keen to implement this into their curriculums, but were at a loss at how to start and whether they would be doing it correctly. It was humbling to be asked back and I was not prepared to witness just how many changes the pre-schools in the community have made since the teacher training in December.

I apologise now that due to circumstances at our own school, I was rushing out of the door when I left for Hatcliffe and forgot to take my camera, which I really regret. So I will be returning soon to photograph what I describe below as I am sure my words will not do their work justice- but I will try!

I began my February trip by ‘surprising’ one school with a visit. They were delighted that I had found their school and were so keen to show me all they had achieved between December and February. When the teachers left our teacher training course, we left them with the challenge to attempt to incorporate three things they had learnt form the course, into their schools. Well my goodness, they have! This first school ‘Farai’ (I think that is how it’s spelt, forgive me if I’ve misspelt), is run by a simply lovely Gogo with around 15 children. She delighted in showing me her new timetables on the walls, new menu, behaviour card system, child initiated work folders, look what I can do books, areas of learning signs and boxes around the room, name charts, puzzles and literacy word/sentence cards and work tables! What an INCREDIBLE achievement in such a short space of time. She has created so many resources to aid and support the learning of her children, and she has made them from any materials she can lay her hands on. Her folders are made from scrap cardboard and newspapers, her behaviour cards are small coloured squares from cereal boxes, her tables are upturned barrels with planks on top and all of this, in a room literally no bigger than the carpet area in my own classroom. We asked for three things to be implemented, she has done over 10! And wants to know how she can improve even further!

Humbled cannot even begin to describe how I felt.

Due to time we then walked (we had to abandon my car as the roads are seriously impassable! I said a small prayer that it would still be there when we got back!!) to the school where I would be leading the further Phonics training session. This school is run by a lovely lady named Clotilda (again, check my spelling!) whose children were sat around 4 new tables, each with child initiated activities happening – change number one, tick! She then excitedly asked to show me the other things she had implemented from the teacher training course. She showed the new charts, diary and timetables she had created and then led me to the smaller back room – which has been transformed into her different areas of learning. With signs on the walls documenting an ICT area – with toy laptop, Music area – with tin drums, Toy Shop Role Play – with tennis rackets and teddies, Interest table – with topic related items and the most exciting knowledge and understanding area – with a tray filled with water, stones and foliage to explore their current river topic! She explained she had stolen this idea from another lady who had been on the teacher training who had set up a similar set up in her classroom for their topic on the sea. INCREDIBLE! Not only has she managed to again implement more than three things from the training course, but the teachers within the Hatcliffe community, are working together as a unit to share resources and ideas to encourage creative teaching!

What they have achieved is beyond what I could have ever intended – and it’s only the beginning!

We then began the phonics training course, with 12 teachers from the Hatcliffe community, plus my trusted ‘Hatty’ sidekick Duggie and my teaching assistant Lorraine. The intention was to explain what phonics is and why we do it, how it is implemented into the curriculum, how to plan for it and how to teach it including a variety of activities. In terms of the training, it was relatively simple! The teachers were all keen to learn (less keen to be used as my guinea pigs when I asked for volunteers however! Adults do get nervous!).

The most important aspect of the session was the easiest for me. When teaching phonics, the simplest foundation is to ensure that when teaching the first basic sounds, you teach them correctly! This however, is where most of the Hatty teachers were getting it wrong – Ah! This is mainly due to the way the Shona language is spoken and there is certain emphasis on different sounds or letters. So we spent around 15 minutes, working our way through the alphabet, saying the letter followed by the phonic sound – which resulted in some extremely humorous attempts by some of the teachers who, for fear of getting it wrong, almost sounded like they were being strangled whilst they were saying the sounds! By the end, 90% of the teachers had 90% of the sounds well ingrained into their minds and mouths – not bad!

I provided each school with a small pack including the letter and sounds progression for phase 2, an example lesson plan and an example weekly plan. Most were keen to begin including a daily phonics lesson from next week and all said they would implement a full phonics session from next term. One teacher said she had been attempting phonics since the teacher training and that her class were able to recognise most sounds but could not yet read words – I nearly fell on the floor! This is a HUGE achievement for the children in this community and I was quick to reassure the teacher that for the length of time she had been teaching them the phonics, they were exactly where they should be progression wise, and that she should keep going! Wow.

So, alas, my time came to an end and I returned to One Way. But I have returned an ever changed person. It astounds me every time I visit; just how the small things we are doing for the adults that we work with or train, have such a huge impact on the children of this country. If we can continue to do what we are doing, with the same enthusiasm and with God guiding us to the time and places we need to be, just how much can we achieve in our time here??

(Sorry it’s such a long blog!)

Sophie x