Question from a Middle School in Niger, Part 5

Mrs. Kombo writes:

Fofo* Mike,

Thank you very much for your ideas. I'll comment them one by one.

1. We haven't experimented anything with French yet, except for doubling the hours allocated to it. Our mistake though was to keep the same teacher who sadly was not able to put those extra hours to good use.

That seems to happen with extra hours sometimes. As I've written before, it describes MATCH classes in our first year in 2000.

More recently, I've spoken a few times in past weeks with the Houston superintendent. We are trying to advise them on tutoring.

He, like most big-city superintendents, is attempting to turnaround some acutely low-performing schools. A federal requirement, I believe, is to extend the school day in these schools to trigger some federal $. Sometimes this longer day is accomplished simply by making class periods, um, longer.

But often that just tacks 15 to 20 minutes of "dead time" onto last year's lesson plan; the teacher does the same thing as before, and then runs the 4-corners offense to stall until the bell rings.

Evidently, from Mrs. Kombo's note, this unintended consequence is not limited to the USA.

Learning with computers off line, using software to teach basic French reading skills sounds like an excellent idea to me. But, as you point out yourself, I don't really see how we can get the money for that.

I decided to look up the $100 laptop project. A couple years ago it got a ton of press for the MIT Media Lab. Here's what I learned. The $100 laptop costs $229. And they only sell them 100 at a time, to non-profits and governments.

2. I have not had a chance to visit a high-performing high-poverty school yet. In Niger, we do not have one (if we succeed in becoming one, we'll be the first!) Thank you very much for the link to the Ark middle schools. We had not heard of them.

Yes, it might be interesting to visit one of the schools in England and also speak to the person in charge of the Ark program in developing countries. Sometime, in the not too distant future, Adamou and I would also like to visit MATCH School if at all possible?

3. Posting a few of your questions online - Yes, by all means! Ideas which work and which have been tested in schools with similar challenges would be most welcome.

4. a) Dosage - Concentrating on French in the 6th grade is a very good idea. To be able to cut science and history however, we'll need to obtain a special authorization from our Ministry of Education. The State does not fund private schools, but it monitors them very closely and we are obliged to follow the state curriculum and timetable.

Wow. Even the private schools don't have charter school-like freedoms.

b) Talent - This is truly a great proposition and one we can act on as from next October.We need to seek out an excellent elementary school teacher for our 6 graders.

c) Packaged French literacy acquisition curriculum - I've been looking for one for the past year, but have not found a suitable one yet. They are either for adults or for typically "Western" mind structures and mentalities...

d) Peer tutoring - Can you please tell us more about this : how can we organize and fit in such a program into our regular curriculum and daily schedule?



* Hello and thank you in Zarma, the predominant language in Niamey, but not in Niger. Hausa is the majority language in Niger. I only understand Zarma!