News : Learning While Playing!


In February 2015, some of the SEP UK team visited the SEP Happy School to carry out a review of teaching and learning, and make recommendations for further training and development. See below for their findings on Kindergarten pedagogy.

Learning While Playing! A review of play-based pedagogy at SEP Happy School 2015

Play-based learning allows for children to explore the world around them in a way that is compatible with how their brains are developing at this age.  Their learning is primarily child-directed, meaning that the children are free to choose where they would like to focus their attention, be it on construction with Lego or blocks, role-play in the home corner or market, creating music using a range of musical instruments or exploring books in the book corner. Interacting with other children in the various learning areas, they learn how to share, communicate, cooperate and problem-solve – all vital life skills.

Currently, this is not the typical method used to educate the younger years in the Ghanaian education system. Observations of other local primary schools indicate that often these students are expected to engage with learning in the same way as older students; sat silently at desks, with whole-class teaching not fostering their curiosity and creativity. These formative years, when development and the capacity to learn is significant and potentially rapid, are not typically given the weight or nuanced approach that is so vital to further progression and function. Even at the SEP, where the ethos and enthusiasm of teaching staff is certainly above-average and resources are more widely available, large classes of KG children were initially educated on benches with much less than necessary indoor and outdoor play. Further teacher-training was identified as an urgent priority.

In September last year, we began a crucial stage of innovation. Implemented by primary education specialist and SEP trustee Tara Sabi, with the support of our friends at Sabre Trust, we introduced a comprehensive programme of training for the KG teachers - giving them the necessary skills to implement a play-based learning environment at SEP. The wonderful staff embraced the training, skills and new approach with enthusiasm and natural flair. 

We introduced a specific model of pedagogy for all students in KG:

Every day in KG starts with 10 – 15 minutes of singing and dancing.  The children are amazing at keeping the beat with musical instruments! They sing Fantse and English songs and nursery rhymes.
Phonics is taught for 20 minutes every day using the Letters and Sounds systematic programme.  In each session, the children stand up to practise writing the new sound with their ‘magic pen’ and also have a chance to practise writing it on individual whiteboards.  The children are asked to generate any words that begin with that sound.  To encourage bilingual learning, teachers use Fantse words that begin with that sound too. 
The children work in small groups with their class teacher at three times in the day (for a maximum of 15 minutes).  One session on the current topic, one on finer motor skills and the third on the creative curriculum (movement, dance and drama). The play-based learning continues outside, where children engage in various Physical Development activities and Mathematics. Outdoor learning activities include throwing and catching, races, singing with musical instruments, and practising writing letters and numbers in the sand.

The most recent trip to the school site reviewed current practice and we are delighted to report the many strengths and are keen to get working on our next steps.

Our strengths: 
The environment in the KG classrooms is calm, all children are engaged and progress is outstanding. The teachers have been following the phonics planning well, are clear on the pronunciation of each sound and the blending to form words. Teachers competently use the curriculum maps in a timely way to plan and collaborate. They have used their initiative to create posters for the classroom relating to the various topics they have covered, which shows a real engagement in the kind of teaching they are now doing. Behaviour management is maintained through use of the school’s traffic-light system, and the teachers’ strong sense of authority though students are so well engaged that disruptive behaviour is very rare.

Observation of group work shows clear teacher-engagement with students and good use of modelling to support children’s learning. Staff surveys indicate staff are passionate about educating children and have a sound knowledge of the SEP pedagogy. It was reassuring to hear all of them mention how wonderful it is to be able to play with the children while teaching (particularly during outdoor learning) and how much progress they can see students making through play. It reinforces our belief that learning should be fun and it allows for children and teachers to develop their relationship and be happy while at school! 

Areas for development:
Observation data of the teaching in KG revealed that more scaffolding and differentiated student learning is required – through giving clues or providing the stepping stones that will help students with different levels of need. More emphasis on praising effort is also needed (students are frequently praised for attainment) based on the Dweck (2008) model of the growth-mindset.

What next?
Tackling the area for development with additional support and training are initial priorities. SEP work with specialised teacher-training volunteers from the UK, and our partnerships in Ghana allow for relevant and informed in-country development and training. During the most recent trip, KG teachers received training on Jolly Phonics that will be used alongside the current programme, having identified the benefits of phonics when beginning to teach English as a Foreign Language, and having requested more training and resources in this area.  UK volunteer staff also introduced culturally-relevant actions for each sound. 
Teachers will now spend more time focussing on games and activities within each phonics session that support children’s ability to blend sounds together – the basis for reading.

Progress summary
The KG model of pedagogy has had swift and significant impact. The students in the current play-based KG environment are set to make the most rapid progress of all SEP cohorts. Hence, using appropriate aspects of this model, the SEP team will seek to replicate it in Stage 1 and 2 initially, from 2015-2016.

What a learning revolution! And, even better, one that involves so much playing!

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