Principles for adapting playful pedagogies to context [CIES Presentation]

Efforts to promote playful pedagogies in low- and middle-income countries face many challenges. Among these challenges are the norms of teacher-child interaction that have a strong cultural basis. These norms include children’s reluctance to speak in front of adults, teachers’ desire to avoid embarrassing children and to promote a sense of fairness and togetherness in the classroom (Jukes et al, 2021a). In this paper I suggest an approach for adapting pedagogy to cultural context. The approach involves designing teaching activities to achieve two goals. Building on the work of others (O’Sullivan, 2004; Schweistfurth, 2013), the first is the cognitive learning goal of the activity. The second is the culturally appropriate social goal of the activity. This framing helps to design instructional approaches that promote learning and can be readily taken up by teachers. This approach is particularly effective when teaching activities are co-constructed with teachers (Randolph et al, 2020). In this paper I will discuss 3 studies of teacher perceptions and classroom behaviours in Tanzania that led to the development of this approach (Jukes et al, 2021b). I will also present one example of a teacher co-creation workshop in Tanzania based on the suggested approach to contextualising teaching activities. I will also illustrate the application to the contextualisation of playful pedagogies, based on qualitative research in Kenya and Ghana.

PLAY overview CIES (Dubeck et al., 2022)

Play has the potential to transform the global learning crisis. In infancy and early childhood, play builds a strong foundation for later learning by improving brain development and growth (Goldstein, 2012). In education systems that lack capacity to support children effectively, play brings its own powerful engine to drive learning—the joyful, engaged intrinsic motivation of children themselves (Zosh et al., 2017). In this way, play contributes to the holistic development of children, helping to prepare them for the challenges of the current and future world. Accordingly, there is an urgent need to improve measurement of playful learning, to be able to add to the evidence base on what the benefits of play are, how playful learning takes place, and how it can be promoted at home and at school across the lifespan. This presentation focuses on a renewed conceptualization of playful learning and describes an innovative approach to measuring how settings contribute to playful learning for children ages 0 to 12, supported by the Lego Foundation. The settings we examine include homes, classrooms and ECD centers. Following Tseng and Seideman (2007), we view settings as consisting of social interactions (i.e. between teachers or caregivers and children) and the organization of resources (e.g. learning materials, games). First, we will present our conceptual framework which identifies six constructs to guide our measurement strategy. The constructs, such as ‘support for exploration’, represent the ways in which a setting supports playful learning. Next, we will present our contextualization framework which guides how we are adapting and modifying the measurement tools to different contexts. The tool consists of a protocol to observe adult-child interactions and survey measures conducted with teachers, caregivers and primary school pupils. As part of the development process for these measurement tools, observation and survey measures will go through a three-phase development process in Kenya, Ghana, Colombia, and Jordan. The Build phase involved collecting qualitative data from teachers, caregivers and students to understand their perception of playful learning and how it is supported at home and at school. Next, an Adapt phase took place where the initial versions of the measurement tools underwent cognitive interviewing, field adaptation, and a small pilot to adjust and extend the items in the tool. The third Test phase is a full pilot of the instruments, and the data will undergo rigorous psychometric analyses to review the validity and reliability of the tools in the four country contexts. We will use the results to adjust the instruments and to finalize the conceptual framework and contextualization strategies. The final toolkit will be publicly available towards the end of 2022 with supporting materials for contextualization, piloting, training and analysis. The toolkit will be available on a public platform designed to promote sharing of data collected using the tool and to collaborate to continually improve approaches to measuring support for playful learning.

System Supports for Effective Large-Scale Reading Interventions (Learning at Scale)

Learning outcomes are low and instruction is poor in many low- and middle-income countries (LMICs). These shortcomings are particularly concerning given the substantial learning loss due to COVID-19 from which many systems are suffering. The Learning at Scale study identified eight of the most effective large-scale education programs in LMICs and now is examining what factors contribute to successful improvements in learning outcomes at scale (see list of programs on last page of this brief). These programs were selected based on their demonstrated gains in reading outcomes at-scale, from either midline or endline impact evaluations. The study addresses three overarching research questions, focused on understanding (1) the components of instructional practices (Brief 1), (2) instructional supports (Brief 2), and (3) system supports (Brief 3) that lead to effective instruction. This brief focuses specifically on system supports. It addresses the following research question: What system supports are required to deliver effective training and support to teachers and to promote effective classroom practices?

Instructional Support for Effective Large-Scale Reading Interventions (Learning at Scale)

Learning outcomes are low and instruction is poor in many low- and middle-income countries (LMICs). These shortcomings are particularly concerning given the substantial learning loss due to COVID-19 from which many systems are suffering. The Learning at Scale study identified eight of the most effective large-scale education programs in LMICs and now is examining what factors contribute to successful improvements in learning outcomes at scale (see list of programs on last page of this brief). These programs were selected based on their demonstrated gains in reading outcomes at-scale, from either midline or endline impact evaluations. The study addresses three overarching research questions, focused on understanding (1) the components of instructional practices (Brief 1), (2) instructional supports (Brief 2), and (3) system supports (Brief 3) that lead to effective instruction. This brief focuses specifically on instructional supports. It addresses the following research question: What methods of training and support lead to teachers adopting effective classroom practices in successful, large-scale literacy programs?

Instructional Practices for Effective Large-Scale Reading Interventions (Learning at Scale)

The Learning at Scale study aimed to investigate factors contributing to successful improvements in learning outcomes at scale in eight of the most effective large-scale education programs in LMICs (see the map of programs on the last page of this brief). These programs were selected based on their demonstrated gains in reading outcomes at-scale, from either midline or endline impact evaluations. The study addressed three overarching research questions, focused on understanding the components of instructional practices (Brief 1), instructional supports (Brief 2), and system supports (Brief 3) that lead to effective instruction. This brief focuses specifically on instructional practices. It addresses the following research question: What classroom ingredients (e.g., teaching practices, classroom environment) lead to learning in programs that are effective at scale?

Learning at Scale Interim Report

The Learning at Scale study was designed to identify existing early grade reading programs with demonstrated impact on basic skills at scale and to conduct in-depth investigations of these programs to determine what makes them successful. After an extensive search, eight programs (spanning seven countries) were selected for inclusion in the study. Research on these programs has been conducted in order to answer the three overarching research questions, focused on understanding the components of instructional practices, instructional supports, and system supports that lead to effective instruction. Learning at Scale data collection activities for some of these programs were delayed due to COVID-19. However, with demand for information about how to implement effective interventions at large scale at an all-time high, we believe that the timely sharing of findings from Learning at Scale is essential. Accordingly, this interim report provides preliminary findings from our study to date, highlighting key high-level findings across all eight programs, as well as quantitative and qualitative findings from primary research for select programs. The Learning at Scale study is led by RTI International, as part of the Center for Global Development (CGD) education research consortium, funded by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.

Understanding the Social Classroom: The basis of effective pedagogy?

Literacy instruction programs have arguably had limited success because they focus on the technical – but not the social – aspects of literacy instruction. Reform efforts in sub-Saharan Africa have regularly failed to shift pedagogy away from teacher-led whole-class direct instruction to activities that are more effective for learning. In part, the failure is due to a lack of recognition of the social nature of classrooms where teacher-child interactions are conditioned by cultural predispositions. New research from Tanzania identified such challenges to pedagogical reform and points to potential solutions. One approach focuses on the child - to develop their social and emotional competencies. Teachers in Mtwara, Tanzania - but not parents – think that confidence and curiosity are important for student learning and report that interactive teaching activities are less effective in rural areas where students lack these competencies. Evidence suggests that building students’ confidence to participate in class is achievable relatively quickly. A second approach is to adapt teaching activities. Teachers in Tanzania report reluctance to implement teaching activities that undermine the social goals of instruction, such as avoiding embarrassment and promoting a sense of fairness and togetherness in the classroom. Instruction would be more effective if activities are co-designed with teachers to achieve both the social goals and the cognitive/learning goals of teaching.

Is It Possible to Improve Learning at Scale? Reflections on the Process of Identifying Large-Scale Successful Education Interventions

Improving learning outcomes at scale is hard. That may seem obvious, but only recently have policymakers and donors become aware of just how dire—and broad—the learning crisis is. Most of their efforts to improve learning have been pilot programs, and although in some cases it has been possible to improve outcomes at this small scale, it is an entirely different challenge at scale, which can involve thousands of schools—the level at which change must happen to fix the crisis.

Contextualizing the goals of social and emotional learning curricula and materials

Programs to promote social and emotional learning (SEL) risk making assumptions about the global relevance of core competences. Because scholarship is lacking about SEL in many parts of the world, new approaches are needed to contextualize the goals of SEL programs in a realistic time frame. Previous work in anthropology and developmental psychology can help us predict which competences are likely to be valued, given the sociodemographic characteristics of a society. In rural environments where subsistence agriculture is common, for example, communities are likely to value social responsibility, respect, and obedience. Attention should look beyond the needs of the here and now, however, to speculate what competences today’s children will require in the future. Looking at the current variation of competences within a society—for example, the values that teachers, but not parents, place on confidence and curiosity—can help identify immediate pathways for developing new competences. In all of these considerations, the goals of an SEL program must be negotiated with the communities themselves in order to ensure relevance, effectiveness, and acceptance. The hope is that such considerations can help prevent global homogenization of SEL programs, instead ensuring that they genuinely meet the needs of the communities they aim to serve.

Effective pedagogy in cultural context: Preaching to the introverted [CIES 2019 Presentation]

Several forces are at play in determining whether pedagogical approaches are optimally adapted to the culture of children’s behaviour and of teacher-child interaction in the classroom. Teachers’ expectations for children’s behaviour may differ from the way in which children are raised at home (Jukes et al, 2018). Teaching activities may be designed by experts from outside the beneficiary education system or who may be removed from the culture of rural schools. The evidence for the effectiveness of recommended teaching practices may be based on children and teachers from a different culture. The current study sought to understand the role of cultural factors in the teaching of early grade reading in Tanzania. The aim was to investigate teacher’s pedagogical choices and the implicit theory of teaching and learning that underpinned these choices. We also aimed to understand teachers’ perceptions of students’ social and emotional skills and how this influenced their pedagogical choices. The current study took place in three regions of Tanzania – Zanzibar, Mtwara and Iringa – in the context of the USAID supported Tusome Pamoja (“let’s read together”) project. Researchers observed one lesson from each of 36 teachers and recorded key teaching activities. A subsequent qualitative interview with the teachers examined the decisions they made during the lesson and how their perception of students’ competencies influenced their decisions. Two themes emerged from the results. First, teachers said that children who did not participate in classroom activities lacked confidence and curiosity, particularly in rural areas. These two qualities - confidence and curiosity - were identified in previous work as traits valued more by teachers than parents in the context of learning. Second, teachers said the independent activities were not effective because pupils always cooperate with others in life. There was a strong preference for activities that involved the whole class and against students learning by doing, independent of the teacher. Schools can respond by conducting more activities that build curiosity and confidence. Children becoming more confident and curious in rural Africa represents a cultural change. But one that emerges from the community - not imposed upon it. Instructional design should consider the strong cultural preference for group-orientation and work with - rather than against - this preference where possible.

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