At Mkoba 4 Primary School in Gweru, Zimbabwe, particular support is provided by ALERT and Antelope Park to support the school’s Special Needs classes. Staff and project volunteers assist class teachers by providing pupils with individual attention during lessons, assessing students' work, and helping to produce effective teaching aids. Material support is also given, through maintenance and facility upgrades, as well as the provision of equipment such as computers, books, stationery, and sports gear. To ensure students are given the level of support they need, the class is divided into three groups: learners in group one receive the most support, group two students are of average level, while those in group three are the most advanced.
Recent mathematics lessons for group one have focused on addition using double digits. Students struggled initially, taking a long time to complete each of the problems but, with further explanation and examples, the majority were able to achieve at least 50% correct answers. As the advanced group, group two students were given more complex questions that included three-digit addition, multiplication and division. All students performed well in this task.
Last term, lessons for both groups focused on the four basic concepts within mathematics: addition, subtraction, multiplication and division. As repetition is key for the Special Needs class, these concepts will be constantly revisited, with individual attention given to students who are struggling. As a result of revision so far, the majority of students have grasped the concepts; scoring above average in exercises and tests. Further practice will continue throughout the school year.
A new topic of fractions was introduced to the class recently. The lesson began with an orange being drawn on the board. The students were shown how it can be cut into segments to share it out. The ‘shared’ pieces were then shaded in and students had to write down how many were shaded and how many weren’t. As a practical activity, coloured paper and glitter were used to illustrate different segments. Students were given several examples of how to write the segments as fractions, before being given an exercise to complete independently. Although the results were positive, the topic will be revisited next term.
In English lessons, group one was shown how letters are combined to form words, for example: L + IG + HT spells LIGHT. Worksheets were completed correctly however, when the students were asked to pronounce the words, they had difficulty in doing so. The correct pronunciation of each word was explained and the students had another try. In another worksheet called “Playing with words”, students were tasked with changing some of the letters in a given word to form a new word, for example: swapping the F in FAIR with CH creates a different word CHAIR. The group were able to do this exercise without any difficulty.
Group two students were introduced to the concept of contractions; a word made by shortening and combining two words, for example: can’t (can + not) and I’ve (I + have). Examples were given on the board, with students taking turns to abbreviate the words. They were given an exercise in which they had to choose the correct contraction to complete a sentence. Initially the group struggled, so the exercise was repeated and extra support given to any students who were still unsure.
As a comprehension exercise, the whole class read the book “Going on Holiday”. Having read the story twice and talked about the pictures, students were asked questions about the text. Firstly, they answered orally and then wrote answers down in their work books. 90% of students answered the questions correctly.
Next, the difference between “a” and “an” was explained to the class and students were asked to choose the correct word to use in a series of sentences. They were given support with the first five and then completed the rest on their own. All students got at least half correct, with the majority achieving over 80%.
Fluency, the ability to read a text accurately, quickly and with expression, provides a bridge between word recognition and comprehension. When fluent readers read silently, they recognise words automatically and can group them together quickly to gain meaning from what they read. Each student was given a book to read, firstly on their own and then out aloud to an adult. Any words that proved difficult to pronounce were written down for further practice.
The classic word game “Hangman” is a fun way to increase vocabulary and stimulate an interest in reading and writing. Once the students were familiar with the rules, they enjoyed the game and were able to participate with confidence.
Practical and material support is also provided to the Mickey Mouse Pre-school in Gweru, where children aged five and six are improving their understanding of line, perspective, colour, hue, shape and form. Not only does colouring in improve concentration in young children, it also helps to develop the fine motor skills necessary when beginning to write.
In five small groups, students were asked to identify what they could see in their illustration, either a giraffe or an ice-cream, and decide what colours would be most appropriate to use before carefully completing their picture. Community volunteers completed their own pictures alongside the students to provide guidance and support. As well as the learning benefits, many of these students find colouring in therapeutic as a way to express their emotions.
About Our School Development Projects
Our aim is to increase the capacity of the schools with which we work to offer higher learning possibilities for their pupils. All the schools surrounding our project sites are severely resource limited with classes that are over-crowded and lacking educational materials. Our projects therefore focus on: school building and refurbishment to create improved learning environments; resource provision of educational materials needed to enhance lessons, and teacher assistance to help teachers plan and run lessons more effectively. All programmes are operated in agreement with the school in question, and with approval from relevant educational boards.
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