They Understood! (by design)

13 August 09
Last Thursday was a bit of a frustration. I say this because understanding last Thursday is important to understanding the mood with which I took on today.
Last Thursday, I had the charge of leading back-to-back workshops introducing the concept of backward design to Kenyan teachers who admitted afterward they often don’t plan their lessons until they arrive at school, let alone plan entire units of study.
Even state-side, this can be a difficult concept, necessitating 1 or 2-day workshops to effectively communicate the methodology and its implementation. Last Thursday, I had 90 minutes in a poorly ventilated room with teachers who were either waiting to go to their next session dealing with digital storytelling or who had just come from a session on digital storytelling. An hour-and-a-half pedagogy session on a complex and difficult concept wasn’t quite what they were hoping for.
Add to this the cantankerous nature of the Kenyan educational work scheme (Read, “scope and sequence,” though mainly “sequence.”) and you’ve got a party.
That is you’ve got a party if your idea of a party is a hot and sticky room filled with confused teachers who, at times, were clearly just nodding at what the hyperactive muzungu was saying.
Last Thursday dispensed with, one can imagine the feeling in the pit of my stomach when Sunday’s planning session included assigning me the task of leading the backward design session today.
You know what, though? It rocked.
I’ll admit I entered the room with a bit of trepidation. My confidence hadn’t exactly been boosted at Wednesday night’s planning session when Simon, one of the Kenyan facilitators helping with the session, said, “I cannot see the implication for this in our system.” Awesome.
I told Simon he wasn’t the first Kenyan I’d heard that from.
By the end of the session, though, Simon and Mary, the other Kenyan facilitator in the session, were singing a different tune.
I approached them during the session’s second run and asked if they felt comfortable circulating amongst the groups of teachers who were working to backward design their plans for when they return from break in September. Mary gripped my hand, saying, “I am so happy to be learning this.” And I’m pretty sure she meant it.
Simon nodded in agreement and made his assent further known when he stood and told his colleagues “As an architect plans how a house will be finished before it is built, teachers must plan how they want their students to show what they have learned before teachers begin teaching.”
When another participant suggested to his group that they change their planned assessment because it didn’t seem relevant or authentic enough, I think I could have kissed him.
Take that, Thursday!

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