One of our members, Sue Gravina, writes about her experience training literacy teachers.

As anyone who has tried to struggle into one-size clothing knows, one size does not fit all! The same is true where our work is concerned. Wycliffe works in many different situations across the world and so literacy workers must be flexible and able to change their methods to suit the needs of each group that they work with.

My first assignment was in a remote, rural area of Cameroon. The potential teachers had very little formal education and so training them in the same way that I would train teachers in Britain was inappropriate. I spent time observing how the people taught each other new skills and adapted the teacher training to match this model. The real breakthrough came when I learned how to correct mistakes in a culturally appropriate fashion.

Sue teaching

Originally, I had been wary of shaming people by highlighting their errors in public and had wrapped the correction up with encouragement. However, this confused the trainees and they kept repeating their errors. After more research, I learnt that the people did not explain anything when teaching new skills. They effectively demonstrated the skill by allowing someone to watch them as they worked. This ‘pupil’ would then replicate what they had observed and, if they made a mistake, the ‘teacher’ would take their work from them, correct the mistake (even if this meant completely destroying what the pupil had done) and hand it back. All this was done in public, without a word being spoken and also without any shame attaching to the pupil.

Following this teaching model, I started to correct the trainees’ mistakes as soon as they made them, showing them how to do the action properly and letting them have another go. Immediately, I saw results! One trainee who had undergone training the previous year said that, before, he did not know what he was doing wrong, but this time it was clear because errors were picked up and corrected immediately.

This model of research, adapt and apply is useful for any cross-cultural training but also for producing appropriate materials, teaching strategies and classes, so that local people will be able to run all aspects of their literacy programme themselves.

Interested in getting involved? You could get involved in literacy or one of a wide variety of other roles (you don’t need to be a languages person to join us!).