16 March 2010

Uganda: Teach in teams for Better Learning

Kampala — The Ministry of Education and Sports is urging schools to embrace co-teaching, where two or more teachers plan, conduct and evaluate learning activities together.

Dr Yusuf Nsubuga, the director basic and secondary education, says co-teaching eases work and enhances learning, especially in lower primary.

"It is something we are encouraging schools to adopt, especially in lower primary. Young children need varied approaches to enhance their early development.

"The grown-ups can stand one face for the whole lesson, but children easily get bored with monotony," Nsubuga argues.

What is team teaching?

Online sources define co-teaching as an approach in which two or three teachers run a lesson together or concurrently.

One teacher may be teaching, while the other writes notes on the board, or one explains concepts, while the other provides materials or walks around the class monitoring students' progress.

"They can split the children into groups based on performance. One teacher may provide remedial instructions to struggling students, while the other provides enrichment to those who have grasped the skill."

Elizabeth Okello, a teacher at Gayaza High School, says two teachers can teach a class at the same time. "One could take the lead to present the subject matter, initiating a discussion in the process. This can take on an interactive format, where the teachers respond to the prompts by the learners," she says.

Alternatively, she argues, teaching periods can be scheduled side by side or consecutively. For instance, teachers of two similar classes may team up during the same or adjacent periods so that each of them focuses on the concept that he or she can best handle.

Benefits of team teaching

Online sources argue that working in teams spreads responsibility, encourages creativity and deepens friendship. "Teachers complement and learn from watching one another."

The education scholars observe that the approach reduces teaching burdens and boosts morale.

"The presence of another teacher reduces the student-teacher personality problems. In case of an emergency, one team member can attend to the problem, while the class goes on," it states.

"Sharing in decision-making also bolsters self-confidence. As teachers see the quality of teaching and learning improve, their self-esteem and happiness grow," they add.

It exposes learners to the skills of more than one teacher. "Under normal circumstances, the learners are likely to get familiar with the mode of instruction of a single teacher. This makes the teacher predictable and monotonous. However, co-teaching breaks this monotony," Okello says.

Agnes Nambi, a literature teacher, says: "Co-teaching allows me to teach what I am best at. I am passionate about plays and my students love them. But when I get to novels, they prefer my colleague.

They say I am too keen on detail to cover long novels. We both appreciate our strengths and weaknesses and we do these together," Nambi discloses.

With our large enrolment and numbers in school, thanks to Universal Secondary Education (UPE) and Universal Secondary education, Nsubuga says co-teaching can be used to manage the large classes.

According to the education ministry reports, UPE resulted in increased primary school enrolment, from 2.7 million pupils in 1996 to 7.1 million in 2005 and much more to date. The current official average pupil-to-teacher ratio is 60:1.

The reality, however, in many schools countrywide, there are hundreds of pupils in one classroom. The figures are not any different with secondary education, yet studies show that smaller classes are associated with improved performance.

A study, 'Large Class Teaching in Uganda: Implications for E-Learning' in 20 primary schools to identify practical suggestions and examples of good practice in the teaching of large classes, says smaller classes are more effective because they promote active learning.

But simply reducing the number of students in a class does not alone improve the quality of instruction, neither does increasing class size lead to poor education.

"What matters most is the quality of the teachers and their approach to teaching, specifically the capacity to create a culture of organising large classes in such a manner that learning can be successfully mediated. Co-teaching is one solution," the research says.

The study found that teachers had devised approaches to manage large classes, including group work to allow access to limited resources like textbooks and laboratory equipment.

However, the study found that little, if any, discussion went on among the group members.

"In most cases children attempted the work individually without any sharing or discussion. In some cases, even if the children had been required to discuss and produce a group product, the more able child within the group ended up doing the work alone, while the rest watched.

"It was apparent from the lessons observed that such a strategy needed to be developed further if the teachers were to tap its great potential to promote learning. Co-teaching would enhance this," the study recommends.

Nevertheless, Nsubuga says, this approach, when applied well, 'has no disadvantages whatsoever.'

Additional reporting by Stella Naigino

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