Multigrade Profile: Escuela Nueva

Escuala Nueva assumes that rural schools involved with the program are multigrade, and all innovations and inputs are arranged around this model. Key components of Escuela Nueva have included:

• Self-instruction study guides: follow sequenced objectives and activities, these guides allow children to work at their own pace across four areas (science, math, social studies and language); students are promoted to the next level when they have individually mastered objectives and activities; study guides are based on the national curriculum, locally adapted and are printed at the national level-these are further complimented by Learning Activity Centers in the classrooms which are referenced in the study guides and where students complete observations and specified activities-these are further complimented by school libraries.

• Continuous teacher training: self study units are prioritized for teachers to follow independently, in the same manner as the children in classes follow; these study units include the adaptation of children’s guides to understand how to utilize them for multigrade teaching; monthly follow up workshops are then organized for teachers to exchange ideas with the ultimate goal of localized microcenters for teachers to exchange ideas and analyze and carry out projects;

• Demonstration Schools: during trainings, teacher visit effective demonstration schools in which they can gain a first hand understanding of efficiency and effectiveness;

Numerous evaluations of Escuela Nueva have highlighted the following successful components of the program, run at scale and meeting the needs of rural children: • Strong involvement of communities • Learning strategies are adapted and adjusted to encourage engagement • Children learn at their own pace with flexible promotion to the next grade level-they can study at school or home, allowing additional flexibility

Personal questions remain about the duplicability of this model in other developing world contexts with more limited inputs than in middle-income Colombia. Key constraints to be overcome in these more resource scarce environments would include:

• Limitations in materials support-most specifically including the learning centers and libraries which would require outside investment (but could potentially be tied to existing library programming, such as through Room to Read-type organizations, to maximize/multiply effectiveness)…how could locally-created/produced materials be incorporated to reduce centralization-biases in many countries? Could small grants be incorporated for local production and/or adaptation of resources?

• Limitations in oversight and training support-with weak administration structures and training structures, especially in rural areas, how can suitable alternatives be found to direct training and observational support? Could this come from enhanced peer support? ICT-based support/remote support? Enhanced community oversight of classes?

• How does the program cope with children’s assessment, and specifically with children without basic levels of literacy and numeracy skills? It is much more difficult to implement “self-learning” programs with children who lack even the most basic number and letter recognition-this often would require more expensive ICT-based frameworks which will simply not be available in the most remote and rural communities

• How does the program deal with teacher incentives and teacher motivation? As in many “independent” focused programs, teacher will and motivation is absolutely central-especially when requiring teachers to adapt/adjust/input creativity into processes. How is this being incentivized?

Enhancing the Effectiveness of Standardized Pre/In Service Trainings

Looking at some more background on multi-grade, and came across a small blurb on professional development which got me to ruminate a bit……So little of what is “delivered” in formalized teacher training sessions is retained and effectively utilized in the classroom, especially through “cascade” models of professional development. What are the most crucial elements in improving the “conductivity” of these sessions? Should they be eliminated all together, as simply a non-effective use of scarce resources? What are viable alternatives? Starting with a few critical elements:

--Peer Learning Structures leading to Sustainable Micro-Teaching Centers: embedded into the structure of localized school communities-derived from the Escuela Nueva model of “microcenters” to encourage peer learning, observations, critique and continuous, localized professional development

--Student and Community Led Observations/Feedback: how can reliable observations be conducted by key stakeholders (meaning those most directly impacted by the quality of services, not those who are potentially perversely-incentivized to unreliably “judge” teacher performance)? I would list these key stakeholders as parents and the children themselves. How can these individuals be trained and empowered to conduct regularized teacher feedback sessions, with limited resources and limited pedagogical backgrounds? These could be complimented by government or organizational staff led assessments, but the primary and most regular evaluation method should come from those with the most “skin in the game”

--Practicality as the Guiding Principle of Session Design: avoiding theory in favor of practicality is absolutely key with the design of effective teacher training sessions. The most effective training sessions provide teachers with tools and resources that they can directly utilize in their classrooms-practical activities and materials-which can also be assessed easily by a third party observer, triangulating the effectiveness and utilization of training.

--Limiting/Eliminating the Cascade: while impossible at large scale, it is critical to bring the direct training services as close as possible to the intended beneficiaries. At every level of cascade, there is significant quality loss. I would rather have 2 days of direct training at community level than 5 cascaded.

--Delivering in the Reality of the Teachers: too many trainings are held in comfortable hotels with air conditioning, which do not in any way mirror the realities of teachers working in the most difficult conditions. I ALWAYS require trainings to be held in the SAME conditions as teachers are working-this saves money and better prepares teachers, and gives trainers a much better idea of the conditions so trainings can be more effectively adapted/adjusted/refined.

Questions Unanswered on Multi-Grade Instruction

"It is symptomatic of both heirarchies that multigrade teaching barely warrants a mention in international and national education research agenda, in teacher education research and materials, in priorities attached to training scholarships and in education information networks." (Little 2005)

There is a incredible lack of attention, information, and situational analysis on this situation which is prevalent throughout the poorest contexts-both in rural manifestation (low population densities, small school locations) and in complex EiE manifestation (high population densities, complex class environments, multi-level and multi-grade classes due to a specified lack of required inputs). Despite the "invisibility" of this problem in many education systems, analysis conducted has shown its huge prominance across many education systems-84% of primary schools in India in 1996, 63% of primary schools in Sri Lanka in 1999, 78% of primary schools in Peru in 2001, for example. I would note that many of these locations are the most rural, historically neglected areas, and proper attention/resources are rarely lavished on these locations, and thus, they continue to remain hidden and neglected. In addition, it is critical to note that ALL teachers face multilevel teaching situations as the centerpoint of all class enviroments; lessons can be extracted from pedagogical approaches (learner-centered) as we move to the "margins" from these "regularities." However, lessons must be suitable, reasonable and duplicable. Furthermore, I would summise that the findings from studies which have taken place, which contain a huge developed-country bias, are largely unapplicable to limited resource, developing contexts. In this situation, the opposite must be targeted-developing reasonable responses in the developing world that can feed into rich-world policy. What can work without resources should be duplicatable with resources; vice-versa, not so much.....

Relevant questions highlighted by Little (2005) include: *1. Are there alternative modes of organizing and presenting curricula that embrace the needs of multigrade teachers as well as monograde teachers?

  1. Can learning designed in such a way that they may be used by students even in the absence of teachers?
  2. Can assessment schemes for students to assess their developmental progress across grades and to increase awareness among teachers about expected learning outcomes of students across several grades?
  3. Might assessment schemes provide the necessary structure for the organization of curricula and learning materials?

Effective Multigrade Instruction....Part 2: Class Organization

Proponents of multigrade teaching in the developed world cite it as a "powerful pedagogical tool for promoting independent and individualized learning" (Little 2005). However, as normal-this is in the best case, with extensive resourcing and training/oversight/support/motivation. What is the applicability to the hardest contexts with the least resources? How can effective standardization be brought into these locations, based on the most suitable principles which can be extracted from richly resourced contexts? Little notes, quite succinctly, that "If 'Education for All' is to be achieved then the establishment and continuation of schools with multi-grade classes must be encouraged."

One area of Multigrade instruction cited by Little, and based on the Zambian teacher education program in 1989, focuses on Classroom Organization, which is suitable and applicable to multiple, low-resource contexts. Authors highlight their preferred methodology of curriculum and timetabling, in which common activities and the reduction of grade-related sequential work is focused upon. However, in playing the common devils advocate for applicability/suitability in the toughest contexts, this is predicated upon a reorganization of the curriculum based on learning outcomes, which is highly unlikely in low-resource settings (where a curriculum might not even be available), and where teacher-subject knowledge across age levels is not sufficient to master content knowledge to this degree.

Analysis of the Escuela Nueva program (with drawn-out examples of effective multigrade instruction including a rural-oriented curriculum and materials designed for self-study and individualized learning (key themes suitable to low-resource environments) has shown that progress is possible in these more remote, multi-grade schooling locations, but that progress is depedendent on "teacher will and committment" which is clearly better supported in a program such as Escuela Nueva that in regularized government school locations without supplemental NGO or programming support, and that critical programming inputs are required for positive learning and social results (again, deficient in the "normalized" low resource contexts).

From one of the largest overall literature reviews, the results and applicability/suitability of these approaches can be seen as severely limited for low-resource contexts. The focus, as always, will be on effectively incentivizing teachers to undertake the additional planning burdens required for effective multigrade instruction, with limited oversight and peer support to guide the processes. Teacher motivation and committment variables, highlighted again and again, are exacerbated in these situations in either "virtuous" or "vicious" cycles of performance in the classroom.

Multigrade Teaching: Research Background and Parameters

Before I begin a series of long-overdue school visits to some remote areas of West Papua, Indonesia (in which I will be looking specifically at low-class and school population density-led multigrade instruction), it's time to touch on some of the existing research and background writing on this specific (and gravely underserved) area of pedagogy. "Multigrade Teaching: Towards an International Research and Policy Agenda" (Angela Little, 2001) provides a strong conceptual overview of the challenges and existing policies in this arena.

First, to frame a bit more my personal interest area....I have encountered multi-level and multigrade instruction deficiencies in both LARGE CLASS instruction, where many levels of children with extremely heterogenious learning needs are put into one homogonized class structure with one teacher (specific to many Education in Emergencies situations); and SMALL CLASS instruction, in which the lack of a critical mass of children-low population density- has forced schools in remote/rural communities to consolidate classes under a multigrade structure. Hence, the challenge is parallel and the practical solutions for improving pedagogy should mirror eachother along these dual challenge pathways.

Little notes, "...learning, teaching and curricula in all systems of formal education are based on age-specific groups of learners following curriculum grades sequentially." I would add many non-formal education systems (designed around reintegration of students into formal) also follow this same basic structure of age (and in better circumstances, ability-level) cohorts of learners. While I am not interested in further delving into age/cohort classifications and approaches, the basic and guiding principle remains: MOST formal and non-formal classes are multi-level, and MANY classes are multigrade in the most difficult contexts, and almost NONE of the teachers working in these situations have been trained or effectively prepared to effectively deliver classroom instruction tailored to these circumstances. Most of these situations are born out of necessity but many are also born out of choice , important variables to keep in mind. **Multigrade structures are NOT created due to the interests of learners and the desire to tailor instructions-they are born out of environmental necessity. Multi-level classes may be born out of the interests of learners (grouping at level as opposed to age, which is normally more appropriate, but often not allowed due to regulations on school ages). Hence, and again, I will be focusing MOST on multigrade classes born out of necessity, vis-a-vis environmental factors outside the control of students and parents (low population densities, lack of critical human resources and financial support). And in taking the contextual factors into account, WHAT CAN BE DONE to address these challenges when we have extreme limitations on materials support, training support and parental support to improve processes (as is the case in MOST of these locations?)

Little highlights the following strategies from previous literature reviews, with the core basis being teacher training undertaken at the local level (more on that later): "...the design, reproduction and distribution of large quantities of self-study materials (what do we do when we cannot reproduce??)to support individual, peer and small group learning (what can be done on this without resources??); a system of evaluating learning progress and achievement (interesting, and can be done without resources...) and forms of internal school and class organization that establish routines for students independently of the teacher (VERY interesting, and NOT materials intensive).

As usual, I will continue to highlight, focus and drill down on methodology with suitability for low-resource environments (the common-sense place for practical implementation)......

Sustainability with Teacher Support Modules

Over the last few months, I've been overseeing the Child Protection and Education Departments for the International Rescue Committee in Turkey/Northern Syria. One of the main areas of technical development that I worked on was the Teacher Support Model that was being employed by the teams. The Teacher Support Model that I defined/refined/developed/trained the teams on included: Teacher Learning Circles, Teacher Mentoring, and Teacher Classroom Observations. Derived from solid research highlighting the fact that sustained professional development increases change/improved pedagogical practice from 10% to 80% in research studies, I was focused on building in modules that could be implemented remotely, in a complex, cross-border EiE context (Northern Syria/Idlib province). These modules focused on peer-to-peer development, peer-to-mentor development, and standardized, quanitified observations to assess status change over a fixed baseline/endline. While we were paying the staff involved in this Teacher Support Model (IRC staff, teachers, head teachers), a big question of sustainaibility kept if we removed our monetary support vis-a-vis support salaries (and job requirements), would these technical aspects be strong enough to stand up and be sustained? Do teachers and head teachers value these components enough to "volunteer" their time to continue them if they are not being paid? What are the feasible aspects that are sustainable, and what are the key takeaways for sustainability (technial complexity, incentives)? I'll be ruminating on this topic of applicability, sustainability, and feasability in the coming weeks.....

Effective Multi Level Instruction

While spending time in the remote Napal Himalaya a few months back, closeto the border of Tibet, I walked through the small village of Samdo. While exploring, I always take time to stop into local schools-and this was no exception. However, I was quite surprised with the situation. The population of Samdo, never large, had dwindled to about 50-60 families (with familiar developing country urbanization taking its toll on remote mountain communities). In addition, many of these remaining families send their children to school in the capital; thus the local government school was left with approximately 10-12 children, across age ranges, and one teacher, attempting "exteme" multi-level instruction. Daunting during the best of times, with full resource sets, this was occuring in the courtyard of the building (that had been damaged during the earthquake of the previous spring), with minimal materials and resources (in addition to, I am assuming, training). This While there have been some resources which have been developed/do exist, their applicability is varied, especially in settings in which teacher support mechanisms are minimal to non-existant. Obviously this is the opposite of what is widely regarded as the most daunting challenge facing developing and post-conflict educators-large class sizes (which has been covered on this blog before)-but is the reality for many of the hardest to reach communities. Over the next several months, I'll be looking at some of these remote communities in the Nepal Himalayas, and working on a few case studies to better explore what is being done, what the true contextual challenges and limitations are, and what is the most practical and feasible path forward in supporting these multitides of teachers dealing with extreme multi-level class environments.

What Makes Great Teaching?

“What Makes Great Teaching: Review of the Underpinning Research”
-Robert Coe, et all, 2014

Coming off of two year starting and running a large scale EiE program in Lebanon, and overseeing technical teams and programming with well over 200 teachers of variable quality, I’ve been focusing what is left of my intellectual acuity on my sabbatical on teacher performance and practice research, and the suitability and lessons for critically underserved developmental and EiE contexts. I came across this macro-analysis last night, which I’d like to outline, detail and delve a bit further into, as it contains some great information and lessons.

The framework is divided into three areas:

  1. What makes great teaching?
  2. What kind of frameworks can help to capture great teaching?
  3. How can this promote better learning?

Part 1: What Makes Great Teaching?
Great teaching is understood by the authors as that which leads to improved student progress-all benchmarks of teacher quality must be defined by the outcomes of students. However, as I’ve mentioned many times, this is impossible to control for, as there are many other inputs which affect student learning outside of teacher ability and practice. The authors offer a “starting kit” for looking at teacher quality, with the following components and their impact on student outcomes. From the overarching research, content knowledge and quality of instruction seem to be the key teacher characteristic determinants for improving student learning outcomes:
a. Content knowledge-beyond content knowledge, teachers need to understand student misperceptions of content and be able to respond appropriately (strong)
b. Quality of instruction-questioning, assessment and teacher practices (generally defined-strong)
c. Classroom climate-interaction and expectations between teachers and students; self worth and establishment of success causation (moderate)
d. Classroom management-managing behavior and making effective use of classroom time (some)
e. Teacher beliefs-conceptual models of practice and roles in the classroom (some)
f. Professional behaviors-developing practice and participating in professional development, speaking with parents and supporting colleagues (some)

Part 2: What Kind of Frameworks Can Help Us Capture Great Teaching?
Teacher assessment must include various measurements from different sources on a continuous basis; triangulation of these various sources is preferable to improve validity. The authors cite several areas of teacher assessment to be used, as per the above:, with the first three being cited as reliable as per available research:

  1. Classroom observation by peers, principals, external evaluators (valid): well-trained observers, combined with multi-rater validation and high quality tools, can be seen to effectively measure teacher performance; however, results need to be further validated on multiple lessons, and from experience, this is staff-intensive (and staff must be adequately overseen and incentivized to accurately rate teacher performance); in addition, staff fatigue also comes into play when they are rating multiple teachers (and staff tend to be less able to discern relatively major issues); in addition there needs to be a delicate balance between “rigor” and “complexity” with the tool development
  2. Assessing gains in student achievement/learning outcomes (valid); although results cannot be directly correlated to teaching practice unless there is a control trial undertaken, there is some impact of teacher performance that can be derived through student assessment; assessments must be standardized, rigorous, yet not exceedingly complex-and preferably administered by outsiders, which can be a staff/capacity issue, especially in remote areas with limited accessibility
  3. Student ratings of teachers (valid); there is evidence of student evaluations being accurate for teacher assessment-however, this tends to cluster with older children, who are able to more accurately articulate and extrapolate teacher quality; measures need to be developed for self-reporting amongst younger children, paying close attention to simplicity and usability
  4. Principal judgment (limited evidence)
  5. Teacher self-reports (limited evidence)
  6. Analysis of class work/portfolios (limited evidence)

Part 3: How Can This Promote Better Learning?
The authors stress a virtuous “knowledge building cycle” for teachers that provides a positive feedback loop, and has been shown to strongly and positively impact positive student learning outcomes. Six Principles of Teacher Feedback are highlighted as:

  1. Keeping a focus on improving student learning outcomes
  2. Feedback is related to clear and specific goals for the teachers
  3. Focus is on learning and not on comparisons with others
  4. Teachers encouraged to be continuous independent learners
  5. Feedback provided by a mentor in a trusting environment
  6. School Leadership promote an environment of learning and support