Tuesday, April 14, 2009
Can Relatively Untrained Children Help Other Children to Learn
Irma Nyby is an almost ninety year-old retired school teacher living a few hours north of Sacramento California. She has been an inspiration to me, assisted in the creation of preschool teacher training programs in southern Africa and has experience that should be shared widely.
The last time I visited her she shared a story of her first teaching post. She was assigned to teach the slowest learners who were stuck between kindergarten and the first grade. Her classroom was a result of four streams that had divided up students into groups of very gifted students, less gifted students and she was given 30 students who were seen as the least gifted. Mrs. Nyby understood that her task was next to impossible - except that she had a supportive principal. She studied some work going on in Oakland, California and was given a day off to visit a class where fifth and sixth graders were helping children like those in her class. She returned inspired and received the permission of the principal to take children from the fifth and sixth grades to help in her class. The principal agreed, but the fifth and six grade teachers needed to also agree. As it turned out, they did agree and sent her all the class bullies and other problem-makers and slower learners.
Irma accepted the gift she was given, gave the tutors a brief training and assigned them various tasks to help their much younger schoolmates. She shared a story of one of the most notorious boy bullies in a rocking chair - giving comfort to a five year-old troubled little girl.
And what were the results? Miraculous! Word spread about what she was doing and she was invited to present her work to a conference of educationalists in Chicago, after which she received job offers from various parts of the U.S.
The picture above shows one of the older children patiently tutoring a younger student. A wonderful side benefit of this program is that the older children began to develop interest in learning again.