CLEMSON — Two Ph.D. students in Clemson’s College of Education recently traveled to Tanzania to help secondary teachers develop greater knowledge of how to teach English as a third language. The trip represented the first step in a collaborative research project that will collect data over the course of two years on the impact of these development efforts on Tanzanian teachers.

Stephanie Schenck and Arsenio Silva worked in conjunction with Mwangaza, an organization focused on community health and teacher development in Tanzania. Schenck and Silva, both students in Clemson’s literacy, language and culture Ph.D. program, were connected with Mwangaza through Phillip Wilder, assistant professor of literacy in Clemson’s College of Education. Wilder has longstanding ties to Mwangaza and currently serves as its U.S. consultant.

“I’m interested in working internationally and doing research abroad, but when Dr. Wilder approached me about participating, I wasn’t sure what I could offer,” Schenck said. “It turns out Arsenio and I offered different expertise that the Tanzanian teachers valued.”

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Stephanie Schenck (right) was partnered with a Tanzanian facilitator, Justus, to aid educators in teaching students in English.
Image Credit: Stephanie Schenck, Arsenio Silva

Schenck’s background is in second-language learning and she has worked in Spanish-language countries teaching English as a second language. Silva had experience teaching high school students in Kenya and was familiar with Tanzanian culture. His work in disciplinary literacy would benefit the teachers and subsequently their students in thinking critically within content areas. Wilder saw their experience as an obvious benefit for Tanzanian teachers struggling to overcome language barriers in their classrooms.

Educators and students in Tanzania are faced with unique challenges in addition to limited resources. Seventh-grade students must pass an exam on a multitude of subjects to be given entrance into Tanzania public secondary schools. Roughly half of the students pass the exams, while Mwangaza works in private schools to support the thousands of students left behind by Tanzanian government schools.

Once students enter secondary schools, English is the medium for instruction. Students up to that point are taught in Kiswahili, the national language, and many speak regional languages, so the challenge is compounded when they are suddenly only taught in their third language, English. The goal for Schenck, Silva and other facilitators is to train educators to more effectively teach through English so they can then share teaching methods with their fellow teachers.

Schenck and Silva’s first week in Tanzania was devoted to working with American and Tanzanian facilitators to prepare for the second week’s workshop. The five-day workshop brought in a group of 30 Tanzanian high school teachers from seven different schools. Schenck said she was just as concerned with misunderstanding the culture and coming off as patronizing as she was of missing something because she didn’t speak Swahili. For Silva, the most obvious challenge was the schedule.

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Arsenio Silva (right) helps educators troubleshoot a lesson plan on their computers.
Image Credit: Stephanie Schenck, Arsenio Silva

“The days were long, but we always felt short on time,” Silva said. “There was such a large gap between the teachers’ own experiences and the practices we were presenting it seemed we were constantly moving at breakneck speed.”

By the end of the second week, the teachers performed mock lessons incorporating strategies from the workshop. Silva said the lessons reflected the educators’ adoption of the Sheltered Instruction Observation Protocol (SIOP) strategies offered by the facilitators, and they put in a great deal of effort to acquire visual aids and hands-on materials. What impressed him most was how the Tanzanian educators responded to each other’s lessons.

“In one week, I watched a group of Tanzanian secondary school teachers go from SIOP skeptics to SIOP advocates,” Silva said. “They offered critical feedback and suggestions to one another. They engaged in the lesson and asked questions real students would ask. This is what makes me most confident in their abilities to teach and support their colleagues to adopt the same classroom practices.”

The workshop was the first half of training for Tanzanian educators, and they will receive the second next summer. According to Tanzanian government records, schools which follow Mwangaza’s methodology perform better on test scores. Schenck and Silva returned to the U.S. July 2, but they are both eager to return to Tanzania next summer to finish what they started with the teachers.

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Silva said he looks forward to returning to Tanzania to complete the second half of training with educators and to begin research in earnest on the training’s effectiveness.
Image Credit: Stephanie Schenck, Arsenio Silva

They hope to collect data on the workshop’s impact on teachers next summer and then again after the workshops are complete. Schenck’s ultimate goal is to craft a study with Silva and Wilder. International studies present logistical challenges, but she said the potential benefit for Tanzania—and other countries—is more than worth the time spent hammering out details.

“We certainly valued our experience and the work we did was great and important for the teachers, but we should think more broadly with this research,” Schenck said, “We want to find out if and how this program can be modeled and adapted for other cultures facing similar educational policies and linguistic circumstances.”

Mwangaza, a grassroots organization which utilizes partnerships between all 20 dioceses of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Tanzania and companion synods of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America to respond to the most pressing health, educational and literacy challenges throughout the country. Mwangaza is comprised of three programs: its teacher education program, community health program and Binti Mama, an intergenerational program designed for young mothers that focuses on women’s health, nutrition and gender advocacy.