Kaitlynn Saldanha is Senior Research Analyst at the Luminos Fund where she works on programs as well as monitoring and evaluation. She joined Luminos in 2019 after working at PEAS, Teach For America and Gray Matters Capital. She holds an MPhil in Education and International Development from the University of Cambridge and a BA from Middlebury College. In August 2019, she supported our annual facilitator training in Liberia. Here are her reflections from the field.
It’s early afternoon in Liberia following a heavy rain. You walk into a classroom to 14 adults using their hands to create a steady, handsome beat. Some swing their hips from side to side. Others get low to the ground engaging their full body as they chant each letter of the short words written on the blackboard. They follow the leader at the front – their peer – who raises a knee to stomp each time he claps.
“Can. Can. C-A-N. Can.
Of. Of. O-F. Of.
He. He. H-E. He.
Get. Get. G-E-T. Get.
Put. Put. P-U-T. Put.”
A word and its spelling is repeated three times total, getting faster each round. The leader at the front pauses to explain the meaning of each word before starting the next activity – this time a cheer for each word. Chanting and cheering is one way that Second Chance students learn high frequency words that they see often in text. At Luminos, chanting and cheering form part of our approach to joyful learning — with positive results.
Here is a video of Luminos facilitators chanting the italicized words above:
In August 2019, I attended a Luminos training for Second Chance facilitators (what we call our teachers) in Liberia. The training was a 10-day residential ‘bootcamp’ where Luminos facilitators and implementing partners (BRAC, ROCH and LIPACE) received training in the Second Chance curriculum and pedagogy prior to the start of school. In 2019-20, the partners and facilitators who attended this training will run 65 Second Chance classrooms serving just under 2,000 students across Montserrado, Bomi and Lofa counties. Like all Luminos trainings, the training was experiential, designed such that facilitators experienced firsthand what it is like to be a student in a Second Chance classroom. For instance, facilitators spent the training working in small groups, practicing phonics exercises like “Blending Ladder” and “Elkonin Sound Boxes,” acting out the meaning of “Mop” and “Hop,” narrating short stories and demonstrating concepts (like how to use a number line, types of sentences and punctuation) in front of the class. With 80 Luminos facilitators, 6 supervisors, Ministry representatives (including the County Education Officer of Bomi County, District Education Officers, the Assistant Minister for Early Childhood Education, plus 5 government master trainers) and 4 Luminos staff present at the training, it was a full few days for Luminos in Liberia. Below are a few of my reflections from the week.
Reflect. Learn. Adapt. Repeat. As those of us who work in international development know, responding quickly to challenges and feedback that arise in the field is critical to ensuring that programs achieve desired impact and outcomes. As someone who is new to the Luminos Fund but not new to international development, Second Chance is truly special in the way that it has created a learning culture where feedback is encouraged, received and responded to at every level. Iteration is embedded in the program’s DNA. For instance, during the training, Luminos Program Manager, Abba Karnga Jr., asked facilitators and partners again and again to share feedback and reflections. He continuously drew on facilitators’ lived experience delivering the Second Chance program and did a brilliant job of creating a safe space for candid conversations on corporal punishment (still all too common in the region), integrity and professionalism, and the importance of knowing the ability of each and every student.
During the training, Luminos supervisors (who monitor Second Chance classrooms and provide ongoing classroom-based support to facilitators) met as a group, alongside Luminos Liberia-based and U.S.-based staff, to reflect on program data and problem solve on challenges. Sessions like these ensure that Second Chance continues to learn, adapt and respond to the needs on the ground. They are also a powerful mechanism for elevating the role and voices of supervisors and facilitators, removing hierarchy and building collective ownership for the Second Chance program, which ultimately drives stronger outcomes for Luminos students.
Balancing Autonomy and Structure. Scripted lessons can earn a poor reputation for limiting teacher autonomy, and in some cases, for being ineffective. Second Chance strikes a delicate balance of providing young and motivated (though often inexperienced) teachers the tools and support they need to succeed, while also empowering them to exercise professional judgement, take risks and lead learning in their classrooms. While our Second Chance Facilitator Manual provides a helpful block-by-block guide for each day, facilitators still develop and lead their own lessons. For instance, the Second Chance curriculum includes two activity-based learning (ABL) periods per day where facilitators are provided guidance on the content that is to be taught or reviewed, but the ‘what’ and ‘how’ of teaching and learning are to the discretion and creativity of the facilitator. During the 10-day training, facilitators were guided on how to use the Facilitator Manual as a tool to support them (as opposed to a script), and encouraged to bring their own ideas and imagination to their teaching as much as possible.
Build People, Build Mindsets. In Liberia, Luminos is not just building a program – we are changing people’s understanding of what is possible to achieve with the most marginalized children. Is Second Chance supporting out-of-school children to become functionally literate and numerate in 10 months? Yes! External evaluation results show that Second Chance students in Liberia are identifying 40 words per minute on average, compared to 4 words per minute at the start of the program (for comparison, just 6% of Liberian Grade 2 students can read 40 words per minute). How did we get here?
The training commenced with an inspirational opening speech by Liberia’s Assistant Minister for Early Childhood Education, Minister Thelma, who had visited several Luminos classrooms last year and was impressed by how well Second Chance students were learning. Throughout the training, facilitators, government representatives (including the 5 master trainers from the Ministry who participated in the full 10 days of training) and partners, were reminded again and again of Luminos guiding principles: “Every child can learn. Help a child learn how to learn”. These principles, while obvious to many of us, are not yet realized in every classroom and school in the communities where we work in Liberia. Until they are, trainings like the one held in August are not just for rehearsing phonics drills (though these are important too!) but for building the mindsets necessary to carry out the work.
Let Experience Speak. This year many facilitators are returning for their third or fourth year teaching with the Second Chance program. This is tremendous in and of itself and a testament to the positive experience they’ve had working for Luminos and Second Chance. It also means that these professionals have deep, valuable experience teaching in low-resource communities. They know what works — and also what doesn’t — in supporting out-of-school children to learn.
During last month’s training, Luminos leveraged the knowledge and experience of veteran ‘lead’ Second Chance facilitators to support training newer facilitators. We will continue using this approach in future trainings. When we think about the local knowledge and know-how that’s being built for Second Chance in Liberia, there is a lot to be excited about, especially when we think about further scaling of Second Chance in Liberia and beyond.
Second Chance classes in Liberia started on September 9th! We look forward to sharing more updates from facilitator trainings throughout the year. Stay tuned!