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Several forces are at play in determining whether pedagogical approaches are optimally adapted to the culture of children’s behaviour and of teacher-child interaction in the classroom. Teachers’ expectations for children’s behaviour may differ from the way in which children are raised at home (Jukes et al, 2018). Teaching activities may be designed by experts from outside the beneficiary education system or who may be removed from the culture of rural schools. The evidence for the effectiveness of recommended teaching practices may be based on children and teachers from a different culture.
A recent study (Piper, Sitabkhan, Mejia, & Betts, 2017) examined early grade reading teaching practices in several countries. It found numerous examples of scripted teaching activities being modified or omitted by teachers. Many of these activities were those that required students to take an active role, such as group practice or the “you do” part of the gradual release model (“I do, we do, you do”), when students are required to demonstrate an activity independently of the teacher. These omissions may have resulted from a culture in which adults, not children, are expected to direct discussion. Similarly, comprehension prediction questions were often omitted because of the fear that children’s predictions might be “incorrect”. This finding may reflect a cultural preference for ‘saving face’ in public. In these examples, activities are not performed successfully either because students are reluctant to respond or because the teacher’s expectation is that students will be reluctant to respond. Where such cultural mismatches exist there is the possibility of making adjustments to pedagogy or training to improve program effectiveness.
The current study sought to understand the role of cultural factors in the teaching of early grade reading in Tanzania. The aim was to investigate teacher’s pedagogical choices and the implicit theory of teaching and learning that underpinned these choices. We also aimed to understand teachers’ perceptions of students’ social and emotional skills and how this influenced their pedagogical choices. We were particularly interested in strategies used by teachers to overcome challenges posed by children’s behaviour – for example a lack of willingness to participate in class activities. We were also interested in how teachers exploited opportunities offered by children’s behaviour -for example a preference for cooperation among students.
The current study took place in three regions of Tanzania – Zanzibar, Mtwara and Iringa – in the context of the USAID supported Tusome Pamoja (“let’s read together”) project. Researchers observed one lesson from each of 36 teachers and recorded key teaching activities. A subsequent qualitative interview with the teachers examined the decisions they made during the lesson and how their perception of students’ competencies influenced their decisions.
The results will help us understand how pedagogical reform efforts can best take into account the culture of students and teachers to improve the implementation and effectiveness of teaching activities.