The ABCs of SET’s Vision

 SET’s 2019 Teachers’ Workshop:  How to Increase Literacy with First Graders 

Fulfilling its commitment to help primary students “blossom in all dimensions of their lives”[1] SET has changed its focus.  Rather than building more schools for now, SET is building better teacher toolboxes.

In March 2019 SET hired Jean-Paul Kodjo Mlope, a literacy professor at the Togo Teachers’ College to run a pilot literacy-teaching project for CP1 (grade one) in six of SET’s 13 schools.  This project would create the design and the contents of those teacher toolboxes. With Canadian SET volunteers, Serge Novignon Akpagnonite and Angèle Dadagan Aklah (Togolese-born literacy teachers) a workshop on the teaching of reading was given in July 2019.   

SET director Anne Carette with CP1 teachers at Literacy Workshop

 CP1 teachers and their school principals attended. The inspector of schools in the Maritime District (where SET schools are located) and the teachers’ pedagogical representative were also present.  Throughout the three full days away at the Clarisse Sisters’ Monastery northwest of Lomé, Togo’s capital, SET directors Anne and Simon Carette joined in.  Their main objective was to reinforce SET’s support for teaching literacy.

As Angèle said: “the first three years of school are about gaining the skills which provide the base for learning to read.  From learning to read students go on reading to learn thus increasing their knowledge and their understanding – in what we all describe as an education.” 

Angèle teaching literacy workshop participants

To the workshop participants the literacy specialists stressed the key role CP1 teachers play in their pupils’ future. Where Togolese primary teachers have used rote learning to teach reading, results from SET’s literacy evaluations done in 2018, showed near total failure.  After one year in school the kids could not recognize the shapes of letters, the sounds they made, much less read single words.

Eager to become change-makers in their pupils’ lives, the workshop participants took in the two main areas of Angèle’s, Serge’s and Jean-Paul’s program:

Small-group learning

Where primary class sizes average in the fifties, giving individualized attention can be nearly impossible for the teacher, even with the possible assistance of an intern teacher.  To achieve a more effective environment, the participants learned about small-group teaching.  One group of pupils works closely with their teacher on syllables, rhymes and sounds which form the base of reading skills.   The rest use classroom areas to play or work on lessons involving reading skills being developed in the small group. 

Two workshop participants look at SET-supplied literacy materials

For each CP1 classroom SET supplies plasticized letters, pictures, chalk, wooden letters and numbers, felt pens and crayons.

Connecting with each child

“The source of a child’s hearing and absorbing depends on the relationship the teacher has with that child.  One of the challenges our SET schools have is consistent attendance.  When a child feels safe and heard by his or her teacher, the child wants to come to school,” Serge explained.

The ABCs of teacher-pupil connection depend on:

A – Attention-span of the young child being recognized so that teaching can take place within that time.  For CP1 pupils the attention span averages seven minutes.

B –Brief and simple examples in lessons that come from the kids’ everyday lives. 

C—Concentrating on the particular child at the particular time – listening and hearing each one as a unique individual.

Jean-Paul makes his commitment to teachers in the SET literacy pilot project

To help CP1 teachers in the pilot project implement new teaching methods Jean-Paul pledged key actions.  His direct work with the teachers will include visiting classrooms on a regular basis, observing teachers, providing constructive feedback, answering questions, producing supplementary materials and planning best methods for teaching, including setting up and using the literacy centres.  To stimulate energy around the new teaching methods Jean-Paul promised to create exchanges among teachers, principals, the pedagogical representative and the school inspector.  For a sense of the effectiveness of their teaching Jean-Paul promised teachers he would evaluate students on an ongoing basis.

With the groundwork of the second part of SET’s vision laid out in the workshop, Simon said,  “No one has a crystal ball to show what results will come from the pilot project but when teacher participants told us the workshop encouraged them to become better and better teachers, Anne and I felt SET  has chosen the right path.”  


[1] SET Mission Statement