Aug 13, 2008 News
She has been in Guyana since February 20, 2002, and has been working towards improving literacy.
Dr. Cushnie believes that focus must be placed on childhood education and on the continuing professional development of teachers.
The volunteer, along with the members of the Department of Education, has been striving towards stamping out situations where slow learners are left behind or ignored by teachers.
During 2002 and 2003 she worked as a VSO Remedial Reading Teacher Trainer attached to Guyana Education Access Project (GEAP) in Region Six. The focus was on the Literacy Professional Development Course.
Some aspects of this were the Training Needs Analysis, Reading Assessment and Improving Literacy. At the end, recommendations were made on improving literacy levels in both primary and secondary schools.
According to Dr. Cushnie, the main recommendations of the Improving Literacy project were “To develop professional development courses based on the literacy pilot findings and to ensure effective use of existing professional development structures by accrediting courses and advising on implementation.
The professional development areas should address observed weaknesses in the training needs analysis, both in teachers’ teaching and in pupils’ learning.”
The 2004 to 2008 period saw Dr. Cushnie being the VSO Literacy Advisor attached to the Department of Education in Region Six. In the initial stages, East Berbice /Corentyne was not a Basic Education Access Management Support (BEAMS) pilot area. However, the methods being developed at that time were the same, namely, Synthetic Phonics.
Between 2004 and 2006, there were three main projects. The Department of Education, along with the VSO, compiled and published the teaching and learning resource ‘Phonics is Fun’ and trained all the grades one and two teachers in its implementation.
“This was followed by support visits which revealed a reluctance to implement the phonics method due to a lack of teachers own professional knowledge and skills,” Dr. Cushnie noted.
The second project was the phonics trial in five primary schools and one primary-top school, using Jolly Phonics materials donated to the VSO.
“Pre and post diagnostic tests were analyzed and the results compared to non-trial schools. A report was published and sent to Central Ministry – Trial of Phonics Teaching Methods and Materials, January to June 2006.
The pupils exposed to phonics teaching out-performed their non-trial peers by ten percent in reading and spelling. Some 95 percent of the top performing pupils came from the phonics trial schools.”
The third was staff development through Regional workshops and Cluster meetings. This was followed by an assessment of the impact through a region-wide teachers’ phonics test. “The analysis of these results showed that teachers in the phonics trial outperformed other teachers.
A report was sent to Central Ministry and this formed an evaluation of training effectiveness and future needs.
One recommendation of the last report was for further professional development and the completion of a ‘Professional Development Log’ for all teachers to keep a record of any staff development they have undertaken or facilitated.”
In 2007 and up until last Friday when she last worked, Dr. Cushnie along with VSO Cheryl Evans, who is the Early Childhood Education Advisor, also attached to the Department of Education in Region Six, continued to work towards improving literacy.
Among their focal points were to increase the capacity of the Region through the development of both physical and human resources and the development and piloting of teaching aids and resources to support the RALP Readers, namely the RALP Phonics Scheme of Work, the RALP Flash Cards, and the RALP Reader Pupil Workbooks.
According to Dr. Cushnie, she developed the Literacy Professional Development Course during the 2007/2008 period.
“This was based on previous findings and on feedback from Miss Evans’s visits to the grades one and two at primary schools. The course has been designed to increase teachers’ content knowledge in five modules.”
Phonics was the first module followed by Comprehension. The third was Remedial Reading while Composition Writing and Spelling comprise the fourth and fifth module, respectively.
Through this project, 19 trained teachers (literacy resource persons) were selected to represent each of the clusters in a ratio of 1:35.
“These Key Literacy Resource Trainers developed their professional skills in three impact zones: – Classroom teaching skills with emphasis on diagnosing the learning taking place in their pupils, school development in terms of a literacy focus, and cluster development in the five key literacy areas through Grades’ Committee Meetings.”
To assess the overall impact of the Literacy Professional Development Course, the Region-wide teachers’ phonics test was administered again.
“In summary – 86 percent of the teachers who took the test in 2006 and 2008 improved their scores by a 19 percent average and 94 percent of the schools which took the test in 2006 and 2008 improved performance by a 15 percent average.”
“These results suggest that the Literacy Professional Development Course has had a positive impact on teachers’ knowledge and skills, which hopefully will be transferred into the classroom.”
Eighteen teachers who recently completed the pilot VSO Literacy Continuing Professional Development Course, which was developed by Dr Cushnie, graduated on Thursday August 7.
Dr. Cushnie suggests that a number of factors contribute to a child becoming a slow learner. These include poor visual skills, poor aural skills, poor or short term memory, poor attendance, physical problems and in some cases the child may be a product of illiterate parents.
There are even those who are late developers. In many cases, pupils are at risk of failure from lack of teachers’ knowledge and skills and teaching reading effectively, and at many schools teachers struggle with these pupils.
To overcome this, under the Literacy Professional Development Course, teachers were trained in staff development in five literacy modules.
Dr. Cushnie is very satisfied with the progress of teachers and students and leaving for her United Kingdom home makes her comfortable knowing that more children would have grasped the concept of reading and that more teachers have the confidence and skills to teach reading more effectively.
“In 2002 teachers did not seem to know how to solve the problem of poor reading but now in 2008 teachers have more answers for overcoming these difficulties.”
Her final thoughts were, “I am very happy to have had the opportunity to spend so many happy years in Guyana.
I feel that the teachers who have finished the literacy Professional Development Course will do an excellent job in sustaining the literacy in Region Six and I wish them every success.
Remaining to guide and advise Region Six in Literacy matters is VSO Miss Cheryl Evans.”
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