Ready school is an essential component of children’s school readiness. Children have to be supported by early schooling across various developmental domains, such as: physical, social-emotional, cognitive, and language-literacy, to achieve success in later academic life. At school, children must be in a safe and developmentally appropriate environment. This allows them to be successful in exploring and learning about their world. Children benefit from enriching, responsive learning experiences . Providing an appropriate literacy and numeracy environment is at the core of school’s readiness because early literacy and numeracy skills are two important components of early school success.
This issue has been further explored, in this report, in the context of Bangladesh, through a classroom observation conducted in a pre-school classroom of Nobodhara School, which is a for-profit school run by BRAC University – Institute of Educational Development.
Observation Time and Setting
On that particular day of observation, in the vibrant kindergarten classroom of Nobodhara school, there were 24 students present out of 30. The observation started from 8:30am and continued up to 10:45am. Although most of the students were present in the class by 8:30am, few were late and the last student arrived at 9:00am.
Physical Environment of the Classroom
The classroom was a rectangular room with two big windows and one glass door leading to a balcony allowing plenty of light and air in the class. The entire floor was covered with a carpet and had furniture for sitting, a computer on a computer table and a table right next to the board for use by the teacher. There was a board in one wall facing the direction where children were sitting. A class routine was written on the board with a marker along with the total number of children, number of children present and the date. The classroom also had lights and fans and a shelf in one corner for keeping books and materials. The detail observation of the physical environment of the class has been organized in the following sections.
Sitting arrangement: There were five round wooden tables and about thirty chairs available for the children. 5/6 children occupied one table. The tables and chairs were age appropriate. These furniture took most of the spaces in the classroom leaving little room for other activities or materials.
Play area: There was a small space in front of the board for activities or play inside the classroom. The space was very tight for having all children involved in any large group activities.
Corners: There were three corners that could have been identified during the observation. There were a book corner consisting four story books, a corner for personal belongings on two opposite walls beside the sitting areas and a corner shelf for blocks, play materials and exercise books.
Materials: There were different types of age appropriate materials available in the classroom. There were charts on the walls including charts on numbers with pictures, vegetables, alphabets, wild animals, vehicles, community helpers, healthy eating charts and cheer charts to encourage well behavior, discipline and healthy eating habit in children. However, the use of these charts could not be observed during the observation period and the charts were not hung at the eye level of the children. There were four story books available for the entire class in the book corner. There were also flash cards on words and pictures, pencils, colors, papers, chart papers, exercise books, coloring books and blocks available in the corner shelf.
The teacher started the day with some warm up activity with rhymes for about 15 minutes to engage children. Then she started a literacy activity which was more sort of a “social emotional literacy” at 9am. At first she put a picture of “happy face” on the board. Then she tried to get attention of the children by moving from table to table and asking children “are you happy? Look at the board. Are you happy?” It was an English version/medium class and the teacher was asking this question in English. However, the teacher also used Bangla very often. Few children responded to the question, but most of them were busy in settling down after the rhymes. Then she gave the children paper and color pencil to draw happy faces. After about 6 minutes she started collecting the papers. Very few, about 2/3 children could finish their drawing. But most of them could not finish their work. They started demanding their paper back so that they can finish their drawing. One particular child did not work on it at all. However, the teacher did not seem to notice it.
Immediately after collecting the sheets, the teacher took a basket and ask children, “What is it?” the children replied, “Basket”. Then she put a ball inside the basket, and started asking the children regarding the position of the ball. She asked, “Is the ball inside or outside?” Initially the children did not respond immediately. Then the teacher herself gave the answer, “the ball is inside the basket.” The teacher then took the ball out of the basket and asked children the same question. Some of the children replied it is outside the basket. After that she drew a picture of basket and ball on the board and the same questions again to children. Some children were answering enthusiastically, but some were talking among themselves and not listening. Then she initiated an interactive activity to engage the children to understand these two concepts. She brought few children at the front and made a circle with them. Then she put one child in the middle of the circle and asked, “Is he inside or outside?” The children in the circle replied “Inside”. Then she put another one outside the circle and asked the same question and the children replied accordingly. This session ended at around 9:40am and the children went for tiffin break.
During the break the children were put in line first to be taken to the washroom to wash their hands. It took about 10 minutes to organize them for this activity since the children. After coming back from the washroom, the children settled in their seat and started eating their tiffin gradually. One child did not eat her tiffin and started eating from one of her friend’s. The friend started crying and calling the teacher. The teacher found out that the kid did not take out her tiffin box from her bag. The teacher went to find the child’s bag and with the help of another kid in the class she found out the bog and gave the tiffin box to the kid whom it belonged to when it was not even 5 minutes left to the tiffin break to end.
After the break it was time for the physical education according to the routine. But the physical education teacher was delayed due to some personal problem. Therefore, to utilize this time, the teacher started “story telling” in that period. She requested the children to choose one story book from the book corner which they want to listen. The children seemed very interested to listen to the story and they picked one of the story books that they wanted to listen to. All the children came to the front close to the teacher to listen to the story. The teacher started the story by showing the picture in the cover page. She also asked questions to the children as she told the story. The children replied and asked questions in return. Although most of the children were listening to the story, a couple of them were talking among themselves. Initially the teacher tried to engage them by asking questions, but later when they were not listening she just let them do whatever they want on their own. Eventually the teacher introduced “participatory story telling” by engaging the kids to tell what happens next. Some of the children came forward and told the next part of the story.
At the end of this session the physical education teacher came in. He called the kids at the front and started asking questions regarding school behavior and discipline. Later, he engaged children in physical exercises. As the children were doing the exercises one by one and giggling away, at around 10:45am, my observation period ended.
Limitation of the Observation
Although it was a comprehensive day long observation. There were a number of limitations which are worth mentioning before going further into the analysis. The limitations were:
• It was the beginning of the session and the class started only two weeks ago. Therefore, only a few literacy and numeracy activities were started. The arrangement of materials and classroom environment were also not fully in place during that time.
• The teacher of that particular class was new. She had been recruited in this session. She only received a short orientation; the full training was yet to be received. Therefore, the classroom management has been analyzed considering the lack of experience of the teacher.
• The class did not have an assistant teacher during the observation period which further reflected in the classroom management situation in that particular class.
Analysis of Observation Data Using the School Readiness Lens
The observation data has been analyzed in terms of two important aspects of the school’s readiness: i) Children-teacher interaction, ii) Literacy and numeracy environment/activities.
i) Children-teacher interaction: The interaction between children and teacher has been observed and analyzed considering the following aspects:
• Overall classroom management: The teacher was struggling in managing 24 kids all alone without any assistance from an assistant teacher. She could not pay attention to all the kids when they were engaged in drawing the “happy face”. Some children were enthusiastically doing the work, but some were not interested at all and talking among themselves, when a couple of them actually did not attempt to do anything. Overall, the classroom was noisy all along. There was a particular group of children sitting in one table which I have named as the “enthusiastic group” because they were the hyper kids and was making most of the noises. The teacher attempted but could not manage that group efficiently. She also did not attempt to redistribute their sitting arrangement and putting them in different tables. However, during the story time most of the children were engaged and participating. The teacher introduced the ‘participatory story telling’ technique which worked effectively to manage most of the children to be engaged in the activity.
• Dealing with the hyper children: In terms of dealing with the hyper children, particularly the most hyper one from the “enthusiastic group”, the teacher called her as the "leader‟ and gave her the task to make others quiet. However, there was no clear direction of how she was going to do this and there was no follow up on her task. As a result, after a few minutes the child was getting hyper again and disturbing other kids. The used to come again and tried to calm her down by calling her the “leader”.
• Use of positive phrases: The teacher was very efficient in saying “very good”, “good job”, “beautiful work” and such praising phrases when some of the children were showing their work or being disciplined. The children seemed to be involved with the teacher and enthusiastically showing their work to her and also calling her when they were facing any problem.
• Interaction during the snack time: During the snack time the children were putting their tiffin boxes with the help of the teacher. However, the teacher could not pay attention to all children and support them in getting prepared for the snack. As described in the observation note from classroom activity, one child did not put her tiffin out of her bag and started eating from her another kid’s tiffin which triggered a noisy situation when the other kid started complaining. The teacher also did not use the healthy eating chart during the tiffin break.
ii) Literacy and numeracy environment/activities: The literacy activities and environment has been analyzed in terms of the components of literacy that have been covered during the observation period. In the beginning of the class, the children were involved in literacy activities which were more sort of “social-emotional literacy” where the children were encouraged to recognize and label “happy face”. Emphasis on the knowledge of print was understood from the charts hung on the walls on alphabets, animals, community works etc. However, there was not any evidence of labeling the furniture or objects in the classroom, there was no calendar and no evidence on the use of the charts or other materials relevant to print knowledge. There were a few activities observed on vocabulary and language through rhymes and story-telling. During the read aloud of the story, the teacher showed the children the cover page, let children turn the page, talked about pictures, asked relevant open ended questions and finally introduced participatory story-telling, which was an effective literacy activity. Although it was an English version school, the teacher did not have effective English communication skill, and therefore, she was using Bangla most of the time.
In the observed class, the numeracy activities covered the understanding of spatial sense. The activities indicated the development of understanding of the concepts “inside” and “outside” in terms of developing the understanding of space. The use of basket and balls, and the use of making a circle and putting one inside and one outside the circle, are effective activities provided that the classroom is managed and children are engaged efficiently. There were number charts found on the wall and some flash cards and shapes available in the corner shelf.
The key recommendations in terms of the school’s readiness are as follows:
• Taking into consideration that the teacher is yet to receive the full training, my recommendation will focus on developing the teachers English communication skill.
• The teacher has to be trained to manage the hyper children efficiently, at the same time has to be trained to observe and support individual needs of children and on inclusiveness.
• An immediate recruitment of an assistant teacher since it is very challenging for one teacher to manage about 30 children.
• Reduce the number of children in each class for effective learning environment.
• There should be more play or open space for whole group activities and for music, drama and movement.
• There were only four story books available for the entire class. The number and variety of story books and reading materials have to be increased significantly.
• The furniture (chair, table, computer door, window etc.) could be labeled involving the children.
• The corners were not well defined and there were no materials found for dramatic play.
• The class routine was only written on the board with a black marker. The routine could have been well-structures, colorful and hung up on the wall so that the children could have identified their next activities and prepared accordingly with the support from the teacher.
• There was no clear indication of transition between the literacy and numeracy sessions. The teacher abruptly moved from one content area to another which made the children confused. There could be some warm up involving music/dance/song or relevant activities before transition to a separate content area.
• According to research findings, “rich language environments may support the development of early literacy and numeracy skills” . The use of appropriate language, conversation and communication for developing literacy and numeracy skills is strongly suggested for this particular class.
The observation of Nobodhara pre-school has given a picture of the readiness of school in terms of literacy and numeracy environment and children-teacher interaction at the beginning of a school session which would contribute to the readiness of the child to cope and learn in the school environment. The concept of “Ready Schools” means that schools need to be ready to work with the diverse population of children that come to their doors with varying backgrounds and experiences . School’s readiness must be seen as a two-way street. While children need to get ready for success in school, schools need to increase their skills in supporting all children to be successful . In this regard, Nobodhara had a welcoming environment for all children irrespective of culture, ethnicity and abilities. It provided a vibrant literacy and numeracy environment and put its effort in making the classroom a joyful learning place for the children. However, there are still areas of improvement identified through the observation which has been reflected in the recommendation section. The school may take those suggestions into consideration for ensuring an age appropriate literacy and numeracy rich, at the same time joyful learning environment for all children.
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RAFIATH RASHID: Senior Manager, Education Programmes, BRAC International, Dhaka, Bangladesh.