Teaching wasn’t really on my to-do list. My ambition was to be a financial manager once I graduated from university, but instead I followed my father’s path into teaching. And in my country, Morocco, that means consigning yourself to an isolated region for the first few years of your career. No electricity, no drinkable water, and in winter you might have to cross rivers just to get to school.
Unlike many educators around the world, one of my challenges wasn’t to integrate technology into a modern urban classroom – it was to make it work in a rural environment, where students, their parents and their siblings have never so much as touched a PC or used the internet. But even in this situation, or maybe because of it, I started to change my mind about my career. I began to like my new job. Those innocent eyes waiting for me every morning pushed me into giving everything I have to improve education for children in rural places.
My classroom didn’t have electricity. The internet and mobile signals in the area were weak, and I had to walk a five-mile round trip, six days per week, over the mountains to get to the school. Still, I believed in the power of information and communication through technology, and I tried hard to surpass any technical or logistical problems, just to take my students to another climate of learning and bring my classroom to life. Where to start?
With most students here passing their time after school (and even at dawn) herding and guarding sheep, looking for water or helping their families at shelters, school just wasn’t the biggest priority. To figure out how to reduce absence, I needed to know more about it.
First, I used Microsoft Excel as a master tool to collect and analyze absence data, with clear definitions of when dropouts were happening. I asked for the absence data archive from the principal director and combined it with what I recorded every school day. From the results I concluded the highest rate of absence was on Fridays, which coincided with the most popular day for student to play, meet friends and step out of their routine life. It was all happening at the souk, an atmospheric and vibrant marketplace full of food and furniture, toys, candy, old comic books and other goods. In trying to think of something bigger, something more exciting and more attractive to get the students to their teacher, I decided to visit the souk myself and make a plan.
I bought a second laptop and additional batteries, so I wouldn’t have to worry about losing power in the class. It was a little hard at the beginning, carry two laptops in my bag for a 5-mile round trip to get to the school, but after some weeks I got used to it.
Each Friday, a raffle would be waiting for my students at the classroom. During recess, we’d organize a draw, and the winner would have the chance to use the laptop and choose between watching cartoons, playing an educational video games, or writing on Microsoft Word.
At the beginning, I thought my students would choose to play games or watch videos when they had their chance, but I was wrong. Most of them preferred to explore Word and they became so excited when they typed in their names and some words and paragraphs.
Giving my students the opportunity to use the PC and freely connect with technology had a powerful impact on combating the absence phenomenon. My students now prefer coming to school and they’re starting to convince their parents and siblings about the importance of school and ICT (Information and Communication Technologies). More recently, we’ve been holding a “Friday Surprise” each week, where students can express themselves and develop their skills by creating handmade decorations, using the laptop to look for creative ideas, to draw, or do other things that improve communication, collaboration, presentation, creativity, problem solving, and critical thinking.
There are some other educational issues we see in the multi-grade classroom. Some multi-grade teachers may teach two grades in the same class, while others may teach three or four grades. I’m teaching six grades. The students in these grades are usually of the same age but may differ in their abilities, which means:
- Planning can be time consuming.
- Teachers may be frustrated due to their geographical isolation.
- Physical conditions may be unattractive. Some classrooms are very small and overcrowded.
- Few materials are available for multi-grade teaching.
To take this challenge on, I thought about how being a teacher in a rural area didn’t prevent me from increasing my knowledge, or developing my professional and personal skills. I tried to use the internet to get away from the isolation and be a part of the community of innovative educators. After learning about new methods and experiences all over the planet, I decided to let my students choose, by themselves, to come to school, even on special days, rather than imposing it on them. With ICT, I would rather make them eager to build knowledge. I encouraged them to try new things and never be afraid of change. That why using ICT has had a positive impact not only in my classroom, but on the whole school environment.
For me, the weak infrastructure, the absence of digital tools and unawareness of how important education is are no excuse – we can still create and think of innovative ways to make our students love coming to school.
To meet the varied needs of multi-grade students, teachers need in-depth knowledge of child development and learning and a larger repertoire of instructional strategies than most single-grade teachers possess. They must be able to design open-ended, divergent learning experiences accessible to students functioning at different levels. They must know when and how to use homogeneous and heterogeneous grouping and how to design cooperative group tasks. They must be proficient in assessing, evaluating, and recording student progress using qualitative methods.
Multi-grade teachers must be able to facilitate positive group interaction and to teach social skills and independent learning skills to individual students. They must know how to plan and work cooperatively with colleagues, as team teaching is commonly combined with multi-grade organization. Finally, they must be able to explain multi-grade practices to parents and other community members, building understanding and support for their use.
The wealth of digital tools makes it easy to create your own educational materials, and there are many advantages in doing so. As a teacher, the learning for your students is strengthened by your voice and pedagogy. The students can study at their own pace and learn at their level. These are some of my strategies:
- Consider students’ needs and their knowledge differentiation, by presenting my own lesson plan.
- Make the explanation more attractive for my students.
- Effectively manage the lesson’s time.
- Develop game-based learning.
- Improve real-world problem solving and collaboration
Microsoft technologies helped me perform my tasks more quickly and efficiently. Specifically:
- Planning: Microsoft offers planning templates that you can customize to your requirement. You can update and reuse these when you teach the lessons again.
- Record keeping: By maintaining electronic documents you can quickly access and update information, making it easier to share and cross reference.
- Assessing: With Microsoft Word, Excel and PowerPoint you can design assessments with automated marking.
- Coordinating and communicating: E-mail is a useful option to communicate. Microsoft Outlook offers the option of a shared calendar, which makes coordination efficient. You can use a blog or webpage that parents visit for updates.
- Collaborating: Shared workspaces or collaboration tools, such as SharePoint, Skype, Skype for Business, and Office 365 make it easier to collaborate on documents and hold virtual meetings.
For me, as a primary school teacher, my love for this noble job has grown far beyond what I ever expected. I have learned that the teacher doesn’t just light up minds, but hearts as well. I learned that teaching is art and love before it’s a job. I learned that education has no borders.
Top image: Bayla Khalid attending Education Exchange 2018 in Singapore, where he met educators from around the world.
To learn more about Microsoft Education and our tools and technology that help foster inclusion and support personalizing learning for every student, click here.