DR SARAN STEWART from the School of Education at The UWI, Mona has formulated a plan to implement best practices gleaned from extra lessons into mainstream schooling across the island.
This was the outcome of her PhD dissertation titled, “Everything in di Dark Muss Come to Light: A Post-colonial Examination of the Practice of Extra Lessons at the Secondary Level in Jamaica’s Education System”. She began her research on extra lessons in 2013 and conducted surveys on more than 1,600 Grade 11 students from 62 secondary schools across Jamaica. A total of 62 participants, including parents, teachers, Ministry of Education officials and students, were part of the qualitative portion of the study which was based on interviews and focus group discussions. This resulted in a model to understand extra lessons in Jamaica called “The Model of Ecology of Extra Lessons.”
“I knew the research study had to be as rigorous as possible as no extensive, scholarly study was done before on extra lessons in Jamaica at the secondary level. Extra lessons account for the third highest household expenditure on education after transportation and lunch. According to the Jamaica Survey on Living Conditions, each year, extra lessons as a household expenditure account for $20m in expenses,” Stewart said.
In 2014, Stewart joined forces with Russell Bell, one of Jamaica’s top 50 maths educators, and her husband, David Kennedy, a double certified special education teacher and currently a PhD student at The UWI, to start a project called, “Teach, Learn, Love Jamaica”. Through this project, they partnered with Jonathan Grant High School in Spanish Town to run an extra lessons programme in CSEC Mathematics. They taught 15 students from Jonathan Grant, as well as 15 students from schools in St Mary, Kingston and St Andrew. “We built a rapport with Jonathan Grant High School. We examined the barriers to learning and isolated them. We looked at getting smaller classroom sizes, reducing indiscipline, strategies for homework to be completed, and constant communication with parents. Our efforts were very successful as the students sat the CSEC maths exam in 2016 as Grade 10 students and all but one student (who stopped her lessons due to family issues) passed. Not only did they pass, roughly 60 per cent received distinctions with triple A profiles and are now doing Additional maths,” Stewart said.
In 2016, the team then approached Jonathan Grant to imbed the extra lessons practices into the regular school curriculum. “We wanted to see if we could fully implement what and how the previous cohort of students were learning in extra lessons into the regular school curriculum. This has been successful thus far, being guided by Russell Bell’s Bell Model, coupled with our own curriculum which we found better streamlined the 2014 cohort of students, and prepared them essentially to be successful in all subject areas, not just in maths,” Stewart told UWIMONA Now.
The foundation of the curriculum is How to Learn, a book authored by Russell Bell for Grade 9 students on best learning practices. The students are taught to dispel the myth that maths is hard and to realise that it just requires in-depth practice, motivation and confidence. “If they practise, they will learn it. They also have to know how they themselves learn. We literally teach them how to learn. The students are now ‘mashing up’ the internal school exams. To make the project sustainable, Mr Bell doesn’t teach the class, a resident maths teacher at Jonathan Grant teaches, using our curriculum and a complete suite of resources. We also mentor the teacher throughout, and provide a parent-liaison to have periodical check-in with the parents,” Stewart said.
“With the curriculum, the 2014 cohort of students are now the leading students at Jonathan Grant High School as they have been applying the principles taught in all of their courses. We are observing the same trends in the 2016 cohort of students,” Stewart added.
Other schools have approached Stewart to implement the model but it is not a one-size-fits-all. “Every school has its own culture. We are learning from Jonathan Grant and from there we would like to address different schools. We plan to remain at Jonathan Grant and perfect what we are doing, then roll it out into new schools,” Stewart said.