Megan Ball at Ambassadors College, Ile-Ife, Nigeria.

 

Teaching Critical Thinking in Nigeria
Ambassadors College, Senior Secondary School, Ile-Ife
February 2009

During my brief stay recently in Ile-Ife, Nigeria, I was fortunate to teach a Senior Secondary English class, level 2 at Ambassadors College, a 6 year secondary school. When I arrived on campus at 8 a.m., the students were lined up in lines facing a platform.  They sang the school’s anthem in unison, prayed for blessings and thanks, sang religious hymns, and listened to the morning announcements, which included a welcoming introduction for my visit.  After the students greeted me at the morning assembly, I was introduced by the Headmaster to the entire student body.  At the assembly, I addressed notions of high standards, integrity, focus on education, and the ability to assess society to make progress and contribute to a nation’s growth. I was honored to speak at the assembly.  After, I proceeded to one classroom with Mr. Agboola Johnson, one of the English Instructors.

The level I taught may be equivalent to Eleventh Grade in the United States. In the class (of roughly 22 students), I immediately noticed the simplicity of the classroom. The classroom had 30 wood tables and wood chairs, a chalk board, windows (without glass) open to the parking lot, cement floors, cement walls, and no other materials, decorations, technology, or embellishments. Essentially, it was barren.  However, the students transcended the lack of resources in the room and showed astute judgment, sharp ideas, and strict discipline.

During the lesson, I introduced myself and the general structure of High School in the U.S.  I proceeded to introduce the classes I taught, including English 11 and Speech and Debate.  That was a nice transition into the lesson: Teaching One Critical Thinking Reading Strategy: Three Levels of Thinking. I addressed that in debate, students must enhance their critical thinking skills and offer their opinion. I explained that without such engagement in their learning, students cannot use their educational experience as a tool to negotiate in a democracy or the progression of a nation.  When students can, in their classes, make observations, articulate their opinion, and debate multiple world views, they can turn around and assess their environment, their society, and politics.  They can observe, debate, and make choices for their independent vote. Their vote is what sparks change.  Without enhancing students’ critical thinking skills, their voting power becomes weaker and their ability to assess and alter the status quo becomes weaker as well.  

In order to teach the critical thinking reading strategy, I offered copies of the letter President Obama wrote to his two daughters.  Themes in the letter were profound and debatable, so it offered the perfect opportunity for analysis and response.  To analyze and respond to the text, we used the three levels of thinking: Literal, Interpretive, and Evaluative, essentially, fact, opinion, and worldview. Students read the article (silently, aloud, and with choral response) and then took notes in a three column format (Literal statements, Interpretive statements, and Evaluative statements).  The topics we took notes on included technology, convenience, innovation, a nation’s improvement, contribution of the younger generations, promises for equality in the Declaration of Independence, gender equality, war as a means to secure peace, and more.  Students offered facts like, “Obama gave his children junk food on the campaign trail” and opinions like “fresh food was not convenient on the campaign trail.” Then I helped them develop evaluations like “Fresh food in the United States is not as conveniently accessible as it is in Nigeria.” 

I wanted the students to take notes not only to clarify and understand the exercise but also to develop their knowledge of Standard English, their writing skills, their comprehension skills, and their advanced vocabulary.   Many students shared that notes were intended for careful study before exams, yet, after the lesson, they learned how notes can also advance their skills and help them take copious notes in university.

The students in the Senior Secondary class demonstrated the utmost respect, poise, discipline, and willingness to learn. At no single point were they causing unnecessary distractions or straying from their note taking. At the same time, their style of response to my instruction varied from my students at Hayward High. With most of my questions, the students showed understanding by offering a choral response.  For example, when I asked for another word for opposite of benefit besides “bad,” the entire class said “disadvantage.”  When I asked, “World view is in our _____?, all the students replied “mind” to show understanding that level three  (evaluative) works beyond the text.  From my observations at other sites in Ife, it became clear that choral response and repetition are common learning methods.  Another difference in response is standing when they have an answer or would like to read.  Each volunteer student raised their hand, was called upon to speak, and then stood and spoke.  This method seemed to boost confidence as well as attention to the lesson.

Overall, my intention was to impart and share a successful reading strategy I commonly use during instruction in my English 11 classes at Hayward High and to engage the students in Nigeria in the same critical thinking process.  However, the experience became one of cultural immersion and mutual exchange and regard. It also became an opportunity to greet an entire school, answer questions about American society, and share a poem of inspiration.  As a goodbye to the student body, I offered the following:

This is my message to you.
Walk toward the light
Rather than retreat into the shadows
So that your future will be bright
Let the Sun be your guide on your path and by your side
It can announce your blessings
And shine light on your gifts and talents
With that, work toward your goals and dreams
And never play around
So you can reach higher ground
Realize your education
Will take you to the highest point on the mountain
And if you prosper, as I know you will,
It will be higher than you ever imagined

With this experience, I was able to impart one of the most valuable tools I learned in the Great Books Seminar Program at Saint Mary’s College.  Throughout my teaching experience, I’ve been incorporating the Seminar’s approach of using levels of thinking to help students extrapolate ideas from text and offer abstract ideas with a Socratic approach.

The experience in Nigeria was an honor. I am grateful to Ambassadors College for extending open arms and embracing my ideas for expanding their students’ critical thinking capacity.

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