Tuesday, 8 March 2016

Soul Action South Africa's Update

Fresh Expressions

Last month Phil attended the international conference on Fresh Expressions; a movement that encourages different approaches to Church in a changing culture.

Soul Action – a fresh expression

Much of what Soul Action has facilitated amongst Non Profits since 2007 resonates with what Fresh Expressions defines as missional leadership, i.e. an emphasis on interdependence and community rather than experts or a show[wo]man; collaboration and negotiation rather than hierarchy and authority; multiple approaches rather than one right way; experiential and participative worship rather than set words or instructions; process/journey rather than product/programme; complex and interwoven rather than linear and one-dimensional; ambiguity rather than absolutes; acknowledgement rather than denial; risk and mistakes rather than perfection; trust and faith rather than control; a flourishing life rather than numbers, buildings or money; change and growth rather than the status quo (Nelus Niemandt 2016).


What also struck Phil during the conference was how similar the Fresh Expression’s ‘Process of Discernment’ (below) was to Soul Action’s approach.

“Do ‘it’ again”

Since March last year God has encouraged Soul Action to begin to apply practices that have emerged through listening, serving, building community and exploring discipleship with Non Profit’s, to Christians working at the other end of the spectrum at For-Profits. Just as Soul Action started by listening to NPOs in 2007, Phil & Rachel have spent the last year visiting >150 businesses in the greater Ballito area.

During one such visit in February Soul Action received a tentative offer of a space to meet from a venue located at the very heart of the community. On Sunday a small group had the privilege of meeting and praying into some of the opportunities and challenges of the business in question with its leader.

As Soul Action contemplates innovative ways to serve businesses, build community and explore discipleship within the greater Ballito area, your prayers will be invaluable – firstly, with regards to whether the venue that is on offer is right, and then in finding the right balance between meeting individuals, gathering them together and encouraging a tangible Christian presence that impacts the wider community.

"Start with the Church and the mission will probably get lost. Start with mission and it is likely that the Church will be found." 
Graham Cray, Mission Shaped Church


 Practising Discernment

34 local leaders have committed to connecting more regularly in 2016; gathering with other leaders one month and reflecting one to one with a Soul Action team member the month that follows, and so on…

At February’s gathering Rachel invited leaders to consider their aims for 2016, after which Phil encouraged them to “be ruthless” in ruling out aims which lead away from God, and rather choose what draws them towards what God is calling them to do.

Phil explained how a close friend had recently been helping him explore the practises of St Ignatius Loyola (1491-1556), specifically an approach to discernment that considers consolation or desolation. Phil asked leaders which direction they felt their life decisions were taking them: towards God or away from God?
Desolation turns us in on ourselves, cuts us off from community, covers up all our landmarks, makes us want to give up on things that used to be important to us, drains our energy drives us spiralling down into ever deeper negative feelings and crowds out distant vision. Consolation directs our focus beyond ourselves, lifts our hearts to see the joys and sorrows of other people, bonds us more closely to our human community, restores balance and refreshes our inner vision, generates new inspiration and ideas, releases new energy in us, shows us where God is active in our lives and where he is leading us (for more on this see Margaret Silf’s book, The Inner Compass, Loyola Press).

Action: Take time this month to reflect on whether your decisions are leading you towards or away from God?
Still Learning

Context
In the province where we work, KwaZulu Natal, the mother tongue of 77.8% of the population is isiZulu. During the first two years of schooling the focus for literacy is on developing the skills to read and write in the mother tongue, thus in many schools children are taught in isiZulu. In Grade 2 English is introduced. By Grade 4 the language of teaching and learning changes from isiZulu to English. Therefore children during the first four years of schooling need to have developed the appropriate language skills in order to cope with the curriculum, make progress and fulfil their God given potential.

The 2006 and 2011 Progress in International Reading Literacy Study (PIRLS) results highlighted key concerns regarding the quality of literacy teaching in South African primary schools. Professor Nel (2015) stresses, "Teachers are a crucial factor in teaching learners to read…better prepared teachers who are competent to teach reading are essential to achieve the national goals for reading literacy.”

Therefore an isiZulu phonics program was piloted with Grade R and 1 teachers from two schools in 2015. The program consisted of five workshops and support visits. From this pilot we were able to identify the teachers strengths in teaching language skills and areas which needed further support.


Learning points from the pilot program
It was evident that the teachers were able to teach the basic principles associated with phonological awareness, i.e. word, syllable and sound awareness.
The teachers needed further input and support in understanding the benefits of blending at all levels. If children learn to verbally blend syllables in to words, verbally blend sounds in to words they will be able to apply this skill to the blending of written sounds to read simple words at a later stage.

Plans for 2016
So this year we will be continuing to work with the Grade 1 teachers focusing on blending skills. The teachers will receive further training and support on how to assist children to develop word attack skills so they can read unknown words.

Summary
If teachers understand the benefits of developing phonological awareness skills and are supported to develop their own skills to facilitate appropriate activities, a learning environment will be created that enables young children to develop the age appropriate skills necessary to read and write. If children are able to develop these skills in their mother tongue during Grade R and Grade 1 this will provide the foundations to build on for the teaching of English in Grades 2 and 3.

Please note: to read a full copy of the report go to http://www.soulaction.co.za/isizulu-phonics-program-report/

References: Health 24 (2015) How to fix SA’s alarmingly low reading rates [online], Available from http://www.health24.com/Parenting/Child/News/How-to-fix-SAs-alarmingly-low-reading-rates-20150624 [Accessed 24.06.15]
Media Club South Africa (2016) South Africa’s languages [online], Available from http://www.mediaclubsouthafrica.com/landstatic/80-languages [Accessed 27.01.16]


Sustainability

I (Rachel) believe one of the long-term goals of any program we initiate should be sustainability. Ultimately a program should be able to continue even if we’re not involved. LandLearn NSW (2016) define sustainability “as an ability or capacity of something to be maintained or to sustain itself.” It is Soul Action’s desire for people to develop their skills so they can do something for themselves, rather than become dependent on our organisation.

This is the thinking behind our education programs, and why during 2014 and 2015 we worked alongside Grade 2 and 3 teachers to support them in the teaching of English phonics. But how do we ensure the teaching continues and is sustainable? I feel leaders are key to sustainability as they have the power to ensure something continues and to maintain standards. Thus this year I am focussing on working with leaders from the six schools we have worked alongside previously. Through the year we will explore and consider how to support and motivate staff and how to monitor the progress of the children.

In February I facilitated the first workshop with these leaders and the focus was on assessment; what it is, why it is important and this was related to phonics and what should be assessed.

The discussions that came from both their thoughts on assessment and analyzing the research were very interesting, the leaders identified that:

Assessment involves gathering information through different methods
Importance of observation when assessing
Assessment shows the skills and knowledge the children have developed
Assessment provides feedback for the children and teacher
Through assessment teachers can reflect and evaluate children's level of understanding
A key purpose of assessment is to improve learning
Assessment enables hard questions to be asked such as; “Are children learning what they are supposed to be learning?” “Is there a way to teach the subject better?”
Assessment can put pressure on the children
Some of the children are fearful of failure


The leaders tackled some hard questions during our time together. In March I will visit each person to support them in developing a monitoring tool for the assessment of phonics. It will be encouraging to see them putting in to practice what they learnt.

Reference: LandLearn NSW (2016) What is sustainability? [online], Available from www.landlearnnsw.org.au/sustainability/what-is-sustainability [Accessed 16.02.16]





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