HOW FREDA KEEPS HER LARGE CLASS LEARNING
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The voices of 77 Grade 6 students bounce off the walls of Freda’s Ghana classroom. The students are singing together, but the song isn’t what you might expect. It’s not the latest radio hit or TikTok breakthrough. It’s a song about children’s rights. And the students know all the words.
Freda has been teaching for 16 years. For most of her career, she’s struggled to keep her large classes engaged and learning. Often, the most student participation Freda could manage is making students repeat. Her students were restless and bored, and it was hard for Freda to get to know her students and their individual strengths and challenges. This formal style of teaching didn’t feel natural for Freda, and her uneasiness was evident, which made her feel unconfident. She knew there must be a better way to teach but wasn’t sure how to explore it on her own.
The recommended class size for primary schools in Ghana is 35 students, but classes are often larger. Teacher shortages and inadequate classroom facilities mean that classes sometimes have close to double the recommended number of students. These conditions make both teaching and learning difficult.
Throughout most of her career, Freda's approach to teaching was a one-way street: Freda taught, and her students listened. But students quickly became distracted, and then they distracted other students. Freda would spend most of the class time trying to get their attention back instead of delivering the lesson. It was demoralizing and exhausting, and it affected students’ performance and desire to learn.
That wasn’t the only challenge. Because student participation and leadership weren’t encouraged, Freda was the only source of information and guidance in the classroom. When students were paying attention, she found she got so many questions and requests, just keeping up was a challenge. She wasn’t able to engage them in exchange or stoke their curiosity. And she definitely didn’t have the time to get to know her students and their individual strengths and needs.
“Teaching was not joyful. Learners were not given the opportunity to express their opinions,” Freda says.
In 2021, Freda received training from Right To Play on how to make learning more engaging through play. The training was delivered through the Partners in Play project which is supported by the LEGO Foundation. Through the program, 800 teachers are learning how to use play-based teaching methods to help more than 32,000 students improve their learning outcomes, express their creativity, and develop holistic skills like collaboration and teamwork.
“The training enables teachers to approach teaching and learning differently. The entire process is laced with friendliness and fun,” says Julius Kwami Tsatsu, Project Officer for the Partners in Play project. “Our games are well structured to ensure that children learn while having fun. Whether they play the game as part of curriculum content or an outdoor activity, they’re acquiring key skills. Over time, learners develop essential life skills like resilience, confidence, innovation, critical thinking and empathy through the daily activities they undertake in the classroom and in clubs.”
The training helped Freda improve her facilitation skills and gave her tips and tools for how to use playful activities to support students’ learning and create a positive learning environment in the classroom. The training also taught her how to use positive discipline to support students both academically and socially.
The training also boosted Freda’s confidence in her own skills as a teacher and enabled her to become more confident in public speaking skills and connecting with students, parents, and other education officials. “I've sharpened my communication skills with the public and with the learners,” she says.
“As a facilitator, my own skills have sharpened. The way I teach has totally changed.” — Freda
Before each lesson, Freda spends time researching the topics in her curriculum, so that she can deliver it in new and relevant ways that will keep students’ attention. She often divides her students into smaller groups and gives each group an activity that involves teamwork and play. She creates room for her students to be curious, ask questions and lead activities in class. She’s excited about the joyful ambience that learning through play has brought to her large class. "I don't see the huge class. But I see the children in their groups, and they’re learning from each other,” she says. "The children have improved a lot because they do a lot of research and presentations. They are really involved in the teaching."
One of the teachers Freda befriended at the training was a kindergarten teacher who composes songs for her class and spoke about how she uses music in her lessons to engage her students. Inspired by the approach, Freda wondered how she could bring more creativity into her classroom too.
She started developing colorful posters with lesson points that she posts on the walls of the classroom. For a difficult lesson on the environment and the impact of climate change, she wrote a song that she sang to her students, whose lyrics focus on human activities that destroy the environment and how the students can contribute to creating safe and clean environments. She also wrote a song about children’s rights, which focuses on empowering children with information about their basic rights and to speak up when their rights are violated.
For students like Aisha who had difficulty in mathematics, specifically integers, Freda created a colorful poster strip of the number line so they could add or subtract integers easily by jumping on the strip on the floor. This game helps students quickly recognize and practice adding or subtracting positive and negative integers.
Thirteen-year-old Aisha says Freda’s creative teaching approaches and activities have made a big difference in her learning. Aisha is a bright and passionate girl who used to find school boring. When Freda started engaging students in participating more in class, school changed for Aisha.
One day, Freda taught Aisha and her classmates how to play the Elephant Game, which helps improve focus and concentration. In this game, Aisha and her classmates form a circle, and the facilitator stands outside the circle. The facilitator tosses the ball into the circle. Players ensure that the ball doesn't pass between their legs as it moves. If that happens, the player is out. The game requires their maximum concentration. Playing it helped Aisha understand what it means to focus on important things like her future aspirations, believe that she could achieve it and not miss her target. That newfound purpose and focus helped Aisha engage more in class and become a role model for her classmates.
“I had difficulty in subjects like mathematics. But since my teacher introduced play-based learning, the classroom feels different, and it also makes learning easier.” — Aisha, Grade 6 student.
Freda isn’t the only teacher in her school who has transformed her approach to teaching. Other teachers who attended the training have introduced learning through play into their classrooms too. Their commitment to advancing students’ learning outcomes has improved the bond and teamwork among them. When they need new ideas to keep learning fresh and engaging, they can count on each other.
“When I need help getting a song to introduce my lessons to my students, I go to Freda. Sometimes, she also comes to me for ideas,” says Freda's colleague, Rosina.
Their shared commitment has made coming to work more enjoyable and motivates them to keep applying what they learned in their training and supporting each other. With happier teachers come happier students – a change that will reap benefits for years to come.
“Teamwork is our hallmark. We share ideas and then we go back to our classrooms to teach.” — Freda