Out of This World Literacy : Teacher Training in Uganda: Preparing for the Next Generation of Learners
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Teacher Training in Uganda: Preparing for the Next Generation of Learners

Hello again friends!  I am back from my trip to Africa and can't wait to share my experiences training these wonderful teachers with you all!!

This was one of the BEST groups of teachers I have ever had the pleasure of working with!


In case you are unfamiliar with how I ended up traveling to Africa to train teachers, you can click on the image below to find out how this journey all began.  

So much happened during the week of training that it's impossible for me to write about it all in one blog post.  What I'm going to do is make a list of the main goals I had.  Then I will share how we accomplished each goal throughout the week.  Here we go...

5 Main Goals of the Conference:

1. To empower teachers

2. To open teachers' minds to a different way of teaching that will promote active learning in all students.  (To move from a traditional style of teaching to a more inquiry-based style)
     * In Uganda, all teachers use a traditional style of teaching that involves mostly lecture and memorization.   There is no real critical thinking involved and no real way for teachers to assess if students are really  
  understanding objectives.

     * Many teachers believe: 'it is my job to present the information, and it is the students' jobs to understand.    Once I have taught the lesson (via lecture, memorizing definitions from a text, or restating facts) then my
   work is done.'

     * Teachers use this traditional approach because that is all they know.  They were taught with the same
   rote memorization approach, and were trained only in this style at their teacher colleges.

3. To show teachers the importance of making connections between what is known (backgrounnd knowledge) and new information (what is being taught).

4. To show teachers how language and the written word are the keys to all other learning.

    * In Uganda, there are over 50 different mother tongue languages, but the national language is English. That means that every...single...student is learning English as a second language.  They require, but are not currently receiving, a bilingual education curriculum.  Everything is taught in English only.

     * The new curriculum we are writing for Uganda will be bilingual.  Students will learn in their mother tongue the first week.  The second week, they will receive the same instruction in both their mother tongue and English.  The third week they will receive very similar instruction, but in English only.  In this way, students will be able to make connections across the two languages and connect their second language (English) to their mother tongue.

5. To learn just as much from the teachers (if not more) than I could ever teach them.

How I Accomplished the 5 Main Goals:

What is Teaching?

Goal One: Empower Teachers

1. We brainstormed what teaching means in groups.  Here are some of the definitions the teachers came up with:

2. We also brainstormed the character traits of great teachers.  Here are some charts that teachers made in small groups:


What is Learning?

Goal Two: To open teachers' minds to a different way of teaching that will promote active learning in all students.

1. We first looked at the differences in the teaching styles of traditional versus inquiry approaches.

2. I modeled the think-aloud approach several times.  I wanted to show teachers that there is more to teaching than just reading a book, or parts of a textbook and memorizing definitions.  I used the think-aloud strategy to show them how we should be modeling our thinking before, during, and after we read anything to our students.

* After several times of modeling the think-aloud strategy, teachers got into groups and wrote down everything they were thinking about the think-aloud strategy.  Here they are working hard!

Learning is About Making Connections!

Goal Three: To show teachers the importance of making connections between what is known (backgrounnd knowledge) and new information (what is being taught).

Here are some of the slides I used to show teachers how important their presentation of the objectives is in students' understanding the new learning.  And also how they must find out what it is their students already know so that they can use that background understanding to attach new learning.  We talked about Lev Vgotsky and the Zone of Proximal Development.

Teachers are the bridge responsible for connecting what students already know to what they are expected to learn

Language is the key to all other learning

Goal Four: To show teachers how language and the written word are the keys to all other learning.

Learning from the Teachers

Goal Five: To learn just as much from the teachers (if not more) than I could ever teach them.

Like I said at the beginning of this post, I was absolutely blown away by this exceptional group of teachers. 
Not only were they actively involved in learning all week, they were so excited to be there!

They never complained that they were giving up a week of their summer vacation to attend a conference without any pay.

They stayed focused and didn't have laptops up and open the entire conference.

They were insightful, collaborative, and on task all week.

I loved listening-in during small group work, and learned so much from several teachers as they shared their new understandings with the entire group all week.  

Teachers trying out some inquiry lessons that they wrote together!

AND...the BEST part of the conference for me was...

...on Friday afternoon.  Teachers put on a drama: 

The drama was about a bus driver who lets all kinds of negative influences onto his bus while he keeps pushing Jesus to the back.  It was such a great message!!

Sang Songs:

And Presented Me With a Gift!

They had decided the night before, as a group, that they should get me a gift to show their appreciation for my time with them in Africa.  They bought me a beautiful basket from the market, wrapped it, and presented it to me on Friday afternoon.  

I was beyond humbled.  I was there for them and never expected anything in return.  And for them to go out of their way to present the basket to me was so emotional.  

I have a new family of teacher friends that I will cherish forever!  

I can NOT wait to go again and continue supporting these teachers as they boldly and bravely step up to change the education of the children in Uganda.  

Thank you all for reading my story.  I wish all my teacher friends many, many blessings in the new year and for all the years to come!

Jen Bengel


  1. You were able to do something so amazing! Congrats! Thank you for sharing your inspirational story for others to hear! =)

    1. Thank you for the kind words Heather. It's means a lot to me!!

  2. Yes, thank you. I appreciated reading that very much, You are one amazing lady, Jen! WAHOO!

    1. Well thank you my friend. I happen to think the same about you (except for the 'lady' part...you get the point) :) :)

  3. Thank you for sharing this experience! What an amazing opportunity! I loved the visuals you used for zone of proximal development. I think so often teachers forget to check where their students are working and fall back on the traditional method of instruction.

    1. Thanks for that comment. I need that reminder about the zones often myself. It's so true that we can only learn deeply when we find connections. Best wishes to you!

  4. Wow! What an amazing experience! I am always in awe of you!

    1. Awe...thanks peanut. You are so sweet!

  5. Hey Jen,

    I loved reading about your experience in Uganda. Of course it sounds like you totally rocked it, not a surprise. It's so amazing to think of the lives you are reaching and the sheer number of people you will affect. Amazing! Miss you!

    Middle School Teacher to Literacy Coach

    1. Kasey...I miss you!! I actually thought about how absolutely amazing it would have been to have you present with me. Maybe next trip!! Hopefully we can see each other soon!!!

  6. Hello Jen...I just read about you on TpT and jumped over to read more. I'm so proud of you for doing what you did; you should feel so proud of yourself that you'll now be part of so many kids learning and growth. Your story is amazing and I'm giving you a basket via computer for all your hard work and commitment to kids!
    Cara Taylor;0)

    1. Thanks Cara for all your kind words and your virtual basket!! You are too sweet!

  7. Oh Jen! What an amazing experience! Thank you for sharing this with your TpT family so we can all be more appreciative of all the blessings we tend to overlook at our schools! May God bless your efforts and keep you in His care!

    1. Thank you Amy! I love to share this journey with everyone because it shows God's amazing powers and His works when we just say, okay and go for it!

  8. Wow! What an inspirational story! I can't even imagine what that must have been like. Congrats to you on making such a huge difference in the lives of those teachers and their future students. You should be so proud! :)

    Mrs. Beattie's Classroom

    1. Thank you Erin,

      It has been so rewarding to know that I can be used in this way to serve others around the world.:)

  9. Thanks for sharing your experiences. It is amazing because your story reminds us of the importance of living and learning from others.

    1. Thanks Greg! I totally agree. We are made to be in community with one another. That is one thing the culture in Uganda has got going on and really taught me...they are all in strong community with each other.

  10. Wow, what an awesome experience! Thanks so much for sharing this! Sounds like it was a blessing for everyone involved. What courage you must have to give up teaching and begin writing curriculum full time..... and then - go to Africa to teach others???!!!! Amazing to me!

    1. Thanks Diane! I love to follow God's leading in faith and then watch how He uses me. It's incredibly exciting and rewarding to give Him the control and be open to serving Him in whatever way He desires :)