Piles of practice tests. Competitions with various degrees of difficulty. Turning texts from Bulgarian language and literature books into plays with the help of actual props, sets, and acting. Learning to be responsible and self-reliant. Working individually with every student. Learning by doing. The big goal for the end of the school year – a school newspaper. In a nutshell, this was what last school year was like for the fourth-graders in group IV “d” and their teacher Daniela Doneva at Primary School “Pencho Slaveykov” in the Plovdiv neighbourhood Stolipinovo.
Their hard work paid off – the children made considerable progress in their subject-knowledge and skills and were exceptionally successful at the external assessment tests they took at the end of 4th grade. All 23 students took the four external assessment tests – Bulgarian language and literature, mathematics, history, and science. There wasn’t a single student among them who scored 0 points. Group IV “d” even achieved the highest results in the whole class at the school. To these students, many of whom live in hardship, poverty and don’t speak Bulgarian at home, this progress means a lot. And their accomplishment is not some kind of magic or pure luck, but the result of clear goals and their relentless pursuit. It is the result of hard work, perseverance, faith in the potential of all children, and taking their individual needs into account.
“I kept reminding them about the external assessment tests all year,” Daniela Doneva shares with a smile. She is a second-year teacher and a participant in Teach For Bulgaria’s program. She has a degree in Publishing from Veliko Tarnovo University and has worked as a journalist. She joins Teach For Bulgaria in 2016 led by the motivation to change education in Bulgaria for the better.
Daniela is a teacher at the largest school in Stolipinovo. About 1300 students go there. In her first year at the school Daniela was given the responsibility to be the headteacher of a group of fourth-graders and this year she is the primary teacher of a new group of first-graders. The school has adopted a program for dropout prevention and providing equal access to opportunities to all students. The staff also collects best practices for working with students and their families, so that they could share with other schools.
When Daniela started teaching she realized that if she wanted her students to be successful she had to create a stimulating environment for them. She did a survey to find out what her students needed to feel good at school. Less aggression was the most popular answer, so Daniela and the children came up with their own list of classroom rules. A big cardboard traffic light signalled whether everyone kept the rules. When a student collected five green points from the traffic light they got leadership roles of assistant-teachers. The young assistant-teachers made sure everyone had their homework done, tracked who was late for class, divided students in groups for different activities, and even graded assignments.
“Responsibility didn’t scare them,” says Daniela and adds that the leadership roles motivated her students to collect even more green points. She had responsibilities for students who got red points as well. They were in charge of cleaning the classroom or of handing out snacks during recess.
BY STUDENTS FOR STUDENTS
By giving her students leadership roles Daniela got them to be engaged with what was happening at school and made them aware of their personal responsibility for their own success. As their teacher, she never gave them the answers, but helped them learn how to get to them on their own. Their big goal – the school newspaper “The Know-It-Alls” – was also part of this approach. The newspaper had four columns based on the four external assessment tests. The students published essays and writing assignments, history and science texts, and math problems. They had to find information, read, and learn new vocabulary in order to create the content for the newspaper.
Daniela couldn’t be more proud with the results her students accomplished at the external assessment tests, but in her opinion that was not her greatest achievement during her first year at school. Her greatest achievement was the progress one of her students made thanks to the individual work they did together. Her student did not speak Bulgarian at the beginning of the school year and by the end was able to read and solve math problems. Daniela prepared special learning materials and additional homework assignments for this student. She also worked with one of the parents who supported her efforts. This parent-teacher collaboration was key for the young teacher who tried to get her students’ families involved in their education. She was also supported by the principal of the school, Ekaterina Delinova, as well as by the entire teaching staff at Secondary School “Pencho Slaveykov”. “By joining forces and with a positive attitude and a lot of hard work, we’ll be able to change Bulgarian education for the better,” Daniela believes.