“[School] gives stability to these children, and they’re joyful,” Garret said. “When they’re in those schools, as dreary as some of it may look to us, these rooms are full of joy. These children are having an opportunity to learn and be enriched…and give them something to hope for.”
Assessing A Need
In the months leading up to her mother’s arrival, Lauren Garret spent over 50 hours observing English classes from across grade levels at the camps, assessing teachers’ materials and lesson plans as part of American University’s International Training and Education Program.
She learned that one of the biggest consistent struggles was how much students appeared to be memorizing material rather than comprehending it.
“What struck me the most was how much students struggled to read and relied almost solely on memorizing words and basic grammar patterns,” she said. “In my one-on-one needs assessment meetings with teachers, nearly all expressed the concern that students could not read words off the board. They needed help bridging the memorization of the English alphabet and sounds to blending and producing words.”
The students needed to start learning English from nearly scratch, her mother said.
This was also a challenge because though there was an eagerness to learn, few refugees were actually trained teachers. Many had fled their home countries amid conflict and turmoil, causing interrupted educations, as well. Those who could speak English or who had higher levels of education were often chosen to be teachers in the refugee camps, formal training or not.
“While I knew this student and teacher population would be a very unique, even challenging, setting for introducing [IMSE’s] OG method, I believed raising teachers’ awareness of the phonetic building blocks of English could demystify some of the reading struggles teachers were seeing repeatedly in the classroom,” Lauren said.
Still, those charged with leading English classes were willing to do it. Garret said she remembers one distinguished, older pilot who had no teaching experience, but could speak English, had completed his own formal education and was known around the camps for wearing flowing scarves.
“He was so willing to draw in the sand and to participate in the hands-on instruction because he wanted to help these students,” she recalled.
Those teachers also sought whatever help they could use, which often included IMSE’s Orton-Gillingham methodology and materials, particularly the “Recipe for Reading” book.
“They were very eager in any type of instruction and help in what they were doing,” she said. “They responded so well.” she said.
“They were so touched that we cared and we were there, and they were empowered and motivated to learn something new.”
‘Education Gives Hope’
Speaking from her school in Texas, Garret Jackson said her experience with her daughter using IMSE’s Orton-Gillingham in two of Jordan’s Syrian refugee camps was “humbling” and “emotional,” swinging from tales of pain, to perseverance, survival, triumph and hope.
“I think we made a little bit of a difference,” she said. “We at least brought some hope and some resources, and I’m hopeful for even more chances to go back and do more one day.”
Lauren said her biggest takeaway was seeing just how important individualized instruction is, especially when it comes to “contextualizing and adapting according to the context and learner population.”
After assessing the camps’ current state of English proficiency, the pair said they had to adjust their goals and approach to better fit the needs and limitations of the circumstances. It wasn’t ideal, but it was embraced with open arms from the teachers.
“We…witnessed real enthusiasm from the teachers and creativity in how [IMSE’s Orton-Gillingham] method could be applied,” she said.
“I would say to educators/trainers in similar contexts that just because the method seems too technical or can’t be fully implemented in a particular location doesn’t mean it’s not valuable to the teachers there, it just may require more creativity and, in our case, months of needs assessments leading up to a training and months of follow-up thereafter.”
The camps also relied on a very limited number of teaching supplies, but teachers haven’t let that hold them back, either.
For example, the little bit of sand Garret brought with her was used quickly, she said, though she later got reports from her daughter that classes were instead using sand from the desert.
“It’s not perfect, but it’s at least a start,” she said. “They are so excited to have these resources.”
When Garret told the Institute for Multi-Sensory Education how its program had made an impression on the teachers, the organization decided to donate 20 books to the refugee camps.
Two weeks after receiving IMSE’s Orton-Gillingham training from the Jacksons, Lauren said the teachers they were working with were already implementing the methods into their instruction.
“I saw many teachers using sand for a tactile letter formation experience, the vowel intensive drill, objects found around the camp for visuals, and plenty of creative adjustments to the methods shared to meet their learners’ needs and large, cramped class sizes,” Lauren said. “In our debriefs, many teachers referenced the usefulness of [IMSE’s] OG card deck app in helping them with their own pronunciation of difficult sounds.”
Learn more about the Institute for Multi-Sensory Education’s Orton-Gillingham method, giving renewed hope for learning here and around the world.