The Reading and Writing for Critical Thinking (RWCT) Project has enrolled 30 teachers from all around Argentina in a course on teaching for active learning, thanks to a $50,000 grant from the Open Society Institute and the efforts of the Fundación Leer in Buenos Aires. The course, “Estrategias y técnicas para acompañar la lectura de textos narrativos y expositivos” (“Strategies and Techniques to Accompany the Reading of Narrative and Expository Texts”) or EyT, was written by Charles Temple, professor of education at HWS, and Alan Crawford, emeritus of California State University Los Angeles.
EyT began operations this past August for teachers in the provinces of Buenos Aires, Mendoza, Pilar, Chaco, Jujuy, and Chubut, Argentina. It is being delivered in six modules, in each of which the participating teachers read 30 pages of text, follow instructions to try out new teaching procedures, and share the results with the other teachers enrolled in the course. Susana Beneviste, the course instructor who is based at the Fundación Leer in Buenos Aires, introduces each module to the participants with e-mails, responds to their submissions, and animates interchanges among them.
Responses so far have been enthusiastic. One participant says, “The students said they felt very comfortable and willing to participate. They liked working in pairs and all of them enjoyed sharing their productions…”
“This was really interesting work … especially for the debate between the students, because a problem we frequently encounter in our classrooms is intolerance and a lack of respect for the opinions and positions of others,” says another participant.
The RWCT Project was born in Eastern Europe and the former Soviet Union in 1996, shortly after the fall of the Berlin Wall. Although RWCT promotes teaching methods for reading, writing and discussion, one of its principal aims has always been to promote open societies, in the Deweyan sense of using a classroom as a microcosm of society at large, so power sharing, debates, creation of meaning, respect for differences, and cooperative work have always been features of the project’s activities.
“The comments from the Argentine teachers suggest that even in this new distance-learning format, the project is doing what it was designed to do: encourage creativity, critical thinking, and the attitudes and behaviors necessary for civil society,” says Temple.
Temple and Crawford developed the Argentine version of the course over the past four years with half a dozen trips to Argentina, mostly working with teachers in Misiones Province in the north of the country. In December, 2008, they deliberated for a week on a site in Buenos Aires with the staff of the Fundación Leer to put the course together. They were assisted back at home by Kim Williams, associate professor of education at HWS, as they sought to convert to a distance-learning format a training approach that has until now been delivered in face-to-face workshops in 40 countries on five continents.