Teaching al fresco saves the day

07 August 2019 | Story Helen Swingler. Photo Supplied. Read time 5 min.
Carla Fourie, teaching her first-year financial accounting students al fresco on upper campus after a glitch with a venue booking.
Carla Fourie, teaching her first-year financial accounting students al fresco on upper campus after a glitch with a venue booking.

What to do when a booking glitch sees you and 180 students without a lecture venue? You take to the great outdoors, as Carla Fourie did with her financial accounting students last week, under an African sky on the steps opposite the AC Jordan Building, amphitheatre style.

Fortunately, the infamous Cape of Storms played along and so did her spirited first-year students. Scouts had told her the Jammie Steps were out – too busy on a rare sunshiny day.

With 21 years’ teaching and a 2009 Distinguished Teacher Award (DTA) to her credit, Fourie is used to improvising (she carries a mini whiteboard in her handbag) and trying new things in the classroom. Her long-term experience and maturing in the classroom has given her the confidence to “own that space”, she said.

Of her al fresco lesson, she said: “You have to be creative, away from formalities of PowerPoint slides and technology. I do this [improvise] in class. I’ll be teaching and I’ll think, you know what, there’s a better way to do it.”

Some may have taken the glitch as a signal to cancel the class. But Fourie believes her students deserve better. She’s previously taught under a tree near the new commerce building, but then her class was much smaller.

Saying to 180 mostly 18-year-old students, “Let’s go and have a conversation outside”, was about the trust built with her class during the first semester.


“Let’s go and have a conversation outside.”

“So yes, they all sat on the steps outside and I thanked them afterwards for being so spirited about doing something completely out of their comfort zone.”

Some suggested they have outside lessons more often, at least once every few weeks.

There were curious onlookers, one glancing over his shoulder and asking his buddy, “What kind of lecture is that?”

“I think we hide a lot behind PowerPoints,” Fourie said.

“When we have load-shedding and when technology doesn’t work, we tend to say, ‘We can’t do it. Let’s cancel’. It’s actually not okay.”

Fortunately, Fourie doesn’t use a microphone (“I’ve got a loud voice”) and she had her whiteboard to spell out new concepts (the one that lives in her bag).

“I used the tools I had.”

The students brought along their card packs; red, yellow and green cards, which allow them to flag problems in their understanding or grasp of the lecture.

Fourie can see at once how the class is responding to new concepts. Red card: Go back and start again; orange card: I’m on shaky ground; and green card: Proceed to the next idea.

Slow, stop, go

“It’s an old teaching tool and it fosters inclusivity in a large, diverse class. Some students don’t want to ask questions.

“If I’m teaching a new concept that’s going to become more and more difficult as I’m going along, I ask them, hold up your green card and as I’m talking and explaining … I can quickly see who is grasping the concept.”

She could also gauge how they were feeling about being outside.

Being in touch with her students has had other positive spin-offs. Fourie said she became aware several years ago that many of her students were squinting at the board and realised they were struggling to see.

Her own visual limitations were diagnosed when she was 10 and after she started wearing spectacles at 11, her life changed.

“Over the past three years I’ve had contact with an optometrist and a number of students have been given spectacles. So far, we’ve managed to help about 45 students with specs. And I’ll continue to do that.

“One boy I taught a few years ago had his eyes tested by the optometrist who said he didn’t know how the student had managed to pass matric without glasses.”

Another case is stuttering. Fourie was alerted to this when she asked her class to provide verbal answers to questions. Afterwards one student sent her an email to tell her he had given her the wrong answer because he stuttered.

“When I next asked questions in class I handed out four small whiteboards and gave one to that particular student. These small interventions make a huge difference to inclusivity, participation and creating a safe space to learn.”

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