Reading project increases literacy among pupils

2007-12-04 00:00

In February Australian literacy researcher Dr David Rose first ran training workshops for a group of teachers involved in the Reading to Learn Project in four local schools — and the people who are right at the heart of it say it is already paying off.

Rose started working in the Aboriginal education context of his home country 15 years ago.

The Reading to Learn Project was originally designed to help those children who entered school without a background of shared book reading. However, the methodology has now been developed in other countries, including South Africa, for its effectiveness in raising pupils’ reading levels in all phases of their schooling system.

Senior education lecturer and project co-ordinator Mike Hart said that research reveals a significant number of university applicants who are reading at Grade 8 level. As a result, Hart believes this has been a contributing factor in the drop-out rate, which currently stands at 50% in South Africa.

“Recent figures show illiteracy is very high. Students at tertiary level institutions can’t read university texts with comprehension, which is why I think we have got to do something. This programme is theoretically sound and it is practical,” he said.

According to Hart, this teaching method is centered around a six-stage cycle of learning and starts at the opposite end of most conventional literacy programmes by targeting reading from the text and comprehension point of view first, working down to phonetic and word level later.

However, for this system to bring rapid change, it must be taught across curricula, Hart said.

Three foundation teachers at Grange Primary School who have been applying the programme said they have never previously got their students as far as they have been able to this year.

“They can now read and they enjoy it. They are able to write creatively and confidently,” said Bonny Todd, a Grade 3 teacher.

Grade 1 teacher Charmaine Ramcharan said she has 37 children in her class, and discipline over the years has been hard to maintain for such a large group.

“I think the problem has been the basal reader just states the facts and doesn’t attract the children. I think children naturally love storytelling, so they participate more and you are able to manage them better. They also move to independent reading quicker,” said Ramcharan.

For Grade 2 teacher Nana Mthalane, the system is great all round and is a big vocabulary booster for the children she teaches.

“We sometimes merge our reading sessions and have Grade 3s read to Grade 1s and it just boosts their confidence. They act like they are the teachers and some children learn better that way,” said Mthalane.

Hart said teachers might find it difficult to find time with the pressures of finishing the syllabus, but once the method is implemented, they are able to catch up four years in one year.

The Learning to Read Project is currently running in four schools in Pietermaritzburg and Hart said they hope to develop it further next year.

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