Practice makes Perfect in Gweru
July 3 2018

Book Club aims to develop children’s English literacy skills to allow them improved access to all areas of the school curriculum.  Book Club students from Mkoba 4 Primary School in Gweru, Zimbabwe, work in two different groups according to ability.  Learners in group one receive the most support, while group two students are more advanced.

In a recent lesson, group two students were able to read a short book aloud with few issues, but struggled when asked to summarise the narrative, first verbally and then written down in their workbooks.  Although their understanding was good, showing an improvement in comprehension skills, they weren’t as competent when constructing grammatically correct sentences.  Support was given to correct errors and further practice will be carried out.  A spelling exercise at the end of the lesson showed that students are continuing to make progress in this area.  As being able to spell helps improve reading skills through an understanding of the relationship between letters and sounds, this is an important stage in the students’ development.

When reading their book, students in group one were divided into smaller groups to allow more individual attention to be provided.  Each student read a page aloud and then the group were asked comprehension questions.  Breaking the narrative down into small sections like this ensures the students understand what they are reading as they go along.  Any words that were difficult to pronounce were recorded on the board and practised.  The words were then erased and the students tasked with spelling them orally and giving the correct pronunciation.      

In the following book, more complex new words were introduced, such as ‘aeroplane’, ‘goodbye’, ‘holiday’, ‘where’ and ‘animal’.  These proved difficult for the students, so they were supported in reading, correct pronunciation and spelling the words before tackling the story again.  Each student read a page independently before the rest of the group joined in to answer comprehension questions.  Using the same book over a number of different lessons allows students to become familiar with words that were initially challenging and promotes confidence and the desire to continue to improve.

About Book Club

English is the official language of both Zambia and Zimbabwe, and without good proficiency in English reading and writing, students will likely be excluded from many aspects of active citizenship, including employment opportunities.   English proficiency also helps students to better understand all their school subjects, and to be able to tackle exams, which are given in English.  In partnership with Coventry University, ALERT has established English literacy programs at weekly Book Clubs to improve children’s English literacy levels and foster a love of reading.  Pupils attending book clubs are tested to establish their current reading age, and then tailored, locally appropriate, assistance is provided to improve literacy using educational materials from AXIS Education, TESSA and Happy Readers.  A library system provides pupils access to a wide-range of reading level appropriate books.

About ALERT Education Centres (AEC)

English literacy courses are one aspect of the work of our ALERT Education Centres.  The AEC operations at Livingstone (Zambia), Victoria Falls and Antelope Park (Zimbabwe) are all aimed at supporting the formal education system by offering extra-curricular activities to enhance student learning, and assisting with access to education for vulnerable students.  Current programs include the provision of classes in conservation education, basic life skills, and English literacy.  In addition, we provide funding to pay the fees of vulnerable students to take part in education from pre-school to university level, and fully funded internship and facilitated research placements for university level students.  Future programmes will incorporate classes in numeracy, health & nutrition, physical education and business studies / entrepreneurship, as well as a variety of vocational training.  The AEC is operated in association with Coventry University (UK), Midlands State University (Zimbabwe) and Copperbelt University (Zambia), and with the assistance of David Brackstone of John Taylor High School (UK).   The first AEC, at Antelope Park, was opened in 2012 by the then Zimbabwe Minister of Education, Mr. David Coltart.

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