Talking About Books
April 4 2016

Talking and speaking out is one of the keys to learning in a school environment, but this has been a challenge for kids in the three schools we are working with in Livingstone. To help the kids break out of their shell, to speak out and learn, the Book Club team devised a “talk about books” session.  The kids are asked to say something about the library books they have requested from our mobile library before exchanging them for a new one.

The team came up with a set of questions to help prompt the kids with what they could talk about: what is the title?, who is the author?, who is the main character?, would you like to be one of the characters in your book?, why or why not?, what did you learn from this book?, would you say this book is easy, intermediate or hard to read?, who do you recommend this book to?, show us your favorite page and tell why it is your favorite?

Book Club

When this programme was first introduced towards the end of January 2016 the group leaders had the challenge of not having any child say anything, in fear that they would make a mistake and maybe laughed at by friends.  However, this did not discourage the team, knowing that it’s the reason why they are there; to change things for better in the lives of these children. Eventually one child spoke out about the book he had read. Slowly, the number of children participating started to increase such that we now have at least half of the kids in a group willing and able to talk about the story they read.

The ‘talk about books’ is really helping these kids.  For example, one student at Maunga Primary School has been a very shy girl, who will not say or contribute anything during lessons.  This has changed recently; she has gained her confidence in expressing herself in English, and the more she speaks the better she becomes in speaking and understanding the language.

Book Club

This girl has become an inspiration for other shy kids who have also started to practice telling the story they read from their books after seeing that their colleague is being praised whenever she tells her story, even if she makes the occasional mistake.  There is no doubt that by the end of this year the kids will be able to express themselves in English better.

Meanwhile, the students at Book Club in Gweru have embarked on their literary journey following recent baseline testing.  The tests assess reading age so that kids of similar reading level can be grouped together and provided tailor-made teaching inputs.  Initial lessons for these students have focused on pronunciation; learning the sound of letters. 

Various exercises are used to aid learning.  For example, students were given worksheets with images of objects and the letter it begins with.  They were asked to link the object with the correct beginning letter (e.g. image of a phone would be linked to the letter “P”) to determine if students could identify the correct letter for the beginning of each word.   Students were also given a list of words and asked to find opposites (e.g. good/bad; right/wrong) to help pupils understand the meaning of words and improve their vocabulary.

Thanks to donations a library is being built up for the kids of Gweru.  The children have shown enthusiasm in this programme as it is their first time to be part of a library facility.  The library consists of age appropriate books for the different reading age levels, as well as teaching resources.  

Book Club

The school teachers are equally pleased with this literacy initiative as it is a compliment to the Performance Lag Address Programme.  PLAP is a Government introduced initiative in direct response to students who lag behind in class.  It’s a systematic, multi-grade individualized teaching approach which aims to get students to the same level as their peers within a given time.  This is done in English and Mathematics. Teachers have identified that the same students who are in lower reading ages according to our assessment tool are the same students enrolled for PLAP in their schools.

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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