Happy Readers at Natebe and Twabuka Schools
July 27 2015

Happy Readers at Natebe and Twabuka Schools

Our Livingstone project team visited Natebe Community and Twabuka Primary Schools on 15th and 16th July for Book Club, our English literacy project.

Book Club often starts with an animated exchange of books at our mobile library.  The children are always very excited to show us what they have read and to choose a new book.  The mobile library gives children the chance to read at home during the week and an opportunity to discuss favourite books with the project’s interns and volunteers who run the library.  Opportunities to read outside of school as well as to discuss what they have read with an adult are important for children to become proficient readers.

Book Club 1

At both Natebe and Twabuka, pupils are split into groups based on their reading ages.  Grouping children by reading rather than chronological age allows us to give them reading materials specifically designed to practise what they already know and to move them on quickly.  This helps children to be confident readers and to make faster progress.

At Natebe our beginner readers were excited to start their very first Happy Readers book.  Thanks to some great fundraising by teacher Dave Brackstone and his students at John Taylor High School school in the UK, we were able to purchase a complete Happy Readers set a few months ago – a much needed and greatly appreciated resource.  The Happy Readers scheme has been designed for children in southern Africa who are learning English as an additional language.  Supported by the volunteers, children took turns to read a page each by sounding out unfamiliar words.  The lesson then moved outside so the children could act out the story they had read.  Putting actions to the words helps students to better understand the meaning of the individual words and the story as a whole.  The lesson was rounded off by some spelling practice using some of the new words they had learned.

Book Club 2

Our middle group of readers followed a similar lesson plan but with more challenging materials.  They are further along in the Happy Readers scheme, so as well as reading from a more advanced book and acting out a more complex story, spellings are more challenging and there is an increased emphasis on comprehension.  The Natebe children love spelling and comprehension quizzes and we were pleased to see that this week’s results showed the children had really understood their Happy Readers book and were able to correctly spell many of the new words.

Reading comprehension is the main focus for our most advanced group of readers.  This week they started “Our Painted Village” – a book about Thandi, a girl who lives in a village in South Africa.  Once they had taken turns reading aloud the children had fun trying to act out some of the cultural traditions described in the book.  During the last part of the lesson they discussed the similarities and differences between Thandi’s culture and their own.  Developing their ‘comparing and contrasting’ skills is important, not only for deepening their understanding of what they have read, but also to help them to develop their writing skills.

Book Club 3

At Twabuka, children are also grouped by reading age and follow lesson plans similar to the ones for Natebe.  These children have been going to Book Club for longer so our more advanced readers were ready for a real challenge.  Fortunately, we were ready for them and had some very tricky comprehension riddles for them to solve.  Each riddle had a series of descriptive sentences and the students had to analyse the sentences to figure out the answer.  They had so much fun that as we’re approaching the end of term we will probably give them some more next week as a treat.   

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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