So as I’d mentioned here that the first Reading fluency test had the majority of my class clocking an average of had a 3-4 words per minute count. The big question was: How do you get a kid to read? I mean, literally string together alphabets and sound out a word. In the beginning few months, it was a huge challenge to get the kids to look down at the book and read; they would just look up and orally repeat whatever I was reading out. So the first four months we did a lot of sight words and the basic phonic sounds. After September, I realized that someday the kids have to take a shot at reading. But the text-book prescribed by the state government was definitely not the way to go. It has really…hmmm…what’s the mild way to say this; it has really uninteresting content with really heavy-duty vocabulary. So we started with small English lessons from the text-book < Self Help is the Best Help, Unity is strength; Bheem learns to be humble > modified to have grade appropriate vocabulary and some twists to make the content exciting. These were typically 50-60 word pieces with a lot of sight words.
It worked, this hammering the vocab words throughout the week and reading the same text over the period of a week. That really got them started…..with the extra classes running in parallel, even the lower level kids were getting additional practice with the reading material. So come November, I thought it was time to notch it up a little. I’ve limited my kids, way too much because of the barriers in my own head about what they can do and what they can’t. I thought too many words; big pieces of reading would scare them away. But no, we underestimate kids a little too much. So from 60-70 word reading pieces we went all out to 250 word pieces and these were readers theatre-scripts <I got the first few here>. It was started with an intention of bringing in a theatre element into the classroom but I knew I will have to wait until we can actually dramatize something in class. So week by week we read Three Little Pigs – Part 1, Three Little Pigs Part -2, The Green Pumpkin and to this week Little Red Riding hood. The script given to the kids, beginning of every week, is a two page printout that has vocabulary words on one page with an image associated to each word. The second page has a line by line script.
This idea of incorporating play-texts as reading material and making sure that kids read every single day came from this book called ‘There are no shortcuts’ by Mr Rafe Esquith. This gentleman has bagged many awards for being a phenomenal teacher and he says that it is absolutely essential for kids to read every day. His grade 5 kids are performing Shakespearean plays professionally and he too teaches ESL kids, mostly immigrants from low-income communities in USA. When I read this book, I realized that my kids will aim higher only if I set the target higher. Hence, the shift from 60 word texts to 250-300 word texts.
The fundamental idea behind doing this is: I want my kids to read every day. Reading is now the top priority in our daily time-table. We spend one hour reading everyday in the morning. Vocabulary words are introduced with the aid of TPRS and then we do shared reading . Now we’ve progressed to popcorn-reading and some other independent reading strategies like a dry-run of the play, buddy-reading etc.
The secondary objective in doing this is that I really wanted to integrate drama into my lessons. It brings out a very different side of children. They learn their lines, practice intonations and expressions. All this, helps in building a very strong bridge between reading fluency and reading comprehension. This is for both, the kids performing and the kids watching it. Of course, we have a separate performance for the extra class kids as well with all the props etc. The reading is still a little difficult for the lower level kids, but they do it. Very slowly and steadily they read through that 250 word long story. And to think of it, last June ….I had just begun introducing early sight words like in, on, to….I’d hoped that someday this will happen, but today when it is happening, it just seems unreal. Not all kids are at an amazing reading level, but the process has started and I’m excited about that beginning.
And lastly when I think of the day I’ll leave my children at the end of my fellowship, I ask myself, what is it that I want to leave my kids with. That one thing, which should stay with them whether or not I’m there. The answer is not impeccable English or a 100% mastery in math concepts. Of course that is the end destination we have set out towards. But somewhere along that journey I would want them to become independent thinkers. I would want them to be able to think and take a decision for themselves. And I think, opening up the world of words is a means to that end. If they just start reading, the possibilities from there on ….. are endless.
Getting to be a part of the end of the week play also works as a great incentive for the kids in the class. They have to turn in their homework on time, do their class work neatly and be nice to other kids <read no hitting, pushing, swearing etc>. If you do not have a flawless record for that week, you cannot participate in the play. It’s working as a good investment strategy and an effective classroom management technique too. And all I have to do for so much to happen is just get a nice script ready every Monday and prepare small props/costumes for Saturday.
The big follow-up to all this is, providing them with excellent reading material eventually i.e. Opening up a great class library. Now that they’ve started reading, I see that the few books that I carry to the school were enough to satiate their curiosity for only a few weeks. They have too much wonder in their eyes for new words, colourful pictures and interesting stories….. And 3-4 books don’t quite cut it. So that’s step two, getting story books, encyclopaedias and word games for the class.
All said and done, it’s still not perfect. I can see the Reading Fluency scores and 5 kids are still not reading even somewhat comfortably. The overall reading comprehension scores on the weekly assessments are still low…very low. But the good news is, we’re on our way….and in time, we will get there.