A Reading Fest to Elicit Literacy’

The back-to-school activities created a great interest among the children and teachers made use of this eagerness to connect activities to foundational literacy and numeracy. We suggested that teachers help students create simple stories and from there was born the idea of conducting a Reading Festival in the school.

Karthikeyan9

Government Middle School, Keezhur, Puducherry

This article describes the experience of the transition of students’ learning from the closure of schools due to the pandemic to the reopening; from March 2020 to December 2021, a period of 18 months. A Reading Festival was organised in a school to elicit literacy’.

About the school

The Government Middle School, Keezhur is situated in the village of Villianur Commune Panchayat, Puducherry. Since it is on the outskirts of Puducherry, a majority of the students are from Tamil Nadu. Due to the closure of the school, the connectivity and accessibility to the learning by the students was irregular and they lost most of their foundational abilities, such as reading with understanding and listening (a report).

Engagement with the school

In our function as Resource Persons from the Azim Premji Foundation, we work with teachers in government schools to build their capacities in subjects and classroom processes. Our rapport with the schools as well as the education department functionaries improves with every engagement. Our volunteering mode of engagement helps them in accepting us as well-wishers. Functionaries recognize our work and streamline our teacher-professional development efforts.

In this case, we collaboratively conducted a workshop related to addressing the loss of learning from the foundational level. This collaboration was crucial to demonstrate the level of children learning, their current levels and how to address this. The additional support of the higher-level education department functionaries created an opportunity for us to support more teachers and head teachers.

Back-to-school activities

When schools reopened, absenteeism of students was observed which further impacted their learning in terms of conceptual understanding of the subjects and classroom norms. This was a common challenge observed in major primary schools in the region. We decided to make this our first priority and support teachers with this. The activities planned and the learning behind these was as follows:

  1. Building blocks and building sticks: Playing and constructing structures (with blocks) and shapes (with sticks) help develop eye-hand coordination, fine motor skills, spatial reasoning, cognitive flexibility, language skills, divergent thinking, creativity and social competence.
  2. Domino activity: This helps in developing the skills of focus and attention, and boosts memory and retention. It also reduces stress and builds social skills.
  3. Matching dolls based on colour: This activity helps in the recognition of patterns and colours. The dolls also represent unity and when different colour dolls are used, it can help children internalise the unity among diverse people.
  4. Picture joining: This is a burden-free activity for children. For example, the picture of the sun in three parts, each with one letter (S,U,N) that needs to be joined to create the complete picture as well as the complete name. This helps in introducing simple words and letters and helps children recognise names.

A Reading Festival

The back-to-school activities created a great interest among the children. The teachers made use of this eagerness to connect activities to foundational literacy and numeracy. During a routine visit to the school, we suggested that teachers help students create simple stories. We gave them the idea of conducting a Reading Festival in the school. This idea was liked by the school authorities. The school had no prior experience in conducting such a fest. The preparation began and while brainstorming, a lot of ideas were picked up from such fests in other schools and many new ones, such as newspaper reading, giving words for letters shown (for example, if the letter R’ is displayed, students are expected to name words that begin with it, for example, run, rabbit), roleplay, storytelling, singing songs and so on. This was planned for classes I‑VIII.

During the preparations, in spite of having no prior experience with this, the Head Teacher provided strong encouragement to the teachers which helped create strong groundwork. Even the parents of the students cooperated and supported this initiative. The preparation included:

  1. Material preparation for the display, such as storybooks created by children.
  2. Sourcing of local, cultural costumes that children could wear during the performances
  3. Helping students in their reading and writing presentations before the community.
  4. Explaining the need for the fest to the community. During the pandemic when the schools were closed teachers visited homes to distribute worksheets and help children with their learning. They also interacted with the parents and family ad this was a good opportunity for them to demonstrate the children’s learning before the community.
  5. Logistics support and so on.

On the day of Fest

The day started with the disappointing news that the guest invited to inaugurate the Fest would not be able to attend. But the teachers quickly overcame their dismay and proceeded with the inauguration and the conduct of the event as per the schedule. The students began to perform their reading and writing skills one by one on the stage. The displays also opened to the community.

The performances included the following:

  1. Good morning song
  2. Pattam (Tamil magazine), newspaper reading
  3. Wake-up poem/​short play
  4. Recipe play
  5. Story narration
  6. Poem recitation
  7. Speeches on sportspersons, such as MS Dhoni, Anand Viswanathan, Usha Rani, PV Sindhu
  8. Storytelling
  9. Kummi padal (local group song)

Highlights of the Fest

During the Fest the effective involvement of the teachers and community could be seen when the students were singing the English poem, a teacher was seen tapping the desk and the community clapped along to keep rhythm.

  • During Sportspersons’ Speeches, in which children had written essays on the lives of famous sports personalities, their narration was evidence of their thorough preparation.
  • During Recipe Play the involvement of the parents was seen. In this, students spoke about healthy, traditional food and junk food. For the healthy, traditional food part, students had approached and discussed it with adults in the community and listed down some varieties of their local village food and this was highlighted during the programme.

Conclusion

Some hurdles that teachers face regularly in their routine work are issues of management, systematic delays, lack of community’s belief in their work, and consequently, lack of support for their children’s learning and school management and functioning.

It is imperative that a school demonstrate the learning of its students to the community the children come from. A good relationship with the community helps in many ways, including their support for students’ learning. Such festivals help in bridging the divide between the school and the community, especially in contexts where teachers face more than usual challenges in this.

There were many hurdles that came in the way of the conduct of this Reading Fest. When we first began thinking about it, some teachers disapproved of the idea, saying it should be avoided in light of the COVID situation. However, the Head Teacher and well-wishers gave it their full support. Then, some parents were unable to arrange traditional costumes that were needed for the fest, but the teachers helped with sourcing these. In the end, the community believed that the school started in a full-fledged manner only after this fest.

As a team, we gave a little support which helped them to conduct their very first Reading Fest. I believe that as a teacher, a parent and a member of the community, each one must engage with the school to create such models of work that result in effective learning.

Some pictures of the performances and performers are given below.

Author

Karthikeyan S S is a Resource Person at Azim Premji Foundation, Puducherry. He works in the area of foundational literacy and numeracy. Prior to this, he conducted workshops for government school teachers on pedagogical strategies used in teaching mathematics.