Reading- it’s all about the phonics. By Josephine Lumb

This week has seen the Redearth team members busy refreshing their training skills ready for the new school year. Due to the Ugandan presidential elections in mid-February, the schools have been delayed in opening which means the volunteers and field-officers have had an opportunity to support one another in delivering reading training.

Redearth is currently training schools how to teach their pupils to read using phonics skills. Runyoro (the local language in Masindi), along with most other African languages is completely phonetically decodable. Until recently however, this approach has not been applied, with the major emphasis being on teaching letter names and recognising whole words. Through using the Redearth model the aim is for P1 and P2 learners to become fluent local languageĀ  readers before transitioning and adapting their skills to the more phonetically complex language of English in P3, P4 and beyond.

As it currently stands in Uganda, between 50-80% of children in their second year of school in still cannot read a single word which local studies show leads to low attainment and future dropout. The average drop out rate before finishing primary school still remains at around 75-80%. It is believed that equipping these children with vital reading skills, and thus allowing access to information across the curriculum, will motivate them to stay in school.

Training teachers in letter sounds is no easy task, and it takes a while for them to understand and see the importance of the approach. Teachers themselves were never taught the sounds of letters so it is a totally new concept. Learning the sounds is made a lot more enjoyable by playing games in which the participants have the chance to repeat and perfect sounds in a fun way. For example, sound seeker, where one participant leaves the room while a sound is hidden. The rest of the participants then repeat the sound at a noise level corresponding to how close the seeker is to finding the sound. The teachers find it very funny watching a fellow adult hunting around the room, under tables and chairs to find the source of the sound! After the fun they have had playing these games, most teachers are eager to play it in their own classrooms, therefore allowing children to become experts at letter sounds.

Teachers in the Redearth reading programme are provided with a series of training sessions, allowing them to become confident at delivering reading lessons within their classrooms -sometimes to classes of over 200 pupils. The reading training culminates in the teachers learning the importance of reading comprehension and how to ensure their learners comprehend what they are reading. This can often prove quite challenging in a culture where typically information is learned and remembered rather than understood and remembered.

This week the volunteers and field officers have paired up to deliver training sessions, and receive supportive feedback. It has been an excellent opportunity to deepen our knowledge of the reading programme and also to develop our training delivery skills. Of course all training sessions are interspersed with brain breaks. It has become clear that during the holidays the field officers have been extremely busy inventing new games!

IMG_3544Whilst playing a new game called Zoom, Boing, Bang I learnt that you were not allowed to boing a bang!

There are many other benefits of delivering training with a Ugandan teammate. The participants respond incredibly well to being trained by a fellow Ugandan, as they then see the expectations as achievable and not just something that can only be done by those from other countries. Additionally, local language and humour can be used freely to enhance enjoyment and understanding. Most important however, is the idea of the sustainability model. By having Ugandans who are skilled enough to lead and deliver training to their peers means that more and more teachers and pupils can be trained- even in the absence of the founders. This year an additional 25 schools will become part of the reading programme and a really positive outcome is that the reading training will now be predominantly led by the Ugandan field officers.

It is amazing to think of all the children that will be taught the skills they need in order to decode words and make sense of what they are reading, therefore ensuring they have a literate future.

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