Reading is FUNdamental
The ‘Reading is FUNdamental’ project was implemented at three disadvantaged primary schools in Atteridgeville, a township west of Pretoria. The aim of the reading project is to make reading FUNdamental, viz, to make reading a fun activity for learners, and at the same time to make reading a fundamental (i.e. very important) part of the daily activity of the school. The project is unique in that it combines both research and community service. The overall aim of the project is to optimise the conditions in poor schools that promote the development of sound reading ability so that reading becomes – as the name indicates – an integral part of the daily activity of the school as well as a fun activity. It is hoped that by developing a culture of reading in both home language (Northern Sotho) and English, the schools will improve the overall language and academic development of the learners. To this end a multi-level approach has been adopted that emphasises the building up of resources as well as capacity and involves the participation of the learners, teachers and parents.
The intervention project assists the schools in setting up a functional school library where learners can have easy access to age appropriate books in both N Sotho and English. The collection of books is catalogued and computerised, each learner is issued with a library card, school library committees are established and library monitors appointed amongst the learners. Besides the library, the schools’ resources are also enhanced by way of increasing print based materials in the classrooms. Teachers at all grade levels are made aware of the need to create print rich classroom environments.
Because literacy resources have no value if not used properly, workshops are held regularly with the teachers after school to make them aware of the importance of reading in the learning context, to increase their understanding of the reading process, familiarise them with reading strategies, draw attention to the OBE assessment standards for reading and different ways of assessing reading at the various grade levels, and integrating the library into their classroom practices. The importance of developing fluent reading skills in both N Sotho and English are continually emphasised.
A family literacy component is also included in the project to involve parents more actively in the literacy development of their children. To this end a series of Family Literacy workshops are organised by the teachers and held for parents. The aim of these workshops is to draw parents’ attention to the importance of reading, to encourage them to read to their children and/or to listen to their children reading, to emphasise the importance of literacy in N Sotho, to take an interest in children’s school activities, make time and space available in the home for homework, encouraging membership of the local community library, monitor what and how much TV children watch, and so on. Links are also forged between the community library in Atteridgeville and the schools.
Above: Teachers and parents having fun at the Family Literacy Workshops
To monitor project progress at both schools each year the early literacy development of the Grade 1 learners is assessed in N Sotho, and all the Grade 6 and 7 learners at both schools are tested for language and reading ability in N Sotho and English. Assessments take place twice a year and important longitudinal reading data re being collected and analysed.
From a mere 200 books at the start of the project, Bathokwa Primary School now has a fully functional and computerised school library comprising over 5000 books. The school recently won first prize nationally for having the best school library that serves learners form informal settlements. As a result of the project, and with assistance from Waterkloof House Preparatory School in Pretoria, Bathokwa now also boasts the appointment of a full time librarian who also helps weak readers develop their reading skills.
Patogeng Primary School held the official opening of its school library on 14 March 2008. Prof Kgobe from the Northern Sotho in the Department of African Languages, Unisa, addressed the learners at the school and encouraged them to become avid readers. Since the start of the project at the school in 2007, the book collection has grown to over 2,500 books, and the collection continues to expand steadily. The school has been assisted in its book collection with generous donations from Crawford College, Pretoria, and Exclusive Books, Menlyn Branch.
Before and after: Left: Clearing out the disused room. Right: The ‘new’ Patogeng library – the reading room!
The project is headed by Prof Lilli Pretorius from the Department of Linguistics, and includes team members from other departments at Unisa: Mrs Debbie Mampuru, Mrs Matsileng Mokhwesana, Mr Kgalabi Maseko (N Sotho specialists, formerly from Department of African Languages), Riah Mabule (N Sotho specialist, Department of Linguistics), Mrs Nicoline Wessels and Mrs Hannelie Knoetze (Department of Information Science), Dr Mirriam Lephalala (Department of English). Mrs Sally Currin, an independent schooling consultant who has worked at schools in Atteridgeville for the past 12 years, is the project co-ordinator. The project has been funded by the DG Murray Trust, First Rand Foundation, The Charl van der Merwe Library Trust, and the NRF.