Expanding children's literacy through a reading competition
Spanish is a strong part of the Mestizo culture, and I have loved speaking Spanish with the villagers for the past two years and expanding my vocabulary.
The teachers, students, and parents often use Spanish as their crutch to navigate in the world of Ministry of Education. This practice has put my community’s school at the bottom of the pool for English speaking abilities and reading comprehension. This issue was extremely apparent the first time I set foot in a school, almost two years ago now, when I went class to class to introduce myself in English, and as I spoke I saw scrunched up faces and glazed over eyes. At the end of introducing myself to every class, I realized that very few students understood me. Upon exiting a few classes I heard their teacher begin to explain to the students in Spanish or in slower English what I had just said. During my two years here, I have had a plethora of experiences that have reinforced my observation that these kids have extremely low English reading comprehension and speaking abilities, and few opportunities to improve. While teaching a Health Family Life Education class I once asked a young boy to read a couple sentences aloud to the class. My heart broke as I heard the young boy struggle for what seemed like an eternity, all the while his face reddening from embarrassment. This problem that students face is gargantuan, and I was unsure if I could even put a dent into their capacity for English with my limited interactions with them.
In September of 2015, the opportunity arose to join the Educational Events Teacher’s Committee – and I took it as I had designs to propose a new event to my fellow teachers, a reading competition!
At our first Education Committee Meeting, we agreed that a reading competition was our first endeavor, and set out to write a proposal and timeline to present to School Administration. Our event was approved, and we hit the ground running the week before Winter Break commenced! We held a poster contest among the entire school in order to raise awareness and promote our reading competition. The posters were to promote reading in a positive fashion and be as creative as possible. I was expecting 4 or 5 students to present posters, but to my shock and slight horror, we had at least 100 posters submitted! It took quite some time to hang all of the posters, but with the teachers help, we got them all on display and had each class vote that morning. The following afternoon was scheduled for parents to pick up report cards, so I was happy that the parents would get to admire the work of the students and also gain awareness that a reading competition would take place.
After Winter Break, the reading competition got underway – and all the teachers were finding creative ways to get their classes to read more. At the end of the term, we awarded class parties to the class in each division that read the most books. As we announced the winners at that Friday’s assembly, I was happy to hear high numbers in the hundreds for total books read in the winning classes. All the teachers agreed that the reading competition was a lot of work, but all worth it. I know this first reading competition didn’t alter the lives of the children or greatly increase their English comprehension, but I believe it has put them on the right path.
Hopefully the school will continue the reading competition into next year, and one day the village will prosper with fluent English speakers. I am reminded what arduous and time-consuming work community development is when I think about the small impact I have had.