This workshop was held over 2 days at Paleng, and 13 teachers from 6 Primary and 2 pre-schools attended. Only one Primary school and one Reception class did not take up the invitation to attend the workshop.
The aim of the workshop was to give teachers exposure to storybooks and their use in the classroom, bearing in mind the limitations that operate in rural schools. We ran this workshop as an outreach activity of Paleng library, in order to support teachers who teach many of our Paleng children, and to promote the activities of the African Storybook Project (ASP) for which we are the Lesotho pilot site.
We designed our activities for the teachers around the probability that they would not have multiple copies of books, but would be using one book in the classroom to teach reading.
We tried also at various points to incorporate a strategy already widely used and well known to teachers, that of getting children to repeat or read text aloud after the teacher as a group. We did this in order as to show teachers that this has value, but that it is limited, and can be modified to suit more constructive purposes than simple repetition and choral reading that generally does not promote understanding of written texts by children learning to read.
We ran the workshop in both English and Sesotho deliberately, even though we know that many teachers understand English to a greater or lesser extent. This is because we firmly believe in the primacy of mother-tongue as the language of teaching and learning, even if there is code-switching between languages, and we wanted to drive home this point to the participants.
We wanted to deliver activities that the teachers can implement immediately and relatively easily in their classrooms, and so we did not engage them in activities that could not easily be transferred to the classroom, and specifically gave them the materials that they would need to do so (see Day Two, F.)
This report outlines the workshop activities in detail.
Teachers were introduced to Paleng and the work that we do here. We focused in particular on our library, and on our work with the African Storybook Project (ASP), as these are out core activities.
We asked teachers about the libraries in their own schools. Across the board teachers reported that there is no library in their schools. Textbooks are generally kept in the office and they are given out to children for lessons only. No books are taken home. There are no picture storybooks in any of the schools, except one pre-school that has been supplied with books from the missionary who runs the school. The reason given for the absence of a library in the schools is that the school is not supplied with any books from any source.
Teachers were unanimous in their view that they would like a library in their schools, and there was some discussion about:
- If there were libraries in the schools, how would they run? The teachers were concerned about books going home and not coming back. Paleng shared their strategy with regard to this, and we brainstormed some other ideas.
- How we could go about getting picture storybooks into the schools for the children to use, in both English, and mother tongue Sesotho.
We discussed our work with ASP, emphasising the need for books in mother- tongue in the early years of learning to read. There was a large degree of agreement among the teachers, but they nevertheless hold strongly to the view that English is the most important language at school. There was some discussion about the value of English relative to the importance of mother tongue Sesotho.
We showed the group two of the stories that Paleng has created on the ASP web site, and discussed how this project works. We read the group one of the little storybooks that Paleng has printed.
During our first working session we gave teachers some storybooks from the Paleng library in English and Sesotho. We asked teachers to show us how they use a book in the classroom. The three main activities that teachers do are: (i) read the story to the children, making sure they can see the pictures. While they are reading, page-by-page, the children are asked to repeat what the teacher has just read. (ii) The whole book is not read in one sitting, one or two pages are read per day. We ascertained that reading is taught every day, but there is no strict timetable. (iii) Questions are asked of the children about the story, but these are limited to ‘what is that word?’ and very simple concrete questions related to characters, place and action. There are no questions that encourage interpretation of the story, or a deeper engagement with the text by the children.
We demonstrated how we read stories to children at Paleng, and then gave teachers a chance to try it out for themselves and decide if it is appropriate for their classrooms. A handout was given to support this (see Appendix) and was discussed in detail, particularly the rationale for each step.
We showed teachers how we introduce a book to children and a range of questions that we ask of children before, during and after reading a story. In their groups, teachers read a Paleng story to each other, practicing what we had discussed.
We put up one of Paleng’s stories on a flip chart and used it to spend some time practicing developing different questions for the children to answer.
We discussed the importance of choosing the right level book for the class, and of being careful about designing questions that are appropriate for the grade and ability level of the children.
We agreed that all of this needs to be prepared beforehand. Most teachers told us that they do not prepare reading lessons in this way.
We then asked teachers in their groups to design three questions for the book that they read. 1. A question where the answer is obvious in the text, a literal question, 2. A question that probes a little deeper and asks the child to think beyond the literal, and taps into a deeper understanding of the text 3. A question that asks the child’s opinion in response to the story.
It was clear that some teachers were able to do this, but there were a good many for whom this was a new idea.
(In this activity we emphasised how useful writing stories up on flip chart paper can be. For example it allows for many stories to be up on the classroom walls for future reading lesson activities, as well as being available for the children themselves to practice reading in their own time, or to refer to during other writing and ‘composition’ activities.)
We used one storybook for the activity as follows. The teachers acted the part of a Grade Two class:
(i) Read a whole story to the class in the ways discussed above
(ii) Have a child, or groups of children (volunteers) read the story themselves aloud to the whole class one page at a time.
(iii) After each page the children discuss what happened in the story on this page.
(iv) The teacher guides this discussion. For Grade One, she writes on a piece of paper either a précis of that page, or the actual text if it is not too long. She places it up on the board, and checks that the children agree with what she has written.
(v) The story is then displayed, broken up into pages on the board, and placed in sequence.
The teacher then removes the pieces of paper, shuffles them, puts them out, and asks children one by one to come and put the story back together again in the correct sequence.
This activity can be scaffolded by choosing a very short story, writing it up on flip chart paper, thus having it available for the children to refer to for self-correction as the sentences/paragraphs in the story are worked through.
(vi) For Grade Two, the children try to remember the story in sequence without reading the book aloud after the teacher has read it through once more for them as in (i).
Again the teacher she writes what the children tell her on a piece of paper, and places it in the sequence they remember, on the board.
The teacher or children then read the book aloud page-by-page to the class again, and together they check whether the children have remembered the sequence correctly as displayed on the pieces of paper on the board.
If it is incorrect based on listening to the story again, the children themselves are asked to correct it. They do this by moving the pieces of paper around, until they are satisfied that they have captured the story correctly. This often requires many re-readings of the pieces of story on the board.
This activity can be done as a group, in small groups, or individually.
It can easily be done with one book and some flip chart paper.
- The importance of children being able to understand what they read, as opposed to word calling, which many of our children are very good at. We agreed that comprehension is the ultimate goal of any reading activity. (This is why we began the workshop with comprehension-based activities.)
- How this activity also helps children to acquire the English vocabulary and grammar in a story, as well as in a mother-tongue story.
- How this activity can be modified to suit a pre-school class (the last year of pre-school) where far less demands are made of the children, but they can nevertheless exposed to gaining the meaning of a story. We showed how ‘Big Books’ can be used at a pre-school level, and that we have some available in Paleng that pre-school teachers can borrow. We have made these into bilingual books by writing the Sesotho translation of the English text on each page.
- We also discussed the crucial issue of the ‘when and how’ of working in two languages.
We started the day with an activity using the names of the children in the class. This was to make sure that the pre-school teachers got maximum benefit from the workshop, but also to show teachers of Grade One and Two classes how using something meaningful to children can support literacy development.
- Each child’s name is written clearly on two separate pieces of paper.
- One of these is put up on the board along with all the other names of children in the class.
- At pre-school level, children are asked to identify their names. Many children in our context cannot read their names before they go to Grade One.
- The names on the second pieces of paper are shuffled and placed out randomly.
- Each child is asked to come and find their name and match it to their name on the piece of paper on the board.
- If children cannot identify their names, the teacher or another child in the class helps them to do so. Such a child is asked to look carefully at the first letter in their name and to try and remember it. We know that this letter position in words is most salient for children. The teacher uses the alphabet chart to show the child the first letter in his/her name. As an extension activity, all children can be asked to find the letter that their name starts with.
The names of the children are placed permanently somewhere obvious in the classroom for future reference.
We said that pre-school children can be asked many times a day in many different ways to identify their names.
- For Grade One and Two children, the activity starts out in exactly the same way, but then children are asked to place their names in alphabetical order, working from first letter, right through to 2nd or even 3rd letters in their names. The latter would be a Grade Two activity, depending on the ability levels of the children.
Working with a story (or section of a story) written up on flip chart paper for the whole class to see, we showed the teachers how to create letter charts and word ‘families’ using words from the story itself.
- That this activity can be used to work with whichever sounds the teacher is teaching the children at any given time.
- That it can be used to work with letters in initial, final and medial word positions (in that order)
- That it can be done using either an English or a Sesotho story
- That once created, these stories can be displayed on the classroom wall for the children to refer to and practice reading.
- That the activity can be extended so that children find words not in the story that start or end with or have in them, the same letters or letter patterns
- That a simplified version of the activity can be used at pre-school level where the children are involved in simply finding a word in the story that they can see that starts with a given letter.
Working with the same story or section of a story written up on flip chart paper, we engaged the teachers in two other games that children can play with stories that assist them with spelling. These are ‘I Spy’ and ‘Hangman’.
Children can play this classic game using words from the story.
- ‘I spy with my little eye, a word in the story beginning with …’
- A more challenging version would be, ‘I spy with my little eye, a word in the story ending with …’
- Or even, ‘I spy with my little eye, a word in the story that has … somewhere in it’
This classic game can also be played using words from the story.
To make this more challenging, children can play using words that they can think of that have similar groups of letters in them as a word from the story. For example, the game will start where a child will fill in the group of letters being targeted:
– – – – – o u s
Using the same flip chart story, we engaged the teachers in three other activities.
- Acting out the story.
- Drawing the story
- Writing about the story
Acting out the story.
- The teacher/children/volunteer individual children read the story out loud once.
- Children volunteer to play the part of the characters in the story.
- They perform the story while the rest of the class reads the story on the flip chart. This is best done aloud so that the characters can hear the story as they perform. The children are reading to support the characters in their performance, as well as to check that the performance is ‘on track’.
Drawing the story
- Referring to the story on the flip chart to check their understanding, the children each draw something from the story on a piece of paper.
The activity can end here for younger children, even at the pre-school level, and the pictures displayed on the classroom wall next to the flip chart story.
For Grades One and Two, the activity can be extended into a writing activity as follows:
- When each child has finished drawing, s/he turns the piece of paper over and writes something about the drawing. The teacher can either let the children copy a sentence or an idea from the flip chart story, or cover this story and have the children write something in their own words. This will depend on the Grade and ability level of the children.
- When the children have written one full sentence, they swap pieces of paper with a friend/another child.
- Each child then reads what the first child wrote. At this point the teacher can ask the children to check that what is written makes sense. This needs to be done sensitively and in the spirit of helpfulness so as not to expose less able children to ridicule. If it does not make sense, the second child helps the first child to make corrections.
- When everything makes sense, the second child is asked to add a sentence to what the first child wrote on the back of the drawing. Each piece of paper now has a drawing on one side, and two sentences about it on the other.
- The paper is then handed back to the original first child, and the two sentences are read. Again the teacher can ask for children to help each other correct mistakes.
- This swapping and writing can be repeated as often as the teacher sees fit.
- Again, the children’s work can be stuck on the wall next to the flip chart story.
We discussed with the teachers that there is a lot of reading and writing practice inherent in this activity, all of which is based around a meaningful story.
Our last workshop activity was showing the teachers the ASP website.
We decided to do this based on the fact that four teachers in the group have access to smart phones, and might be able to access the website and download stories for use in their classrooms. One pre-school teacher has access to a computer at the mission. A few other teachers indicated that they would soon be acquiring smart phones.
We showed the teachers how to access the website, and how to search for stories on it using the search options of ‘language’, ‘level and ‘keywords’.
We demonstrated how to find stories in this way, searching for (i) one of Paleng’s stories which would be directly useful to them, and (ii) a story at an appropriate Grade One and Two level.
The response to this was overwhelming. All teachers indicated that if they had the means (computers, airtime, charging facilities, printers etc.) they would be using this website.
Even though we acknowledged that procuring the means for using the ASP website is a long-term objective requiring a great deal of funding and serious commitment from the teachers themselves, the group resolved to write to ASP in their capacities as representatives from their schools requesting whatever support ASP can offer.
Our workshop closed with the giving out of the materials that teachers can use in their classrooms:
For each school:
A flip chart
For each teacher:
Pens and paper
A copy of Paleng’s printed storybooks “Sun, Moon, Wind and Rain’ and ‘’M’e Maneo’s Pumpkin’.
Feedback from the teachers both verbal and written (see Appendix C, scanned evaluation papers) indicated that they enjoyed the workshop and found it to be useful.
One teacher told us, ‘I thought it was going to be any old workshop, but I can really see now how storybooks are useful. We did so many things with them!’
Since Paleng is not an education NGO we will not be formally following up to see what happens in the classrooms of these teachers, even though we are aware of the importance of this. We expect the Principals of these schools to take on that responsibility. However, we now have all the contact details of the teachers and will be phoning them from time to time to keep in touch and to offer ongoing encouragement. We will hold further informal meetings if this is requested by these teachers.
We also agreed that if and when further funds become available, we will run more workshops from time to time, with the aim of consolidating the work done in this workshop, and extending it to teachers in the higher Primary school Grades.
Our thanks go to:
- Rahula Trust, UK for funding the workshop
- ASP for their support and encouragement
- Malea-lea Secondary School for the use of a classroom
- ‘M’e MarelebohileThakalekoala for the delicious lunches on both days
- The Principals of the schools for encouraging their teachers to attend during their precious school holidays.