Reflections on a research visit to the Silukhanyo Reading Club

Posted on Monday, October 29th, 2012 under Blog, Recent Posts.

Malusi Ntoyapi works with PRAESA on the Nal’ibali reading-for-enjoyment initiative as a reading club mentor. Siukhanyo Reading Club is a Khayelitsha-based reading club, which meets every Saturday morning with a group of five volunteers and up to 60 children. Silukhanyo is one of Nal’ibali’s emerging demonstration sites, which means that PRAESA mentors, supports  and documents its process. It plays the role of welcoming people to visit, join in and learn about the rewards and responsibilities of running a reading club.

This time around, the purpose of my visit to the reading club was to talk about Nal’ibali bilingual reading-for-enjoyment supplements which get delivered to the club as part of the initiative; using Facebook as a tool to get support and advice and to connect with others; and to do some storytelling mentoring through demonstrations at the reading club.

In the case of Silukhanyo, on the day I visited there were less than 15 children. But small numbers are always good. With a small number you can do lots of different interesting activities. Playing games always work. Volunteers can conduct writing activities – children can write letters to each other and the volunteer and get immediate responses. They can write their journals, recipes, notes, small books, short stories, poems and songs. Well-resourced clubs have CD players; they can write up songs and sing along, listen to audio books/stories and listen to radio and have discussions about what they’ve been listening to.

On this day at Silukhanyo, children spent time enjoying doing a 100-piece puzzle together. This activity focussed them on team work, attention to details, working under social pressure and using the power of their imaginations. It was a puzzle about sea animals and they got the opportunity to see and learn about different fish. As they were playing together, a conversation was going on about sea animals. Volunteers were also involved and we enjoyed seeing the children working together to achieve their goal as they showed their understanding of the shapes and colours making up the puzzle.  This activity took about an hour.

The reading club was also celebrating Heritage day. Thembisa, the lead volunteer, said: “Animals are mostly misunderstood and unappreciated so we took it upon ourselves to talk about sea creatures. Just like people they have rights and most importantly – a story to tell. We did a puzzle activity of sea animals.” The focus on animals was to honour our heritage through stories that have animals. Animals in stories and in nature were celebrated.

Lulu told the story of ‘The rabbit and the lion’ in isiXhosa. She used gestures to create images in the story. The children’s eyes were glued to her. This story had been told before, so they anticipated some parts of the story very well.

Lulu and I then read a bilingual book called ‘The Little Hare’. Before we read, we talked about the book. Children interpreted the feelings of the rabbit through the book cover and the objects  they saw on the cover. Some said “Umvundla ukhathazekile the little hare is sad”. They said this because of the way he looked. Some said it was because no one wanted to play with him. This shows how background knowledge is useful in understanding texts. There were a few children who knew the story already and this prepared them for what they could expect on the book. The benefits of reading the same text again are that it allows children to follow the story very well. They joined in with the  repetitive phrases.  It was fun.

The story has a song too. We knew that the story had a song and arranged it  just how we thought Silukhanyo children would love it. The song sounded like a poem, it rhymed. We sang it twice then we opened our hands to invite children to sing with us. However, we didn’t prepare the song prior to doing it and when we tried the original tune, it did not work. This suggests  to me that when reading a story aloud that has a song,  you must understand the children you are reading to and the tune.

In our read–aloud time, I demonstrated the art of reading aloud, bringing the story to life.  I did voice variation, engaged the children, dealt with pace, made eye contact and showed the pictures. Reading-aloud is very special for children because it allows them to experience the story. After reading aloud we made connections. Children make connections with the text to their background knowledge during the read-aloud or story told. They might link the text to themselves, world and other texts. Our main text was the ‘Little Hare’. We made connections to ourselves. We talked about the times we were feeling sad and what made us feel better. Some children remembered the game we enjoy playing uMvundla-Rabbit. Making connections deepens children understanding of the text better and the feelings of the characters. Connections can be made during the read-aloud and after. The adult models and children will join in.

The last activity of the day was working with the Nal’ibali supplements. We demonstrated how to cut out the stories and talked about what was inside the supplement and how it can be used. Children enjoyed cutting out the story of ‘The Snake and the Chief’ and other stories. However, we didn’t have enough scissors. If we had cereal cardboard we could have done bilingual story cards and covered them with  plastic, so that they could be used over and over again. We stored some books in shoe boxes that we got from Lulu. The shoe boxes will be now known as the Nal’ibali Supplement Boxes.

Children enjoy doing these kinds of project activities.  They feel happy when they go home with something tangible that they did themselves. It is an empowering experience. After cutting out the supplements storybooks, we cleaned up and the children started reading their stories to themselves.

Children also enjoy being hands on and taking decisions independently. At the reading club we create these kinds of conditions. We immerse, demonstrate and engage children, and in turn, we expect children to be responsible, take decisions and make mistakes that they will learn from. In this process,  volunteers are present and praising children for their work.  The activities we had on this day, allowed the children to experience those conditions. This is how children learn in an environment that encourages learning in enjoyable ways. Hence we say we must create conducive environments for learning.

The day ended with children taking home supplements. They each took more than one supplement of the  different issues. We asked them to give the newspapers to their older siblings and parents to read with them. We encouraged them to keep their newspaper books safe in the way  we had demonstrated to them in the supplement session.

I encouraged the volunteers to take pictures during the session too, and to reflect and interact on Facebook. With Lulu, I demonstrated how to take good pictures during the session. Pictures allow people who were not  at  the reading club to understand what is happening there, they tell a story. So we have to avoid light, look to take interesting shots that can be analysed. Thembisa was keen on changing their Facebook group to a page and she has done so. The Facebook page will now allow volunteers and other people to reflect on the reading club activities and other related issues to literacy. It is a space where people can share ideas and learn from each other. Lulu posts more about literacy activities in her classroom and  more at the reading club on her profile.  The name has not change it is still Silukhanyo Reading Club.

It was a good session. Children were given Nal’ibali T-shirts. There were only two volunteers Lulu and Tembisa. They said they would like to see management visiting them and participating in the session.  The club is doing well. I think it will be nice if children can get snack at the end of the session.