Building Literacy and Academic Potential


Earlier this year, I wrote about reading and math assessments in a small sample of students in Katete West. While there was much to celebrate, one finding was that some students were still struggling to read and comprehend what they were reading.  In grade 5 in particular, students struggled with English reading since this is the year that the language of instruction switches from Cinyanja (local language) to English.  In order to combat this issue, a literacy initiative is being piloted in two school in Katete West.


There are a lot of solutions out there, but finding the right ones to fit in this specific context, a small NGO in a rural environment with limited resources, can be tricky. We finally came up with a low-cost option that we think will provide good outcomes -- a literacy boost initiative in two grade five classes. At the outset of the pilot, we discovered that some students struggled to read English, or could read but struggled with comprehension. This is a particular concern because later grades are taught wholly in English. I also learned that some of those struggling students transferred from other schools and had not been with Impact Network for grades 1-4.

One potential reason for low reading scores is that students do not have access to enough materials or time to read at their level to improve their reading fluency.  Additionally these same students may have limited access to literate adults to help develop their reading skills. Thus, in this literacy pilot, students will be reading silently or with a partner for 20 minutes each day after school using reading cards with short English passages grouped by their reading level.


In order to give students targeted support, guided reading is done once or twice a week by Impact Network staff. The students have been divided according to their reading level – this allows those students with limited reading ability to go back to basics and focus on phonics and use texts at the appropriate level, while other students who are able to read fluently can focus more on comprehension. 


 We are tweaking the program as we go, but two grade five teachers participating have reported that they have seen some improvements in the students’ reading already! We will be measuring oral reading fluency after the end of the term to determine the level of improvement, but I can say that I have observed students reading more confidently and eagerly. I was expecting some push back and reluctance in having to read every day, but during the guided reading sessions I sat in on, students have been very willing and participate actively.

It has been quite fun so far! When I visit, I walk around to a few students at a time and they are excited to show off what they can read. It is, after all, not their native language. I keep reminding them and their teachers, even in the U.S., where students have access to libraries and so much more, many can’t read in a second language. It is something to be proud of and celebrate!