"You cannot leap-frog literacy..."

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We piloted a guided reading program in 2018 and are so excited that this project will continue in 2019! Providing education in truly under-served areas can bring unique challenges. While the average first grader at Impact Network school is 8.9 years old, there are also sometimes teenagers in first grade. These older students did not have the opportunity to go to school before, or experienced disruptions in their school attendance, which often reoccur. What skills should be prioritized when children have never been exposed to formal education?

Nic Spaull, director of Funda Wande, a South African teacher training organization, makes a persuasive case that primary schools should focus relentlessly on teaching children to read:

https://www.dailymaverick.co.za/article/2018-09-10-literacy-you-just-cant-fake-it/ . Reading fluently is a fundamental skill that unlocks higher-level learning. Impact Network has been doing a lot of work recently to improve the reading comprehension of our students, through a fifth grade guided reading program piloted in our Katete West Grade schools.

Here’s some highlights of what we have learned:

· Always assess. Measuring the abilities of each child before, during, and after each educational intervention is the only way to provide personalized learning designed with individual strengths and weaknesses in mind, and the best way to understand whether an intervention is working as planned.

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· Teach to the right level. In alignment with UNICEF and USAID, the guided reading program at Impact Network uses leveled texts, so students can practice their skills at their current ability level, before moving on to the next level. Especially given the reality of multi-age classrooms in rural Zambia, it’s critical for learning that we meet students where they are.

· Provide children with time to read independently, and time to read in pairs. Reading is not only a skill, it’s a habit of attention. Silent sustained reading opens up a new way of imagining the world to children. Reading in pairs helps kids test their knowledge with peers.

· Create small group activities that guide children through the skills they are mastering, such as sounding out phonemes. Teachers and school support officers can maximize their effectiveness by working with small groups of students who are at the same level.

We have been happy to see that after participating in the program, students that started at the lower levels have been able to match the abilities of higher level students by the end of the term! The program helped to close the gap we see between some of lowest and highest ability students. It’s the support we get from our incredible donors, networks, and organizations that makes it possible for Impact Network to continue to tweak our academic programs to better serve our most at-risk students. Here’s to a great 2019!

-Margaret Sagan