Raising reading levels

The ASER report released earlier this year revealed some eye-opening statistics regarding the state of education in India. According to their report, of all the children enrolled in fifth grade, about half cannot read at second grade level. If this is the case with a regional language, the case in reading English is far worse.

To measure growth, we, at Avasara, take reading assessments at the beginning of the year and compare it with the scores at the end of the year. Last year, our students made a growth of two grade levels at an average on reading English. This year, the reading level of our new cohort is 2.5 (ranging from grade level 1 to grade level 4). This means that, on average, our students in eighth standard can only read a second standard text (For instance, the Amelia Bedelia series). There is a gap of almost 6.5 years in reading English. In eighth standard, they should be reading books like To kill a mocking bird. How do we address this problem?

We, at Avasara, teach English language in a way that helps the students to develop interest in reading. We use literature beyond their prescribed standardized school textbooks so that they can engage in meaningful conversations and discussions about what they are reading.

We started our English lessons by learning poetry as it can be simple to understand but can also have a powerful impact. They recently read a poem by Gwendolyn Brooks and learnt how poetry has been used by African American writers to express their feelings and thoughts about their families. We also tried to do the same after reading the poem. The students had to write a free verse poem on one of their family members using imagery. Have a look at some of the poems they have written:

This poem is by Mahima. Notice the words which help you to “see” and “smell” different things in the poem. She has also illustrated the poem really well.
This one is by Jui. Can you identify the alliteration and simile she has used in this one?
Mansi has written this poem. Notice her use of repetition in this poem. The repetition almost allows a rhythm to this poem if you read it aloud.

Through this process, we are also working on building our vocabulary. In another lesson, the students were asked to describe different settings using sensory words. Here is how they have described these settings in their groups:

One of the groups was describing a desert. Notice how many words they were able to use for this one.
This group has used their imagination. They have imagined a number of animals in this setting.

Through these lessons, we are trying to build our vocabulary, and also to understand the importance of literature as a tool to express our ideas and emotions as well as understanding the world around us.  We will be starting reading a novel soon and waiting for sharing more of our work with everyone!

Mansi and Gauri, along with their group, are discussing which words they should use to describe the picture of the beach given to them.

(You can read this article if you want to know more about language instruction, in primary grades especially, which will help the students to develop reading skills effectively: https://lincs.ed.gov/publications/pdf/PRFbooklet.pdf )

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