Reading Camp: one solution to improve children’s literacy skills

In West Sumba, an INOVASI partner district in East Nusa Tenggara, an early grade literacy pilot has been underway since late 2018. INOVASI’s 2018 baseline data painted a disappointing picture of literacy and learning quality across the district, with 84% of grade one students failing to pass the student literacy test in letter recognition. 97% did not pass the word recognition. Through its literacy pilot, INOVASI has implemented a range of teaching and learning strategies focused on improving children’s reading skills.

The Reading Camp idea is one solution to the issue of poor early grade literacy skills. The idea, which aims to accelerate an improvement in students’ basic reading abilities, sees students grouped together based on their ability and guided through reading activities.  The activity has taken place in 19 INOVASI partner schools in West Sumba. Kalelapa Catholic primary school, in Tana Righu sub-district, is one of these partners.

Teachers from Kalelapa recall the excitement of students in grades one, two and three, as they carried baskets full of new learning tools into the classroom. Reading Camp was about to begin.

All early grade students were grouped according to their basic reading skills, namely reading letters, reading syllables, reading words, reading fluency, and reading comprehension. In some cases, students from different classes found themselves in the same reading group. To maintain student motivation, the class groups were named with simple lettering, A, B, C, D, and E.

Beatriks M. E Kurnianingsih, principal of Kalelapa Catholic primary school, emphasized that she hopes to achieve an increase in student reading skills by the end of the school year. If 18 other schools schedule this activity three times per week with a 30 minute time allotment, then children have valuable extra time to learn letters, syllables and words.

“How can a child be able to take lessons according to the curriculum if they can’t read?” she questioned. Mrs. Ningsih, as she is usually called, said that if this activity was carried out consistently, the problem of students’ low reading ability would be overcome. Teachers are also now able to focus on helping students with similar reading abilities.

The well-organized Reading Camp allows teachers to better monitor student progress in reading. Through the formative assessment system, the teacher provides periodic assessment for each student, and discusses assessment results with the principal to see areas for improvement.

There are many activities carried out by students in each group. In group A, or the reading letters group, the teacher guides the new student and helps them read syllables. When they have mastered this, they can progress to the reading syllables group. This approach is continued  until all children graduate from the Reading Camp.

The creativity of teachers in finding the right teaching strategy is very important. Katrina Malo, a grade one teacher who is in charge of guiding group A (reading letters) gets inspiration for her lessons when participating in her local Teacher Working Group (KKG).

In the reading letters class, Katrina used a visual approach by preparing two groups of images, which are large images of letters and images of objects with captions below them. She then asks students to look for images of objects whose name has a similar first letter. When found, students are then asked to put pictures of the object above a large sized letter image.

The teacher leading group B, Delsianan K. Ngongo, also shared how he helps students learn syllables. He explained how they count the number of syllables by clapping them out while reading, in each word.

Another group 2 teacher, Delsy, said that the class is easier to manage because students can already arrange letters into syllables. The difficulty then comes when students are asked to read the full word. Many students still struggle and then return to reading letters or spelling.” Therefore, it would be easier if students were skilled at reading syllables consisting of two or three letters first, before reading the words,” explained Delsy.

Group C or reading word group, has a smaller number of students compared to the previous two classes. Only seven children, consisting of grade two and three students, are involved.

“From my own class, there are still many students who are still in the reading letters group,” said Marlince U. Deta, a class 2A teacher who is helping with group B.

Groups D and E consist of students who are already able to read. The guidance teacher’s focus is more on the students’ ability to understand the content of the reading. As a supervisor, David Malo Pate applies several strategies to achieve this goal. Once, David would read the big book or textbook. On this occasion, students were asked to predict, retell, and ask questions. He also asked students to write answers to questions in the textbook. Unlike the previous three groups who received different interventions, students in groups D and E carried out learning according to the curriculum.

Ningsih, who helped guide the reading comprehension group, explained how this reading grouping strategy has helped increase student interest and motivation. Ningsih even admitted that one of her students refused to attend a traditional event with parents in order to come to school.

“The student prefers to come to school because now he has a study group, where he can study with students from classes above and below him. The students feel happy, because this way of learning is not boring,” said Ningsih enthusiastically.

Similar opinions were expressed by other pilot teachers. This grouping activity has been key to increasing student motivation to learn and read. The existence of other students from higher or lower classes means that students do not feel excluded.

Reading Camp: one solution to improve children’s literacy skills