On a sunny day in early November in West Sumba, the scene was set for a productive day of basic literacy teacher training. As teachers and principals arrived at Kalelapa Catholic Primary School in Tana Righu, West Sumba, the sweet smell of rice pierced the air. Local INOVASI facilitators welcomed workshop participants, sharing local food and dividing the room up into eight groups. Local educators, all from INOVASI partner schools, were excited for the coming day – the second of seven units in INOVASI’s basic literacy short course style pilot. In addition to basic literacy skills, this pilot in West Sumba is helping train teachers and principals in school leadership and management.
As the room settled, INOVASI facilitators introduced that day’s unit discussion: using Big Books to enhance literacy in the classroom. Many teachers had already been asked to put this new strategy into practice in their classrooms, and so follow up reflection, peer mentoring and discussion was key. Jacobus, a West Sumba INOVASI local facilitator (or ‘fasda’), asked participants to reflect and share their experience. Impressively, some had already shown positive progress.
One teacher from Lokory primary school, the most distant partner school in Waikabubak in West Sumba, showed 20 big books that had been made at his school on various topics. One by one, teachers displayed their work for peer review, sharing both the challenges and successes of their Big Book development and use in the classroom.
Many had a common set of challenges, including the creative process and the creation of high quality illustrations. To overcome this, several teachers explained how they had used the internet (accessed via their mobile phones) to download pictures and model their Big Book off existing learning ideas.
One particularly interesting Big Book was developed by third grade teacher Viktor Saingo at Inpres Puu Bogila primary school. The book was a joint effort with several other teachers at his school, and focused on a story inspired by daily culture in Sumba – Parang, Gading and Sumba Gloves. The book explains, with vivid illustrations, how the different tools are manufactured, and outlines their benefits and functions.
After the group discussion and reflection, local fasda played back a video showing an example of how the Big Book can be used to read aloud to students in the classroom. The video showed the enthusiasm of the early grade students – and how a Big Book can encourage active learning in the classroom. By asking regular prompt questions during the reading, students appeared more engaged and attentive.
Using the video as inspiration, participants practiced the reading aloud of their Big Books, including the follow up questions needed to encourage reading comprehension and retention.
As rain fell outside Kalelapa Catholic Primary School, discussion inside continued, moving on to Big Book writing training and simulations, with local INOVASI facilitators helping teachers at every turn. This local capacity building is key to the success of the pilot, and is an ongoing source of mentoring for partner teachers and other educators. All unit workshops end with joint evaluation between the fasda and the participants – an essential aspect of reflection and lessons learnt. What can be done better next time? What must teachers consider when replicating the basic literacy approach in their classroom? These are key questions under consideration.
One thing is certain though – West Sumba teachers are ready and willing to grow their skills in teaching basic literacy, to the benefit of their students.