He is 10 years old and smiling proudly: ‘I can read!’ He has just read his first reading card. The card consists of a short story made up of a few simple sentences. This is enough to give him the experience of reading and the motivation to learn more letters in order to read more. How beautiful to see children developing reading skills, children who thought they would never be able to learn to read at all, especially when they have been part of a class in which most of the others learned to read more easily.
To teach children to read and write in a class with different levels of competency is not easy, especially when most of them have difficulties with concentration for various reasons. In the educational program of the Association Laleaua in Tarnaveni, Romania, Roma children who attend the local primary school get daily remedial lessons after school hours. In 2009 the teachers at Laleaua struggled with the question: ‘How can we help the Roma children who attend our program to learn to read and write in the most efficient and successful way?’ They realized that lessons should be manageable for the children – not too difficult – that a considerable amount of repetition was needed for reinforcement, and that progression through the lessons should be paced for each individual child. A safe environment would be helpful to reduce fear of failure. Based on these principles, key elements for their proposed way of teaching were:
- immediate results by enabling children to read simple sentences
- using stories from the children’s’ own life and environment
- individual progress records
- opportunities for repetition as needed
After starting to write the curriculum and teaching with it, the teachers were motivated to develop it further when they saw how the children were genuinely enjoying reading and writing. As familiar pictures and words from their own environment were used, the children were able to relate to what was taught. For example, one of the words used is ‘mac’ (Romanian for ‘corn poppy’). A boy who had learned this word, came to the program the following day with a corn poppy in his hand: ‘Look what I found!’
The new curriculum is called Aventura Literelor, ‘The Letter Adventure’. An important guiding principle is: to give children experiences of success in accomplishing a task will lead to competence. Some of the children in the program learned more than the teachers first anticipated and were able to read simple children’s books. There are also some children who make little progress even after years of working with this curriculum. Maybe they will never become fluent readers and writers, but doing the exercises and being part of the class does increase their skills and they will know that it is okay to learn in their own tempo.
Jorine Steen, July 2016.