“What can I do to get my child to improve her English, madam?” I am plagued by this question wherever I go, just like the little lamb that followed Mary.
My patent answer is, “Encourage her to read storybooks.” Generally, this leaves the dedicated, enthusiastic, and hardworking parents gaping, crestfallen or simply confused (Am I joking? No hard work and rigorous labour?).
Learning a language has to be a natural process, where a child is exposed to correct diction, syntax, and grammar. At the same time only if it is fun will a child be willing to pursue it.
At least one of my “projects” is always based on reading storybooks. I am personally very glad that CBSE has incorporated the book reading programme in its curriculum, complete with evaluation. Another thing that concerns me is getting my students to interact with each other positively. Thus, I am always looking for an opportunity to assign team project work. It incorporates group and team dynamics along with life skills development. There is an assigned team leader, an assigned goal, and all team members strive to reach it, helping one another along the way.
The Readathon project which I conducted incorporated both these aims. Thus, the classes where I was teaching English, I selected the students who would be the group leaders. They were then asked to choose their team members, one by one. It reinforced the fact that each student was “chosen” by the leader and the team.
The rules were very simple. I set them a time of two months, up to the Sports day, a time filled with activity at school to complete the project. Each member in a team had to read as many age and language appropriate books as possible. These books had to be approved by the teacher or the librarian. The teams had to record and reflect the books read by each student on a chart displayed in the classroom. Of course, each team had one chart to themselves. We chose the “Blooming buds” concept where every time a student completed reading a book, its name along with the author’s would be added as a whorl of petals. Thus, if a team had eight students there would be eight flowers blooming on the chart. Initially, it did look strange when there were two or three petals around each bud.
As momentum picked up and the voracious readers were trying to outdo each other the whorls grew rapidly. One of my students with a fractured leg would even send his ‘petals’ with his friend to be put up, so that his team did not suffer.
Students are very smart these days. Some thought all they required were the names of a few books and their authors. To counter that, I announced that each team would have to make a presentation to the class where each member would be required to say a few words. The speaker would have to share her/his views about why a particular book was chosen, what was interesting in it, something about the protagonist and the antagonist, and so on. The catch was that I would select the book from the chart.
Their grades would be directly proportional to the number of books read by the team and the individual talk given to the class.
It was a pleasure to see the students getting books for each other to school. In between periods and during free lectures students would be found glued to their books. During break time I overheard most of them discussing the books they had read with their friends, whether from their teams or not. Many books were strongly recommended while countless ones highly critiqued.
Since the Readathon was going on in a couple of classes simultaneously there was an exchange of books across genres and age groups. Ours being a small school, with a lot of stress on individual attention, the bond among students is also strong and healthy. It gave me immense joy to see the learners garnering experience from one another. In a bid to outdo each other even those who did not really cherish reading, plodded through a couple of books.
One of my voracious readers, who might just turn out to be a celebrated author someday, turned the leaves of an astounding 38 books.
The classrooms abounded in colourful charts, with blooms racing with one another, as they increased in size. I found students walking around classes to see which lot of students was leading the Readathon too!
The presentations were very good, albeit a little informal. Each member of the team had to work hard with their group but the leaders did a great job in leading from the front, cajoling, coercing their team mates to go through one more book, ensuring it was recorded on time, helping each other to go over the details of books or even providing simpler books which their mates would definitely enjoy.
At the end I asked for recommendations to help improve the project the subsequent year. There was only one unanimous answer – could it be prolonged?
The author has been teaching for nearly 18 years, across various cities and boards. Having a wide range of hobbies and interests helps her connect with her students. Currently, she is teaching in an international school in Mumbai. She can be reached at [email protected].