The continued relevance of reading cards

Narendra D. Deshmukh and Prakash K. Nawale

Teachers often try to bring novelty into their classroom teaching. Some experiment with new ideas or innovative projects along with the traditional methods of lecturing. Some schools and teachers strive to adopt new methodologies, but the question is why don’t other schools follow suit? Why are these new methods not universalized? Instead, we have universalized our negative attitude under the guise of ‘insufficient time’ and the burden of non-educational work is cited as the reason. There are many schools where regardless of problems and adverse situations, teachers strive to find solutions and encourage students. They promote student-centered education, linguistics skills and self-learning by providing a learning environment. Some examples of such schools in Maharashtra are: Doorstep School and Udayanchal School of Mumbai; Akshardham of Pune; Tejas Mukt Vidyalaya and Shrujan Anand of Kolhapur; Kamla Nimbkar Balbhavan, Phaltan; Lokmanya Tilak Vidyamandir, Chikhalgaon; Shramik Sahayog School near Chiplun; Gram Mangal and Bhongashala of Thane District. Some Zilla Parishad schools are also striving hard. The Z.P. School at Talegaon village in Murbad taluka of Thane District and Z.P. Shedewadi School, Kumathe, District, Satara are such schools. The young teachers in these schools transformed the environment completely seeking community support. Such schools can definitely attract parents and students. Here learning has become joyful and student friendly. So how did they do it? What are the innovative measures that these teachers adopted? Are these methods really useful? How do they help in the learning process? Undoubtedly these novel ways should be universalized and only then we can adopt a constructivist and student-centric learning approach. Let us consider some of the hurdles of reading at the primary level. The following shortcomings are visible among rural and urban students.

Language: Students experience difficulties while reading and writing words from textbooks. So they hesitate to pronounce the words. They hesitate to ask questions because of their accent. Students from a rural background lag behind in urban schools because of the language. They think that others may laugh at their accent. Some urban students also experience similar difficulties.

Lack of literature and resource materials: Many schools do not provide books other than textbooks. The libraries are poorly equipped. There is no reading space or hall. Also, reading other books depends on personal interest. A corner of the classroom may be used to organize learning materials or to keep some appropriate story books.

Student participation: Not all students participate wholeheartedly in the learning process. Teachers need to introduce activities and experiments that can involve all the students. Reading cards may prove to be a useful tool in such situations.

According to Scoot and Yterberg (1990), children have an amazing ability to absorb language through play and other activities which make learning enjoyable.

Research conducted by Boland (1993) and Ravitch (2010) has shown that students who struggle in the area of reading during the early stages of their education often have difficulties into their secondary education and adulthood. Thus, it is important to teach reading skills to students, especially at the primary level. Flashcards play a special role in teaching reading and writing. They are often used to memorize words, historical dates, formulae or any subject matter that can be learned via a question-and-answer format.

In our work we identified the effectiveness of using reading cards.

What is a reading card? How can it be created?
Before answering these basic queries, let us find out whether it is limited to reading only and the prior efforts related to reading cards.

The Indian Institute of Education, Pune, published such cards and the Homi Bhabha Centre for Science Education, Mumbai, tried to prepare such cards way back in 1980-1985. The size of these cards was 7 inches by 5 inches and they were twin cards. These cards were hand written and the figures were also drawn by hand. The subjects covered were general such as providing information on various diseases and the precautions that need to be taken. Some focused on minor repairs of gadgets of daily use. For example: repairing a torch battery, detecting the puncture in a tube, meaning of eclipse, the diversity around us, and learning concepts through experiments.

By reading these cards students were able to learn the topics easily. The objective was to help develop an interest in reading. Awareness of literacy too was achieved through this effort.

What should the nature of reading cards be? Innovative ideas can be used to make such cards. A concept can be explained through short stories. Some cards can be in a question-answer format.

Some can also be in the form of dialogues. A dialogue usually has short sentences which are easy to read and comprehend. Reading dialogues is far easier than reading a paragraph.

Cards having songs can encourage students. Students interested in songs or poems can make use of such cards.

Making a reading card: We at HBCSE, along with Rayat Education Society, Satara, and Greater Mumbai Municipal School teachers made an effort and prepared such reading cards. The response was heartening. Some cards were excellent while some needed editing at the primary level. We believe that these cards prepared by the teachers will prove useful in learning.

While preparing reading cards, the following steps need to be considered:
i) Difficult sentences and words from textbooks must be explained in the easiest possible way and in short but meaningful sentences.
ii) The vocabulary should be that of common/general use, and students need to be familiar with the words while reading such cards.
iii) Proper font and font-size selection is necessary.
iv) Care must be taken to maintain the accuracy of the concept.
v) These cards should be handy, of proper size so that students can handle them easily.
vi) Attractive and student- friendly layout as well as use of proper colour should match the concept.
vii) Pictures should be carefully chosen considering the age as well as gender. Optimum use of pictures may increase the response of students.
viii) Photographs should be used wherever necessary.

What can be achieved through reading cards?
Asking questions: Some cards may contain only pictures to encourage students to ask questions.

Explaining textual content in an easy way: Cards could be prepared on small concepts and units to understand every aspect.

Instill an interest in reading: A concept/unit exhibited in an attractive manner not only increases comprehension, but also inspires students to read more cards, thus helping them to develop reading habits.

Explaining concepts: Difficult concepts can be explained in parts in an easy way. The comprehension thus achieved will be retained by the students.

Useful in rural and interior parts: We are now living in the age of computers. We talk about the internet and assume that everyone is connected. But the reality is disturbing. Schools in remote areas do not have any access to modern gadgets. Again there is the perennial problem of connectivity. To use Internet, the basic requirement is knowledge of English. How can the Internet be useful to those who have problems using even the vernacular language? Some schools have computers but these are lying idle. In such a scenario reading cards can play a vital role.

Teachers can use reading cards like other learning resources to facilitate the learning process and students’ participation. A few years ago an ‘Experiment Kit’ was developed by the students of Nutan Vidyamandir, Mankhurd. That experience was encouraging. Similarly students’ active participation can be obtained to prepare ‘Reading Cards’ on various concepts/units. This may be helpful for students, teachers and parents. The main challenge is to try and reach even the remote corners of the country to universalize the concept.

• Boland, T. (1993). The importance of being literate: Reading development in primary school and its consequences for the school career in secondary education. European Journal of Psychology of Education, 8, 289-305.
• Ravitch, D. (2010). The death and life of the great American school system: How testing and choice are undermining education. New York: Basic Books.
• Scott, W. A. and Ytreberg, L. H. (1990). Teaching English to Children. New York: Longman Inc.

The authors are with the Homi Bhabha Centre for Science Education, Tata Institute of Fundamental Research. They can be reached at [email protected], [email protected].

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