Basic literacy has suffered severe setbacks all around South Africa because of the pandemic and more interventions are needed to get South Africa’s disadvantaged learners back on track, especially in terms of vital early literacy skills. One early literacy initiative that is doing just that is the Coronation Reading Adventure Rooms programme in association with literacy NPO Living Through Learning (LTL).
The Coronation Reading Adventure Rooms programme has made an impact on more than 27 000 Grade 1 and 2 learners since its inception, resulting in a marked improvement in the children’s systemic results. The programme’s 2020 end of year stats, which were just released, showed an overall jump of 12% from Living Through Learning’s baseline. The school with the greatest improvement was Blossom Primary with a 30% increase in its systemic literacy results for the foundation phase. The programme’s overall CAPS results increased with 5% from 62% to 67% between Term 1 and Term 4, with Riverton Primary showing the highest improvement of 12%.
The programme started in 2010 with four schools and expanded to 17 Western Cape schools in 2021. The programme provides a fun, step-by-step English literacy curriculum to support educators and learners in a dedicated room, and its phonics-based approach emphasises that letters, symbols and words can be combined in many different ways to result in greatly accelerated learning.
“Laying a strong foundation for early literacy is incredibly important, because the research shows that children who can’t read for meaning by Grade 4 have deep educational deficits that create various negative knock-on effects for their later academic development. Children simply can’t reach their full academic potential over time without solid basic literacy skills. It is a very important issue in society that we care deeply about and support,” says Wendy Bergsteedt, CSI Champion for Coronation Fund Managers.
Each Reading Adventure Room is decorated with a 3D theme and is fully equipped with fine and gross motor skills development tools to provide a safe, fun and engaging learning environment. Educators are trained in Living Through Learning’s study methodology and are provided with educator manuals, picture books, workbooks, readers, flashcards, games, toys, stationary and other resources that help Grade 1s and 2s to learn to read with real understanding and enjoyment.
“Some schools have libraries, but most of them unfortunately don’t have an active library where there is a dedicated room with a staff member taking care of books. In most schools, the educator will have a few books in her classroom. That’s why the Reading Adventure Rooms are fun places for the learners to go to learn, play and read. The programme is making an incredible impact,” says Natalie Roos of Living Through Learning.
Fereal Amos, the Grade 2 teacher from Levana Primary in Lavender Hill, says: “The Living Through Learning programme helps to instil basic literacy and writing skills in our learners. Learning takes place in a relaxed environment, where the learners learn by playing while having fun. It is not rigid or forced, but it is centered around the child’s holistic development. In my Grade 2 Afrikaans class, I saw how learners’ handwriting improved over a short space of time and their English FAL assessment marks improved over their HL marks. The technical skills that the learner learns on the programme, form part of their schooling culture.”
Lindiwe Mntunjani, a Grade 1 teacher from Nooitgedacht Primary, said the programme equipped teachers with useful skills to teach literacy. Some of the improvements she had seen included learners learning to form letters correctly, also enabling the teachers to discern what learners are writing, and helping children who could not speak English previously to learn the language in a shorter time.
Living Through Learning facilitator Elvina Wylie tells the story of an isiXhosa-speaking Grade 2 learner from Mkhanyiseli Primary School who could not read a word of English, who learned to read, speak and write in English within a single term.
Lotus River Primary’s Grade 1 educators had this to say: “The programme not only helped our kids to improve their phonics and reading skills but also the fine motor skills which is important for school readiness. Our learners joined the handwriting programme to improve their writing skills, and as the Grade 1 educators we found that our learners struggled to write between the broad 17mm lines and letter formation was a concern. We were worried about how they would cope with even smaller writing in the next grade. The programme removed our worries. Our Learning Through Living facilitator Toheera had so much patience with our learners taking them through the different phases of writing. Many of our learners can now write confidently between the lines, using the correct letter formation.”
The vision for the programme is to be rolled out to all foundation phase schools in the Western Cape. Living Through Learning is inviting more stakeholders to join them to make that dream come true.