As the school year begins back home in the US, it will be winding to an end at the school where I volunteer in South Africa. Summer vacation begins here in December, just in time for the holidays and New Year’s Day on the beach – something this New Yorker will never get used to!
So with three months left of school – only two of which I will likely have their attention, since few things are more distracting to them than an approaching vacation – I am thinking about what worked with my students so far this year and what I could have done better. This is a good time to revisit the goals set at the beginning of the school year:
- Make reading fun for reluctant readers and turn them into eager readers
- Introduce new topics to students who already enjoy reading
- Expand vocabulary
- Encourage critical thinking and evaluation
- Generate new interests through reading
- Broaden their horizons to new interests, ideas and cultures
One of my reluctant readers read his first chapter book, another was introduced to a new subject that has become his favorite – Egypt, another student has discovered an outlet for his creativity and has started writing his own story that we work on together during a few minutes each session. They all ask about my home in America and we look at pictures of it and find my country on maps. I can see that their curiosity, evaluation skills and interest in new topics have increased during our time together, but I wonder now how this success has carried over into their lives.
When I explain what a boomerang is and how it returns, using arm gestures to throw an imaginary object across the library, have I really helped increase their vocabulary? Will they continue to pick up chapter books – or any seemingly challenging book – without me next to them cheering them on? Will they think about why the beanstalk grew outside Jack’s window without me asking the question?
What I am really asking myself is – when the school year is over, will I have encouraged them to be independent readers/ thinkers/ creators?
I think we are on our way, but there is more work to be done. In the next few months I will encourage the boys I work with to do more on their own – discover the meanings of new words by looking at the surrounding words and the context of the paragraph; show me where countries are on the atlas, instead of me pointing it out; and give them space to evaluate texts in greater depth without my detailed questions.
Hopefully that independence will follow them from the sandy beaches where they may wonder curiously about low and high tide, to their yards where they stare at the moon and wonder how long it would take to travel there, to their homes where they may embrace the challenge of reading an older brother’s book, and then back to school where they will write about new interests and stories discovered during their independent Summer adventures.