I grew up with a love of reading. It was my favourite part of school – especially when we got to go to the library to check out new books. Sometimes in class, I would stealthily try to read a book that was hidden under my desk. I would always get caught, though.
When I arrived at site last year, I was sad, but not surprised, to see that there was no reading culture at the school other than the reading that was done in each subject. Even then, neither the learners, the teachers, nor me were very excited about it. So, I made it my goal to get the kids reading and enjoying it.
Last year, the school had a “library’, which was really a dusty classroom falling apart at the seams and stuffed to the brim with old, outdated secondary school textbooks. However, at the beginning of this year, that room had to be converted into a Grade 3 classroom in order to accommodate the lower primary classes being properly split into grades. So, we lost our library space and had to compromise. Now, the school library lives on top of an old broken desk at the back of my classroom. This tiny tabletop library has been the cornerstone of my classroom and is where the learners go whenever they have a free moment to spare.
The first thing we did to build our reading program was request a box of books from this awesome organisation back in the US called Darien Book Aid. Within a couple months of making the request, they sent us a box of 30 books. Many of these books were middle grade novels. My learners aren’t quite at this level yet, but they are working hard to get there. There were also a lot of picture books that were included in the box as well, and were great for reading aloud during the reading periods.
The next round of books to make their home on the table top library were from a literacy workshop that I had the opportunity to take part in along with other PCVs and Namibian teachers across the southern and central regions of the country. During this workshop, we received a subscription to a service that had thousands of levelled reading books and other literacy activities that are free to print out and use in the classroom. They cover a wide range of topics, so I never have to worry about my learners not being able to find anything interesting.
I printed out a few in the first term and a few more in the second term. I then applied for a small grant from Peace Corps to be able to print out more from an office supply store, where it’s only N$1.30 per page. This is around nine cents USD. I was able to print out over 200 books, all at different reading levels so that all grades could enjoy them.
However, the crowning jewel of my table top library are the colourful books donated by friends, family, and purchased on Amazon Prime Day. These books are both fiction and non-fiction and also cover a wide range of topics, complete with full colour photos and illustrations. Some of them are already starting to fall apart because the learners read them so much.
My grandparents found a book donation program in their town run by a young woman who focuses on collecting books with black main characters to donate, so we received a few from her. These are the learners’ favourites since they like seeing characters that look just like them. A friend of mine donated a large book called “The Thing Explainer” which takes several objects and concepts from daily life like pencils, airplanes, and the colour spectrum, and breaks them down to be easily understood since it only uses the 1,000 most common English words.
On Amazon Prime Day, I bought several books, many of which came from the National Geographic Kids reading series. I also got some Dr. Suess and some short chapter books for the more advanced readers in the class. Recently, some family friends sent a package with 41 books – more National Geographic Books, some Dr. Seuss readers, Junie B. Jones, Nate the Great, the Boxcar Children, My Weirder School, and the Magic Treehouse books. They also sent 160 letters from their youngest son’s school in my hometown. The learners loved reading the letters and were so excited that there were kids in the USA that wanted to meet them. We are writing our responses later this week.
While the learners still have a long ways to go in terms of becoming stronger readers with good comprehension skills, they have improved immensely this past year. I get so excited every time they run over to the book table to pick a book to read or come up to me, wanting to show off how well they can read aloud.