By: Aprile Denise, Literacy Advisor, Yayasan Literasi Anak Indonesia
The ride through untamed forest and magnificent hillside views took nearly 2 hours as we forded a small river to finally reach the little primary school, SDI Kabali Bedu, in a rural part of West Sumba. Children ran out from all directions to meet and welcome us to their world, one probably rarely visited by outsiders. We were coming to this school to observe how the YLAI reading program, a grant partnership with Innovation for Indonesia’s School Children (INOVASI), is being implemented in early grade classrooms, after teachers had received training from local facilitators (Fasda) in their teacher working groups (KKGs).
We were warmly greeted by the deputy school principal, Ibu Robu Boru Huatu, who guided us to the grade one class followed by a little troop of children carrying plastic water cans. We were told that the children take turns carrying water from the well outside the school for use during the day. We stepped inside the first-grade classroom, which was only half- lit by the sunlight filtering through tiny windows. As my eyes adjusted to take in the details of the room, my first impression was a brightly painted corner, with colourful shelves full of books, and a sign placed overhead reading “Pojok Baca”, or Reading Corner.
The children chanted their greetings to us and the teacher directed me to take my place on a bench by one of their little wooden desks. She then invited the class to move to the reading area for the Shared Reading lesson. I was very curious to watch this lesson, the second component of our Balanced Reading Program, part of the grant pilot. The chosen Big Book was positioned on an easel, and the teacher sat beside it with her pointer to guide the students as she modelled the story to them. “Apakah Pisangya?” is a delightful story, developed by YLAI, about a little monkey who goes in search of bananas in the farmer’s house, and causes a lot of havoc. The children were gathered on the carpet eagerly following the story, and were invited by the teacher to answer questions and show words they recognized on the pages. They were all clearly engaged in the story, searching the pictures and joining in the reading with the teacher.
At the end of the session, as the children were beginning to move back to their desks, I asked the teacher if we could give the children another 10 minutes of free time in the reading corner to read on their own. I was curious to see what they would choose to do. Sure enough, as soon as the teacher moved away, a little band of children crowded around the Big Book on the easel, and one little boy sat on the teacher’s chair, with the pointer, and started to model the reading process. He guided his pointer along the words while other children read the story out loud. Other children gathered around to have their turn as well. It was one of those “a-ha” moments, when it was clear the modelled lesson had transferred to the students. I think I was more excited than the teacher, who was starting to worry the class might be getting out of control!
While bringing change in the form of a strong reading culture to these isolated, rural areas of Indonesia is a big challenge, given the lack of adequate training and books, I was still encouraged to witness the small changes that were emerging for these students. Children are born to communicate, so the discussions that happen during a shared reading session are not just about reading, but much more about communicating ideas. When stories are modelled to young children through engaging books, it opens a world of imagination and connection to their lives. They start to make meaning from the story through the pictures and text, and this is what I saw so clearly that morning in this first grade classroom. Children engaged in the reading process, children excited to keep reading, children teaching children, children in love with stories.
Through its Balanced Reading Program with primary schools, YLAI uses engaging books created for different purposes. The interactive reading sessions, in conjunction with the reading corner, introduce children to a love of stories and many opportunities to participate in sharing ideas of connection and prediction, and deeper understanding. The Big Books model the reading process through shared reading sessions with the whole class, while the guided reading sessions in small groups provide levelled reading books suitable to guide students more intensively in the reading process. Over a period of three training sessions, teachers are introduced to all the components of this reading approach, and embed the sessions into their existing Indonesian language curriculum. Teachers are now beginning to discuss reading in their KKG sessions, using language such as deeper comprehension, connection and prediction, story mapping, retelling, partner sharing, and discussing how reading is working in their classes.
With INOVASI, YLAI is committed to bringing this change in literacy approaches for young children, who have a natural desire to communicate through stories at every level. Engaged reading for meaning and purpose will open new doors to their learning that move away from traditionally static modes of teaching, to more interactive, and deeper ways of accessing knowledge. Thank you SDI Kabali Bedu for starting to open the door to allow this to happen in your remote corner of West Sumba.