In SA – Time to Build

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This is Part II of our Souns training trip to South Africa where classrooms have Souns materials thanks to Rotary International Global Grants. Clubs involved in this literacy work are RC Smyrna (RD6900), RC Peachtree City (RD6900), and RC Pretoria East (RD9400). Many thanks to the Rotarian volunteers from both districts who propel this project forward in so many lasting ways.
 

The second week of training has been most informing: with Souns, children learn faster than teachers expect! Hands-on activities make such a difference in learning.

When, in school after school, you hear the same doubting comment each time a particular question is asked of the teacher, and the children prove the doubt is not merited, there is a lesson for all. Such information defines a focus point for our training and confirms learners are almost always ahead of where the teacher expects them to be.

Good practice with Souns suggests teachers focus Grade R (kindergarten) children on letter-sound associations beginning the first day they walk into class.  With consistency in daily, short, engaging activities, building words by listening to sounds in spoken words will be happening in their classrooms by end of first term or early second term. Many learners will be ready to sound out words by third term, if not sooner. All three stages of Souns should be present in a classroom by beginning of fourth term: continued learning of letter-sound associations, building words, and sounding out words.

Our visit was exciting because in every case the children were on course. This is the end of their first term in South Africa, but the teacher had not introduced building words yet! “It is too early! They are not ready!” Well, the children were ready! It was a delight to demonstrate for the teachers how ready the learners were. The teachers and the learners had done such good work to date. Now it was time to trust the learners and move on. Those ready learners will show the path for others in the classroom who are on their way. Young minds are always watching and always learning.

With two to three schools a day and from two to four classrooms in each school, this training week was intense and fulfilling. It has taken the first few years of this work for teachers to see the possibilities with Souns. Now the training is more about the steps the teachers need to take in order to build patterns in classroom practice.

A few sites included work with toddlers and adult learners. Building readers in South Africa – across language, circumstance, and age – is a reality for Souns. Thank you, Rotary, for putting Souns materials into the hands and minds of so many.

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Part III in the near future: surprising results of this good work in other Souns sites

A Souns Journey . . . . On Course In SA

This journey is a small portion of a Rotary global grant sponsored by RD 6900 and RD9400 which is making a dramatic difference for early literacy. As one teacher said, “The children in this program will change the future for South Africa.”

We left Johannesburg just before 10 in the morning, heading north to work with the Peace Corps on a literacy project using Souns. Today is our day to comfortably drive the 5 hours. I have done this trip before. This is the training site where we came without Souns materials once, showing teachers how to do the program with materials at hand….just paper and markers. There were 65 teachers trained, all eager and so glad to have a way to help their learners. I wonder – hope – we have some of those teachers in this training, since now we have Souns to give them.

The drive is beautiful. Expanses of brown grass spotted with low thorn-bush trees. At times it seems you can see forever, soft rolling terrain framed in the distance by a blue strip of hills – koppies. There are occasional cows seen feeding in the grass. There are other animals too…but none spotted yet.

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About halfway to our destination we approach the bank of “koppies” and the trees are more varied in color, texture, and height. The thorn bushes hug the ground between taller trees. We just passed a sign for the municipality of Molemole (sound every letter)…..I just love the African languages – they are so musical.

Arrival day brought with it an adjustment to a cold shower and a search for dinner.  On Monday morning we went to the local Wimpy for a rendezvous with those in charge of the training, sharing data on the specific training sites to be visited.

The day was as I hoped…eager teacher minds, children to work with, and all in a typical preschool setting. We worked with the classroom of 4-5 year olds. The initial impression of the room was informing…so many plastic square tables and chairs that there was no floor space left. There were no shelves and no materials except for the stack of workbooks and containers of crayons and other supplies for table work. Several charts were on the wall at adult height…something we all discussed later. The teachers and the administration were bright, passionate people wanting to create an excellent school.

We began by working with the children. The classroom had not yet been given Souns materials. The Peace Corps volunteers (PCV’s) gave lessons to the class with their Souns materials each week and  asked the teacher to use paper and marker to support the work in between their visits. I began by asking the teacher to do what she would typically do for a whole group lesson. She did the usual – holding up a paper and asking the children to identify the sound written on it. While this is not suggested Souns practice, it was quickly obvious she had been working on teaching the children letter-sound associations, and they were learning.

IMG_0124I asked to see a small group of children. We used the paper, as they were most familiar with that method. Then I used the actual Souns letters with the children in a typical small group lesson. They each had learned at least two sounds well, and several knew the first four. The teacher was very conservative introducing new letter-sound associations…..very typical of someone new to Souns. We introduced two more sounds – /p/e/. Then I kept two learners and demonstrated building a few simple words on a line. It was a good moment as the learners clearly wanted something harder than they already knew how to do. I suggested learners at this age and with comfort in approaching 10 letter-sound associations needed to build a word each day. As usual, the teacher was surprised at what they could do!

The day progressed with the children going outside and the adults rounding up to discuss good practice with Souns. I chose to use a new guide booklet to set the pace. This simple version was appreciated by everyone. There was vibrant discussion around several of the pages, which was a very good thing. I believe it was an effective way to engage the group and assimilate the steps of Souns.

The concluding “happy” was an invitation to help with the room….my Montessori heart just smiled. What fun! Everyone worked to remove, reform, and simplify the environment. When we finished there were two plastic “work” tables each with four chairs, an art table against the wall (two plastic tables on top of which was placed a door, previously stored in the adjacent bathroom) with five chairs around it. There was excellent floor space for group work or individual work mats. There was a designated construction corner, a reading corner, and a chalk board space low on the wall for children. The charts were lowered to be in reach of little hands. Progress was made, as this photo was sent to me three days later.

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Bidding our farewells and getting a last photo was another opportunity for sharing. We were on the playground in the presence of the greatest chalkboard ever…the red dirt of SA. With children playing freely, I took a little one…one of the two who helped build words and who is a future little “teacher” for the class. We sat on the ground and I drew an /o/ in the soil and gave him a rock to draw an /o/. We were joined by a circle of faces and little hands with rocks drawing “sounds” in the red soil. Many of these learners were not in the class, but were now exposed to letter-sound associations in the purest way possible – child to child. Learning can be so simple…what can we do to unburden the process of learning to read?

FullSizeRender copy 3Training on Tuesday, March 10, was the same but different. We drove down a long gravel road to a village that was a classic in my experience in SA rural villages: tiny round or rectangular brick and clay (sometimes metal) structures with thatched or metal roofs. Little yards fenced with curved limbs from trees pinioned to the ground and each other to define the resident space. Mango trees and other greenery dress seemingly swept dirt yards. Earth red, green, sand, and dried thatch color the expanse of little homes…each framed by the dark, dancing, sticks with shadows from the sun that doubled their curls and twists.

We arrived at the little preschool and were greeted by the teachers and principal. The two PCV’s introduced us all and showed us around the facility. It was a lovely environment. The classroom was textbook perfect: organized, spacious, children’s personal artwork everywhere, as well as words in Tsonga (w lower case letters) on the wall where little hands could touch.

We adults sat together and trained, role playing teacher and learner, covering the highlights and critical points of Souns. Then it was time for children. We gave five of the little ones, probably three years old, a lesson using paper and marker to show them the first four sounds…/o/m/s/t/. We explained that if the teachers demonstrated the Souns program by teaching the first four letter-sound associations this way, we will give them a Souns set from Rotary after that month. That has been a worthwhile arrangement thus far. Giving a Souns set to a classroom and having it misused or placed on a storage shelf is not a good investment of time or funds. I foresee the leadership in this preschool as committed guardians of the program. (Now to drive back to Pretoria)

Wednesday, day three! This day was a treat of another kind: working with an umbrella organization – PEN – overseeing hundreds of preschool/crèche teachers in Pretoria. They speak English and teach in English, which is easier (for training) than a mixed group with several languages. We introduced Souns to thirty teachers…a few were familiar, but most were new to the program. As there were no Souns sets designated for these teachers yet, I demonstrated how to proceed with the program with paper and markers first. They wanted a way to start immediately…so now they can. The presentation was lively, with good questions, responses, and laughter. I can’t’ wait to revisit this group.

Thursday, day four!  We are in Mamelodi visiting two primary schools: one school with four Grade R classrooms and two Grade 1 classrooms using Souns and another school where we focused on four Grade R classrooms. The first school was newer to the program. We visited the two established Souns classrooms and then had a most productive meeting with the two new teachers. These two new teachers were trained initially by colleagues and have done really good work with Souns. Typical of new-to-Souns teachers, the learners were being guided at a slower rate. They had reached about six sounds introduced. We asked for four learners from each of their classrooms and demonstrated how to move forward with more certainty. With two of the more confident learners, I demonstrated building words. The teachers were pleased to see several learners ready for this next stage.

The second school is now in its third year with Souns in Grade R and the experience for me was confirming. I met with two teachers at a time in a private space where we could speak comfortably and uninterrupted. I remember the same faces three years prior obligingly taking on a new program to use on top of others that were not working. Today, the faces spoke a different story. They were leaning forward, eye to eye, sharing their practice (even supporting its value with Souns language), proud of where their learners were so early in the year with their letter-sound knowledge. This was a deeply pleasing arrival point for this work. These teachers were becoming Souns practitioners. Success with the learners built their confidence in their own practice which would grow the legs of sustainability for Souns. I attribute much of the day’s story to good leadership in the schools…teachers need support and these two schools have extraordinary administrative support for their teachers.

At the close of our conversation, I asked each of the teachers if their learners were building words yet. Each exclaimed, “No!” …commenting in their individual ways that they did not think their learners were ready. I suggested that at their age and with 10 sounds known, they likely were. I asked for two learners from each class. The teachers were stunned that the learners moved so quickly to building words. I am glad we visited early in their academic year, a good time to help them know more about the need to keep up with the child. The child will generally move faster than the teacher realizes. They will continue building words – just one or two words each day – and will, no doubt, have some children sounding out words in a few months if not sooner. There are many children in the room ahead of where the teacher thought they were…a very common picture, unfortunately.

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Friday, day five! This is the last day of the first week of training, we are visiting two more primary schools in Mamelodi. In the first there were five grade Grade R classrooms. Two of the teachers were new to Souns, but had been guided by the three who were trained in previous years. We visited each classroom, discussing how their children ended last year and how the new class was doing this year. School years in SA begin mid-January and conclude early December. This visit was toward the end of the of the first term. The learners have had 8 weeks of school to get where they are now…!!! It is an impressive effort by the teachers and the learners. One Grade R teacher said, “The learners for Grade R at the end of 2014 were so clever and I was so excited because during the parent ceremony they already knew how to read Grade 1 books.”

The second school visited this day had three Grade R classes with teachers who were experienced with Souns. We visited to ask about progress last year and with the new classrooms of learners this year. As usual, we asked if the children had begun building words. Again, the answer was an immediate “Not yet!” As before, I demonstrated with two of each of their classrooms that they were, indeed, ready to build words by listening to the sounds.

The final training at the last school this week was with Grade 1 teachers. There were five, three of whom have had experience with Souns. The practice in a Grade 1 classroom is not ideal as the numbers are quite different: there are 50-60 learners in each class with one teacher. The pressure on everyone is tremendous. Small groups are not possible, so our approach is for whole class activities that engage the child in listening to and discerning sounds in words. With such discrimination, they will develop attack skills that will serve them well in writing and reading as the year progresses. We went to one classroom and demonstrated some activities to build these skills. One teacher added that she has found the material to be important for challenged learners, “Letters that they can hold in their hand and move around is making a big difference.”

In conclusion, this first week of training confirmed the value of this effort to build fundamental literacy skills for young learners in South Africa. We introduced Souns to new classrooms, new teachers, reviewed experienced Souns practitioners, monitored progress, and demonstrated to all Grade R teachers that their effort to date was farther ahead than they thought. Teachers need to learn to trust their children to be able….surprisingly able…to move well ahead of expectations.

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When we return in several months, we expect to see learners in each classroom to be engaged in all the stages of Souns, depending on their inherent ability. All will continue to work on letter-sound associations, most will be building words, and many will be sounding out words or reading.

We have one more week of training in other primary schools and preschools in Pretoria. As always, it will be important to glean our own lessons out of these two weeks for future training.

Rambling. . . .and Random!

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At this moment, with an artichoke steaming and the bird feeders filled, comfortable in my glider….writing is what I am thinking about. I sit and feel and weigh.

I love those who frame the simple so we may see a bit deeper. That is not me! Typically, I am filled with words that come out all at once. Perhaps I wait too long or feel too much. I think both. I am also afraid of words. Using them well is important and challenging. The word, the sound of the word, the thinking space between words – all matter!

As with words, so is life. Space in life is being still and fully absorbed, but without expectation. I am watching a chipmunk siting “frozen” atop a stump. He is totally at one with nature, feeling the world so thoroughly that it could be the first or the last moment of his life…each uniquely simple and deeply lived.

It is my observation that, as a culture, we move too fast to see….we have swallowed up the space that connect experiences, the space where learning, living, and memories live.

Ah, the artichoke is ready….!

 

 

Souns Moves Forward In Colorado Springs

snowinCOSIt is early morning and I am in a winter wonderland, snowed in and free to revisit the past few days in Colorado Springs, Colorado. Smiles, excitement, hope: a myriad of positive emotions and shared experiences as the Souns trainings and visits unfold.

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During one visit, a parent stopped us and shared, “I am so thankful for the Souns program my daughter had in the GET SET preschool program [preschool image from the First Presbyterian Church]. She is doing amazing work in kindergarten and loves to learn. She is always writing and reading: writing letters to her dad while he is away and reading (and teaching letter-sounds) to her little brother.” 

The visit to GET SET confirmed further results of Souns. These two preschoolers are exploring their newly discovered ability to sound out words.

 

On Tuesday we had  an energetic, engaging time training 125 CPCD Head Start teachers. There were 5 little ones – ranging from 20 months to three years – to help us demonstrate the practice of Souns for the teachers. It is always surprising for teachers to see that the younger the child the more they gravitate toward Souns. The littlest one did not want to give the letters up at the end of the demonstration…clasping the letters to her chest and shaking her head “NO!” when we asked for them. That is the beginning of learning.

This is the third group to be trained for this collaboration between Head Start and Rotary clubs in Colorado Springs. The three-hour training has now been completed for all the Head Start teachers in the CPCD program. 100% of the classrooms – 2000 children – will have this activity to enhance classroom practices. The back-story to this Rotary/Head Start project is a pilot program implemented in two stages: first one classroom in the spring, then an experimental summer program including eleven classrooms. According to the CPCD program director, the result after seven weeks of Souns (and teachers new to the program) was a 20% increase in literacy scores. Consider future results when preschoolers engage for an entire school year with teachers that have become comfortable with the program. There is such opportunity and promise for these children thanks to CPCD Head Start and Pikes Peak Area Rotary Endowment!

Head Start in COS: Amazing!

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Training is so much fun when those being trained have seen the power of a program. That was the case in Colorado Springs this past week. The CPCD Head Start program, with additional support from a local Rotary foundation, is preparing for a giant leap forward for childhood literacy. A pilot summer session was so promising that more classes requested Souns. Rotary responded, and now Souns is in even more classrooms. The training was filled with enthusiasm, great questions, and comments. Now just to enjoy the process of learning….for both teacher and learners.

The following are candid comments from those involved with the pilot summer program:

This summer I had a great experience with Souns. One child in particular started the program not knowing any letter sounds and by the end of the 6 weeks he was able to write words just by using the sounds of the letters. He also learned how to read simple words by connecting the letter sounds.

● A couple of things really impressed me as I implemented the Souns activities this summer: 1) The children grasped and learned so much in just 7 weeks to the point that by the end of those 7 weeks they were displaying emergent writing skills related to our study. 2) The other thing that impressed me was the simplicity, hands-on, sturdiness, and variety that the Souns activities provided. There is a multitude of ways to work with this tool and provide letter-sound-knowledge-building that our early learners need.

● I supervised the summer classrooms that were pilots for Souns. I was blown away by the learning from the children and the engagement. But, most of all, the enthusiasm from the staff was amazing.

● Things I noted: 1) How we worked as a team 2) A parent told me that she was happy to see her son reading labels at the grocery store.

● I saw the Souns program being utilized successfully in a typical classroom when I first started. During the summer I changed positions and moved to a class for children with behavior issues. At first I was worried that it would not work with these children, but they picked it up very quickly.

● I enjoyed watching how fast the children caught on to how we presented Souns. They enjoyed learning new letters-sounds each week. They wanted to be fed more.

● When one of our kids was registering for kindergarten, the mom was so impressed with how many sounds [her child] knew. Mom had no idea she knew that many! I accredit this success to Souns.

● I saw amazing literacy growth in the children. The children interacted with the Souns letters in many different ways. One of our children was reading early readers by the end of the summer session.

● [Souns is a] meaningful way for children to connect letters and sounds.

● Being part of [a class for behavior issues] I was hesitant to implement the program. The children began responding immediately to the program and made so much progress in so little time – It was easy and we fit it in whenever we could. Loved it!

● I was only involved with Souns as a supervisor. We have been trying for years to get teachers to understand that phonemic awareness comes first. It has been an uphill battle. Souns made this concept CLEAR! The kids understood that the letter shapes represented sounds. Amazing! Put the sounds together and you have words. Change a shape and you change the word. They got it! They really got it!

● I was so amazed at how so many children wanted to [write] words on their own so quickly…and really got excited about it!

● At first it was hard to get things going. At about half way through the summer it was amazing to see everything click!

● I loved how the kids who really got it would help the ones who were struggling through partner games.

● By the 4th week of implementing Souns [we] had a child reading. Rolling out Souns was simple, which helped the children catch on really fast.

I wasn’t in the program, but ALL the teachers I talked to LOVED it and I can say they’ve shared their very positive experiences so much that other teachers are excited to get [the program].

And now for 2014/15!  Thank you, Rotary in Colorado Springs, for providing more Head Start classrooms with Souns! Thank you Rotary Club of Peachtree City, GA, for volunteer trainers.

 

 

Playing To Read!

Playing, such as this

so gently leads to this:

Children are born to learn…to wrench the stuff of life into their own little hands! Exploration, play, and learning are all the same to young children. While we struggle with how to teach them, they are armed with the answer and will gladly show us if we observe.

This three-year old (45 months) has learned letter sounds through play. His imagination has painted this delightful path of learning.

Can learning to read be this simple? This little one would tell you, “Yes!”

“I love working with Souns!”

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Manipulating concrete symbols of our print makes such a difference! Below is a comment from an Orton Gillingham teacher using the Souns materials:

I love working with souns! It adds another kinesthetic aspect to my OG lessons.  Mind and body are working together to write words. For the students I have worked with who have problems with motor skills(handwriting) it has been a relief to be able to write without the added obstacle.

I also love that students can look at what they have written and make changes easily. It lessens the fear of misspelling and correcting when you don’t have to mark through and erase.

Younger children who can’t sit still get to move while they are learning so you can keep them engaged.

As a teacher I love that Souns is so flexible, no matter the concept you can write it out and you always have the right materials. 😃