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Reading Strategies in the Elementary Classroom

March 22, 2016 In Malawi Blog
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Recently, the library on the second floor of Longfellow Elementary School in Sheboygan has been the site of special relationships built around reading. The Malawian graduate students have come twice a week for several weeks to Longfellow to lead after-school reading enhancement for students in grades 1 through 5. They've put into practice an array of teaching approaches learned in ED 792 Reading: Instructional Strategies taught by Geralyn Leannah (early intervention lead reading teacher at Longfellow school) and Lori Roelse (data coach at Jefferson and Pigeon River schools), both adjunct instructors in Lakeland's M.Ed. program.

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At one table, the children are playing with the prefix "re." A girl who looks to be about seven tells me, "Re is a prefix that means backwards or again. You use it in front of a word to do it over. Reuse, repay, replay. Return means you come back." A boy about the same age reads me his sentence, "I repaint my picture because I messed up and need to do it again." The laughter and enthusiasm of the children sitting with their teacher, Margaret Mandala, reminds me how rewarding and refreshing it is to unlock the secrets of words.

Margaret said, "My experience at Longfellow has been really satisfying. I had a lot of fun seeing the children successfully completing tasks which I had prepared for them using the different strategies." As Frank Mbwana outlined for me later, those strategies included phonemic awareness, vocabulary, fluency, decoding, comprehension, and learner response. Frank said, "The children had fun reading stories and at the same time, playing around with words…The experience will be a lifetime memory for me, as I was able to interact with learners from a different background."

Nearby, two fifth-graders sit with Mavuto Chiwale. They are constructing sentences with words like "imply" and "realization." First, Mavuto has them define the word they have selected. "What does 'imply' mean?" he asks his young learner. "Imply means that you say something without really saying it," the boy answers and then shares the following sentence: "The way the teacher looks at me implies I am doing a good job."

Elsewhere in the room, children are sounding out words in books about whales, owls, and the A to Z of grandmothers. Mike Kumwamba is having the children look carefully at the illustration on the cover of one book and asking them to predict what they think the story is going to be about, based on what they can see. With Yowasi Nkhambala, the students are deciding who is going to read the part of the mouse in a short play and who will be the wind. With Aleme Chitanje, the students are exploring a text about a superhero, taking turns reading aloud line by line. Everywhere, reading is happening.

Instructor Geralyn Leannah shared her thoughts about the experience. "The Malawi students have demonstrated their passion and enthusiasm for literacy and learners time and again over the past month and a half,” she said.  “With humor and diligence they have drawn out the very best in their young charges during the After School Program tutoring sessions.  It is amazing how fluidly they have adapted the learning from Lakeland into seamless practice at Longfellow."

Not only are the Lakeland graduate students learning more about how to teach reading, they also have had the chance to develop friendships. Henderson Ngwira noted, "There has been a warm reception every time we arrive at Longfellow school. The interaction with the children has been very good, and all the teachers are warm and supportive."

Regarding the overall experience at Longfellow, Edson Dzimwe commented, "It has been great and I've really enjoyed the opportunity to work with the children on reading comprehension, trying out the various teaching strategies. I look forward to taking this home with me."

Based on what I heard and saw, I'm sure all eleven graduate students would agree.

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This post is written by Lisa Vihos on behalf of Lakeland College. The program is made possible by the generous support of the American people through the United States Agency for International Development (USAID). The contents of this blog are the responsibility of Lakeland College and do not necessarily reflect the views of the USAID or the United States Government.

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