Luis Vicente Saminez teaches fourth grade at Rafael Tellez Garcia Primary School in Solola, Guatemala. In 2016, Child Aid joined with his school to bring books, teacher training and Literacy Trainer Edgar Garcia, who gives one-on-one support and guidance to Luis and his students. In this video, Luis shares how he and his students have changed thanks to Child Aid.
In his 14 years as a teacher and principal, Romeo Sen Quino says he’s been to lots of trainings and generally found them a waste of time. So when he attended his first Child Aid training workshop a few years ago, he came prepared.
“I usually prefer to bring something else to keep me busy,” he says, “like my phone or a newspaper to read. Because our typical trainings are boring and they just tell us things we should do.”
“But when I arrived at the Child Aid training, I immediately set those things aside. At that moment, I was so excited — I thought, ‘I’m going to learn something good, something useful.” And that’s exactly what I’m doing – learning and then putting it into practice.”
Romeo teaches 3rd and 4th grade in the rural community of Sucún and has been participating in the Reading for Life program since 2015. He says he and the seven other teachers in his school appreciate the books, practical techniques and support they have received from Child Aid. It has helped them create a new atmosphere in the school and make changes that have improved the learning environment for their students.
“In Guatemala, they tell the teacher, ‘Do this,’ but no one teaches them how. They say, ‘Here are the tools you use to teach reading,’ but no one ever teaches us how to use them. For me, this doesn’t work. They just tell us to do something and at the end they want a report of how the students have improved.”
“But with [Child Aid], it isn’t like that. We are always excited to go to the Child Aid trainings because we’re interested in learning the techniques, the strategies, the methods and all the tools that they give us. Child Aid gives us a step-by-step guide to have successful results. These are the things that are strengthening and helping us.”
Romeo has seen many positive changes in his students, especially in their enthusiasm for reading.
“It’s no longer necessary to obligate them to read,” he says. “Before, the students weren’t interested in reading, because for one, we didn’t have any interesting books. But since Child Aid has come, now we have a lot of great books that are about movies that the kids have already seen on TV – like Spiderman – and they are excited to read because they are already familiar with the stories. In the classrooms, when the students arrive in the morning, they don’t just sit down. They go straight for the books to find something to look at.
“There are a lot of books that allow them to relate what they do [in their lives] to what they see in the books. They say, ‘Teacher, I did this and now I see it in this book!’ or ‘I saw this book and then I went to try it myself!’ They’ve done it before or they read something in a book and then they go to do it in their own lives. These are great experiences when the kids do that.”
Romeo says his experiences with Child Aid have changed his own attitude toward learning and teaching. He is bringing books home to share and read with his young son and daughter. He and the other teachers in his school have started a monthly reading club to discuss the books they’ve read and the connections they’ve found with their own lives and experiences. And he says he has learned to adapt his approach to teaching so that all his students can participate in the learning process.
“I always tell them that we are learning together. I say that I am a child, too, and every day I come to be able to learn with them. The kids are happy because we teachers feel like a part of them. We don’t come as bigger and better than them, but rather when we come to class, we are students as well.”
Three of Child Aid’s newest Reading for Life schools are also some of the most remote. The tiny communities of Xeatan Alto, Chuinimachicaj, and Chichoy Bajo are located in the mountains high above Lake Atitlan in the state of Chimaltenango. Because of the altitude, it is cold and foggy much of the year, and the crops in this agricultural area are typically corn and beans as well as onions, carrots, and broccoli. This is one of Guatemala’s poorest regions and families must scrape by on a few dollars a day — barely enough for food and the basic necessities of life.
“Working in the smaller rural schools is a priority for us because those students and teachers face the biggest challenges. Not only are they in some of the poorest and most disadvantaged communities, they typically get the least amount of support,” says Child Aid Country Director Angus Fredenburg.
Life in these communities can often seem shut off from the outside world. The community of Xeatan Alto, for example, is a 45 minute bus trip down to the nearest town of Patzun. Most people speak only the local indigenous language of Kaqchikel and rarely travel outside their local area.
This sense of isolation is even more acute for the teachers working in these communities.
Not only do they have very little training and few resources to work with, they rarely have opportunities to meet and exchange ideas with other teachers outside of their own school.
“Because of their location, teachers in rural schools get very little supervision or support from school district officials,” says Fredenburg. “They are often forced to figure things out on their own, which can be really frustrating and dispiriting. So the opportunity to gather for a workshop and interact with teachers from other schools can be an exciting experience if it’s done right.”
A few weeks ago, nine teachers from the three schools gathered for their very first Child Aid workshop, which most of the teachers said was different than what they expected going in.
“The [Ministry of Education’s] teacher workshops are all the same,” says second grade teacher Linsa Yos Cocon. “We receive information in a lecture and we talk about the same things, but we don’t have any way to use them so nothing changes.”
Child Aid workshops give participants a very different training experience, getting them out of their chairs and actively involved in the learning process.
In this first Reading for Life workshop, Literacy Trainer Heidy Coyote focused on the theme of “Reading for Comprehension.” Teachers learned a variety of tools they can use to develop students’ basic literacy skills including read-alouds, interactive reading and how to discuss the characteristics of good readers with their students. The workshop also introduced teachers to Child Aid’s educational philosophy, which emphasizes collaborative learning and the importance of students becoming independent learners and critical thinkers.
Teachers practiced doing read alouds in front of the group, trying out new techniques for engaging students while developing their comprehension skills. They participated in discussions about reading strategies and worked together in small groups to develop their first read aloud lesson plans.
“When teachers come to their first workshop, we see that at the beginning many are reluctant to participate because they are not sure what to expect,” says Lead Child Aid Trainer Graciela Pichiya. “In the formal [Ministry of Education] trainings, they give teachers the theory but don’t teach them how to teach. When we show them strategies and techniques like “read aloud” or “guided reading” to support the children and help them learn, it changes their attitude toward the training. So by the second or third workshop they are very enthusiastic and participating a lot.”
“[The workshop] had more activity and more fun than I expected,” says teacher Carlos Xinico Tum. “I was surprised by that. We broke into groups and did different activities to use the techniques ourselves. This is not like any workshop we normally attend.”
Kindergarten teacher Marta Patal Batz was particularly interested in the read aloud techniques and strategies presented in workshop, and said she was already thinking about how she could use them with her students.
“I do read alouds in my classroom, but I never used them for anything more than reading,” she says. “With the techniques that this workshop taught us, I can start using read alouds as a way to teach content and reading comprehension. That will be very helpful to me.”
The next step for these teachers is a one-on-one coaching session with a literacy trainer. The trainer will visit their classroom and demonstrate the activities they’ve learned with their own students. “Teachers say that the follow-ups are what make the program special,” says Literacy Trainer Marilena Ixen. “They often don’t fully understand what they’ve learned in a workshop until they see it modeled in their classrooms.”
For this group of new Reading for Life teachers, the combination of workshops and coaching will continue throughout their Child Aid training, helping them become more skilled and confident teachers.
On the first Monday of August last year, the school in the small rural community of Xejolon opened the doors of their school library to students for the first time. The library is set up in a small classroom with a few shelves of books, displays organized into themes and a reading corner. It is a modest space but a big accomplishment for the school of 200 students and six teachers.
Libraries are rare in Guatemalan schools like Xejolon. Most school have far too few books and the teachers often have little training or experience with basics of running a library, such as categorizing books or book lending. But a library is a valuable resource for students who are learning to read. It provides a space where they can explore and discover new books and spend time outside of class reading for pleasure.
The new library in Xejolon is the result of the hard work and enthusiasm of Blanca Tzirin Chicol who, in addition to teaching first grade, is also in charge of the school’s reading committee.
Blanca says that she and the principal had wanted to set up a library for students for some time but never had enough books or space available in the school to open a library before.
“The books we had were very old,” she says. “And we didn’t have any ideas about how to start a library because we had never received any training.”
In addition to running workshops and and coaching sessions with teachers, Child Aid’s team of trainers work closely with schools to help them set up important literacy programs like libraries, classroom reading corners and book clubs. The goal is to build a culture of reading and literacy within the school so that students have many opportunities to read throughout the day.
Thanks to the hundreds of new books provided by Child Aid and the support and encouragement of literacy trainer Marilena Ixen, Blanca and her principal decided earlier this year that they had what they needed to get to work.
Blanca spent several weeks planning and preparing to open the library. She organized and labeled the books, classifying them by theme and reading levels. Using cardboard boxes donated by the teachers, she created shelves and displays so the books for each topic could seen by students and be easily accessible.
Blanca says she wants the library to be a pleasant and comfortable place for reading for students. She added a reading corner and a games corner to the library and invites students to come during recess to read and play.
She also hopes that the library will become a resource for other teachers, encouraging them to come to the library to find new titles to integrate into their lessons.
“I’ve done all of this because I know that children love books,” says Blanca. “I can see it in the huge smiles on the face of every child that reads a book. I am convinced that only through reading will children develop different skills, since books are like a magical world that invites them to imagine and dream new things.”
See the excitement of students and teachers as a delivery of new books arrives for the local school in the town of Cerro de Oro, Guatemala. Each school participating in Child Aid’s teacher training and literacy program, Reading for Life, receives a donation of books each year, providing a vital and treasured resource for the schools. The books are used in classroom instruction and to provide students more opportunities to read and develop their skills.
For a child who is learning how to read, having a skilled and effective teacher is critical to her success. An effective teacher can make reading engaging and fun, uses questions to stimulate conversation and critical thinking and adapts their techniques to the needs of their students.
But today, schools in Guatemala face a chronic shortage of skilled and effective teachers. Many Guatemalan teachers have little training in literacy instruction and often struggle to move beyond traditional techniques of rote learning and memorization.
Through its intensive, four-year teacher training program, Child Aid’s is transforming how reading and literacy are taught in Guatemalan classrooms and helping teachers become more confident and effective educators.
In this video, visit a teacher training workshop in Guatemala to see how Child Aid is helping teachers learn practical techniques for developing the comprehension and critical thinking skills that are critical to literacy and learning. After the workshop, Child Aid trainer Marilena Ixen visits a classroom for a one-on-one coaching session, helping the teacher integrate and adapt what she has learned into her classroom instruction.
This process of modeling and practicing helps teachers put theory into practice quickly and effectively and gives them the skills and experience they need to achieve better outcomes for their students.
In Guatemalan classrooms, the traditional methods of reading instruction focus on memorization and decoding. Students learn to read simple sentences but often do not understand what they are reading. In this video, see how Child Aid’s teacher training program is transforming how reading and literacy are taught in Guatemala. In our training workshops, teachers learn practical techniques to help students become better readers, writers and learners.
Visit a classroom, where teacher Demetria Estacuy de Leon is using read-aloud techniques she learned from Child Aid to help her first grade students understand and remember details of a story. Students mimic her actions while she reads, responding to questions and practicing the habits of good readers.
When teachers in Guatemala join Child Aid’s literacy training program, one of the first techniques they learn is how to read aloud to their students. Story time is a natural place to engage kids in reading and introduce them to the joys and habits of good readers. When a teacher reads with expression and enthusiasm, they are helping students feel the emotions of the characters, the changes in action, and the most exciting, saddest, or happiest events. A read aloud session is also an opportunity for students to begin to develop the reading comprehension and critical thinking skills that will help them become active and engaged readers and learners.
- How to retain information and remember details about what you’ve read.
- How to interpret a story and connect it to your own experience.
- How to analyze information, comparing, contrasting and evaluating what you’ve read.
- How to create your own story out of your own knowledge and experience.
These skills are vital components of literacy and learning. Without them, students struggle to make the transition from learning to read to reading to learn. “I live for reading with the kids,” says Demetria. “When I am doing a reading, I have to use my imagination and creativity with them. It has helped me a lot because I see their achievements and how much they enjoy the reading.”
As the district supervisor for the San Antonio Palopo school district, Edwin Yaxón has a big vision for the future. He hopes that someday soon, every student in his district will have the opportunity to break the cycle of illiteracy and learn to read.
It’s a tall order in a rural, impoverished district like San Antonio Palopo, where many students are forced to leave school early to work and help support their families. But in his three years as district supervisor, Yaxón has taken numerous steps to stress the importance of literacy and improve the quality of education in his schools, including developing a growing partnership with Child Aid.
Yaxón first participated in Child Aid’s Reading for Life trainings as teacher and, since becoming district supervisor in 2011, has been one of the program’s strongest advocates. This year, Yaxón took the unprecedented step of inviting Child Aid to bring the Reading for Life program to every primary school in his district and has worked closely with us to ensure its long-term success.
Yaxón spoke to Child Aid recently about his own experiences in the training workshops, the importance of getting school principals involved and his hopes for building a culture of literacy in his schools and community.
When was the first time you worked with Child Aid and what do you remember about that experience?
I participated in Child Aid trainings for two years when I was a sixth grade teacher at the Agua Escondida school, before I became District Supervisor. We worked on various teaching techniques around reading. I liked it very much. I remember very well the techniques we learned like “Asi no es. Como es” (“It’s not like that. How is it?”) and the “Word Wall” because it was the first time we had worked with them. It also helped us quite a bit to learn to read aloud in the classroom and how to make reading a happy and fun time for students. So the trainings were an experience that helped us a lot.
As teachers, I think many times we understand the concepts and techniques for teaching reading but we don’t apply them in the classroom. So the experience of participating in the Child Aid workshops adds a bit of pressure. Because when a colleague is nearby, working alongside you, you are more motivated to do it.
Why did you decide to invite Child Aid to bring the “Reading for Life” program to all the primary schools in your district?
When I became the supervisor, I hired one of our teachers to come work for me as an assistant so he could do work in the field. Because at times, with all the administrative work I have to do, I don’t have time to leave the office. He was the best teacher that we had in Agua Escondida, very diligent and hard-working. He began to work in all of the schools and we proposed a goal that he promote two literacy techniques with every teacher. I was also talking with Child Aid about the possibility that they could help us with materials for all of the schools because at the time they were only working in a couple of our schools.
So in the wake of that experience in 2012, I remember thinking, ‘If Child Aid can work with two schools why can’t they work in the entire district so that all the schools are involved?’ That was at the root of it because we realized that we needed more materials and support. And the teachers needed a bit of a push.
What changes are you making to help implement this program across the entire district?
Although the principals consent to have Reading for Life in their schools, they often do not participate in the workshops, only the teachers. And while Child Aid is working with the teachers, the school principals need be a support for the teachers.
So I’ve put together a leadership team of some of my principals whom I chose because of their qualities and the abilities they have. We are working directly with Child Aid to help prepare the principals to promote literacy in the schools. I am very excited about it and I hope that we come up with many ideas to motivate the rest of the principals.
Soon we will be working a lot with reading in the schools. We are working now on the organization of the books, doing reading activities and competitions, both with the teachers and students, as well as involving the parents.
I feel the work we are doing is already making a difference and motivating teachers. For example, in Xequistel today I saw many teachers planning their reading lessons. And before, they never did any planning. So now the teachers already know what activities they will do, what books to read, what tools to use. This is significant because it is like a seed we are planting now that in five or six years will be sustainable. It is our hope that, for all of the schools in our community, it will bring good results.
What changes do you hope to see in your students and teachers as a result of the ‘Reading for Life’ program?
I hope to see better readers. This is the goal of the Ministry of Education and this is my objective. Right now, I see it in some schools but not all. I see many schools with kids that can’t read. They can read the words but they don’t understand what they are reading.
So I want to come to a point where the district of San Antonio is different from the others in that we have a culture of reading here. Because a student’s routine right now is to read because they have to, not because they like to read. And what I would like is one day for a student to come and say ‘I’ll take this book because I want to read it.’ At a minimum they would read five books a year by their own choice. Not because the teacher asks them to or tells them they have to.
I believe that if a student is a good reader, if they have a good habit of reading, they will always have a hope of being successful. Reading allows a child to develop as a student and expand the scope of his opportunities and continue with his studies, including finishing primary school, continuing to basico [middle school], having a career and becoming a good person in the community.
For the teachers, it is the same idea. I want to see more interest and motivation in teachers. There are good teachers in some, but not all, of the schools. At times, the teacher arrives and says to the students “Take out your books and read page 5 while I sit over here.” This is a different teacher than I want, understand? We want them to read and work with the kids.
There also needs to be an awakening of interest in reading in the teacher. Because if the teacher is a good reader, they will transmit this interest to their students.
What would you say to other district supervisors about your experiences working with Child Aid?
Actually, I was talking about it recently at meeting of district supervisors. I was saying that we have a big vision for our district because Child Aid is working with us. They are helping us strengthen our work and meet the goals and objectives of the Ministry of Education. Often these objectives and goals are only recommendations to directors and their supervisors. The Ministry doesn’t focus well on providing resources. For the supervisors, this is a bit difficult to handle on their own. They need a team, like the one Child Aid has, with a good organization, with techniques that are working in each of the schools and a good foundation established.
I am very grateful to Child Aid, firstly for working with the first schools in our district and now allowing us to work with all of the schools. I think my message for other municipalities and other supervisors is that Child Aid comes to complement the work and the goals of the Ministry of Education. In the times when the Ministry can’t give the support, Child Aid is able to provide the extra push.
The Child Aid staff does a tremendous variety of activities in their work promoting literacy in Guatemala. They run training workshops, distribute books, provide one-on-one support for teachers and librarians, work with students and even pitch in to help label and organize books from time to time. Watch this slide show to see the Child Aid staff in action and learn about the many ways they are making a difference in Guatemalan communities.
In the communities of rural Guatemala, storybooks in children’s homes are extremely rare and many parents are illiterate. So when an adult sits down to read a book aloud to a group of kids, it is a time of magic and joy. Kids crowd around the reader, eager to see the pictures and hear stories of far-away places and new adventures. For many, storytime is where their love of reading begins.
It’s also where Child Aid begins with it’s training of new teachers and librarians in our efforts to help them promote literacy and improve students’ reading skills. In our literacy trainings, we show them how to make read alouds fun and interactive and provide techniques they can use to develop students’ vocabularies, comprehension and critical thinking skills.
In honor of World Read Aloud Day on March 5th, members of Child Aid’s Literacy Training Team share some of they ways they make story time fun, engaging and educational.