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.
Earlier this year, the tiny school of La Vega near Patzun, Guatemala started something new for their 40 students. Every Friday, a group of student leaders, called the Gobierno Escolar, selects books from the school’s small library and visits classrooms to distribute the books to their fellow students. The students hand in their ID badges as collateral and are free to take the books home for the weekend to read and share with their parents and siblings.
The weekend lending program seems like a simple idea, but it is revolutionary for the students of La Vega and their families, who rarely have books in their homes. Now students have more time to practice their reading skills and develop a love of reading.
“The students are motivated now and don’t have to be pressured to read on their own,” says La Vega teacher Maily Perez Canu. “Every day they want to exchange books and find something new that interests them.”
It’s also a program that wasn’t possible a until a few months ago.
One of the advantages for schools in participating in Child Aid’s Reading For Life program is they receive high-quality children’s books. The principal at La Vega, Juana Mactzul Mucia, says she has always wanted to do a lending program for her students, but never had enough books in the school to make it possible.
La Vega joined Reading for Life last school year and recieved their first new books in January. Once she had a reliable supply of books through Child Aid, Mactzul Mucia says she finally had the confidence to start loaning them out to students.
“We distribute books to schools and provide training, but we don’t necessarily know how they are going to choose use them,” says Child Aid Country Director John van Keppel. “The key for us is that they are finding ways to get the books closer to the kids so they can use and interact with them. La Vega is a small school, so this weekend lending program is a great solution for them. I especially like that it is helping get the books into the student’s homes where parents can see them.”
“We have had chats with the mothers of every child that they will be bringing books home on the weekends,” says teacher Perez Canu. “Then the mothers are involved in the program. They know to expect that the children will be bringing books home and can make the time to read the books with their children.”
Erita Loyda Parlopez’s son Osbin is a member of the Gobierno Escolar at La Vega and is an enthusiastic reader. She says her two sons bring home books every weekend and Osbin enjoys reading to his baby brother. “He likes all the books,” she says. “I can tell he is thriving because I see the change in his reading ability.”
Weekend lending is an example of ways schools are encouraging students to develop a habit of reading, one of the key objectives of the Reading for Life program.
“The skills of reading have to be practiced,” says van Keppel. “We try to encourage any opportunity for kids to read on their own time and develop a love for reading. Independent reading helps the reader improve their vocabulary, increase comprehension and build the confidence they need to read at higher levels and expand their interests.”
La Vega received it’s second delivery of new books early last month, which included over 800 storybooks and non-fiction books and two bookshelves on wheels to make it easier to move them between classrooms and make them available to students during recess.
Teacher Perez Canu says the recent arrivals have helped the school expand the lending program and have stimulated even more interest in reading in her students.
“During recess, after they have finished their homework, the students often come to get books,” she says. Not all the kids like to play all the time, some like to read. Now it is expected that a child that wants to read can find a book. And they are reading them in the schoolyard and on the swings. It has been really good.”
When Child Aid Country Director John van Keppel and Library Coordinator Carlos Pos visited the library at the public school in Agua Escondida earlier this month, they were thrilled to see the librarian, Clara Luz Mox Umul, and a group of students huddled around a small plastic box. They were using a new checkout system, introduced at a Child Aid librarian training just a few weeks earlier and designed to help promote and facilitate book lending at our partner libraries.
“It’s great to see Clara using the box already and that kids are checking out books,” commented van Keppel as he flipped through the student cards, filled with the names of books they had borrowed. “It’s a simple tool, but one that will hopefully help us get more books in the hands of kids.”
Child Aid’s work with libraries is based on the belief that the more kids have access to books the more opportunities they will have to read and learn. We focus on creating libraries that are resources for literacy in their schools and communities by providing hundreds of high-quality children’s books, including story books, textbooks and reference books.
But even with these additional resources, there can be other barriers. For example, because books in these communities are an expensive and rare resource, rural libraries can be reluctant to lend them out and do not have a reliable circulation system for lending to students. Books can sit on shelves – sometimes behind lock and key – and be inaccessible to readers.
In Child Aid’s librarian trainings, librarians like Clara learn skills to help them make their libraries more accessible to the community. They learn how to transform their libraries into welcoming environments, run programs and activities that promote literacy, and set up systems to lend books to schools, students and community members.
But earlier this year, van Keppel and the Library Development team noticed that the partner libraries were not checking out books to students as much as they had hoped.
“Every library we work with does lending a bit differently,” says van Keppel, “and many do not do it very well.”
Librarians often use a ledger book, writing down each book and its due date chronologically as it is checked out. The process is laborious and makes it difficult to keep track of when books are due and which books are overdue.
“We realized that if we wanted to promote lending, we needed to introduce a system that was easy to use and would be consistent across all our partner libraries.”
So Pos and the rest of the Child Aid staff set to work designing a simple checkout system that would be cheap to set up and easy for librarians to implement. Now every student has a card with their book titles and due dates recorded on a single page. Overdue cards go into a red folder for tracking and reminders, making it easier for librarians to manage their inventories and prevent losses.
“It seems to be working well so far,” says Pos. “I have visited three or four other libraries that have already implemented the lending system. We’ll continue to follow-up with the librarians and make improvements as we go along.”
Van Keppel hopes that having all the libraries on a single system will allow Child Aid’s staff to provide better support to librarians and make lending a routine part of the libraries’ work. It may also set the stage for future improvements such as tracking usage and reading habits of students or creating a digitized checkout system.
It is one of Child Aid’s many small innovations that are helping overcome barriers to literacy in these rural communities and giving students access to the books they need to learn and grow.
How might a teacher in Guatemala say “good morning, how are you?” to a student as they enter the classroom?
In Spanish: “Buenos días, ¿cómo estás?”
In Kaqchikel: “Xsaqer, utz awach?”
In K’iche: “Saqarik, jasmächa?”
In Tz’utujil: “Saqari, utz awach?”
Roughly the size of the state of Ohio, Guatemala is home to just over 14 million people – and an incredible 23 languages. Talk about a communication and teaching challenge! Spanish is the national language used for business and education, while 21 of the 22 other languages have Mayan origins.
Many of the kids we work with grow up speaking only a Mayan language at home. When students head off to school for the first time, it’s like stepping into a new world with a brand new language: Spanish. Moreover, many teachers don’t speak the students’ native language. This language barrier coupled with inadequate reading and classroom materials presents a real hardship for both students and teachers. Many indigenous students feel lost from the moment they start their education. Guatemala’s school system does little to address this problem. And while most students learn Spanish as they go along in class; those who are unable to typically drop out of school.
In order to reach all students and improve reading skills, Child Aid not only provides books and materials to teachers but also hires literacy trainers who are fluent in the local Mayan language of the region where we work (e.g. Kaqchikel, K’iche, and Tz’utujil). Our staff uses techniques which help teachers learn how to take a bilingual approach to in their lesson planning and teaching.
For example, a teacher starts the lesson in the students’ native language, uses a book or reading material mostly in Spanish, then enters into a discussion between students in their native language, ending with a lesson review in Spanish. This technique helps students develop literacy skills in their own language while also helping them fully understand and incorporate Spanish materials.
By using both Spanish and local Mayan languages in teaching activities, staff and teachers find they are able to teach with more enthusiasm and confidence, and the kids are more engaged, inspired and successful in class.
Erick Patzán Ramírez is a hard worker. Now 17 and in his fifth (or junior) year at Pedro Molina High School, Erick wants to use his academic skills and knowledge to pursue a career in Computer Technology after graduation. The oldest of four siblings, Erick is on track to be the first of his family to finish school.
Erick’s value of “work hard to reach your goals in life” was encouraged early on by his parents. His family runs a small bakery out of their home in La Alameda, Chimaltenango. After school, Erick and his siblings help his father prepare and sell bread. His mother works as a housemaid during the day and returns home to work in the bakery after hours.
Because families such as Erick’s lack the financial resources for their kids to continue beyond primary school, many drop out so they can help provide more immediate support for their family. Most never even begin high school, let alone finish.
Erik is able to go to school because of a scholarship he receives through FUNDIT, Child Aid’s non-profit partner in the town El Tejar, Guatemala. FUNDIT (Foundation for the Integral Development of El Tejar) consists of a Montessori-type preschool, a community library, a music program and the Ethical Bean Scholarship Fund, which serves primary, middle and high school age kids.
Named after the Vancouver, BC coffee company that supports it, the Ethical Bean Scholarship Fund helps over 100 Guatemalan students like Erick pay for books, uniforms, school fees and supplies. Scholarship students are also encouraged to participate in volunteer and mentoring activities in other FUNDIT programs.
Last month, Erick volunteered the most hours of any scholarship student in the El Tejar library. “Erick is a big contributor and helps out all year long with our library’s reading program,” says Silvia García, FUNDIT’s Executive Director. “Erick loves school. He wants to study and graduate so he can make a better life for himself and his family.”
Because of the educational opportunities provided by Child Aid and the Ethical Bean Scholarship Fund, Erick’s dreams will soon become a reality, and he can help his family break the cycle of poverty. Way to go, Erick!