Hidden treasure lies beneath the surface of Reading Circle, certainly a lot more than I anticipated. My experience at St. Anthony’s College on a Wednesday evening has led me to believe that Reading Circle is integral to the ALTA programme.
At first, I saw Reading Circle as an opportunity to get students to discover the joy of reading. We read books mostly from ALTA’s library, newspaper articles and we took turns to read inspirational stories which kept the students motivated. It was a time to learn about the life experiences of different people and broaden their horizons. The classes were stimulating and enjoyable as we would always take a few minutes to talk about triumph over difficulties and the soaring of the human spirit.
When students did not recognize a word, we would cover and reveal it syllable by syllable as we had been trained to do to show syllable division in action. Often we would come across phonics they had cards for, so we used the opportunity to reinforce the sound in the word. I observed that the students were more willing to plod through words when the story was interesting.
We would pause and discuss the reading material. They enjoyed the discussion particularly when they could relate to it. I noticed too that while reading they were automatically applying the phonics and internalizing other rules. On one occasion without any prompting, a student who had been struggling with suffixing pointed out the drop e rule as the words ‘drive’ and ‘driving’ had appeared in the same paragraph. This alerted me to the value of simply seeing the words in print and within the context of an interesting story. In the ALTA class, much time was spent on suffixing rules but here the student was able to spot the rule on her own when she discovered it in the passage. Application is a key stage of learning.
What then are the benefits of the Reading Circle? Reading for enjoyment in a relaxed setting allows students the opportunity to apply the skills acquired in the tutoring classes. They can apply rules and phonics much the same way we speak a language without consciously applying rules. During the reading process they get a chance to internalize the phonics as they listen to themselves. They absorb the sounds of the letters and this helps tremendously in sounding out words.
Like learning a new language, immersion integrates the skills learnt and makes the words come alive. For example, when the two sounds for ‘ow‘ appear in one sentence, the student combines the two skills of using context and phonics to make the right pronunciation reinforcing both skills. I strongly believe Reading Circle is the missing link for many students who may rattle off the phonic cards but are unable to apply this to read words.
Reading Circle caters to differing needs. One student repeated Level 2 several times but did not appear to be making progress. She has since stopped doing ALTA classes but attends Reading Circle twice a week going to two venues. She enjoys putting the syllables together and hearing herself string the words into sentences. She knew her phonics before, but seemed unable to apply them. She has definitely benefitted from Reading Circle. Though as she herself recognizes she is better on some days than on others, her reading has improved.
Another student, who moved up from Level 1 and is now in Level 2 for the first time, has been attending Reading Circle consistently. He is putting syllables and sounds together and his reading is progressing slowly, but steadily. I think he is definitely benefitting from Reading Circle. He now reads simple books from ALTA’s library quite fluently and this has been a boost to his confidence and self-esteem. He is aware of his improvement and this motivates him to press on. He is no longer daunted by long words, but will attempt to break them into syllables and sound them out.
Then there is a student who is repeating Level 2 and is now determined to move to Level 3. He is the best example of the benefits of Reading Circle. In his first year at Level 2 he missed a lot of the tutoring classes and there was not much improvement. Once he started Reading Circle however, his reading improved tremendously and he was himself amazed by his progress. This was a huge motivator for him and he comes consistently to classes both tutoring and Reading Circle.
It is interesting to note that once he began to string syllables into words, then words into sentences, he began reading with expression. On his own volition he would reread a sentence making the effort to change his intonation appropriately and pause at the end of a sentence. It is evident that his improvement in reading has impacted his writing skills. His spelling and his ability to express himself and get his thoughts to flow on paper has definitely improved. While reading, at times he would whip out a book and write words like ‘through’ and ‘thought’ and work out the difference. His progress has been quite impressive and the best part is that the more he improves, the more he pushes himself.
Rosemarie, an ALTA Reading Circle Guide has also been an ALTA Tutor since 2013.
Tell someone you know about Reading Circle! Encourage them to become a Reading Circle Guide. Our guides assist ALTA students with their reading in an informal setting once a week for two hours. We have venues in Port of Spain, East, Central and South Trinidad. Contact us for more information.