In an era of selfies, 140-character communications and ‘the article as a slide show’, here’s how Cathedral Junior School is encouraging little tablet-swiping fingers to enthusiastically flip through the pages of good, old-fashioned books
The Junior School library is a large, airy room with streaming sunlight and shelf-lined walls crammed with books bearing the most delightful titles. A wander through the heritage building reveals that each classroom not only has a Smart Board system, complete with an Internet connection and projector, but also houses its own mini library of well-thumbed books. Clearly, this is a place where adults are working hard to get young minds excited about reading.
The Junior School Headmistress, Mrs. S. Ganguly, who started the school’s pioneering Reading Programme (RP) in 2007, is a firm believer in the lifelong benefits of a reading habit. She envisioned providing children “a free space without classroom-style agendas or expectations of comprehension” where they view reading as play, not work. The RP aims to promote fluency, frequency and the enjoyment of reading, while simultaneously building literary confidence.
As with any initiative, the programme encountered some early stumbling blocks, including the challenge of burdening teachers. A viable solution presented itself in the form of parents who are ardent readers and are keen to share their love of books with children. Through a stringent application process that includes an extensive questionnaire, Mrs. Ganguly personally selects a team of parents in sync with the programme’s philosophy. Each volunteer parent mentors a group of six children, conducting fortnightly Book Club sessions to encourage active sharing of reading experiences. Through the year, they explore different genres including fiction, non-fiction and verse, and children are encouraged to choose additional library books at their own reading level. Hindi sessions, author interactions and class activities enhance the experience. While it is difficult to measure tangible success, parents have reported that previously reluctant readers are enticed into reading for pleasure and continue to do so for years.
Ardent young readers benefit too, since RP activities help focus attention, an important skill for fluent readers who may be tempted to race through their books. Concentration and increased attention spans are important for kids who will soon be immersed in short posts, chat messages and tweets. With multiple information sources, tomorrow’s youth will need to be intelligent consumers of media, able to sift through reams of material to discern authenticity in the clamour of information overload. It is heartening then that learning to find your own voice starts early, with the RP inviting children to share observations, form personal opinions and articulate their views.
Possibly one of the best outcomes of reading books is the development of rich imaginary worlds. The RP encourages young readers to tap into their creativity by drawing favourite parts of stories, creating new book covers, writing alternative endings to stories or acting as they imagine a particular character would.
Studies show that children and teenagers who read for pleasure have better academic results and larger vocabularies; and books certainly serve as entertainment, providing tranquillity and stress relief. But many reading enthusiasts point to a deeper reason they cherish the habit —books can be wonderful tools in a journey of self-discovery, bridging time and geography to connect with minds, enabling a greater understanding of the world. It is hoped that reading programmes such as this one will gift the next generation all those benefits, raising voracious readers who live in a world of shortform digital communication but still have their social media feeds peppered with ‘shelfies’ of their beloved book collections.
– Miel Sahgal (ISC 1989)