Though almost everyone believes in “the importance of reading”, it does seem that in today’s world of social media the number of books being read is going down. We may read a lot on the internet, on various online spaces, but for the dedicated reader, the book still holds a special place. Such a reader can never forget the scent of a brand new book, old books with pages turned yellow and delicate with age, and losing all sense of time as one turned page after page – unable to put down a book until one reached the end. These experiences are common to bookworms all over the world.
But how many children today get to experience these things? Those whose parents are themselves fond of reading, and can afford to buy books, may be the ones likeliest to take up reading. For the rest, video and mobile games, the internet and TV might suffice.
In the year 2016-17, I was given charge of our school library. I decided to make full use this opportunity, and began to make my plans.
I wanted to lure students into the world of books via the library. I divided the available books according to readers’ ages. Fairy tales, stories with morals, nursery rhymes, puzzles and other picture-based books were meant for younger children; for older students I set aside biographies and autobiographies of scientists, social reformers and writers, as well as tales to do with the environment, astronomy, science, besides well-known novels, poetry, and books related to choosing a career.
I made sure that the library had adequate seating and was well-lit. Each day, going by the timetable I devised, at least two classes would spend an hour there – visiting the library separately, to avoid overcrowding. The 6th std students were thrilled to see the open bookcases and books laid on the table, as if inviting them to come and read. Once they heard that for the next hour, they had the freedom to choose any book they wanted to read, they rushed eagerly towards the books.
It was the first time these students had been able to handle so many books so freely. Most of them come from small farmer or labouring families, and as their parents are for the most part non-literate it is rare for them to have any books at home. And now the same students who read their text books so reluctantly were engrossed in the library books! The wonder in their eyes was visible as they read the fairy tales, and books such as those about Helen Keller and Naseema Hujruk who overcame their physical disabilities against all odds and achieved so much. As the students read on, I was busy observing their expressions.
Gradually, the students started enjoying the library period. They would look forward to reading the next story, or finishing the half-read one. So much so, they started pleading to be allowed to spend any free period in the library. As they read more, it became impossible for them to wait a whole week for their library period. So we selected 50 books from the library that they could borrow and take home. We have a separate register for these books, which the students themselves maintain. They enter the title of the book, the name of its borrower, and the dates of its issue and return.
The students began making notes about what they had read, what they had liked, and what they had learned. Once the library project had succeeded, I introduced a new activity for the subject that I taught, which was Science. I called it “general reading of science-based books”. For this purpose, I added some of my own books to the library collection, and gathered a few more from other teachers and parents. Soon we had a small collection of books on science: stories about discoveries and inventions; short biographies of scientists; books with scientific games, or simple experiments; some books about Nobel Prize winners. We lent these books out to the students on a weekly basis.
I started noticing some positive changes. When I was teaching the lesson on ‘The Universe’, Megharaj – the naughtiest boy in my class – came to me holding a newspaper cutting. It was a small news item about how a spacecraft had barely missed hitting the moon of Mars, Phobos. Even I had missed that little piece of information! I was pleased to see the sparkle in his eyes as I read out his news.
Vaishnavi had never shown much interest in her studies. But when she visited Lonar Lake, in the Buldhana district, she brought back photos and information about how the lake was formed by a meteor impact. I asked her to read out her information for the class. I also explained that it was a salt water lake, formed thousands of years earlier when after a meteor hit the basalt rock layer. And I told the class how researchers from different parts of the world visit this lake, as it is full of rare species of plants and animals.
The students have started reading the daily newspaper with care and interest, thanks to their newfound reading habits.
Once a month, students are asked to speak on the subject of ‘My General Knowledge’. They talk about the books they have read, information they have gathered, and about how reading has made a difference to them and how it helps to make studying more interesting. This activity has enabled the shy students to overcome their stage fright. One student even wrote and recited a poem about books!
The habit of reading has made them eager to learn new things, and helped improve their vocabulary and grammar. They My students are discovering their own unique styles of writing. They no longer need the help of guide-books to write their essays. Their imagination is blooming. For me, the most important aspect of the success of the reading period activity is that the students have become more curious and inquiring.
Blog & photos: Vaishali Kadam, Teacher, Lanja No. 5, ZP School, Ratnagiri
Translation and editing: samata.shiksha team