By Victoria Jones, Head Librarian
If there is one focus for my sabbatical, it is the importance of reading. While my main project is setting up the library, my fellow Westtown teachers Deb Wood, Marion Dear and I have led a professional development seminar on the Reading Workshop program, teaching ways to increase reading and reading comprehension. The seminar included teachers from Heritage Essiam and Ochiso and two schools in the Volta region. One of the most important materials I used in preparation for the seminar, was Stephen Krashen’s book, The Power of Reading. While the material was last revised in 2004, it still gives a comprehensive overview of the benefits of, in particular, free reading as well as a good summary of the research available at that time. In the seminar we focused on the benefits of reading and demonstrated how the Reading Workshop program functions to allow students to find their “just right” reading level, ensuring that they are reading books that are accessible to them.
As any devoted reader knows, the benefits of reading are numerous. With regard to free reading, it is crucial that students both enjoy and understand the material they are reading. By increasing their time spent reading, students improve their comprehension, spelling and grammar. Reading also helps students’ thinking skills since readers have to process information, predict outcomes, marshal evidence and draw conclusions based on the material. The more reading students do, the better their reading skills. Reading can also be fun and introduces new concepts and ideas to students.
In working with the teachers, it is clear that there are significant challenges to developing effective reading programs. One of the greatest of these challenges is the limited resources available to support such a program. While Heritage Academy is lucky to have thousands of books that have been donated over the years, many of the books have not been readily available because there was no appropriate space to house them and no system for tracking their whereabouts. In other words, Heritage needs a functional library. This is vital because beyond school many students are living in an almost print free environment and so have little chance to practice their reading skills. This problem is further exacerbated by the fact that English is most often not the language spoken at home. The final obstacle is time. Students’ continued academic progress is dependent on their passing the National Exam, so understandably, the curriculum is designed to teach the information needed for the exam. Despite these impediments, all the teachers we worked with clearly believe in the value of reading and are determined to help students reach their full potential.