At The Community Library Project, we’ve informally observed that even though most library members have learned how to decode words in Hindi (and sometimes in English), they seem to read slowly and / or read books that are well below their grade level.
In the spring of 2016, we ran a random screening of reading fluency at The Community Library Project - Sheikh Sarai. The results confirmed what we suspected: most of our members can read, but very few can read as fluently as they should. Our experience and on-site research has broader implications: it suggests that while many Delhi schools teach students to be functional readers, most students cannot read fluently enough for them to be able to engage with text in a meaningful way.
Why It Matters
Though most reading is done silently, oral reading fluency is an important measure of overall reading proficiency. It has been well established that those who are able to read text with appropriate rate and expression are not only able to read more material faster, but also tend to understand what they read better. There are many possible reasons for this relationship, but an important one is that readers who don’t read automatically must use much of their mental energy decoding words; as a result, they tend to have less energy left over for thinking about the meaning of the text they are reading.
We Know What to Do — And it’s Not Difficult!
The good news is that for most readers, research suggests that there is an easy solution to this problem: they need to read more. To test this, in the summers of 2016, 2017, and 2018, we ran intensive 3-week Hindi Reading Fluency Programs. In all three summer programs, we saw significant gains. It truly is the low-hanging fruit of reading instruction for Delhi schools: easy to implement for teachers, research-proven, and all it requires is time, books and commitment.
After the 3 successful pilot programs, we received a grant from Penguin India in the 2019-20 school year, to run this program year round in two of our libraries. The program was designed to provide an intensive six-week intervention where students could practice reading from books of their choice with guidance from a reading specialist. A total of 300 students graduated this year, and about 20 practitioners trained with us on running similar programs in their classrooms. Going forward, we are going to renew the Hindi reading fluency program for a second year at all 4 branches of our library, local schools and other organizations. We are also going to pilot a similar program for English Reading Fluency.
In addition to the Hindi Reading Fluency program, we implemented a ‘Learn to Read’ program to provide assistance to struggling students, through direct instruction on decoding. The program was designed to allow a more focused learning at the students’ appropriate reading level, and is intended as a complementary program to the daily reading practice as part of the reading fluency program. This year about 40 students learnt how to read as part of the ‘Learn to Read’ program.
For those who are interested, we’re happy to meet and share what we know. Here are some places to start: