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Tackling South Africa’s deepening literacy crisis

by | Nov 15, 2021 | Homepage Featured, News, Schools

There is an ongoing need to promote emergent literacy, especially among under-served schools that do not have adequate resources. As an educational publisher, how does Oxford University Press provide support for interventions to improve literacy, especially in the critical Foundation Phase?

Oxford University Press South Africa has a variety of reading schemes that covers the full range of literacy needs experienced in our diverse market. However, our flagship reading scheme, Aweh!, has been purpose built for the local market and acts as intervention support in the following ways:

Aweh! provides texts that are levelled according to locally developed reading levels that match the scope and pace of the CAPS curriculum – this means that the children read material at their independent reading level i.e. text relatively easy for the child to read. Aweh! also includes Big Books which are designed for the teacher to use with the class or with groups of learners. Big Books are written to the next reading level so that the teacher can model reading the book and can teach all new vocabulary. The child will never meet a word in a Reader that has not been used in the corresponding Big Book or a previous Big Book that has been read with the teacher.

Example of Big Book text to Reader text

The vocabulary chosen is based on locally produced wordlists

These wordlists were created by looking at locally spoken and written words and words found in the Foundation Phase classroom and needed for the Intermediate Phase classroom. This is a major intervention as the child is learning to read the words in the Foundation Phase that they will need to understand the content in the Intermediate Phase classroom.

When making the isiZulu and isiXhosa Readers, we were aware that the Nguni languages words, being conjunctive in nature, meant that the child was reading far more syllables than an English-speaking child reading within that same reading level. We undertook research where we translated English texts into isiZulu, isiXhosa, Afrikaans and Setswana to create a mathematical formula to determine our number of words per page rules. This led to rules determining fluency rates and not including more words on a page than what a child reading fluently in a Nguni language could read in one minute. This is an important intervention as this information was not available at the time.

The Aweh! Readers are a hybrid between a picture book (the books you buy at a bookshop or find at the library with full page artwork) and a traditional graded reader. Because the majority of our children are not exposed to picture books at home, Aweh! gives them access to fun, child-centred artwork that helps develop their imagination. The story is then fully supported by the engaging artwork. This acts as an intervention to bridge the gap created by no access to picture books and will motivate children to love reading.

Example of a Grade 3 Level 12 hybrid Reader with storybook artwork and graded text

Aweh! IsiZulu Home Language Grade 3 Level 12 Reader 2: Isifiso sendlovukazi (ISBN 9780190436117)

PIRLS 2016 recommended that children are exposed to a variety of literature. Aweh! supports this intervention by including stories that cover 12 genres of literature. Children need to read stories that follow different narrative patterns and so it is essential that they read fables, fairy tales, African folklore as well as non-fiction texts, and more. These stories are illustrated by different artists so that the texts aren’t predictable, but are always interesting to read.

Example of a fable

Aweh! IsiZulu Home Language Grade 1 Level 2 Reader 2: Ubuhlakani bukaFano (ISBN 9780190439675)

Example of a legend

Aweh! IsiXhosa Home Language Grade 1 Level 2 Reader 4: USihawu yiqhawe (ISBN 9780190427849)

Example of a fantasy story

Aweh! English Grade 2 Level 8 Reader 7: Dragon and the Fantasy Land heroes (ISBN 9780190428556)

Literacy consists of being able to read, speak and write successfully. Therefore Aweh! includes a creative writing activity at the end of each Reader because as our CAPS curriculum correctly states: “Where possible, the Shared Reading text should inform the Shared Writing.” (p. 12)

Examples of creative writing activities linked to Readers

Teacher support is offered by way of the Teaching Notes

General guidance on how to teach reading is offered as an intervention if the teacher needs this support, and each Reader has guidance on how to approach the teaching of comprehension strategies using that particular Reader. This content is laid out in a user-friendly manner and is written in accessible language.

Example of teacher guidance found in the Aweh! Teaching Notes

Aweh! English Grade 3 Levels 9 to 12 Teaching Notes (ISBN 9780190417352)

One of the many obstacles to literacy and reading with comprehension is the lack of age-appropriate reading material in schools, as well as the shortage of books in learners’ home language. How is Oxford University Press addressing this?

Age appropriate reading material is essential. What makes the material age appropriate is multifaceted and Oxford’s flagship reading scheme, Aweh! meets all these requirements.

Low-level high-interest Readers are the key – the reading material must have a high interest value for the child. It must have a story that is fun to read with engaging artwork. But the text must be low level, that is, the text must be meaningful but must be written to the child’s independent reading level so that they can read with confidence and enjoyment. Aweh! has storybook-like artwork that will attract the child’s imagination and interest while the text has been written to carefully developed reading levels managing word counts, placement of text and the complexity of the story.

Example of a low-level high-interest isiZulu Reader

Aweh! IsiZulu Home Language Grade 1 Level 1 Reader 8: ULolo uya emkhathini (ISBN 9780190430825)

A second component of an age appropriate text is the type of vocabulary that is used. Aweh! has been developed according to curriculum facing wordlists that are South African and include words the child is meeting in their Life Skills and Mathematics lessons. This is a major intervention as the child is learning to read the words in the Foundation Phase that they need to understand in the Intermediate Phase classroom.

Example of curriculum words used in an English Reader

Aweh! English Grade 3 Level 10 Reader 3: Professor Bumblebee, the insects and the planet of nectar (ISBN 9780190438234)

The Aweh! Readers are linked to the Foundation Phase Life Skills topics. This means that the topics dealt with in the Readers have a real-life context for the child because it is what they are meeting in the classroom. This structure allows the topics to be age appropriate.

For more info on Aweh!, view the YouTube video below.

Free reading workshops

Oxford University Press South Africa, through its Institute of Professional Development for Educators, is offering free workshops to improve the teaching of literacy in the Foundation Phase to thousands of teachers every year. These workshops are endorsed by the SA Council for Educators (SACE) and contribute towards the Continuous Professional Training and Development (CPTD)-points that in-service teachers should gather to improve their teaching skills and adhere to best practice. For enquiries send an email to ProfessionalDevelopment.za@oup.com

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