Read for the Top: from Canada to Kenya, a Literacy success story

Girls at Shiango Primary preparing for the R4T competitionPhoto by Patricia Crossley

Girls at Shiango Primary preparing for the R4T competition
Photo by Patricia Crossley

Level 3

Read for the Top (R4T) was created in Victoria, Canada.
A teacher in an inner-city school wanted to
encourage his elementary children to read.
Some of his students did not come from a reading culture.
They had few books and other reading materials.
Many of them were learning English as a second language.


Taking it to Kenya
Patricia Crossley thought this reading program
would be a good thing to bring to Kenya.
She spends six months each year in Kenya and while there
is the Education Secretary for 48 elementary and 16 secondary schools.
Kenyan children in rural schools are similar to
to children in many inner-city schools in B.C.
The children hear little English in their environment.
In Kenya, English is a third language for children.
But all of their school examinations are in English.
They write one national exam at the end of Grade 8.
If they do not pass this exam, they have little chance
of going on to a secondary school.

A pilot program
In 2010, Patricia set up a pilot program and bought books
for a Grade 6 class in Emmaloba Primary.
A local friend donated another set of books
to another Grade 6 class.
Each of the reading groups in the class got six books.
There were four storybooks in English and two in Kiswahili.
The school kept the books after the competition.
Each team also got colour-coded T-shirts
which they also kept after the contest.
There were prizes for first, second and third place.
Winning teams got prizes of backpacks and books.
After about six weeks of reading, teams were ready.

T-shirts are counted and divided into teams in preparation for the R4T competition later that day.Photo by Nancy Carson

T-shirts are counted and divided into teams in preparation for the R4T competition later that day.
Photo by Nancy Carson

How it works
An R4T competition is easy to set up.
Teachers are invited to a one-day workshop.
The school selects the class for the project.
Teachers divide the class into teams of five or six members.
Each student must read all of the six books.
Group members can discuss the stories.
They can help one another.
Then every student writes questions (with answers)
about each story. The teacher collects the questions
and may change only spelling or grammar.

Students carefully fold their team shirts after this stage. At the end of the contest the T-shirts will be theirs.Photo by Nancy Carson

Students carefully fold their team shirts after this stage. At the end of the contest the T-shirts will be theirs.
Photo by Nancy Carson

Competition begins
Teachers select twenty of the students’ questions
about each story. These are placed in a box.
There is a “judge of answers” and a scorekeeper.
An adult or senior student reads the question to a team,
naming the title of the book each time.
The team has 15 seconds to answer.
There is no power in the school so
students ring call bells when they are ready to answer.
A team can discuss an answer before they ring the bell.
A correct answer gets one point.
If a team’s answer is wrong, they lose a point.
The other team gets a chance to answer
the same question. This team can gain a point but
they will not lose a point for a wrong answer.

Students anxiously wait to ring the bell so they can give an answer.

Students anxiously wait to ring the bell so they can give an answer.
Photo by Nancy Carson

Learning outcomes
Patricia expected outcomes over a year.
But scores in district and national exams shot up immediately.
Teachers were so enthusiastic. The children were
now willing to speak and read English.
The young people learned teamwork.
The scores in other school subjects also improved.
You cannot do a math exam if you cannot read or understand the questions.

A crazy Canadian lady
One English teacher speaks of the “crazy Canadian lady”
who urged him to try this new teaching tool in 2010.
He now runs the contest every year. And he trains other teachers to do it.
In Western Kenya, about 22 elementary schools and two secondary schools
have done the program with great success.
This means about 1200 children have had success with Read for the Top.

Funding for R4T
District Rotary grants and other donations have made R4T possible.
Patricia Crossley is a member of the Victoria Rotary Club, B.C., Canada.
She and her husband, Rod Crossley, run the
Tembo-Kenya Community Development Society,
based in the city of Kakamega, in Western Kenya.
Tembo has helped Victoria Rotary and other clubs do projects
in education and water in the area.

Map of Kenya

Map of Kenya

For more information on the Read for the Top program and teacher workshops, contact Patricia Crossley at: kenyatembo@gmail.com

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