In the province of KwaZulu Natal, the mother tongue of 77.8% of the population is isiZulu. During the first two years of schooling (Grade R and Grade 1) the focus for literacy is on developing the skills to read and write in the mother tongue, thus in many schools children are taught in isiZulu. In Grade 2 English is introduced. By Grade 4 the language of teaching and learning changes from isiZulu to English. Therefore children during the first four years of schooling need to have developed the appropriate language skills in order to cope with the curriculum and make progress. The 2006 and 2011 Progress in International Reading Literacy Study (PIRLS) results highlighted key concerns regarding the quality of literacy teaching in South African primary schools. Professor Nel (2015) stresses,
“Teachers are a crucial factor in teaching learners to read…better prepared teachers who are competent to teach reading are essential to achieve the national goals for reading literacy.”
Due to the challenges teachers face in teaching children how to read and write, a skills development program was facilitated by Soul Action for Grade 2 and Grade 3 educators from six schools in 2014 and 2015, to support them in the teaching of English phonics. The program was initially evaluated at the end of 2014 and it was highlighted how much progress the children had made in reading and writing due to the skills the Grade 2 teachers had developed. An education consultant and the teachers from the community recognised that Grade R (Reception) and Grade 1 educators would benefit from similar training; training on how to teach language skills by using a multi-sensory approach, but with the focus in developing the appropriate skills in the children’s mother tongue; isiZulu.
isiZulu Skills Development Program
During 2015 an isiZulu phonics program was piloted with Grade R and Grade 1 educators from two schools. The program consisted of five workshops in conjunction with on-going monitoring of the program within the classroom context. Workshops were facilitated during each term, the following topics were covered:
- stages in developing phonological awareness
- learning styles and how to facilitate multi-sensory activities
- how to support children to develop an awareness of words
- how to support children in playing with words [rhyme and alliteration]
- how to support children to develop an awareness of syllables
- how to support children to develop an awareness of sounds
- how to support children to blend syllables or sounds to make words
- how to support children to segment words in to syllables or sounds
- how to introduce and teach sounds
- how to support children to develop reading skills
- activities to support children in consolidating key knowledge
During the first and second term the Grade R educators received four support visits from a Soul Action member of staff. During the third and fourth term the Grade 1 educators received four support visits from a Soul Action member of staff. The purpose of the support visits were to provide the assistance necessary to apply what they had learnt in the workshop to the classroom context.
Successes of the program
- Educators developed an understanding of the stages children need to progress through in order to develop phonological awareness skills. At the start of the program it appeared, and from the evaluations educators completed at workshops, that the teachers had no or very little previous understanding of phonological awareness
- Educators developed an understanding of the relevant terminology
- Educators were able to develop a knowledge of appropriate activities they could facilitate to support the learners in developing phonological awareness skills
- With support the educators were able to apply what they had learnt during the workshops to the classroom context
- Educators knowledge and skills developed over the year as they were inspired and motivated
- Educators were able to incorporate activities into their existing planning
- Educators recognised the importance of facilitating multi-sensory activities
- Educators and learners enjoyed using the resources provided. The resources supported the educators in facilitating multi-sensory activities
- Thirteen out of the fourteen educators were very committed throughout the program
- The Grade R learners developed word, syllable and sound awareness skills
- The Grade 1 learners developed word, syllable, sound awareness skills and benefited from phonics teaching
Educators needed further input and support in understanding the benefits of blending and segmenting at all levels. If children learn to verbally blend syllables in to words, verbally blend sounds in to words at Grade R level they will be able to apply this skill to the blending of written sounds in Grade 1 to read simple words. Similarly with segmenting, if in Grade R children develop skills so they can verbally segment words in to syllables and verbally segment words in to sounds they will be able to apply this skill to segmenting a simple word in to sounds and write it down in Grade 1 when they have a knowledge of letter-sound relationships.
If children are able to develop skills in blending and segmenting sounds they will be able to use their knowledge of sounds to read and write. Educators need to understand that children can use their knowledge of sounds to read words by being taught how to blend. At present it appears that children are taught to read or spell whole words rather than blending or segmenting.
If educators understand the benefits of developing phonological awareness skills and are supported to develop their own skills to facilitate appropriate activities, a learning environment will be created that enables young children to develop the age appropriate skills necessary to read and write. If children are able to develop these skills in their mother tongue during Grade R and Grade 1 this will provide the foundations to build on for the teaching of English in Grades 2 and 3.
Health 24 (2015) How to fix SA’s alarmingly low reading rates [online], Available from http://www.health24.com/Parenting/Child/News/How-to-fix-SAs-alarmingly-low-reading-rates-20150624 [Accessed 24 June 2015]
Media Club South Africa (2016) South Africa’s languages [online], Available from http://www.mediaclubsouthafrica.com/landstatic/80-languages [Accessed 27 January 2016]