Unprecedented Times

Joy of Reading (JoR) India, completed the pilot of the structured reading program at the Telangana Residential Social Welfare Schools (TSWRS) Narsingi at beginning of March 2020. It was close to the end of the academic year. Our next step was to train librarians and teachers so that they could take it forward in their schools.  However, soon the events in the world took a turn. The academic year 2020 – 2021 was hit by the pandemic. Schools remained closed. And education was mostly done through the online medium. Most of the children that we partnered with came from remote villages where access to books was not easy and hence reading took a hit. 

The year 2020 was a reminder to everyone to be steadfast and constantly innovate. ‘What if children cannot get to books, can the books come to the children?’ was the question we asked ourselves.

Internet in India has come a long way. Many families had a smartphone with good data connectivity. We found that at least  50% of the children had a smartphone in their family even in remote villages.  Schools interacted with children passing educational videos through messaging platforms that enabled them to learn from their homes.

Technology and  Out of Box Thinking

JoR YouTube Channel

This thought led us (Joy of Reading, India) to launch the JoR YouTube Channel in Oct 2020.  The channel hosted Interactive Read Aloud Sessions using storybooks from the StoryWeaver platform from Pratham. The videos showcased virtual story reading sessions using the Interactive Read Aloud (IRA) Technique. The book was displayed for the children to read along if they wanted and explanations were provided after every page. The IRA included reading and comprehension techniques, explanation of tough words, using pictures to understand concepts – techniques to teach children how to read a book effectively . In the end, the children were asked to try out a few questions that helped with critical thinking. The whole IRA session was in English. The video description also contained a link to the stories in various Indian languages in Storyweaver, if they were present. This gave the children additional reference points, in case they were unable to follow some portions of the story.

Content and Delivery

The channel hosted about 50 stories as of Feb 2021. Stories were categorized into playlists according to the GROW BY Levelling system of Hippocampus. Stories were further categorized into Science, Maths, Environment, Moral Values, Personality and Self Development, etc. A dedicated set of volunteers helped in creating the Interactive Read Alouds, namely Latha Sampath, Ranjani Raghu, Sowmya Devarajan, Vidya Nataraja, and Harini Raghavan. Stories were released every week to keep the kids enthused and to keep the reading momentum going.

A huge shout out to these volunteers who did this out of a passion for a cause and continue doing so !!!

The Trial

From JoR India, Harini Raghavan passed on the stories to a few schools in TSWRS, and the teachers then passed it onto the students. We received encouraging results. A peek into some of the responses obtained.

Student’s response to the cloud of Trash Story

Videos of children narrating/ explaining the story in their Village Learning Circles (VLC) in their own words

Bhanukranth explaining Yet Another Session Explaining Animal Homes

Scaling Up

We received a lot of positive feedback from the trial. The TSWRS management was also very happy with the responses and the children’s post-reading activities. We detailed a plan to scale all across after a discussion with the management, regional coordinators, principals of some schools, and key librarians. Communication was then sent to all the 250 schools to start sharing the stories with their students. The stories were then shared by the teachers in their class messaging groups and in the Village Learning Circles (VLC).

VLCs were started in Telangana during the pandemic. They were small learning pods of children in villages where the oldest student facilitated learning sessions for a variety of topics and subjects with the rest of the children. When the lockdown restrictions were reduced, teachers started visiting the learning circles to monitor and guide the student facilitator. In areas where the internet connection was unavailable or slow, teachers downloaded the videos and shared them with the group in-person.

The Scale-Out Plan discussion – Harini Raghavan with key TSWRS members through online meeting

The journey of the stories to the nook and corner of Telangana

The librarians who visited Village Learning Circles shared the videos with the children at the VLC through their mobiles like Praneeth Dheeraj!

Ms. Anjali Devi’s showing the JoR video to the kids near a farming field was an example that learning could happen anywhere and anytime. We were so moved to see a JoR story being played in such an environment.

With dedicated teachers and students, reading was an unstoppable journey !! Moments like those, shown above, excited and enthused the volunteers to create more such videos.

The execution

We sent a story twice a week on Mondays and Thursdays to all the librarians of the TSWRS schools (Telangana). The program was also extended to schools under other partners of JoR namely, Sarva Vidya Trust and Payir (both in Tamilnadu). There were some amazing responses from children with the number of views increasing day by day. Harini, JoR India sent a reply to every child who sent a response to a story thus motivating the children to continue with the listening and reading.

Glimpses of a few responses and experiences

A student had beautifully illustrated and narrated this book – Smile Please after listening to the same book https://youtu.be/7rpwiFu7a_c
A sweet thank you note from a child saying that she was enjoying the stories very much as she submitted her answers.

Praneeth Dheeraj, TSWRS Velpur Boys narrated his experience of showcasing these stories at his VLC. He also mentioned that students from other schools started attending the story sessions at his VLC.

Some of the children showcased a skit for the Welcome to the Forest story

Krishna Priya from 6th grade did an IRA session of the story “Why does  Poori puff up”. She used mobile software to piece together the screenshots taken from YouTube and recorded her voice-over to create the video. What a commendable effort !!!

Sahani from eighth grade did an experiment mentioned in the “Why does the Poori puff up” story and she captured it beautifully in this video for everyone’s viewing !.

The curious and creative learners seen in these pictures and videos wowed all of us in the JoR team. We couldn’t ask for more!

Miles to go … Miles before we sleep …

The whole effort has motivated the librarians to impact the reading journey of their students in a large way during these bleak times. It has been a learning journey for students, librarians, and volunteers as well.  JoR volunteers are inspired and motivated by the impact of their Read-Aloud stories. With the help of 5 volunteers, we have been publishing 2 or more videos per week. To date, we have published 50+ videos with some having 3K+views. We are excited and encouraged to see the kids’ responses. It has been a very fulfilling journey so far.

WE believe that what started as an effort for the pandemic can continue even beyond pandemic and serve many purposes. These Interactive  Read Alouds:

  • can be played during school library hours for the children in lower grades with the library teacher facilitating the session.
  • can be used by a librarian who is not equipped to do an IRA
  • can be played for a smaller subset of children targeting a particular level.
  • can be used during holidays when schools are on a break.

Learn to Read, Read to Learn, Read for Joy !! We will continue to spread the joy of reading amongst our young friends as best as we can. Till we meet again adieu!