Personal Reading Coaching at Walnut School!

A special note from Arpita Karkarey, founder of Walnut School, on the success of its Personal Reading Coaching Programme:

Which school gives special attention to helping students read?

Walnut School does! With special reading coaching programs at Walnut School, the focus is on ‘learning English’ in order to ‘learn in English’

Going to an English medium school in a non-speaking country is a different challenge altogether. The child has to pick up English fluently enough to be able to learn concepts of all other subjects through it, and there isn’t much time either. So, if a child is unable to pick up the language well, the rest of the academic journey becomes increasingly difficult year after year.

The only way to be able to read English better is to practice reading English.

So, we asked students (and parents) to make sure they spent at least 20 to 30 minutes reading English (with an adult nearby to correct them) every day. It didn’t have to be a “textbook”, they could read anything they wanted. As they did that, we told the parents, their comfort and fluency would improve and with that, they would start understanding things they read and learning would be easier for them.

Unfortunately, absolutely nothing came out of this as the students didn’t read at home at all! The students were in a vicious cycle which just kept getting worse.

Now, this is a very fundamental and serious problem. All learning is based on the presumption that the learner is fluent in the language of instruction. So, we decided to take this bull by the horns and proactively address the problem in school itself.

We already had the list of students who were struggling with English fluency. We organized the students into groups of 4 – where all 4 were more or less at the same level and hired many extra teachers and trained them as “reading coaches” to sit with these students for one period EVERY DAY and make them do loud reading, silent reading and discussions based on what they had read.

When we announced the program and called the struggling readers out for coaching, they were very disappointed. The students were going to miss activities and would have to read instead. Seriously, which kid wants that?

When they actually went through a session, they saw that the coaches were encouraging them and supporting them, they felt they should give it a try. Plus, they really liked that they were picking up something that they weren’t good at at all. They also had interesting reading material waiting for them.

The reading coaching happens in a very organized way. First, for some time they read aloud. Then, they re-read the content silently and try to understand what they have read. Finally, they discuss, debate or answer questions based on the material they have just read. The one who does the best job earns Walnut Talents. Talents are the currency that students can earn in Walnut and redeem for goodies from the Walnut store.

The results were wonderful. The students got comfortable very quickly and realised that done this way, reading wasn’t boring at all!

Additionally, since the group was so small, at the same age and at more or less the same reading level, they weren’t afraid of making mistakes in front of each other either. The content was also carefully selected. So, the atmosphere was just perfect!

We can see that the students are improving every day. They are trying to participate more in the classroom, take up anchoring roles on the stage in the gathering and are even becoming more active on Walnut Radio.

It’s wonderful seeing how eager they are to jump into all these activities that they had very resolutely stayed away from before. And they are doing a really good job of it too!

The better they get at it, the more they want to do and the more they do, the better they get at it. We have succeeded in breaking that vicious cycle and turning it into a virtuous one. That’s one more feather in the cap of team Walnut!

Here are some reviews written by the students themselves:

“I wasn’t practicing reading at all, so it was hard for me. The first time when I was called for reading coaching, my other classmates were going for fun activities, so I was really sad. But I really like it now!”

“The novels and stories that we get to read are fun. We were even reading newspapers. The teacher also sets a timer, so I am getting better at reading and I can see that I am able to read faster too.”

“Studying for the exam was easier than before. I could read and understand all subjects better and I scored better too.”

Looking at how well the struggling readers were responding, we decided to take this up with the good readers as well. After all, improvement is good for everyone, isn’t it?

The good readers gather in slightly larger groups with their coach once a week. They read a topic from the newspaper for about 15 minutes and then the teacher sets them up for debate.

They are really getting better at quick thinking and persuasive talk. They are figuring out how to put their point across and conduct a respectful argument. They are also forming their own opinions on current affairs. We can see an added maturity in the way they are doing personal response and creative writing assignments in school.

So, that’s one more way we make Walnut Students Tough Outside and Smart Inside!


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