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Student Blogger: Encouraging Literacy Via Reading for Pleasure

Editor's intro: Today's post is by Anwar Alhusban who, as a high school senior, created the Reading to Flourish program in Mafraq, Jordan. This blog is part of our ongoing series by young adults who participated in Global Citizens Initiative's Summer Youth Summit.

By guest blogger Anwar Alhusban

At the age of 14, out of boredom, I read my first book, Immigration of Bani Hilal Tribe. I fell in love with the power of reading. This book talked about one of the tribes Arabs descended from and how they struggled to survive in the Arabian Peninsula. I was fascinated by how much more I learned about the history of my people from a book than from any chat I ever had with anyone about it. Since then, I have been reading books in Arabic and English from different genres and by various authors.

One of the most shocking statistics I have ever encountered is that Arabs read an average of six minutes a year. And, I noticed that none of my family members or friends had ever read for pleasure before. I believe that reading for pleasure is an indication of a true educational experience. Therefore, when one does not read for pleasure, one is not a true learner. Devastated that no one around me had experienced the powerful and inspiring learning opportunity that reading brings, I decided to make my Glocal Service Project (GSP) about encouraging other young kids to read for pleasure and to answer the question: "How might we inspire children to love reading for pleasure and thus lead their own learning experiences?"

The Project
The first step I took was to raise awareness about my project within the governmental elementary schools in my hometown of Mafraq, Jordan. I talked to the school principals about my project and my vision to have a library in every school in Mafraq and a reading curriculum for kids in first to third grades. I started with the principal that showed the greatest support for my project: the principal of Hai Al Husban School.

Finding Partners
First, I contacted Jordanian publishing houses and presented the idea of book donations, and I was delighted that most of them praised my project and its mission and showed great support for it. I decided to work with those publishing houses, like Dar Al Salwa and Dar Al Yasmeen, that have books to donate consistently and to also look for ways to raise funds to buy more books. Some publishers also gave me great deals and valuable pieces of advice regarding my project. 

I interned at We Love Reading a couple of years ago, so I knew what the organization was capable of doing when it came to implanting the love of reading in young children. I contacted the staff, including the director, Dr. Rana Dajani. They helped me outline my project and an effective timeline. Since I am attending university in the United States this fall, they guaranteed the continuation and activity of the project in the future when I will not be physically there to direct it. They also suggested having We Love Reading ambassadors lead some of the reading circles in the governmental schools in Mafraq, in which children can engage in listening to narrated stories by trained ambassadors.

Program Impact
The children listened thoughtfully and asked clever questions about the protagonist. They even suggested creative story endings! The teacher even commented about how some of her students became more talkative after reading classes, the only class "where grades did not accompany the books." 

The children's excitement about the activities and passionate reactions to the narrated stories were a true pleasure for me to witness and a sign to broaden and vary the reading activities into an uncredited reading curriculum.

Challenges and Lessons Learned
One of the obstacles I faced in setting up my project was to get the government's permission to work with the schools. I went through a long process of writing and translating requested information about my project for the Ministry of Education, which delayed my progress. However, once we had the official permission, things went more smoothly, since it earned me the trust of collaborators and donors.

reading blog.pngIt has also been difficult to communicate with collaborators and the publishers because I was attending King's Academy and far from Mafraq. Nevertheless, I decided to use the time I was away from my town and my collaborators to work on other aspects of my project. For instance, I started working on the reading curriculum that was supposed to guide the teachers in their reading classes. I referred to a book certified by Jordan's Ministry of Education for teachers on how to run creative activities in class and a couple of other books on how to narrate stories for kids. The principal and the teachers offered to organize the curriculum to fit within the children's school schedule, and I was grateful to accept their help. 

I learned that listening to my collaborators and studying their advice is essential for the project's success. I also learned that it is crucial to remind myself of why I am doing this project and where the mission of my project came from, for it will motivate me to make the project work and succeed in helping my community. Moreover, I learned that bargaining is an important skill, and I'm glad I quickly developed it while communicating and making deals with the publishers. 

My biggest concern is the sustainability and continuity of my project as I will be studying in the United States for the next four years. Thus, I decided to hand the management of my project to my greatest collaborator, Ms. Rana and the We Love Reading team, because they are the most experienced in leading projects to encourage kids to read. Yet, my job has not ended with Reading to Flourish. I will always contact Ms. Rana, visit the team during university breaks, and run a huge part of the project during the summer which includes contacting the publishing houses and collecting books for other schools in my town. 

Advice to Others
My biggest piece of advice to youth implementing their own projects is to never lose hope. Choose an issue that you are very passionate about solving and nothing will stop you. You are going to face obstacles while setting your projects up, but do not let them discourage you or slow you down. Many people will try to step in your way and mock your age and naivety, but always believe in yourself and do not let age be a measure of the success of your project.

reading blog2.pngFor educators, it is very urgent to prepare youth to become global citizens and take initiative on different global issues. The world's leading generations to come are the current youth, so it is very important to educate them about global citizenship and their paramount role in making the world a better place. It is important to let the youth know that they matter and their actions are influential even if they are still in high school or college. Educators can be supportive to youth by offering them guidance and connections while letting them lead and make their own decisions regarding their projects. Educators should never underestimate youth for it will only degrade the world's future leaders. Therefore, it is crucial to let them lead their own initiatives and experiment in the world of global citizenship and impact.

In an ideal world, my project would grow into an institution that would play a great role in fighting illiteracy and a wrong idea about education: that learning can only happen in classrooms and with teachers. This institution would provide every school in Jordan with a library and a reading curriculum. It would also arrange reading circles in every town. Then, this institution would spread its influence throughout the Arab World and then the world as a whole.

Follow Global Citizens Initiative and the Center for Global Education at Asia Society on Twitter.

Photo credit: Bara'a Alhusban

Photos are of first grade students at Hai Al Husban School in the Reading the Flourish program.

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