Large numbers of South African children struggle to understand what they are reading. In fact, South Africa was placed last out of 50 countries in the recently released Progress in International Reading Literacy Study (PIRLS).
Breakthrough to Literacy (BTL), a mother-tongue literacy course for Grades 1 to 3, is very powerful in teaching children to read with comprehension.
The programme also develops their writing and listening skills.
The PIRLS study found that 8 out of 10 Grade 4 learners cannot read for meaning. If children can’t read, they can’t learn, so are more likely to be trapped in the scourge of poverty, hopelessness and unemployment.
Being able to read enables children to live a better future.
Published by the Molteno Institute for Language and Literacy, the BTL method utilises as the basis for learning to read and write, the aural and oral language skills the child brings into the classroom from home.
“BTL is a very effective literacy methodology that responds to curriculum and educational contexts, ensuring that it achieves results with the children, who learn to read and write freely within the first year of schooling and with their teachers, who develop knowledge and skills in early literacy pedagogy (the method and practice of teaching) and classroom management.” said Masennya Dikotla, the Chief Executive Officer of the Molteno Institute for Language and Literacy
Molteno’s flagship programme, BTL is available in isiZulu, Sepedi, Xitsonga, Setswana, Sesotho, Tshivenda, isiSwati, isiXhosa,
isiNdebele and Afrikaans as well as Nama, Kwedam and !Xun.
The BTL programme has been implemented with great success in some schools across South Africa.
Masennya explains that the programme is highly effective in developing children’s vocabulary and phonology (understanding how to express sounds).
He adds that BTL is unique because it works in children’s mother tongue and combines the different elements of literacy pedagogy into one
programme that is relevant to the life and language experiences of African children.
BTL teaches children to read through various methods, including but not limited to, phonic decoding and look-and-say strategies. The phonic decoding involves children reading a full sentence, then breaking the sentence into words and then syllables and sounds.
The look-and-say strategies involve children describing what they see on a conversation poster orally and then the teacher guiding them
to write what they have described.
Implementing the BTL programme provides the opportunity for learning individually, as pairs, in small groups or as a whole class. As part of BTL is a teacher’s guide, a learner’s guide as well as a sentence maker and a sentence holder, comprising of word cards that enable learners to make a sentence.
BTL also includes phonic posters with individual sounds. In order to give children the opportunity to practise the reading skills they have learnt, BTL also provides readers with engaging stories.
To determine children’s level of comprehension, teachers ask them questions about the
stories they have read which they have to answer orally and in their notebooks.
“The programme lays the ideal foundation for teaching English as an additional language,” says Masennya. “It also provides children with the skills they need to learn through English.”
A major aspect of the programme’s success is that it provides teacher training and follow-up support in the classroom. “We support teachers by helping them address their challenges,” says Masennya.
“This provides them with necessary skills to successfully empower children with literacy, even in crowded and under-resourced
Through using BTL, teachers develop knowledge and skills in initial literacy teaching and in learner-centred classroom management, which are transferable to other areas of the curriculum.
Teachers who are good at implementing BTL are more likely to become good at teaching maths and other subjects.
BTL and all Moteno’s other materials comply with the Department of Basic Education’s curriculum
In addition to being available in South Africa, BTL was also available in Zambia and various other African countries. The programme has been evaluated extensively and found to be peerless as a mother-tongue literacy course.
According to Masennya, many Grade 4 learners in South Africa read at a Grade 1level. BTL has huge potential to turn this problem around.
In the context of South Africa’s literacy crisis, its powerful and positive effect on teaching and learning
cannot be overemphasised.