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How to read to children: Why training teachers matters

Room to Read trains teachers and librarians in literacy and library best practices and it shows. | April 22, 2024

Educator training and coaching Cambodia

"Who wants to read to the class?" 

Tiny hands shot up in the air. Grade 1 teacher Namex Pen picked Reaksa, who scrambled to her feet. The 6-year-old ran to the first-level bookshelf in the newly-established Room to Read school library in Cambodia and grabbed her current favorite, "Chek Chek Wants to Get Married."

"I love reading stories!" said Reaksa, who checks out three books a week to take home. No one had ever read stories to her before  —  and the same goes for her classmate Kimhour. Like Reaksa, Kimhour borrows books to read to her 8-month-old cousin at home.

Six-year-old Reaksa from Cambodia reads her favorite book from the new library to the entire class.

The library has only been open for three months and already the students can’t wait to go. Every Wednesday, Ms. Pen takes them down the hall to the bright, book-filled room for library period. They enjoy listening to her read from the colorful stories —  it’s a brand new experience for them.

"They borrow lots of books, especially after library period," said Ms. Pen, who has taught Grade 1 at the school for almost three decades, "so many that I barely manage to write them all down in the logbook!" She giggled with delight.

All of this is new to Ms. Pen and her fellow teachers, too. Until Room to Read partnered with the primary school, the early-grade teachers hadn’t had regular coaching in effective literacy instruction, and struggled to show their students how much fun reading can be.

Little Reaksa just read her favorite book to the entire class and her teacher Ms. Pen beams with pride. Just a few months ago this wouldn’t have been possible.


Going beyond a library’s four walls

"Where is my watch?" asked Ms. Pen, turning the colorful page. Her face grew animated as she lowered her voice to make the sound of a clock ticking: "Tick! Tick! Tick!" Every Grade 1 student in the library was about to burst with anticipation.

Even though Ms. Pen had shared stories with her students many times in class before, her method had been to read from a government-issued textbook peppered with bland illustrations, then ask them to summarize the story. They’d never had a library before. Reading seemed like a chore and her students were easily distracted.

Ms. Pen and a group of teachers at Kampong learned how to read to young children during our Room to Read training course. Room to Read partnered with the school to establish the school library, which we filled with colorful, captivating children’s books, published locally. Combined, the new library, books and reading activities  —  all part of our comprehensive Literacy Program  —  encourage in young children the habit of reading.

At the Room to Read teacher training, Ms. Pen discovered that teaching young students to read for fun was a skill she could learn. And she realized that the habit of reading can shape the course of a child's life.  

"The techniques Room to Read taught me are so helpful," she said. "I’m even introducing my students to the Cambodian author and illustrator!" 


After just three months, little Reaksa is already reading her favorite book to her classmates in the library Room to Read established at her school.


"I can see a huge improvement."

Before the training course, Kampong teacher Sokmol Khit only knew about one reading activity  —  reading aloud. Now she knows how to pair reading activities with the right grade. She likes the shared reading activity for kindergartners because they can learn about sound and intonation while reading along.

To make sure the teachers are comfortable with the new approach, Room to Read's literacy team provides refresher training courses. In addition, our local library management facilitator visits the library twice a month to monitor a teacher’s library period  —  the weekly hour when each class goes to the library for a reading activity.

"It used to be only the librarians were trained," says Sokmol. "Now that every teacher in school is involved in promoting reading I can see a huge improvement."


Getting kids excited about reading

Room to Read's decision to train teachers across our partner communities came about when we noticed that, in a number of countries where we had established libraries, children weren’t reading as much as we had hoped.

"We felt that having the teacher lead the reading activities would help students see the appeal of books and get them excited about reading on their own," explained a member of the team. And that’s just what our Reading Promotion Study concluded, which we ran across 106 schools in Africa and Asia in 2016. The study found that a student’s habit of reading is significantly encouraged when a Room to Read-trained teacher conducts the reading activities.

"Throughout Cambodia, we’ve noticed that this approach has made teachers more active in encouraging children to read," noted Sok Ieng Chan, Room to Read's senior Literacy Program manager in Cambodia.

In fact, in just one year, the number of books checked out per student from Room to Read libraries in Cambodia jumped 61 percent.

Her favorite book in hand, Reaksa ran to the front of the room. She plopped on the chair, her little feet swinging, and began reading "Chek Chek Wants to Get Married," an award-winning book, to the entire class. Her teacher, Ms. Pen, had been the first person to ever read a storybook to her. She felt so proud  —  now she could, too! 



Room to Read trains teachers and librarians in literacy and library best practices and it shows.

Grade 2 children in Room to Read partner schools read on average more than twice as many correct words per minute and correctly answer 70 percent more comprehension questions compared to their peers in comparison schools.

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