Standards for Silent Reading:
1. Sit erect
2. Hold the book with both hands
3. Read with your eyes and do not move your lips
4. Do not point to the words
5. Do not move your head
6. Know the hard words
7. Understand what you read
8. Get the thought of the story
These standards for silent reading are posted in nearly every classroom that I’ve been in here in the Philippines. Every day when students come in to in my office/classroom to read, they break almost all of those rules and I love every wild, lawless moment. Where to begin…
One of the things that I do as a Peace Corps Volunteer at the school is I sit. I do this very well. I sit in my office/classroom where the 100 or so children’s books friends and family have generously sent to us and I watch the children as they come in to read. Before these books were donated, the only books the school had available to the children here were sometimes high school or college level textbooks horded in the library, which is only open for 1 hour every morning and remains locked the rest of the time. So now there are real children’s books in my room and the students can actually touch them and read them. It’s awesome!
I’m assigned to the SPED center which includes in its students with “special” abilities—students who are Fast Learners (FL) as well as students who are “slow learners” (SL). There are also many Hearing Impaired (HI), Visually Impaired (VI) and Mentally Impaired (MR) students in the SPED center as well. The vast majority of students who visit me at lunch time or during recess to read are FL students. They usually have a few minutes of downtime before their parents come and pick them up for lunch so they choose to read. There are also a lot of “regular” students who come from various grades and squeeze into what little space I have for them to sit and read as well. Reading time is funny—it is never a silent affair. I’m not sure how or even if silent reading is taught here, but whenever any students come over to read, fast, slow or otherwise, everyone is mumbling and reading out loud at once. It’s really a joyous sound—I love hearing the murmuring and page turning and giggles. I love how it goes against the posted rules and how by defying the standards of silent reading they are learning.
Intermingled with the FL students are always a few SL students who seem to hang back at the doorway, every day initially too shy to come in. All of the SL students are deemed to be “slow” for having failed the previous year of school. The only SL classes that we have are 1st and 2nd grades—but the students range in age from 6-11. They failed last year (and some the years before) for a wide range of reasons—some because of a lack of attendance, some because they sat in the back of a classroom of 60 students and were never attended to as an individual learner, others because they have more important issues at home—like how many times they will get hit or whether or not they will eat enough to fill their tiny frames or figuring out how they can help take care of their 6 or more siblings. For whatever the reason, they did not pass 1st or 2nd grade last year and were labeled to be “slow learners”. There’s even a sign outside the classroom door that reminds them that they are “slow” in case they forget, regardless of how I’ve tried to convince them otherwise.
Unfortunately, the major factor that distinguishes a FL student from a SL one is purely socioeconomic. Simply put, FL students are pegged as “fast learners” because their families have the means and desire to encourage learning at home. FL students have parents who are educated and who have a high interest in educating their children. This higher education helps them to have well paying jobs where they can afford such luxuries as books, computers or other learning materials for their children. Slow learners on the other hand, generally have poor parents who work long, hard hours to provide a sustenance income for sometimes 6 or more children. Education is not encouraged—there’s simply not time for it. If rice needs to be picked or fish need to be sold, the parents cannot afford the loss of labor to school. Even at such a young age. With no resources at home and very few opportunities to use resources at school, most SL students don’t even know how to properly hold a book or how to color within the lines of a picture (though I must admit that I still have trouble with that one…). So I take special interest when SL students come into my reading room because it’s a place where things like reading and coloring—learning, really—are encouraged. I love it when they pick up the colorful children’s books and “read’ them to each other. Some Ooohing and Awwwing over the pictures, some pointing out and naming objects they recognize to their friends in a mix of Kinaray-a and English, and some others sit hunched over their desks detailing the story to themselves, making it up as they see fit and happily turning the pages. I love it when one student notices something of interest in the story and he jumps and runs to the other side of the room, points it out to his friend and scampers back to his seat to continue reading. Because of the over-crowded classrooms and the apathy that is so rampant among teachers, this small room is a little reading haven for these students who normally would not get a chance to read otherwise. I always feel guilty if I have to leave for lunch and there are still a few students in the room, so most of the time I stick around a few extra minutes so that hopefully, somehow, that extra 2 or 3 minutes will be worth it to them in the long run. So for those of you who have donated books to our little reading area, a huge Salamat gid! I can promise you that the books, with their now dog-eared pages and grimy handprints plastered all over them, are being put to good use.