DEAR: “Drop Everything And Read”

Students in Cambodia hardly read. For most, the textbooks used at school are the only books they will ever pick up. Findings from PISA for Development show that no more than 28.1% of the total population of 15-year-olds are enrolled in secondary education (The remaining Cambodian youth have dropped out of school) And in this group,  only 8% achieves a minimum proficiency level (level 2) or higher in reading. Only this tiny percentage of students (2.2 % of the 15-year old population!) meet the goal of SDG 4.

Reading is critical because it makes people more empathetic, knowledgeable and stimulates their imagination. Without reading, both personal and community development will remain impossible.

Whilst the availability of books is a significant problem, the lack of reading skills and reading education is even more pressing.

That’s where the DEAR project comes in. DEAR stands for ‘Drop Everything And Read’.
The project wants to achieve a higher reading comprehension level for secondary education students. The most direct and almost automatic effect of regular (story) reading (of texts at their level of learning English) is acquisition of vocabulary (the learner’s mental dictionary), which counts for a rough 95% of all foreign language communication. At the same time, the project aims to improve the students’ speaking skills and raise their confidence when speaking for a group.

The students get the chance to read texts about different STEAM topics (Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts and Mathematics). These essays were prepared by the TDSO team, taking into account the students’ level, interests, and cultural backgrounds.
The students work in small groups. At regular intervals, each group receives two to three challenging texts. Challenging in terms of vocabulary, grammar, and content, but still according to the students’ level.

The students read the texts, highlight important parts, take notes, and do the suggested language tasks and/or answer the supplied comprehension questions.

After the first read, the students meet in their groups, share notes, insights, and ideas, and prepare a presentation. They can use paper flipcharts or digital tools (PowerPoint, Canva ….). The presentation reflects their comprehension, distinction between essentials and details, and communication skills.
Feedback on the presentation comes from the teachers and the students’ peers under the format of Q and A.

While reading the texts, preparing and practising the presentations, and presenting, Learning Assistants (LA’s) are available to help all students. LA’s are active during the reading and help the groups by guiding them to understand the text better. The LA’s help preparing presentations and

Teachers encourage their students to participate in DEAR sessions. They provide the introduction to reading skills (text skimming, scanning for selected details, silent reading, …)

Click on the video below and listen to the first results

A team of international trainees is heavily involved in creating the essays. Appropriate material is not readily available, and it takes a considerable amount of work to prepare good quality documents.
LA’s, or Learning Assistants, are permanently available to the readers to help and coach. Their role cannot be underestimated; students need guidance and encouragement. Currently, the regular teachers take on this role, but we consider dedicated staff to this responsibility shortly.

The project is currently in its development and pilot phase. Around 20 students participate, two international trainees are working full-time (as a developer of material and as an LA). The regular teachers also take up the LA role, and both the headmaster and the Head of Teacher Training manage the project as a whole.

In a second phase, we will create training for teachers and LA’s. These LA’s have to be able to run the project in their respective organisations or schools. TDSO will continue to develop and provide content. This is planned for Q4 in 2022.

A third phase, where not only non-fiction reading but also fiction and (simplified) literature will be covered, will start development and piloting in early 2023.

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