Classroom Libraries – Teaching us more than we could ever imagine
Three years have passed since PEPY first introduced the Classroom Libraries project, an initiative that brings books into the classroom in order to empower teachers to use these resources creatively while giving students increased access to reading material. As you can imagine, that’s a lot of time to learn some valuable lessons.
In the early months, there was plenty of excitement about how to best implement the Classroom Library model, especially since this was a collaborative effort with the organizations Room to Read and BETT (Basic Education and Teacher Training). Throughout 2009 and 2010, Room to Read and BETT provided teachers with the training necessary to run 39 classroom libraries in three communes: Chanleas Dai, San Sok, and Kroch Koh. BETT also tailored the collection of books in every Classroom Library to complement each school year’s curriculum. In 2011 the training responsibilities transitioned from our partners to PEPY, and we now offer Classroom Library trainings to teachers three times per school year.
Ideally, Classroom Library teaching time lasts 15 minutes each day for Grade 1 and 2 students, while 45 minutes per week is the Classroom Library standard for students in Grades 3-6. PEPY uses these standards as one measure to monitor teachers’ performance. Another measurement PEPY relies on is a question-and-answer session with the students to see if they have completed certain lessons.
Despite the efforts made by PEPY to ensure the teachers are properly trained to implement Classroom Libraries, teachers’ motivation to utilize this project on a consistent basis has been one of the main challenges. The government teachers have their own government curriculum— one that does not mandate the use of the libraries— and sometimes teachers don’t prioritize the need to bring another teaching method into their classes. While some teachers feel this way, others have embraced the Classroom Library concept, and the teachers at the Run, Chanleas Dai, Khnar Joh, Sela Romdoul and Smach primary schools are using Classroom Libraries frequently.
This year PEPY has also introduced an evaluation method that seeks to identify if students have improved their reading and book maintenance skills. Six students from every class are chosen to do a pre-test about books that they read and about how to care for the books. At the end of the year, the students are then reevaluated and we compare their scores. Results show there has been a marked improvement in both the students’ reading skills and their ability to properly maintain the books.
PEPY has also made large efforts to connect with the principals of the schools with Classroom Libraries. Although it is sometimes difficult to engage the principals, the potential to encourage teachers to use Classroom Libraries regularly is heightened through this partnership.
While we believe in the potential of Classroom Libraries to enrich the government curriculum, PEPY has decided to transition this project to teacher ownership by July 2012. We made this decision in order to follow our new strategic direction to focus more on projects for developing the skills of youth and less on teacher development. There will be a transition workshop for teachers this July to share the lessons learned from PEPY’s three years of working with Classroom Libraries.
PEPY hopes that teachers will still want to contribute to this project through their own initiative, and therefore this workshop will discuss ways in which teachers can independently sustain this project. PEPY’s Sarakk Rith, who has been project manager of Classroom Libraries since mid-2011, understands the complexities of the project and realizes that keeping teachers motivated can be tricky given the circumstances at government schools. However, we remain hopeful that a commitment both by PEPY and by local teachers to the needs and development of students will result in an enhanced learning environment for all.