Room to read-ing

Posted on: June 30, 2009 Posted by: Manin Oem Comments: 0

Room to read-ing

Maryann in action at the workshop

Last week, PEPY played host to a global team from Room to Read who are looking at the Classroom Library Model as a way forward for their South East Asia library programs.  The RtR team from Cambodia, Laos, and Vietnam were joined by management staff from the Regional Office in India and the Global Office in San Francisco… and they all came out to Chanleas Dai.

This workshop was two years in the making.  Two years since we first approached Room to Read and offered our view of the current library system in Cambodia.  Two years since we began talking about the need for a new approach that matched the realities of rural areas.  A year since we proposed a partnership to pilot the classroom library concept with Room to Read.  Only a week since we installed 50 classroom libraries in 10 schools in Siem Reap.

I was nervous for this meeting, which is rare as I have a tendency to probably under prepare for most things and “wing it.”  With this, I wanted everything to be prepared and planned and solid.  We were lucky to have Jennie on our team the past few months as she was able to take our varied ideas and thoughts and put them into a presentation structure that made sense, and we were lucky to have our whole team working full-time on classroom library projects for a few weeks before. Even the night before the meeting, I coerced Rithy, Anna, Kyla, and Thavry to help me make more examples of classroom management tools which could be included in the classroom library models (making wall hangings and book report forms late at night made me feel like I was helping my mother as a child as she stayed up late the night before parent open-house day at school, cutting out beautiful letters to make “WELCOME” signs on doors and “You’re a star!” areas of the wall).

And it worked.  The workshop went really well.  In fact, we didn’t need to be nervous, because they were on our team all along.  They were there to learn and to share and to improve, and it was great to be a part of a group where we all were looking down a path of endless possibilities and improvements and know that there was a possibility that these impacts would stretch far beyond Chanleas Dai.  With RtR doing classroom libraries all around Asia and into Africa, their impact and scope are far-reaching and we were delighted to be a part of the learning and sharing that was going on last week.

We presented our ideas on classroom library design, book selection, timelines, monitoring and evaluation, and what metrics we thought would help us all to improve if tracked.  We presented ideas for training, and our “non-negotiables” (or NN’s—an acronym stolen from Room to Read)  for making any classroom library project in Cambodia successful.

NN#1: We believe that ALL teachers in any rural Cambodian school need to be trained in order to make a library program at that school successful.

NN#2: We believe training needs to extend far beyond book maintenance and focus more on ideas and skills for using books in the classroom.

NN#3: We believe lesson plans and project ideas need to be included with the books, in order to increase teacher’s likelihood of using them

NN#4: We believe that the students should be in charge of access to the books (the right books, at the right levels) so that they do not need to rely on teachers or a librarian to have books to read.

We presented our ideas for making the books more interactive (question sheets in the back of each book where students can add their own question to the list, book reading charts on the walls, activities included in each book, etc).  And throughout it we had interactive activities and reflections, a site visit to our school and library program, and a chance to speak with our staff.

We still have a great deal to learn about classroom libraries. Our monitoring process needs work and our lessons plans still need some love, but we are very excited about this model.  By providing students and teachers with access to books and by providing teachers with training and materials to do interactive lessons with the books, we believe we can significantly improve educational opportunities in Cambodia.  We have been frustrated by locked rooms, lack of librarians, and untrained teachers making library programs in rural Cambodia and we hope that this new way forward will be a huge opportunity for improvement.