To read powerfully requires comprehension within a context. But first, it requires a book.
Foundation Beyond Belief’s current Education beneficiary, ConTextos, provides training to teachers and libraries in schools with young readers. ConTextos has built more than 70 libraries in schools across El Salvador. Alongside that material donation, the teachers at each school take part in training on integrating those books into their classroom lessons. Teachers place the readings into social and cultural contexts that facilitate discussions that are vital for students to comprehend and learn from what they read.
ConTextos built its program on research that demonstrates the key factor in a student’s education is the quality of their teacher. Armed with the knowledge that excellent teachers thrive with feedback from their professional communities, ConTextos has established a growing network of more than 400 teachers who attend trainings and observe model classes to learn new teaching strategies. The network is built around “nuclei” schools where the ConTextos trainers introduce best-practices to teachers who then return to their “satellite” schools to implement them. By continuing an ongoing dialogue and building professional connections, these teachers establish an ongoing collaboration built to grow year after year.
The process begins with a library, one that is unique to every school. Each school tailors the furniture and shelving differently to their space. The library varies the classroom experience and provides students with a place to informally exchange ideas. As the libraries become fixtures in those communities through lending and parental engagement, the teachers learn to utilize it as a learning resource over a three-year period. Using the professional support of other teachers in their network, educators learn to recognize when students are reading and learning, rather than just repeating. Sharing ideas, receiving peer critiques, and observing model lessons all help teachers gradually implement a new, more responsive method of teaching.
ConTextos’s program has grown from three pilot schools in 2011 to ten full school networks educating more than 15,000 students. The scalability of the model, with its networks of nuclei and satellite schools, promises both future support to nearby communities and a magnifying effect in participating schools. Teachers in the program not only improve their own instruction and student outcomes, but also have a positive effect on the teaching practices of schools in their network. They move from old teaching methods of rote memorization and repetition to sharing and discussion that, by the second year, have improved students’ reading abilities above local expectations and developed-world reading standards.
Foundation Beyond Belief is proud to support ConTextos as it continues to educate teachers and students alike in the process of reading powerfully.