Creative Learners

Creative Learners
Learning Brief

Room to Read

The long road to literacy: lessons on running a sustainable literacy project

Category: Creative Learners | Education system improvement | 11 January, 2015 - 17:13


Project background

The DG Murray Trust funds Room to Read’s Reading and Writing Instruction project in ten primary schools in the Bohlabela District of Bushbuckridge, Mpumalanga. The main goal of the project is to develop learners’ reading, writing, speaking, and listening skills. It targets teachers and leaners and addresses the teaching and learning of literacy skills in the learners’ home language, which is also the instructional language used in the early school grades.

The project reaches over 1600 learners and 40 teachers in Grades 1 to 3, in 10 primary schools. Room to Read provides teachers with a scope, sequence, and work programme that helps them plan and prepare lessons but also gives them flexibility to create and add their own work plans.

Our project is long-term focused. It is designed to provide a comprehensive, balanced approach to literacy development, and is supported by scientific research that focuses on the five core elements of reading. Additionally, it builds on the existing government Curriculum and Assessment Policy Statement so as to complement school-based instruction. The literacy instruction is direct, explicit, and systematic, and uses proven instructional routines and high quality reading materials. Instruction follows an established scope and sequence that clearly describes the phonic, reading, and writing skills that are expected of young learners.

Implementing the Reading and Writing Instruction project

The Reading and Writing Instruction program is a school-based intervention. Prior to implementing the project in the target schools, we ensure that each school has a functioning, stocked library that is dedicated to helping young learners develop the habit of reading. We provide teachers with professional learning and support to implement the project by offering workshops, supplementary instructional materials, and school-based monitoring. 

The Room to Read SA Literacy Program has made a positive change in the project schools regarding:

  • Building teachers’ motivation and confidence
  • Improving teaching approaches and content
  • Better management of the literacy program by the school management team
  • Improved reading and writing skills for Foundation Phase learners
  • Optimal use of learning and teaching resources
  • Instilling a habit of reading in the schools

Training and classroom implementation

Teachers implement the project at school-level, but Room to Read supports them with a team of facilitators, coaches, and field officers.

Teachers in the targeted grades receive twelve days of training, spread out through the quarter in the first year of implementation. We also support them with one-day refresher workshops on a quarterly basis in subsequent years. The training facilitators give lesson demonstrations using proven instructional routines, provide an opportunity for teachers to explore the principles that inform these methods, and give teachers the chance to practice newly acquired skills. This is a participatory, collegial and collaborative process. 

After every workshop, teachers receive school-based support and monitoring visits at least twice per month. The objective of these visits is to encourage, motivate and support teachers in trying out the instructional routines, keeping pace with the scope and sequence of the materials, and using the resources provided. These visits enable our coaches to quickly identify implementation gaps and provide the required correction.

During the visits, the coaches use various monitoring and support tools to assist in school implementation. They also submit a school visit report to the field officers for consolidation and review. This is part of our monitoring process. The coaches and the teachers are asked to critically reflect on their practice in order to assess progress and set objectives for the next visit. We also encourage the teachers to support each other with lesson planning, resource preparation, and classroom application.

Community involvement is essential

The schools involve the services of volunteers to ensure that the library is always functioning during the school hours. Phatsedi school is one example where a volunteer has done a great job ensuring that the library is highly. Due to her contribution to the library, the School Governing Body started paying the volunteer a stipend. This motivated more volunteers from the community to get involved and saw an overall increase in community members using the library and attending literacy events.  The volunteer formed book clubs for grade 2-7 learners at the school and these clubs regularly render book reviews during morning devotions. The community volunteer’s involvement allows learners to use the library throughout the day, including after school. 

The community is supportive of the schools and Room to Read engages the community on a regular basis to actively support the literacy programme.  Some of the parents volunteer in the library and participate in reading celebrations such as Library week, which takes place in March. As no schools have any teacher-librarians, parents who volunteer to so this work are critical to the success of the project.

An improved learning environment and learning materials

Every classroom at the project schools is “print rich”. There is print support on the walls that consolidates the learning and practice of new skills.  Learners’ workbooks supplement those supplied by the Department of Education. Decodable cards, which are developed to match the phonic scope and sequence, are used to provide practice in reading fluency. Short texts are used to promote reading comprehension. Thematic posters are used to provide opportunities to develop oral and vocabulary skills that in turn support the development of reading and writing skills. We also provide storybooks and Big Books for classroom use. 

Lessons Learnt

Teacher support works well: Our project has taught us that supporting teachers with close monitoring and continued supervision helps them improve their teaching competence and ability to cover the curriculum, and gives them a sense of confidence in their teaching and reading. By adopting this approach our teachers remain on track with project delivery and are able to cover the first six months in the work programme with ease, and without defaulting or dropping out. They use the resources optimally, and are resourceful about developing their own when needed. They keep their classrooms pleasant and attractive with walls covered in posters, word cards, sentence cards, phonic charts, and so forth.

Partnerships with government are a benefit for project longevity: Our project works in partnership with the Department of Education officials and this helps it be successful because we have administrative bye-in, curriculum support, and long-tem commitment to the success of the project. We share our workshop schedule with the district official at the beginning of the year to ensure smooth implementation. Officials attend our teacher professional learning workshops and participate actively during presentations. They also visit the schools, sometimes along with the coaches, to offer support or attend to the challenges experience.

Reading comprehension is a challenge: Most learners still focus more on decoding what they read, rather than on overall comprehension. In the future we will spend more time addressing this issue and guiding them to use a range of reading-for-meaning strategies. The coaches will encourage teachers to do this through group-guided reading, and by making available more suitable, authentic reading texts at the right level for the reading groups.


Room to Read seeks to transform the lives of children in developing countries by focusing on literacy equality in education. Working in collaboration with local communities, partner organizations and governments, we develop literacy skills and a habit of reading among primary school children, and support girls to complete secondary school with the relevant life skills to succeed in school and beyond.

We have learnt that by properly supporting our teacher they remain on track with project delivery, and by partnering with government departments we can ensure the longevity and sustainability of the project. We have also learnt that volunteers can help run school libraries whilst also reaching out to the wider community’s literacy needs. This approach takes the long road to ensuring literacy equality for all South Africans.

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In Short

Room to Read showcases its Literacy Project in this learning brief. Learn about the value of classroom-based teacher training and support, the use of community volunteers, and the importance of partnerships with government to ensure a literacy project’s longevity and sustainability. This approach takes the long road to ensuring literacy equality for all South Africans.

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