| May 23, 2011

The Power of Online Literacy Programs


Guest post by Joe Lapp for Lincoln Community School


Adeiso student Ohenewaa Mary carries her Kindle safely tucked under her arm as she walks with Lincoln Community School visitors down a main street in her village

There’s nothing like reading together to unlock the power of cross-cultural connection and the expressive potential of the written word, and I saw this demonstrated in a Worldreader classroom recently.  Lincoln Community School – an American international school in Accra, Ghana – has been proud to help Worldreader get e-readers into the hands of local students in this West African nation.  In November the school provided space for hundreds of new Kindles to be charged and loaded with e-books for the iRead program.  And, since then, groups of Lincoln high school students have been bussing out from the city to visit a school in the village of Adeiso (one of Worldreader’s pilot project sites) on selected Saturdays, simply to read with the local kids on their Kindles.

When I walked into an Adeiso classroom on a recent trip, I saw the Lincoln students – who hail from countries around the globe – all on one side of the room and Adeiso students on the other.  But soon this division disappeared as the two groups paired up and started reading enthusiastically from the e-reader screens.  Some of the Lincoln students might have felt the tension of being from an affluent school in the big city dropping in to give the rural kids a hand with learning.  But this power dynamic immediately turned upside down as many of the Lincoln students – for whom laptops and iPods are almost appendages – realized they didn’t know how a Kindle worked.  Worldreader students were proud to demonstrate.

Happily reading Ghanaian folk tales with their literary buddies, LCS students tried to model thoughtful and expressive reading and stopped the stories often to ask questions and check comprehension.  But even here the Adeiso students gave something right back, as they helped the visitors understand the local names, words, and cultural practices used in the stories.

“For awhile the student I was reading with forgot about the Kindle and started teaching me Twi [a local language],” said Lincoln tenth grader Simon Ryssel.  “I went there to teach him something, but he kind of turned it around and was teaching me.”  It was exciting to see Ghanaian students with little access to a physical library thoroughly enjoy the experience of reading from the virtual libraries on their Kindles.  Terry Donohue, Lincoln Community School’s outreach coordinator, remembers that wasn’t the case when he first started taking students to Adeiso.  On that first trip some Worldreader students apparently picked science textbooks to read – very dryly – with their Lincoln buddies.  But by this visit I had the privilege of watching Adeiso pupils read animatedly as the expressive power of stories and the written word came to life for them.  An engaged reader is a comprehending reader, and it’s readers like that who have the best chance at the educational success that translates, in the developing world, to a rise out of poverty.

Lincoln student Jamal Anaele (right) reads a Ghanaian folk tale with Adeiso student Prince