The TEAA Recreational Reading Project
- a progress report

Bill Jones, TEAA
I proposed an independent recreational reading project to language teachers at schools Henry and I visited in our 2008-trip to East Africa. Without direct initial intention, the project supported Julius Nyerere's midcentury call to educators to help to develop a culture of reading in East Africa. The goal is to develop a lifelong habit that has immediate benefits for students: However hard teachers and students work, the benefits of their collective labor increase if students are recreational readers. This assertion increases in significance in the conditions that both teachers and students in East African currently, in fact, labor. The tyranny of preparing for national school-leaving examinations in instructionally difficult circumstances almost destroys the idea of intellectual recreation. I want to believe, however, that teachers and administrators who elect to participate in the project recognize, whether they articulate it or not, that such reading increases the development of intuitions that are crucial to language learning and recognize, too, that those intuitions are routinely stunted in the press of test-driven instruction that characterizes language teaching in East Africa.
What students are asked to do is simple and direct: Read twenty minutes at least five days a week and record the number of pages they read on a simple log, tabulating at the end of the week the total number of pages they have read. In introducing the project to students, teachers and administrators remind students that, while the reading is recreational and not associated with course work and their preparation for examinations, the reading will improve their ability to handle language in all their school work. The aim of the project is to encourage them to become lifelong readers.
The principal, Olive Kakinda, at St. Bernard's College, Kiswera, Uganda, was immediately receptive to the project, and, in December 2008, with the help of Kate Parry, submitted a list of 149 titles for purchase, making it clear that she understood that recreational reading is driven by variety and eschews the lock-step sameness that assessment tied to the reading of set books for national examinations requires. I sent that list to all the schools Henry and I had visited, confident that it would end the practice of any school submitting lists that asked for multiple copies of a small number of books. Olive Kakinda's list may have, in fact, encouraged Sister Mary Shobha, at Ngarenaro Girls' School in Arusha, the successor to Sister Mary Shaija, whom Henry and I had met, to sign on to the project and to generate that school's own list of eighty-eight titles. There at Ngarenaro, not entirely uncharacteristically, the project encouraged the entire school community to read - teachers and administrators as well as students. I myself was energized by Sister Shobha's enthusiasm and now await the results of my asking her to reach out in encouragement to colleagues at nearby Moringe Sokoine Secondary School in Monduli who have yet to sign onto the project. Joining the project, teachers and administrators at Moringe Sokonine would align themselves with administrators Gertrude Ssekabira and her colleagues at Mackay Memorial College, Nateete, Uganda and Ida Tarinyeba and hers at Tororo Girls' School.
Very much like Sister Shobha, Ida Tarinyeba at Tororo Girls' has involved the entire school in the project and wishes to find ways to deepen the involvement of all her teachers so that they, indeed, see themselves as well read. Already, "both students and teachers [see evidence of an increased] mastery of reading skills" and judge that growth "advantageous." With the students' "exposure to the world of reading," Principal Tarinyeba can point to their expanded vocabularies and to the increased ease that teachers report that they themselves experience in teaching English Language. The grants committee will support her effort to increase the number of titles that her students can read for the project. Imagine what she will report when additional titles make their way into the hands of students, administrators, and teachers.
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