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How Grade 3 learners perceive and use the classroom library: A qualitative case study



How Grade 3 learners perceive and use the classroom library: A qualitative case study

This qualitative study examines how seven Grade 3 children in Phahamang Primary School, a school located in Evaton North, perceive and use the books supplied in the Gauteng Classroom Library Project.

The project, a collaboration between the Zenex Foundation, SAIDE, the University of the Witwatersrand and the Gauteng Department of Education, aimed to deliver 1 000 classroom libraries to the Foundation Phase of selected schools in Afrikaans, Sepedi and Sesotho. The project aims to develop the habit of independent reading and encourage a love of reading. Each low-cost classroom library consists of a custom-made box that includes a collection of African language storybooks, posters, and book management resources.

Adopting a single case study design, the children were purposefully selected to constitute a ‘case’. Over five weeks, four semi-structured group interviews were conducted. Informal field notes and discussions with the principal and Grade 3 teachers added contextual information. The study is located within the interprevist paradigm, allowing for an interpretation of the world through the views, motivations, reasoning and understandings of the children. Elements of content analysis were drawn upon to help analyse the data and report on findings.

The study demonstrates that their use of the classroom library deviates markedly from its intended purpose. Firstly, the findings show that the children seldom take the books home and rather than being used as independent readers, they are used as part of a persistent ‘reading as performance’ practice whereby children are called upon to read aloud in class. Secondly, although the children are using the classroom library posters to help them select books, the teachers are not using the intended five-finger rule to assess each child’s reading ability and match them to an appropriate reading level. Moreover, the findings suggest that once a child has chosen a book, they are not permitted to exchange it. This prevents self-selection and talking with peers in fostering reading for pleasure. Finally, children indicated they prefer the books from the school library because they can take them home, a librarian mediates selection, the books appear to look like “real books”, and they can select non-fiction books. The study argues that the children’s preference for English school library books also speaks to the complex relationship between language, literacy, power and the positioning of English as the language of economic value.

Informed by the findings, the study offers recommendations for future classroom library projects:

  • Investigate how to facilitate books being taken home and used towards sustained change in independent reading practices. This is relevant as it pertains to the administrative demands of large classes, but also, to the relationship between the library and the teaching at the instructional core.
  • Train and enable teachers to model reading as a social activity, giving children opportunities to talk about their book choices, share and compare books with peers, and reflect on what they have read.
  • Explore the teacher’s role as a reading role model, mediating the books to the children, to foster ‘bookish behaviour’. At a minimum, teachers should be expected to have read the books in the library so they can facilitate book selection and post-reading discussions.
  • Encourage teachers to use the five-finger rule to determine the right level of book for each child.
  • Include non-fiction texts and books with a ‘real book’ look and feel in the selection.
  • Critically consider the wider context within which the library is placed and the intersection of reading with issues of language, power, race, socio-economic status and children’s social-emotional worlds.

Finally, the study concludes by situating the research findings within the wider South African context and suggesting that perhaps the act of supplying books in the home language, although a first step, is not enough. Developing a reading culture in future generations is intricate and intersects with critical issues of language, power, race, and socio-economic status.

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