Mdm Hindon Saini encourages students to animate stories with the character masks they have created for their "Bintang Seminit" segment.
"The hungry hare wants to eat the eagle!"
"The tortoise is sad because he can't fly!"
"The tortoise is crying because it got lost!"
Challenging the old adage that you can't judge a book by its cover, Alina Syafiqah Roslan held up a storybook. After a glance at the cover illustration, her Pri 3 classmates issued rapid-fire guesses as to what fantastic tales might lurk between its pages.
Guessing game it was, but this pre-reading exercise was part of a language programme at Peiying Primary School designed to add spark to the learning of Malay Language (ML). According to Mdm Hindon Saini, Subject Head for ML, the programme began in 2004 when she realised that many ML pupils do not read Malay books. Spurred into action, Mdm Hindon and her team introduced a suite of pupil-centred reading activities aimed at developing oral proficiency and a habit of reading at all levels.
Learning to read and share
Pupils in Pri 1 and Pri 2 take part in a programme called Buku, Teman Setiaku (Books, My Loyal Companion), which seeks to instill a love for reading. Two periods are set aside every week for pupils to pen a simple review of a book they have read. Each period ends with a Bintang Seminit (One-minute Star) session in which the pupils read aloud from stories they have enjoyed to their classmates.
Students are spoilt for choice amongst the wide selection of Malay books, all pegged according to their level of Malay Language proficiency.
The Bintang Seminit sessions offer pupils a chance to hog the limelight by sharing their literary adventures with their friends. Some squeeze immense creativity into sixty seconds, putting on masks to act out their favourite characters from the books or drawing caricatures to depict memorable scenes. "I pretended to be a tiger character during Bintang Seminit," says Sarah Bte Saifudin from 5F of her minute of fame. "He's what I want to be like - very funny, strong and big-hearted."
For Pri 3 to Pri 6 classes, there's Celik Sastera (I am Literature Literate), a structured reading programme that allows pupils to choose from a selection of books grouped by their level of difficulty. Twice-weekly book reviews continue, along with opportunities to read aloud, but there is now more confidence and depth, as the pupils engage in livelier discussions that develop every aspect of their language skills: reading, writing, listening and speaking. In addition, each pupil maintains a personal Reading Portfolio that charts his or her reading journey.
From reading to writing their own stories
"When we embarked on this programme, we were mindful not to kill their interest in reading," says Mdm Hindon on the need to reduce the fear factor in reading and reviewing. To make writing a review less intimidating, younger pupils can express themselves by colouring in thumbs-up and smiley face symbols in their worksheets. "We want the pupils to be able to assess books in a fun and interactive way," explains Mdm Hindon, who adds that the exercise helps the pupils to structure their thoughts and analyse their thinking process.
Pioneered in 2004, the Malay Language reading program has seeded an avid love for books amongst the students.
Hence, the post-reading discussions provide fuel for the pupils' own creativity. "To get their creative juices flowing, we ask questions such as 'How did the story end?' or 'If you were the writer, how would you end the story?'" explains Mdm Hindon.
The second question is not a rhetorical one for Pri 6 pupils who will leave a legacy for their younger schoolmates in eBooks with original storylines and illustrations. "Seeing their own work used for the lower primary reading programme is a morale booster," remarks Mdm Hindon. "The younger pupils get really excited because they know it is different from commercially produced books. They can also interact with the eBooks which are done on PowerPoint slides."
The reading programme also serves as a gateway to Malay culture as the pupils explore books featuring traditional foods, costumes and lifestyles. One activity that emerged from the readings is a children's poetry competition or Nyanyian puisi kanak-kanak. "We sang and acted out the rhymes," recalls Farisah Amirah Bte Md Fadli from 6F. "I remember how my friend made a mistake and we all laughed together!"
Spreading the reading bug
By far, the reading programme's most infectious elements are the Duta Celik Sastera or Reading Ambassadors who make it their goal to infuse a love for reading among their peers. "Once I recommended a book to a friend," relates Farisah. "She told me that she found it so interesting that she could not let go of that book and will buy her own copy."
Ms Nur Hidayah Abd Rahman sharing a light moment with her students who are acting out scenes from the book they had read.
"My friend loved the horror book I suggested to him," recounts Reading Ambassador Mohd Fahman Bin Muhd Fauze of 6B. "The only problem was that he found it so scary that he told me he couldn't go to sleep after reading it!"
It's clear that Peiying Primary School's reading programme has struck a chord with ML pupils, but Mdm Hindon is now looking to go further by aligning the school and home reading environments. "We have enticed pupils to read in school, but how about beyond that?" she asks. Hinting that the next cohort of Reading Ambassadors will include not just friends but also family members, she says, "Hopefully, one day, parents can come in to be part of our Celik Sastera team too."