Teach For Bulgaria, EducArt, and the Trust for Social Achievement created specialized learning materials for children who need additional support at school, especially if Bulgarian is not their first language
One day Asya and Yavor saw a poster that read, “A long evening for reading at the library. Everyone is welcome to join us in the world of books!” The children were interested and decided to go. The hallways of the library led them to different rooms full of bookshelves. There were books everywhere – thin, thick, with colorful covers, different illustrations, maps, books in different languages and with different alphabets… Asya and Yavor grabbed as many books as they could carry and sat on a cozy couch in one of the reading nooks for kids. They lost track of time, all distractions and sounds faded and suddenly they were transported into the world of books…
This is the beginning of Asya and Yavor’s adventures – the main characters in the new alphabet book “We Are Reading with Asya and Yavor”. It was created for children who need additional support to learn how to read. Asya and Yavor are the main characters throughout the entire alphabet book – they have lots of different adventures, travel through time, meet interesting people, and learn many new things about animals and plants. This compelling storytelling technique gets children’s attention while the practical exercises in the book help teachers boost students’ concentration and reading skills. This allows children to catch up and be more engaged in class.
Going to school without speaking its official language
The 3-part set – alphabet book for children, guidebook for the people who will be working with them (teachers, speech therapists, parents, volunteers), and the manual for tactile letters – is part of the project “Do you speak the language of your school?”. It was initiated by Teach For Bulgaria in collaboration with the international association EducArt in 2020. A year after the project was launched the Trust for Social Achievement also joined. The goal of the project is to create efficient learning materials for children whose mother language is not Bulgarian. There are no such resources in Bulgaria and this hinders children and students for whom Bulgarian is a second language. The curriculum assumes that all Bulgarian students are fluent in Bulgarian by default which is not the case. The lack of teaching resources for multilingual children hinders teachers as well.
“When they start first grade, children whose first language is not Bulgarian lack the vocabulary of their peers who speak Bulgarian at home. This creates huge gaps over time,” comments Rozalia Mitseva, second grade teacher at “Yordan Yovkov School in Plovdiv and “A New Way to Teaching” alumna.
Rozalia’s students are almost exclusively Roma which made her the perfect candidate to test the new teaching resources for bilingual children. Her students do not speak Bulgarian at home or even in their neighborhood, so the first time they have to use Bulgarian is when they start kindergarten. “They don’t understand most of the words I use, cannot grasp the meaning of the short texts they have to read in first grade, and do not understand teachers’ instructions or questions,” says Rozalia referring to the challenges teachers face when they find it extremely difficult to communicate with their students.
Key Factor: Resources for Teachers
According to data released by the Ministry of Education and Science and Konrad Adenauer Foundation, 20% of all children who start school do not speak Bulgarian as their first language and over half of all Roma households do not speak Bulgarian at home. Many of these children attend Teach For Bulgaria’s partner schools. According to the teachers who participate in Teach For Bulgaria’s programs, this lack of fluency in Bulgarian is among the main reasons for these children to lag behind their peers. Students experience difficulties with the academic content they are required to learn. They also feel misunderstood, unsuccessful, and frustrated in class. This puts them in the position of being at risk of dropping out.
“It is important to have specialized resources because these students have to learn Bulgarian as a second language, so they need a lot more visualizations in order to become fluent and expand their vocabulary,” Rozalia believes.
According to her, it is important for children to have a variety of level-appropriate and engaging exercises or projects. “We Are Reading with Asya and Yavor” provides plenty of those.
“There is a variety of engaging activities which boost children’s motivation and improve their engagement in class,” shares Rozalia.
Her students were looking forward to creating their own tactile letters – an integral part of the authors’ learning concept. Making tactile letters allows children to remember the shape of each letter before they move on to reading. The manual for tactile letters has templates and models. Once children learn a specific letter, they can cut the model and stick it to the matching template. “This makes it much easier for them to remember the letter,” Rozalia has noticed.
“We Are Reading with Asya and Yavor” is an alphabet book, created especially for children who need additional support to learn how to read. The activities are arranged in a way that completely immerses children in learning. Students gradually move on to more complex tasks and projects. The storyline with Asya and Yavor makes any topic entertaining. This motivates children to work on their reading comprehension skills.
Another positive effect that Rozalia noticed was that her students were eager and excited to read. “The activities and exercises are curated in a way which allows children to tackle any text,” the teacher says. This makes them feel successful and boosts their motivation.
“The storyline and the way all activities are curated is seamless and consistent, there are no sudden changes in terms of story or level of difficulty which usually presents a challenge for students,” Rozalia comments. “Children advance step by step and can clearly see their own progress.”
The learning resources are created by a speech therapist and early language development experts. They have taken into consideration children’s main hurdles when it comes to reading. The resources are also suitable for children whose first language may be Bulgarian, but who struggle with reading, or Bulgarian children who love abroad and have limited or no exposure to Bulgarian speech. The books are good for any child who wants to learn how to read.
You can order a digital copy of “We Are Reading with Asya and Yavor” for free at prepodavame.bg The first print run of the book was depleted in just one month with pre-orders from the entire country. Only the online version is available at the moment, but you can download it and print it out for personal use.
The project “Do you speak the language of your school?” is funded by public donations made by over 300 donors. In 2019, thanks to Nguyen Le and his colleagues at the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development, the project received a donation of 50,000 EUR. The third project partner – the Trust for Social Achievement also provided a financial grant, expertise, and dissemination support.
You can find more information about the learning resources at prepodavame.bg.
Order your free copy here.
Make a donation to support the project!
Photography by Ilia Dimitrov