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“Reading is a powerful force in society and connects us to the thoughts and ideas of people across space and time” – a Q&A with Theresa Giorza, literacies activist and PhD researcher

Published in the Sunday World: 20 May 2018; Daily Dispatch 21 May 2018; Herald 24 May 2018

By Carla Lever

Children decide in pairs which picture we are are going to discuss to follow our question: “Can a street be a classroom?” Here, two girls vote for a picture showing a collection of cut-out mermaids and fairies. Photographer: Daniel Born

Can you tell us a little about your research?

I’m really interested in the ways that children create stories but also connect with everyday objects, situations and spaces. My research has been about finding out how children make meaning by engaging with their surroundings. I’ve recently experimented with the question of whether a street can be a classroom and uncovered a whole lot of new ways of thinking about public spaces and children’s learning.

Why is children’s literacy such a passion for you?

Actually I like to talk about ‘literacies’ rather than ‘literacy’ because I see children expressing themselves through so many different means, many of them not needing words at all. Drawing is probably the most well supported story-making children’s language that is acknowledged by adults, but there are so many more!

Your work must have taken you to some interesting places and situations! Can you tell us some of the most memorable moments with children and storytelling?

The most remarkable things have happened when I have been able to return to a group of children I have worked with. The way that the slow, thoughtful processing of ideas works over time and re-emerges in different expressions is always surprising. Children develop their own favorite themes that can be seen as the beginning of their ‘literacy’ practice – even if there are no words involved!

What are the biggest everyday things all of us can do to make a difference with literacy acquisition and a love for books in our families and communities?

The two most important things are so simple: to have really good conversations and to be interested in the world! The key to having good conversations is to be interested in how people, including the very smallest people, see things and in what they think about the world.

What are some of the most creative South African teaching solutions you’ve encountered in response to lack of resources or challenging conditions?

The use of an ‘enquiry-based’ approach to learning is really creative. It’s a form of learning where children are encouraged to ask questions and explore ideas themselves as a way into a topic, rather than just being told facts. Philosophy with Children, for example, is an enquiry-based approach that uses picture books to explore ideas in a space in which the ideas and questions of children lead the session instead of the teacher.

Why is reading together with children – and by oneself around children – so important?

Reading is a powerful force in society and connects us to the thoughts and ideas of people across space and time! Reading is at the centre of the way we learn and communicate, so it’s important that we invite children in as new readers as early as possible and establish reading as an enjoyable and inclusive activity.

What positive changes do you think we can realistically expect to see in the next five years in South African literacies or education?

One positive change I anticipate is for parents and families to really come on board in promoting children’s literacies. We need to educate parents about the importance of all the ‘literacies’ their children can explore before being introduced to school instruction – creative expression in storytelling, music, drawing and pattern making. Even more positive changes will come when ‘formal’ literacy learning embraces the abilities that children have for creating meaning, inventing narratives and engaging with the world together.

From Sunday April 15, Nal’ibali will be publishing its supplements in two new languages. An English-Setswana edition will be published in the Sunday World in the North West, and an English-Xitsonga edition will be donated to reading clubs in Limpopo. Clubs in both provinces will collect their copies from select post offices. The post offices (10 in each province) will also have 50 additional editions each to give away to member of the public.


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