Recent studies have showed that 75 percent of third graders and 66 percent of sixth graders in El Salvador read below grade level with limited understanding of verbal text. Students learn via rote memorization, copying and dictation, partially due to lack of access to books. Despite recent reform efforts, teachers continue to teach reading as a mechanical skill through a one-size-fits-all approach and have very low capacity to effectively teach students to read for comprehension, write for expression and think deeply for problem solving. ConTextos believes that changes to teaching practice are difficult to sustain, and that improvement is more likely when teachers receive on-going support and training, both in the classroom and through constant and detailed feedback from trainers and colleagues.
For two years, ConTextos has been working with 21 teachers and over 800 students in three schools in the rural and coastal areas of El Salvador, with support from the Ministry of Education, to establish monthly professional development workshops for teachers and weekly support through classroom modeling, observation, and planning for teachers who demonstrate leadership skills and a disposition to embrace and implement new methodologies. In addition, a lending library has been established and maintained at each of the schools, with 7,000 high-quality age- and context-appropriate books. Each of these "nucleus schools" serves as a hub to three additional schools nearby for sharing library resources, for professional networking and for receiving site visits from teachers and school directors who have themselves been participating in the professional development, thereby expanding the reach of their program. ConTextos works closely with local educational authorities to encourage and facilitate collaboration and exchange among the “nucleus” and “satellite” schools.
Preliminary results of the interventions have been promising. Data show that children in lower grades read 40 to 60 age-appropriate books during the 2011-2012 school year as compared to none before the intervention. Children at all age levels showed higher levels of class participation, teamwork, individual work (as opposed to copying), and in-class and independent reading. As a result of the intervention, teachers showed significant changes in their classroom practices, such as engaging students in discussions, asking open ended questions and using multiple strategies to support reading development. The Tinker Foundation's two year grant to ConTextos will expand the project to three new nucleus schools and eight satellite schools in the state of La Libertad, to reach 80 more teachers and 3,200 students from kindergarten through high school.