Passionate, articulate, and driven, it’s easy to spot why Hollard chose Mojaki Finger, entrepreneur and MD of Next Level Learning’s THRASS® modality as one of its 12 small business partners in its Big Ads for Small Business support campaign towards better futures in South Africa; one that focuses on foundation phase learning for progressive literacy.
Sharing ad space with Hollard across big billboards, street pole ads, radio spots, TV and digital ad spaces, Next Level Learning’s value and benefits not only gets backing from South Africa’s largest privately-owned insurance group and a boost over their six-month small business exposure campaign; it is also resounding applause for literacy learning for South Africa’s schools, teachers, parents and student communities. And, according to Hollard’s Chief Marketing Officer Heidi Brauer, it’s not just another ad campaign but one with a purpose towards ‘a better way to do things’.
“We’re thrilled at the recognition,” says Finger. “Literacy is a significant problem in South Africa and predominant instructional practices, especially towards reading are not achieving the desired results. Against the latest PIRLS (2016) benchmark testing, 78% of 10-year-olds cannot read for meaning in any language. Spelling and Reading are the cornerstones of education – if a learner cannot successfully spell and read words, they are less likely to succeed at formal learning.”
An unusual sounding acronym for Teaching Handwriting Reading and Spelling Skills, THRASS focuses on early childhood development and Foundation Phase learning, delivering the building blocks for the teaching of speaking, reading, and writing skills in English, as a first or other language, and for students experiencing difficulties with learning, such as dyslexia.
“THRASS is specifically designed to assist with the ‘word level’ component of literacy and can more than double the normal rate of progress for learning reading and spelling. We are very proud to be recognised by Hollard in working together towards creating a better future, especially working at the core of empowering young learners in growing their education prospects,” says Finger.
Teaching Literacy Solutions
Endorsed by the South African Council for Educators and as licensed publishers, trainers and distributors of THRASS, Finger’s Next Level Learning business focuses on changing the lives of kids by fast-tracking English literacy with proven results in their operating territories of South Africa, Botswana, Namibia, Lesotho and Swaziland.
“Over the years, the South African schooling system has been influenced by two dominant schools of thought when it comes to reading instruction. The first is the whole word approach which centers around the notion that children would learn to read words if exposed to them often enough. In reading lessons, this is seen with “basal reader” books which are constructed of a few words repeated many times – also known as the Look Say method. This approach relies on and overloads memory and does not give children the ability to use the alphabetic principles and rules of written language to work out new words.
“Another predominant method is the Whole Language approach, which theorises that if children are read to and exposed to high quality literature, their word range will expand. This theory assumes that learning to read is just like learning to speak, that children will learn to read by reading – an approach known as the comprehension hypothesis.
“It’s like saying if I expose my child to a piano, they can learn how to play it just by seeing me play the piano and we know that is not how it happens. To learn to play a piano, we must teach the child through explicit instruction that there is a key scale, how to create harmony between the notes etc.
“Based on the successive PIRLS studies of 2011 and 2016 it is clear both approaches have not had significant impact on reading outcomes. The situation is compounded by inadequate preparation of teachers to teach reading as demonstrated by a study conducted by the Zenex Foundation which determined that 300 teachers drawn from Kwazulu Natal, Eastern Cape and Western Cape could not pass the Grade 3 English First additional language test.
“There is therefore a need to think radically about reading instruction, with a need to consider sound reading pedagogy that addresses key elements of reading instruction, namely Phonemic awareness, Phonics, Fluency, vocabulary and comprehension. THRASS is one such methodology.”
THRASS moves away from the traditional “One Letter Makes One Sound” method of teaching phonics and teaches children that letters can make different sounds depending on the ‘job’ they have to do in different words. For example, the letter “a” makes a different sound in each of the following words: ant; baby; banana; zebra; swan and ball. Children are made aware of the association between sounds and letters from an early age and are taught to distinguish between consonant and vowel sounds and to articulate the sounds correctly.
Learners Who Speak Read Write & Understand
THRASS is especially pivotal as a solution for South Africa’s current challenges, highlighted by the Department of Basic Education’s progression policy where young learners are automatically promoted through to the next grade if they fail the same grade twice regardless of whether they have acquired the necessary skills to proceed or not, and where learners are then required to use skills they have not yet mastered in the grades above.
“At the end of the day, it is the learner who is being affected,” says Finger. “How can they be positive contributors to society on a broader level if their learning, critical thinking and creativity is impaired. Currently, our learners are struggling, they can’t understand what they are being taught in the other subjects if they are not learning how to read early on. If a child can’t read, they quickly lose interest at school.
“Using the THRASS methodology, we are seeing significant gains to enhance literacy skills including children’s reading, spelling, auditory, visual, sequential and spatial perceptual skills which are all improved while grasping lifelong learning skills across the curriculum. At the same time, THRASS is designed to provide teachers with a multisensory, phonographic methodology to deliver positive learning outcomes in the literacy skills that are critical in mastering the other cornerstones of basic education,” says Finger.
With THRASS, the 44 speech sounds (phonemes) in spoken English and their related 120 key spellings (spelling choices or graphemes) in written English, are designed to teach children how to spell, read and write by using pictures and keywords and how to identify blended sounds for reading, and to segment and spell sounds in words for writing, thereby automatically developing fluency, pronunciation, and comprehension.
A Better Way of Doing Things
In a pilot of nine of the worst performing schools in the eastern Free State, where THRASS was introduced to the teachers and pupils, all participating schools showed a sharp increase in literacy skills and produced several spelling BEE finalists, with one of the pupils going on to win the competition.
Parkdene Primary School in Benoni is another flagship success story, together with advocate and Naturena Primary School Head of Department Mrs L. Ntuli who says, “Our aim has always been to improve the learner’s performance in literacy. The THRASS program helped us integrate our academically-challenged learners and has moved learners from ‘learning to read to reading to learn’”. It’s been a real eye-opener for us, assisting us in finding ways to bridge the gap between Foundation Phase and Intermediate phase and seeing kids learning to love to read with understanding and enjoyment, which is a major focus for us at Naturena Primary.”
Discussing the challenges in bringing progressive learning models into a resource constrained and resistant educational sector, Finger says, “Donor organisations understand the scale of the problem here in South Africa, and they are looking to make a difference, however as an independent publisher of the THRASS learning methodology its challenging to fit into their fixed funding models.
“Ultimately, my mission is to share the power of the THRASS methodology with the teachers, they are at the heart of our education system, and they have the heart of the kids in their hands. This is a national issue; currently, teachers are not trained how to teach reading to learners. THRASS resources are relevant, fun and they empower the teachers and learners together. It’s my wish to see every learner in the country become an independent and empowered reader with a love for books. The world will be a better place for it.”
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