Reading and children: the treasure of LECXIT

Natàlia Martínez - @ohcontes

Tuesday afternoon at last, 5 pm.

Bruna has said goodbye to all her classmates and has had a snack in the school playground. It’s almost time; she is about to meet Rosa for the first time. And she doesn’t know it yet, but this will be the best afternoon of the week!
Jitters, excitement, eagerness and a certain restlessness are the ingredients that feed the waiting, tick-tock, tick-tock.
Until the school door opens again and in walks Rosa, a retired teacher with a huge smile, sparkling eyes and a big red book under her arm. It is a book that she has chosen wisely for the occasion and which she hopes to read in company. A shy meeting and introduction between Bruna and Rosa, and now the adventure begins.

Rosa is one of the more than 2,000 volunteers in the LECXIT project who, thanks to their commitment, enthusiasm and dedication, share an hour a week with a child in the fourth, fifth or sixth year of primary school to generate emotional and exciting experiences around reading. Emotion is the driving force; motivation is the energy that sets a learning process towards educational success in motion. And from this emotion already in the air at the first meeting, each of the hours that Rosa and Bruna will spend together will be an important milestone on this path.
The book Rosa has chosen for today, the first of all the books they will share, is A Child of Books by Oliver Jeffers and Sam Winston (Walker Books UK & Candlewick Press, 2016). And it is so special because this work embodies the essence of LECXIT, the soul of the project. In the album, a little girl who travels through her imagination takes a boy by the hand to travel with him through a sea of words, lush fairytale forests and castles inhabited by monsters and witches. This girl squeezes the child’s hand, accompanies him and encourages him, following infinite lines of letters that mark the paths of the stories. And from this afternoon onwards, Rosa will be the Child of Books who will guide Bruna through the universe of reading, exploring together a new world to be discovered.

Llibres per a infants

LECXIT is to share a journey with children who, like Bruna, do not always understand what they read, who perhaps recognise the letters, syllables, and words, but not the messages hidden within them: indecipherable codes, incomprehensible meanings. And without meanings, there are no stories. Or even worse, without understanding what you read, school and life go uphill… LECXIT is a loving and generous push to overcome this climb gradually.
In Catalonia, 1 in 4 children have a low reading level at the end of primary school. The fact that this child does not have an optimal reading comprehension level negatively compromises their academic performance and can lead directly to failure at school. But of course, this failure at school also affects them in areas beyond education.

In Catalonia, 1 in 4 children have a low reading level at the end of primary school.

For some time now, Bruna has been confronted with texts and finds them obscure, like complex tongue twisters that do not flow and almost choke her. And that feeling complicates everything, with significant emotional problems: insecurity, fears, low self-esteem, and a damaged self-image paint the portrait of a child who does not understand a story that they have read and who, consequently, does not understand a maths calculation problem, the explanation of a page in a textbook or the instructions for a board game. In life, reading is all around us, everything is reading, and if reading is hard, everything is complicated.
This is LECXIT’s ultimate mission, its primary goal: to drive educational success through improved reading comprehension to ensure a child’s development not only educationally but also socially and emotionally. To create motivating and meaningful learning experiences that enable children to become more competent readers in all areas of life.
But faced with the challenge of reading, what do we need to shed light on and understand the messages hidden between the letters? How can the volunteers of LECXIT light the way and give that boost towards success?
Let’s experiment; let’s put ourselves in the place of a LECXIT child and try reading a book that is not written in our language, with indecipherable words that, in principle, are not understandable. The book is Du Iz Tak? by Carson Ellis (Candlewick Press, 2016), a story told through a conversation between different insects, a dialogue between fireflies, snails, caterpillars, crickets and other bugs that observe the growth of a green shoot and that is written in a supposed insect language.

If we explore only the text, we will find incomprehensible speech bubbles and meaningless letters, making constructing its meaning impossible (Du iz tak? Ma nazoot. Ru badda unk ribble…) But what if we broaden the way we read it? What if we do a reading considering all the aspects that the work offers us?
If we accompany the text with the album’s illustrations, with the sequence of actions that the images show us, with a reading aloud that plays with intonation, discovering questions, and exclamations, noting surprise, disappointment and joy among its protagonists. What’s more, if we play with the rhythm and the pause, with the turning of the page and the materiality of the book object… If we read it thoroughly, the text will light up in minutes. We will discover the story that the work tells us beyond the first encrypted and indecipherable words: the cycle of life, discovery and adventure, the passage of time and transformation, nature in its splendour, and the consequences of actions on the environment… And so we find the light of all amid the darkness! Switching on the light is precisely what the LECXIT mentor can do.
Because the activity of reading is much more than understanding a text. Good reading comprehension involves reading the letters and interpreting all the elements that make up the message —reading everything we find written in the text and between the lines, reading what is hidden behind the letters and thoroughly and comprehensively understanding everything.
Today Bruna has begun her journey towards a global reading comprehension in which Rosa will give her the keys to open up the meanings of texts and enjoy reading as a life experience. These keys define each session, making each meeting a special moment of growth and consolidation.

These seven keys that make the magic happen are the great values of the LECXIT programme:

1. Individualised support through the full-time presence of someone with you for one hour a week for almost the entire school year. A company that, naturally and spontaneously, will create a solid and affective bond.
2. Active listening without expecting anything in return and genuine interest in getting to know your tastes and preferences, concerns and worries, and discovering new universes to explore and share.
3. The confidence of those who know that every afternoon will be a new opportunity to face the challenge, without judgement or criticism, with respect and generosity, believing fully in the potential and capabilities of the child next to them.
4. The almost infinite patience and calm of someone who is not in a hurry. With tranquillity and perseverance, step by step. Being flexible and adapting to the pace of each person. There is no goal; enjoy the journey.
5. The empathy of someone who walks beside you and strives to make your path more straightforward and more accessible and who becomes an essential point of reference and support.
6. The fondness and affection that goes with any proposal, book choice, activity or game, and any conversation during the session. Beautiful memories are built and shared with the reading partner.
7. Recognition and positive reinforcement for the effort made every day, overcoming difficulties little by little, valuing every success, every page, every book read, every learning achieved, every experience lived.

claus LECX

And above these seven values, which are true treasures, there is a unique and very precious one, one that when we don’t have it, we want it like pure gold: time. Quality time, real-time, a full 60 minutes a week, for months. The volunteer gives unconditional time to their child every afternoon. Those who experience it say that the minutes of the session fly by and that when they finish, they are already looking forward to the next six days to experience it all over again. Tick-tock, tick-tock and look forward to the next LECXIT event.
And in the trickle of minutes, one after the other, the seed planted in fertile soil at that first meeting begins to grow slowly but surely. It is watered every afternoon, every week, and so, little by little, a green sprout germinates, like the one in the book Du Iz Tak? And after a few weeks, the sprout blossoms into a beautiful flower with bright and cheerful colours. The seed of reading comprehension has blossomed, and now Bruna can enjoy the book Rosa has brought her today, the poem they have chosen together, and the comic book everyone is discussing outside school.
Thus, thanks to the commitment, dedication and appreciation of the volunteers and the authentic and meaningful bond that is created in the couple, children like Bruna begin to believe in themselves again, in their abilities, they feel valued, they begin to relate the activity of reading with a joyous moment of enjoyment and fun, and they discover new ways of interpreting texts and experimenting with reading, confident and comfortable in the face of error or difficulty that no longer frightens them. This self-confidence and this new belief in oneself as a person capable of facing a challenge is the true treasure that is LECXIT.

JEFFERS, O; WINSTON, S. A Child of Books. Walker Books UK & Candlewick Press, 2016.

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