Volunteering with Joy Of Reading

Hello! My name is Diya, and I am a student and a volunteer with Joy of Reading.

As a child, I loved stories. I was fortunate enough to always have access to a library, and my constant access to books has allowed my love of stories to persist to this day. I adored Dr. Seuss and Mo Willems, and I devoured all their picture books. As I got older and began to read longer books, I immersed myself in the fantastic worlds of Roald Dahl and Mary Pope Osborne’s Magic Tree House. I still love to read today, even if I do not have as much time for it. My love for reading from a young age is partly what inspired me to join Joy of Reading: it pains me to think of children who do not get to experience what I could throughout my childhood.

I have been volunteering with Joy of Reading since the summer of 2019, when I attended a book sorting event with a couple close friends. It was meant to be a one-time thing: going in, I had no idea what Joy of Reading was about, and I just wanted to get a few more volunteer hours under my belt. As I began to learn more about Joy of Reading and its mission, I developed a fascination with the organization. I have always loved to read, and I became invested in the cause, which brings books to children in India without access to them. I began volunteering by scanning and boxing books for shipment. Joy of Reading has collected thousands of books that are ready for shipment, but the boxes need to be labelled with the titles of the books inside. I spent my time taking boxes home and scanning the books inside. I enjoyed it—I loved doing my part to help the cause! This year, I began working on the blog. I hope to continue volunteering in the future!

Our little experiment to inculcate Joy of Reading

The JoR Hour – What , How & more …

Joy of Reading (JoR) conducted ‘JoR Hour’ a  pilot program of structured reading at TSWRS Narsingi, Telangana, India with a team of 4 volunteers (Sailaja, Shiney, Vandana, Harini), for the academic year 2019 – 2020. The JoR hour was conducted during the library hours for the children. 

We conducted the JoR hour twice a week for two classes of fifth graders. Each class consisted of 40 children. Two of us were always present during each session and at rare times all the four of us were present to provide the much needed attention to individual groups of children.  .

The books that JoR donated were levelled based on the GROW By methodology from Hippocampus.  In order for children to pick out the book at the right level we first measured reading levels of all the children. The children were then grouped according to their reading levels to facilitate like minded support groups and also help us in conducting targeted level based Interactive Read Aloud Sessions.

During the Library Hour

The children checked out books of their own choice at their reading level. It’s important to note that the children were the ones who chose what book to read (at their level)  during the library hour. Choice Reading is important to facilitate interest in reading. We also gave them a small exercise at the end of the story to express their own opinions and understanding of the story either in their local language or English. After finishing a book at their level and the exercise assigned, children were encouraged to take any book at any level and read. 

Volunteers conducted Interactive Read Aloud (IRA) Sessions for one or two groups  using books according to the level of the group. We adopted a round robin technique across the groups during the week to make sure every group was exposed to IRA. During the read alouds, reading and comprehension techniques were also taught so that children knew how to read a book successfully even if they did not understand every word in the book. At the end of the Read Aloud we asked the children to explain the content of one page in their own words..  

We also had a couple of struggling readers groups per class. These children struggled to read in English and also in comprehending the text. There were also children who were able to read the text but could not comprehend what they read. We gave extra attention to the struggling readers group.A  volunteer conducted the Interactive Read Aloud session with struggling readers group consistently every week during this program. Every child was also asked to read one page of the book by themselves to develop confidence in reading.  We also helped them learn FRY’s sight words .Thus during the JoR hour, the children read at least one book at their level and also completed a fun and a simple exercise. This systematic approach helped develop interest in reading amongst the children and helped us determine their understanding..

What did we see?

We used the Hippocampus level measurement – GROW BY methodology (Green, Red, Orange, White, Blue, Yellow) – increasing order of difficulty. Our observations from the 5th A and 5th B class.

Quantitative Results

(*) 50% of Green reduced to 10% 
(*) 16% of Orange increased to 48% Orange+ 
(*) 70% of Green reduced to 25%
(*) 7.5 % Orange increased to 25%

Qualitative Results

(*) "Principals  from other TSWRS schools who visited the Narsingi school, observed that quite a few  5th graders attempted to speak in English and were impressed.
(*) Children attempted to speak in English whenever they could with the volunteers.   
(*) Every group enacted a skit based on one story they chose at their level

This testimonial from an English Teacher on the reading journey of the students was very encouraging.  
  “I observe a subtle difference in the 5th class children this year. They don’t seem to waste time roaming around, when they have free time but they seem to use their time either in art, reading, writing or something else. I have not observed this in other class children so far. The 5th class kids are more mature, and their character is much better.” She believed that reading has made a significant difference. This was an intangible outcome but invaluable as inculcating moral values is a life long learning !

These results were observed after a period of 7 months with the JoR hour being conducted twice a week. With a systematic approach, more than 60% of the class moved up a reading level. The children also went through their regular school courses which also contributed to the improvement. However the qualitative observations was a testimony that the program had helped in multiple fronts especially with the increase in the number of children attempting to speak in English.  Reading books according to one’s level made the whole reading experience pleasant and provided the required confidence to children that they could read English story books! 

The reading level knowledge could come handy while teaching English . Children could learn and apply  grammar concepts and comprehension techniques with text at their level (rather than understanding it from one standard text ). 

Many of the children who joined TSWRS at 5th grade were from local language medium schools. Due to less exposure to the English language the children fell in the struggling readers group. However wIth focussed attention from volunteers and strong determination from children, more than 50% of children at the struggling readers group moved one level up as we observed from the results. A few hard workers improved more than one reading level up. A handful of children did not make any progress which was understandable. 

A 5th class English text book @ TSWRS is at Orange level and a quick and effective technique needs to be adopted to bridge the gap in English levels.  Learning the language through stories is fun, interesting and last but not the least effective. And reading regularly helps in inculcating the reading habit as well. We were able to achieve two objectives through our effort ! In our own style, the moral of the story is “Aim to get two mangoes with one stone !! “

Level Improvement Graphs

“GREEN- ”  means struggling readers at Green level
“GREEN” means readers at Green level

We have ‘-‘ group just to create 2 groups within a level. The ‘-‘ group is a bit lower than the regular Group i.e RED- < RED


Future Plans

Our plan is to continue to equip librarians and English teachers with tools to help them in their teaching journey, so that their students pick up the right book and continue to progress in their reading levels.


Every dark cloud has a silver lining

It was a friday morning in the month of February 2019. Madhu and I were scheduled to visit a partner in Bengaluru. We had, just the day before visited the school of Hippocampus foundation – DKS Hippocampus school in Halasahalli, Karnataka. It was a hectic two day trip. The second day started at 7:30 am, with me desperately trying to book an Uber to reach the partner in the other part of Bengaluru from where I was staying. After several minutes of waiting and cancellations I finally got on the cab. The next pain started with the crazy traffic in Bengaluru. In my mind I was cursing the traffic and the busy city of Bengaluru. To keep myself busy, I started reading news and the news of 40 jawans killed in  a terrorist bomb attack in Pulwama, Kashmir (the day before) greeted me. The news once more reminded me of the fact that there are so many who face actual adverse conditions in life. 

Madhu and her niece Apurva joined me at the Hippocampus office in the morning. With the news still playing in my mind, all three of us reached Madiwala, Bengaluru  to visit the Government Observation Home for Boys. It was a nondescript building completely secured.

 An Observation Home is the first stop for troubled children who get into  conflict with the law. 

We went inside and were greeted by Ms Kalpana Purushothaman, who had invited us to visit the facility, as we had supplied books to them to start a reading center / library for the youth present in the building( in 2018). A brief background on Ms Kalpana Purushothaman -> She is a member of the Juvenile Justice Board and is part of the Judicial bench, a three member panel, who adjudicate cases of children in conflict with the law (both boys and girls) brought from all across Bangalore (Urban) district. She is someone  with a passion to bring in some positive changes to the home and brighten the lives of the boys housed in there. She believes in bringing a positive atmosphere and light in the lives of the boys, even though it’s a facility that reminds one of darkness. We were also introduced to Dr. Kamalavva, Superintendent of the Observation Home who is with these boys day in and day out handling the very many issues. A young mother herself, with a PhD in Human Development, she works tirelessly to bring hope and cheer to the lives of the children in her care.

Harini, Madhu, Kalpana & Kamalavva

Ms. Kalpana, Dr Kamalavva and the staff keep looking for ways to bring a positive atmosphere, cheer and hope amongst the boys housed in there.

After our discussion we were led on a tour of the facility. Indeed it was out of the box thinking of the team to provide for the boys with some space to play a sport they enjoy, within the constraints present (that prohibit them from going outside the facility to play). An indoor basketball court in a room inside the facility.

Then we were led to the reading room. Our eyes brightened to see the books from Joy of Reading lined up in the shelves neatly. The reading room had chairs and tables and looked like any other library.

The boys had decorated the walls with their paintings. The room resembled just any other regular library outside and the feeling that it was inside a secured campus was not there. The Open Learning Space created with the help of Headstreams along with the boys looked warm and inviting.  

We did get a chance to meet the boys present in the facility, who were participating in a workshop that involved expressing their thoughts through painting. The session was led by a dance and movement facilitator Lakshmi . The theme that day was “What made them feel safe?”

  • One boy had expressed that he felt most safe with his parents and had drawn a beautiful picture with a child holding the hands of 2 elders.
  • Another boy had drawn a picture where he expressed that he felt safe with his elder brother and told us, that had his brother been there he would have never ended up here.
  • Another boy had drawn his house and implied that his safe environment was his house.

We couldn’t take pictures in this room due to privacy reasons – but I remember these paintings even though its close to 6 months since I visited. These were boys who were 15 or 16 or 17 years but these paintings made us realize that they were just children. Their paintings depicting the safe environment stirred up too many emotions. These were children who committed mistakes due to not receiving proper guidance/education or by just being in the wrong environment or company. Yet amongst all these, we were glad that they had some light in the dark tunnel they were navigating – thanks to Kalpana, Dr Kamalavva and the staff there, who encourage these interactions..

Lakshmi was close to ending the session, and she played a song and asked the boys to dance. Some of them were shy, but some were very enthusiastic and gave us some good bollywood dance moves. They cheered Kalpana to join them, who shook a leg enthusiastically.

Lakshmi mentioned that the boys had told her that they loved the library and it was a refuge for them during their down times.  We silently high fived in our minds, for making a small impact in the lives of these children.

We had given a book on Clifford and one of the boys had drawn Clifford so beautifully from the book which we had donated. It struck a chord and touched us that these books helped in some way – thanks to countless donors who had given the books to us.

Two hours had flown past just like that. It was time to take leave. Kalpana requested us to see if anyone could volunteer to do reading sessions with the children there during the library hours.

If you are in Bengaluru and can spare an hour once a week or once every 2 weeks, please get in touch with us. We will guide you on what needs to be done at the Government Observation Home for Boys, Madiwala. 

Email: joyofreadingus@gmail.com

With a myriad of emotions running in our minds we took leave. Our hearts felt heavy but there was a silver lining – there are so many people working in making life much better on this earth. We have miles to go but so glad that we embarked on this journey. The day started in one way and ended up giving us a real time view of those really facing tough situations and reinforcing us on our mission to make a difference however small it maybe. Thanks to everyone who is supporting us on making this journey possible.

The Sarva Vidya Experiment

It was 2017 close to the festival of Deepavali or the festival of lights. I had gone to Chennai to celebrate the festival with family. At this time we also had a load of books that were dropped from the US to Chennai, due to some good samaritan agreeing to carry the books from USA. I had to pick them up and take it with me to Hyderabad or think about organisations at Chennai itself. As this was happening, Sarva Vidya  caught our spotlight. Sarva Vidya is a trust that empowers the girl child through its nursing diploma program and also conducts after school classes for children in various grades. The trust itself sits at the Sarada Vidyalaya school run by the Ramakrishna Mutt – a local language medium school. The school and the trust have a good connection and the after school programs of Sarva Vidya run at the school as well. The headmistress of the after school program Ms. Namagiri,  Ms. Thenmozhi of Sarva Vidya , Mr CSRaghunathan one of the early founders and board member of Sarva Vidya and I met at Mr Raghunathan’s house. We discussed on the importance of reading and how to inculcate the same amongst children at an early stage. At this time the concept of Joy of Reading hour popped up. The discussion then proceeded to how we could implement it at Sarada Vidyalaya. No plan was made but agreed that we should start it at some point of time. Fate smiled at us and we had Ms. Ranjani Raghu interested in the Joy of Reading concept and decided to volunteer for the same. Everything seemed to fall in line. And thus the Joy of Reading journey started in Sarada Vidyalaya. Ranjani started visiting the school twice a week to conduct the JoR hour. Her routine was to read the  various story books present to children. The school is primarily a Tamil language medium school. However, small English stories were read and the children ended up learning new words. Often some activities around the story was also conducted as to who can repeat the story and what new words have been learnt etc.  

The reading of the story along with explanation in Tamil

Interactive session where meaning of new words learnt are asked of the children 

Ranjini : I am a part of Joy Of Reading program for the past one year, where I was reading story books for children of classes 4th and 5th in Ramakrishna mission, Sarada middle school in Chennai. It was a very nice experience. Children was so excited to listen to the stories by which they also learnt a few english words. They all enjoyed the session and were always waiting for the next session to come. Some children who did not open up in the beginning also started to participate at the end of the year. Overall it was an enjoyable experience for both me and the children

Ranjani during a JoR session at Sarada Vidyalaya

JoR Hour is a a volunteer run program. JoR is always on the look out for volunteers to help conduct the JoR hour in schools of its various partners. Ping us if you are interested. 

Thanks to Ranjani, the JoR hour at Sarada Vidyalaya has been running successfully for the past one year.  Here are some testimonials from some kids in the school after a year of the program

Kamalesh talking about his jolly experience in JoR Hour. He loved the Tenali Raman story and the peacock story. And learning new English words makes him feel good

Nisha from the 5th grade tells that she loves learning English through her story teacher & stories

A whole bunch of children treat it as a great platform to gain proficiency in English language and find the the story hour great fun which is different than their usual routine. As and when we find volunteers we want to scale the concept to other schools that we partner with as well. Stay tuned for the next experiment we are conducting at Sarva Vidya – to level and measure the reading level of children

Till then its Au revoir !

The wheels of the bus go round and round

India Literacy Project (ILP) : Our partner in mobility !

It was December and Hyderabad turns a tad bit chilly – a good time to visit the city as  the weather is pleasant. Madhu was visiting India for the holiday season.  In between her family visits , was a trip to the India Literacy Project office as well.  India Literacy Project is one of our initial partners . WE have an association that has spanned over years and we have supplied them books on and off through the years. The ILP Hyd chapter head Mr. Manmohan has helped us through many of our questions while we have discussed several rounds of how literacy worked in India. During the December of 2016 when Madhu was here, she and I went to the ILP office to discuss how to take the partnership further. It was at this time that ILP was figuring out how to move with their second mobile library van up and running. End result – Joy of Reading ended up sponsoring a mobile library van (thanks to Madhu and Joy of Reading US which sent funds to ILP India directly and JoR India helped with the books).

The mobile library sessions by ILP are similar to the Joy of Reading Hour. An ILP employee visits 2 schools per day distributing books as well as conducting various activities during the library hour and helping the children to read. 

So on one cold wintry morning in Hyderabad close to Chandanagar area at the Mpp School both JoR and ILP formally inaugurated the joint mobile library van. 

Needless to say, the children were very excited about their school being included and got the first set of books to read that day.

After a year here are some statistics from ILP on the mobile library 

Mobile Library data: 
Schools :  6 schools 
Students: 388
Sessions : 61 sessions (July to November 15th)
Books distributed: 1194 

Reading levels as per pre – assessments 
Level 1 – 163
Level 2 – 33
Level 3 – 7 .
Level 4 – 6
Level 0 – 179 (Beginners)

Thank you ILP . Looking forward to more such lovely initiatives in the future.