The Power of Writing

The Power of Writing

As Tizta’s fingers curl around a pencil, her words come to life through poetry, showcasing the writing skills that she developed as a recent graduate of the Luminos Fund program in Ethiopia.

One of eight children, Tizta moved from her rural community to live with her aunt and cousin in the eastern city of Dire Dawa when she was ten years old. At the time, she had been out of school for more than two years and had aged out of the mainstream school system. In Dire Dawa, Tizta enrolled in the Luminos program, where she caught up on missed foundational literacy and numeracy skills in ten months, enabling her to transition into grade 4 in a government school this year.

Learning

Learning is the key to knowledge

It answers the missing days

In short, when the lesson starts

I know not knowing is the main problem.

A poem by Luminos alum,

Tizta, age 12

When we talk about early childhood literacy, there is a tendency in the international education sector to focus on the critical importance of teaching children to read. This emphasis on reading is reinforced by the widespread use of literacy assessment tools, like the Early Grade Reading Assessment (EGRA), that test the ability of children to read letters, words, and sentences — but not their ability to write them. Yet true literacy can only be achieved through the combination of reading and writing skills.

A Luminos student in Liberia practices writing the alphabet in the early weeks of the program. (Photo: John Healey for the Luminos Fund) 

Writing unlocks new forms of communication, self-expression, and creativity. There is also extensive evidence that learning to write enhances reading and comprehension skills. [1] As students learn to spell words, they internalize the relationships that exist between letter combinations and sounds, ultimately improving their ability to identify and blend those sounds to read words. At the same time, as students build familiarity with the conventions of writing (how to write letters between the lines in their notebook, how to add spaces between words, how to use punctuation, etc.), they become that much better equipped to navigate text on a page.

Writing unlocks new forms of communication, self-expression, and creativity.

Tizta outside her government school classroom.

Education is very important! If you don’t get an education, you can’t reach where you want to go. It’s important to get an education so that you can achieve your dreams and become what you want to become.” says Tizta. (Photo: Mara Chan/Luminos Fund) 

This is particularly important in the context of Luminos classrooms, where many students have limited prior exposure to print materials. As students progress to reading more complex sentences and stories, writing about those stories is a highly effective way to stretch and test their levels of comprehension and engagement with the core ideas in a text.

For Tizta, learning to read in the Luminos program was transformational, but so too was learning to write. When asked about her proudest accomplishment at school, Tizta shared, “The fact that I’m able to read — and the fact that I can write, because it allows me to write my poems.” Tizta first became interested in poetry after reading a book with a poem about Ethiopia. Now, when she has time, she likes to sit quietly by herself and write her own poetry. “Because I’m able to write,” she explains, “I can put my ideas into my poems.”

“Because I’m able to write, I can put my ideas into my poems.”

Tizta, Luminos alum

Learning to Write in the Luminos Program

In Luminos structured pedagogy programs in Ethiopia, children begin learning to write from day one. Our program is broken into three phases, each corresponding to a grade level in government schools. In Phase 1 (grade 1), children are introduced to new letters – and learn decodable syllables or words that use these letters – each day. [2] 

Through a combination of “I do, we do, you do” activities, our students learn to recognize the sounds of the new letters, to read the letters, and to write the letters. In addition, students learn how to write at least one decodable word each day. In this phase, students practice writing in a variety of fun and engaging ways. They may start by tracing letter shapes in the air and working in groups to form the letters out of bottle caps, stones, or clay, before writing the letters on slate boards or in their notebooks. Students may finish a lesson by creating flashcards that are later used for a variety of interactive reading activities.

In Phases 2 and 3 (equivalent to grades 2 and 3), students are introduced to at least one reading passage a week. To help students read these texts with fluency, teachers focus on five vocabulary words from the passage each day. Students first practice reading the words by blending their component letter sounds together, and then spelling the words through dictation exercises. Finally, they demonstrate their understanding of the meaning of the words by using them in sentences (both orally and in writing).

A Luminos student notebook in Tigray, Ethiopia. (Photo: Noorun Khan/Luminos Fund)

At the beginning of the week, students write the full reading passage in their notebooks. We introduced this routine to ensure every child would have access to the text, even if they did not have their own their own copies of the textbook, and it has proved to be a very effective activity to improve handwriting and familiarity with sentence structure. As the week progresses, students annotate the passages in their notebooks: finding and underlining the vocabulary words of the day and identifying verbs and other grammatical structures. By Phase 3, students are asked to write answers to comprehension questions, including more open-ended inference questions. 

For our students, the writing journey often starts with something as basic as learning how to properly hold a pencil for the first time. Their journey to mastering letters, words, and then complete sentences unlocks the power of writing. Luminos students often share how proud they are to write their names and the names of their family members – a quiet dignity from this hard-earned skill.

At Luminos, we believe that equipping children with foundational literacy and numeracy skills is essential to unlocking their full potential. After her experience in the Luminos program, Tizta has dreams of becoming a doctor or a teacher. Whichever path she chooses, she hopes to continue to write poems and do poetry readings in her spare time. While the education sector tends to measure success by focusing on gains in reading, Tizta’s poetry is a beautiful reminder of the transformative power of writing.

Tizta with her former Luminos teacher, Ms. Saron. Today, Tizta’s poems often feature her teachers and importance of education. When she grows up, Tizta says, “I want to become a teacher after completing university. I want to be a teacher so that I can educate those who haven’t had a chance to get an education.” (Photo: Mara Chan/Luminos Fund)

[1] Graham, S., and Hebert, M. A. (2010). Writing to read: Evidence for how writing can improve reading. A Carnegie Corporation Time to Act Report. Washington, DC: Alliance for Excellent Education. ccny_report_2010_writing.pdf (carnegie.org)

[2] Decodable words are words that include only the letter-sound relationships that students have been explicitly taught. For example, if they have been taught the most common sounds represented by the letters a, c, and t, “cat” would be a decodable word while “can” would not. Learn more in our “Phonics 101” blog here.

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The Luminos Fund is a 501(c)(3), tax-exempt charitable organization registered in the United States (EIN 36-4817073).

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