Strengthening a Culture of Literacy Amongst Rural Guatemalan Youth Through the Creation and Application of Literature Circles
Monday, July 13, 2020
by: Amanda Flayer

Section: News Articles

Winter/Summer 2020

Amanda Flayer is the director and founder of la Puerta Abierta Atitlan, a vibrant learning center for students of all ages with a focus on meaningful education and literacy outreach in Santiago Atitlan, Guatemala. She taught bilingual elementary education in Oakland, California. Amanda graduated from UC Berkeley with a focus in education and Spanish. She arrived in Guatemala in 2003 as a Peace Corps volunteer. While she never imagined that she would be planting her roots in rural Guatemala, she couldn’t be happier living in a colorful rural village with her husband, two rambunctious daughters and equally rambunctious dogs. Amanda feels fortunate to have work that is creative, meaningful, and keeps her connected to the playful spirit of children. La Puerta Abierta received The American Library Association Presidential Citation for Innovative International Library Projects in 2018.

Rural schools in Guatemala function with the bare necessities: a chalkboard, wooden desks, miniature chairs, and dusty shelves. School supplies are scarce and books are nearly non-existent.

Most students who are lucky enough to attend public school in rural Guatemala will learn to read. However, very few will learn to enjoy a good story or experience the pleasure of having adventures in reading. In Guatemala, reading is taught via phonetics, and grammar is presented in rote exercises. Few students will have the opportunity to actually read a book, explore literary terms, or connect with novels during their elementary education. Even fewer will be encouraged to develop their critical thinking and comprehension skills through reading.

Families in rural Guatemala, mostly from indigenous Maya communities, earn just enough to survive day to day. Men work in the fields harvesting a variety of fruits and vegetables. When work is available, they will bring home approximately $8 a day to cover the living expenses of their family. For the families who struggle to buy tortillas and beans to feed their children, there remains little extra funding for books and educational materials.

La Puerta Abierta is a vibrant learning center, school, and library for students of all ages with a focus on meaningful education and literacy outreach in Santiago Atitlan, Guatemala. One of our most successful programs is our Circulos de lectura (reading circle) program.

La Puerta Abierta is a vibrant learning center, school, and library for students of all ages with a focus on meaningful education and literacy outreach in Santiago Atitlan, Guatemala.

The reading circle program allows individual students in a reading group to each receive a loaned copy of the same novel and to read the book together, while accompanied by an adult mentor.  Via reading the story as a group, students have the opportunity to communally discuss literature, make personal connections with a novel, delve deeper into understanding the story, explore literary terms, expand their vocabularies, create community, and build confidence in speaking in public.

Currently, La Puerta Abierta hosts 10 reading circles within our community. We partner with schools and local non-governmental organizations. Our adult mentors participate in monthly trainings and learn how to lead and engage their reading groups. They also receive a manual designed by La Puerta Abierta which includes information about how to begin/structure a reading circle, background information about the titles used in the circles, specific and general discussion questions for each title, a dictionary of literary terms, and connection/extension activities to use with the selected novels.

Mentor and La Puerta Abierta librarian Salvador Isaias Sisay shares, “When I was a child, I didn’t have access to books. My teachers made me read sentences from a newspaper in front of the class. Sometimes the articles we were meant to read were very advanced in vocabulary, or the topics were for a more mature audience. As a result, I developed a strong dislike for reading, which I only learned to remedy as an adult. I understand how introducing young people to books with the accompaniment of a mentor can provide them with a positive connection to reading, one I wish I had received as a child.”

The books chosen for the reading circles are determined by cultural relevance, grade level appropriateness, and group interest. Examples of titles used include El único destino by Alexandra Diaz, El soñador by Pam Muñoz Ryan, La primera regla de punk by Celia C. Pérez, and Caminar by Skila Brown.

Through access to books and reading circles, La Puerta Abierta is influencing a new generation of readers and critical thinkers in rural Guatemala.

La Puerta Abierta Reading Circle, 6th Grade

La Puerta Abierta, Reading Circle Jr. High
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