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The Global Search for Education: Teaching Litera

– What Students Might Learn from Play
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Posted By C. M. Rubin on May 21, 2019 Translation

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“We use play because play is learning.” – Catalina Gonzalez

Catalina González, founder and director of Literacy4all, begins her story in Colombia. A young school teacher, Search for:
Javier González-Quintero, was asked to send report cards for his students to their parents. Javier decided this Search
would not work since very few of the children’s parents were able to read and write. So, he decided instead to
meet with the parents in person. He invited the fathers to play dominoes. Many of the dads (who couldn’t read
or write) proceeded to beat Javier at dominoes and he wondered: what if these men could learn to read and Recent Posts
write the same way they learned to win at dominoes — through play?

abcdespañol board game was born, and for 30 years has been successfully implemented as a learning tool in
We Can Overcome
more than ten countries reaching over a million children, youth and adults. Today, LEMA – Literacy Education
Global Challenges
and Math Lab – works to support early literacy development in children from 1st to 4th grade that are not
Willing to Build an
reading at grade level.
New Models for Li
The Global Search for Education is pleased to welcome Javier’s daughter, Catalina González, to tell us how Learning
students are improving their literacy skill levels through play.
The Global Search
Education: Teachin
“Group play encourages relationship building and helps to promote the development of social and communication
– What Students M
skills. It also allows and encourages peer-to-peer learning.” – Catalina Gonzalez
from Play
Catalina, how would you describe your challenges and your progress with your model to date?
The Global Search
There are more children in classrooms today than there were 15 years ago. However, children are not learning Education: From M
how to read, write or use basic math. Children who don’t learn how to read by the end of third grade are likely to Let’s Get Digital
remain poor readers for the rest of their lives, and are likely to fall behind in other academic areas. Without
The Global Search
these foundational skills, there is no lifelong learning.
Education: How Em
Another challenge is how and what children are learning aligns poorly with how they learn best and with what Help Children Des
they need to learn. LEMA´s solution is based in play-based group work. We use play because play is learning. Futures
Group play encourages relationship building and helps to promote the development of social and
The Global Search
communication skills. It also allows and encourages peer-to-peer learning, changing the power dynamics of the
Education: Are You
traditional classroom. Through play, we are able to remove one of the biggest barriers to learning – fear.
Learners are encouraged to explore, discover, develop and test hypotheses, making learning relevant.

Lastly, the key to the LEMA model is its flexibility with regards to who, where and when learning takes place, and
who supports students on their learning journey. In some contexts, the process is guided by teachers during the Recent Comments
school time. In others, the process is guided by learning coaches, who can be retired teachers, grandparents,
parents, youth, older siblings, or volunteers. By bringing other social actors to support children´s literacy, we
build communities able to support schools and their children, unburden teachers, and ensure that children Nalinaksha Mutsu
acquire the skills they need when they need them. This form of learning can happen in and outside of the school Global Search for E
time. Defying Tradition –
with Nooks
To date, LEMA has been implemented in 4 countries, reaching over 8,000 children, and has trained over 500
teachers and learning coaches. The programs are set to become autonomous, allowing for programs and Jackie Burt on The
schools to incorporate LEMA in the way that works best for their community. Search for Educati
May be Beautiful b
“Learners are encouraged to explore, discover, develop and test hypotheses, making learning relevant.” – Catalina Essential
Pankaj Sharma on
What makes the Literacy4All learning tools and games unique compared to other models? Search for Educati

We are changing where, what and how children learn. Our approach to literacy goes beyond memorizing rules Icehearts

or repeating sounds. We approach language (including the language of mathematics) as systems, with rules to Annie on The Glob
be discovered and applied; studying and understanding exceptions as proof of these rules. Play groups allow for Education: Find
children to develop social skills, communication, collaboration, problem-solving and conflict resolution skills. It Common Ground
also promotes emotional intelligence and confidence, while supporting children’s creativity. In many parts of the
Marj Brown on The
world, the digital divide continues to be a challenge. Our model can reach populations were technology and
Search for Educati
connectivity remains a luxury few can achieve.
Teachers Talk Liter
How would you describe the biggest challenges you’ve faced in engaging your end users? How have you for a Digital World
addressed these challenges?

Despite increased access, many children today are not able to attend school; and those that attend school are
not mastering the foundational skills they need for future learning, work and life. Children from all
socioeconomic backgrounds are affected, but the poorest children carry the heaviest burden. We work with the
community to develop the capacity they need to support their children, using a play based model that is an
May 2019
accessible instructional tool.
April 2019
“We work with the community to develop the capacity they need to support their children.” – Catalina Gonzalez
March 2019
If someone asked you to share 1 or 2 great examples of how your model has had an impact on learners,
February 2019
which stories would you show/tell us?
January 2019
Teachers in India reported doubting the approach at first, but when they saw their children learning, it changed
their confidence on the approach and their level of confidence in their children. In Panama, 1000 children with December 2018
learning disabilities improved their skills using our games. November 2018
In El Salado, a population of Colombia devastated by violence, school teachers are afraid, often get sick or are October 2018
unable to reach the school due to poor road conditions. By training community leaders, we made sure children September 2018
continued to learn despite the adversity of the conditions.
August 2018
Where do you see your model in 5 or 10 years from now?
July 2018
We see our model expanding, reaching more children and adapting the games to many more languages, so
June 2018
children can learn in their first language. We also see ourselves partnering with organizations developing
learning apps, to reach many more communities. We hope to work more intentionally in reaching children with May 2018
learning disabilities. We also hope to work with parents of children 0 to 5 so that they can become more April 2018
effective advocates and supporters of their children’s learning process.
March 2018

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C M Rubin and Catalina Gonzalez September 2017
Thank you to our 800 plus global contributors, teachers, entrepreneurs, researchers, business leaders, students August 2017
and thought leaders from every domain for sharing your perspectives on the future of learning with The Global
July 2017
Search for Education each month.
June 2017
C. M. Rubin (Cathy) is the Founder of CMRubinWorld, an online publishing company focused on the future of
global learning and the co-founder of Planet Classroom. She is the author of three best-selling books and two May 2017
widely read online series. Rubin received 3 Upton Sinclair Awards for “The Global Search for Education”. The
April 2017
series which advocates for all learners was launched in 2010 and brings together distinguished thought leaders
from around the world to explore the key education issues faced by nations. March 2017

Follow C. M. Rubin on Twitter: February 2017

The Global Search for Education Community Page January 2017

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