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Alan Duff's "Books In Homes" Programme
Warwick Elley - 2/7/99

Millions of people have heard Alan Duff's name through his books and films, especially "Once were Warriors" and now "What becomes of the Broken Hearted?" In these books and films he shows his understanding of the difficult lives of disadvantaged families. Not so many people are aware of the work he has done to help the children in such families by setting up the "Books in Homes" Programme.

Alan Duff's "Books in Homes" Programme - how valuable is it?

Emeritus Professor Warwick Elley evaluates the scheme.

Warwick Elley
Warwick Elley
If you are interested in the work of Warwick Elley in the field of literacy, read this article.
The "Books in Homes" Programme, popularly known as the "Duffy" Programme was started by Alan Duff in 1992, primarily to provide books for children in bookless homes. It now operates in over 160 low-income schools and has donated over 450,000 good quality books to the pupils in these schools. The scheme is organised by a small staff in Penrose, Auckland, under the direction of Christine Fernyhough, and its policy is formed by a ten member trust of prominent Maori and business leaders. The books are provided by Scholastic Books Ltd. and chosen by the pupils, with guidance from their teachers and parents. The books are promoted in the schools by prominent HERO role models, mostly from the sporting and media world. The children take the books home, to keep and often share them with family and friends.

The Programme is funded by a number of corporate sponsors and other agencies, and more recently by Government grants. Following the decision to put Government money into the scheme, in 1996, the Research Division of the Ministry of Education called for a formal evaluation of the Programme. I submitted a proposal to do this and I was subsequently invited to undertake the evaluation. The project was funded by the Ministry of Education.

The philosophy behind the scheme is that children are more likely to develop the reading habit if they own some good quality books that they can call their own. Without books around them they are unlikely to see reading as a very important part of their lives. Children who come from bookless homes do not become high achievers, according to Duff. He argues that too many Maori and Pacific Island children come from such a background, and he determined to do something about it. As he put it in his well-known book, "Once were Warriors", such kids "didn't stand a show in this modern world, not a damn show".

The plan which evolved in Camberley School, in Hastings, where the scheme first started, was that all children in the school would receive a few books every year, that they would be promoted in the school by teachers and popular role models, and that additional books could be earned by a "Caught being Good" programme. Children would be given extra books each month for "being good", however that was defined in the school.

Three surveys
The evaluation focussed on the impact of the Duffy books and the role model visitors, on the pupils, schools and communities in which it had been instituted. In this article I outline the findings of three formal surveys designed to assess this impact, and of several other indicators of the effects of the Programme.

The main sources used to gather information were as follows:

1. Questionnaire surveys of all schools
These were carried out in September 1996 and September 1997. These surveys were initiated by the staff of "Books in Homes", who released all the response sheets for me to study. This analysis showed that the "Books in Homes" Programme was very popular in the schools. Most children had received the books that they had ordered, and in those cases where they had not, the children were pleased with the substitutes. A few were disappointed. The Scholastic books were very popular with children, teachers and parents. The role models who visited the schools to distribute books were largely effective in transmitting their message about the importance of reading, and teachers believed that the impact on their pupils was very positive.

2. A series of targeted interviews
These were conducted with principals, teachers and pupils in a representative sample of twenty schools and confirmed the positive impact revealed in the questionnaire surveys.

* Principals were confident that the scheme was operating smoothly in their school, role models were rated as excellent, and all were keen to continue with the Programme into the second cycle, despite some difficulties in raising funds. I believe that this fact is a significant index of success.

* Teachers were generally happy with the quality of the books, most spent some time promoting them in class before pupils took them home, most believed that the impact on pupil attitudes and reading habits was positive, and some thought that reading abilities had also improved. The role models and the Duffy character and theatre groups were all rated very highly. The "Caught Being Good" Programme was having a wholesome effect on pupils' behaviour. Some found difficulty in selecting books unseen, and recommended that a sample pack of the books on offer be sent to each school before choices were made. Teachers rated the programme as most successful.

* Pupils could recall the names of 81% of the books they had received. They had read about half "right through", and some more than once. Many other members of the family had also shared the books. Some 70% of them said that the Duffy books had helped their reading "a lot"; 64% said the Duffy Programme was 'Great" or "Cool", and nearly 90% were able to explain what the message of the visiting role models was.

3. Two surveys of pupil achievement and attitudes
With the help of my research assistant, Michael Satele, I conducted two surveys of pupil achievement and attitudes in a sample of all the year 5 and 6 pupils in eight new schools, just before, and twelve months after they joined the Programme. The tests and questionnaires were tailor-made for the project.

These surveys showed:
* a significant improvement in the average reading skills of the pupils who participated. This increase was found in every school. More specifically, those who were present on both occasions had improved by 35% more than they would have without the Duffy Programme. It is probable that this increase would be cumulative over time, as the books become more widely read in the homes.

* a significant improvement was found also in pupil interest in reading, as indicated by a questionnaire on their reading habits and their activity preferences.

4. Additional sources of information
* Surveys of parents' attitudes were very positive.

* An additional book order scheme, organised through the schools, showed large increases in spending by parents.

* The effects of the Programme on the children and community of Camberley School, where the Programme started in 1992, were very positive and appeared to increase over time. The community appeared to benefit as vandalism and truancy rates dropped dramatically, and parents were much more cooperative with school authorities. Many parents became involved.

The overwhelming impression gained from all these sources of evidence is that the "Books in Homes" Programme has been very successful. It has operated as intended in the schools and has improved the attitudes, reading habits and reading skills of pupils in the participating schools. While the impact on reading ability is still relatively modest, there are strong indications that it will increase over time as the flow-on effects can already be seen in the parents and younger siblings of the pupils in the Programme. The few recommendations for change in the operation of the scheme have mostly been implemented and virtually all schools are keen to see the Programme extended. When I asked teachers whether it might make more sense to spend the money on books for the school library, every one of the said no, usually with emotion. "Book ownership for these children is critical."

The Alan Duff Charitable Foundation, the corporates and other sponsors, the school visitors, the teachers and the office staff working under the direction of Trustee Christine Fernyhough have taken Alan Duff's concept of donating books to book-deprived homes and translated it into a practicable and effective policy for raising literacy levels in low income schools.




 
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