Published: 04th August 2021
Here's how this Odia phonics trainer can help kids learn better via stories
Saswati Satpathy is a veteran in the field of phonics. She shares with us some of her experiences of working in a niche field like this and why the demand for stories has increased during COVID
Even when Saswati Satpathy was an Assistant Professor at Odisha University of Agriculture and Technology, the same institute from where she pursued her Master's in Computer Applications in 2002, the influence of the first language on children's diction was obvious. "I used to prepare them for interviews but no matter how hard I tried, I could not keep that at bay. I used to even narrate stories from Shiv Khera's You Can Win, which was very popular back then. But with experience I realised that to make students better, we need to work with teachers," says Saswati who is an independent phonics trainer, meaning the science of teaching someone how to read and write. Today, she has worked with 130 schools pan-India.
The duration of all her programmes and sessions are decided by the school depending on short-term or long-term association
With thorough mentorship and training from Shainaz Jussa and Coral George — experts in the field of Jolly Phonics (a multi-sensory synthetic phonics method that helps children with literacy) — the Bhubaneswar-based teacher too adopted this method. "The beauty of this multi-sensory approach is that it touches multiple intelligences. Every story narrated has a certain rhyme and rhythm which engages the children thoroughly," says Saswati and goes on to regale us with real-life stories of how, when she was just getting started as a phonics trainer, schools couldn't even understand what it is that she does.
Today, she works with prestigious schools like KIIT International School (Bhubaneswar), Sai International School (Bhubaneswar), The Heritage School (Gurugram) and many more.
She has had the chance to work at the grassroots as well. Case in point, at the request of the District Collector of Kalahandi, she conducted a programme at Bhawanipatna called the Science of Reading, for teachers who were from 60 vernacular medium schools. "The sense of accomplishment happens only when I work with teachers who are at the grassroots level," says Saswati. To recall another memorable experience, she dials back to two to three years ago, when she was conducting a session at Keonjhar for more than 120 teachers from the Western zone of Saraswati Shishu Vidya Mandir. "The norm is that, at every session, I tell the teachers to look at my lips to see how I enunciate words. But out of the 120 teachers, most were men who refused to even look at me. I urged them to treat me as a sister and had to work with that cultural mindset, but by the end of it all, it was worth it," she says with a smile.
But with the pandemic, there is a new demand — stories. "In education, almost every activity is directed towards assessment which intimidates children but stories don't judge, they are a means to connect emotionally. Elders are allowed to behave as they want, but children are always expected to be well-behaved. Storytelling allows them to share, feel and react," explains Saswati who has been training teachers on how to use storytelling in online classes and takes story sessions for children as well. For teachers particularly, she urges them to use the resources that are at their disposal and if at all they are using props like puppets, they need to interact with the props too. "I like Indianising stories and that's another tip I give them," says the storyteller.
For more on her, reach out to her at firstname.lastname@example.org