Bridget Gallagher takes us through the newest initiative from NUIG.
Tuesday mornings to most of my fellow students feature hitting snooze on their alarm clock as a raging hangover sets in. However, Tuesday mornings for me this semester entail embarking in the blustering Galway wind at 9am to a primary school on the outskirts of the city. When I arrive at this primary school shortly before 10am, I am met with the enthusiastic faces of the pupils and teachers. I know my day is going to get off to a great start as I devote an hour to helping two eager fourth classers develop their literacy skills, which is far more satisfying than a blurry memory of the night before.
On the topic of great starts, this is just what we hope to achieve for the children we encounter. For my 2BA in English I have chosen to do a seminar with a difference. ‘Service Learning-Literacy Lift off!’ is a new initiative for the NUIG English department. The module is described on the NUIG website as ‘offering students the opportunity to engage with the local community’. It involves a one-hour work placement every week, and a two-hour reflective seminar on campus. The university website describes service learning as a ‘teaching tool connecting community and classroom’.
Most of us are miles from our own communities and it is pleasing to get this experience in our adopted city. Reading is an important educational journey and as with all important life events, family and home life are a huge contributing factor. So, what happens to the child whose parent can’t read, or who have no interest in reading? That is where we, thirteen budding teachers, come in.
Our goal is to instil a love of reading into every child we come in contact with over the next ten weeks. This amounts to no easy nor trivial task, as I’m sure you can imagine. Reading is essential to progressing throughout education, it is common for the highest academic achievers to have a great love of books. We are trying as university students to show children how fun and exciting reading can really be. 
Evidently, I believe reading is an enjoyable task as I am studying English and History in NUIG with the hope of pursuing a career in education. So, when I saw this seminar as an option on the course outline, I knew I had to jump at the opportunity. To kick start our programme my seminar group met with our course coordinator and that group has since become a weekly supportive space for us to share experiences and techniques. I can feel that I am part of something really special each time we meet. I am gaining insight into teaching and working one on one with a child. I hope that this programme develops my engagement skills and helps me to adjust from week to week as the child’s temperament and willingness can dip from time to time (an important skill for any teacher in training!). 
Thankfully we were not just sent into battle with no training. Two of the school’s support teachers visited us in NUIG to calm our nerves and arm us with strategies before our first
class with the children. They showed us such helpful technique videos and if you listened carefully you would have heard each student in the room exhale with relief! We now had an idea of what was expected of us, and how to achieve it. We were enlightened to several techniques, very different to this traditional method. Such as -tap reading, (everyone has a turn, taps the table when they get tired and the other takes over) Parallel reading, (all reading together), Dialogue Reading, (taking on the persona of a character for the duration) and Rest Reading (I read, child listens and is prepared to answer some simple questions about what we have just read). 
Indisputably, the aim of the programme would simply be to encourage our pupils to take an interest in the plot. Not to just ensure they have the ability to say the words aloud. As I sat down with my two talkative girls, I had to wonder how the techniques would work in my favour. Would they take advantage of the tap reading and give up after a sentence? Would they spend the hour trying to get me talking about literally anything but the book in front of us? Well, I was pleasantly surprised. Not only were these two girls adapting to the techniques with eagerness, they were engaging in making the words come to life, which is precisely what we had hoped for. We have now completed three sessions and the girls are improving immensely. We often have chats during our reading time, but it’s always sticking to the topic of the book, whether its relating it to our own experiences or wondering how Joe Spud in ‘Billionaire boy’ could even consider eating the horrific menu Mrs Trafe prepared!  It is fantastic to get the chance to feel involved in the community here in Galway.
Who knows where this seminar might lead? Personally, I hope it betters my future career as a teacher. I know I am gaining valuable insight and experience every week I attend this school and our in-class seminar. It is definitely a hope that we are aiding the creation of wellrounded individuals who will one day better their own community. As it is a disadvantaged area, I think it would be a satisfactory achievement if we can inspire these children to develop a love of literature that would lead to them furthering their academic pursuits in NUIG.  
Undoubtedly Service learning literature lift off is an excellent seminar choice. It is great to get a break from formal essays and lecture settings, of course, but to know you are contributing to a child’s future instead, is really satisfying. Prosser and Levesque define Service Learning as ‘designed to build… participants’ ability to solve problems’. So, not only is Service Learning full of benefits for the school pupil, it also helps progress the volunteer in many ways. It makes bracing the blustering Galway winds at an ungodly hour well worth it.