During lockdown it was interesting to note that many of our partner organisations who started working online felt more comfortable using our WhatsApp site rather than our mobi site. This was probably because WhatsApp became such a popular group space, with facilitators and learners already using WhatsApp groups as the place of learning and communication.

NACCW, one of our partner organisations, reported back how they were using our material available on WhatsApp for their weekly virtual reading groups. We were very interested to hear more, and after chatting to some of the facilitators, we decided to develop reading group support material specifically for WhatsApp.

Number 4 on our current WhatsApp menu takes you to this section. It contains notes on how to run a virtual reading club, and then a growing plan of session texts and activities. The challenge is to get three open questions around a text that encourages deeper reading of the text but also elicits personal responses and reflections so that each answer is unique.

We offered demo sessions to reading group leaders. We were nervous for the first one, with about 12 participants from different organisations, as it was new territory for us. But we were very pleased with how it worked. Since then we have run 15 webinars with over 100 participants, and most groups have worked really well. WhatsApp lends itself to personal informal exchange of ideas (and images!). This is a vital part of reading – reflection and personal engagement – yet can be hard to facilitate in big classes at school.

Response from the participants has been very positive, with comments such as ‘fun’ and ‘informative’. Other comments: ‘I was so nervous this morning not knowing what will unfold but the training turned out to be fun and joy’, ‘I really enjoyed it. I think the timing of your questions was great – didn’t feel too pressurised, but kept the momentum. The overall feeling was that we were heard and held for that time.’

Facilitators have reported that they are using the material – with varied success. A problem with quite a few partner organisations is that in general there is lack of engagement in these virtual spaces. Anecdotal evidence suggests that the groups with the most participation are those who also now have some face-to-face contact with the facilitators as well. We will be investigating this further so we can offer suggestions to partners struggling with virtual attendance.

We are also looking to offer these webinars more widely, perhaps even to our mobi site readers.