Being a reading role model and encouraging children to read for fun helps to improve reading ability and contributes to building a strong reading culture, says Dennis Yarrington, President of the Australian Primary Principals Association (APPA).
As we move through Term 3, National Literacy and Numeracy Week and Book Week will be highlighted. While much has been said about what should be happening in schools to improve reading, it is timely we look at what’s actually happening and share some success stories. In saying this, APPA has been vocal in questioning a national ‘one size fits all’ approach, such as a phonics test, as the way to improve reading. APPA’s position is that there are two key approaches for schools – an explicit focus on the teaching of reading, and the role teachers and parents play in modelling reading. Let me outline one example of a school that has focused on reading and achieved success.
The title of this article, “If you read, you will succeed”, is what greets parents, children, staff and visitors as they enter WoodLinks State School in Queensland. It is very clear, reading is the number one priority for all in this school community. The approach ensures everyone understands the importance of reading but, more importantly, aims to invoke a love of reading. Walking around the school, one cannot help but sense that reading is a much favoured activity. Like students, staff and the principal are also immersed in the reading culture. This culture is led by Lesley Gollen, Scholastic National Reading Leader Award winner, and Principal Vicki Caldow. Reading is happening everywhere and begins at the start of the day with a book read by a staff member at the school’s Reading Club. Children are reading independently, in groups or with adults. There is explicit and targeted teaching, with the focus on growth, success and enjoyment.
The emphasis at WoodLinks is strongly supported by Scholastic Australia’s Kids & Family Reading Report (2016), a study of the attitudes and behaviours of Australian children and parents towards reading for pleasure. The report notes, “It is not a mystery that the more children read, the better readers they become, and the better readers they become, the more they enjoy reading. It’s a tried-and-true premise.”
The report also identified that independent reading at school, parental involvement at home, and the power of book choice are vital aspects to supporting children becoming frequent readers. How important is it that the primary school library is at the centre of a reading culture? WoodLinks has a magnificent and vibrant library from which students and teachers then create their own reading space in every classroom.
A strong outcome shows that having parents who are reading role models is crucial for older children. For younger children, using specific strategies such as limiting screen time and making reading a routine encourages reading books for fun. However, what was more important was, “… frequently reading aloud to kids is a powerful predictor that children will become frequent readers, and kids love it. Nearly nine in ten children say they love(d) or like(d) being read aloud to a lot, with the main reason being that it is a special time with their parents.”
We also know the power of teachers reading to classes and being a reader. The shared reading time allows children to engage with books and the story being told. Children can select books for reading and therefore, as the Scholastic Report found, “More than 90% of children agree that ‘my favourite books are the ones that I have picked out myself’ and 89% say, ‘I am more likely to finish reading a book that I have picked out myself’.”
Being reading role models will value-add to improving children’s reading ability. The role of the principal in building a strong reading culture was vital. The report also found that, “Children whose principal encourages reading books for fun are more likely than those without encouragement from their principal to read frequently, to think reading is important and to love reading books for fun or like it a lot.” If you are a principal or primary school leader, how often do you read to children?
The APPA report, Principals as Literacy Leaders: Confident, Credible and Connected (2012), clearly identifies the key role principals have in the teaching of reading. Norm Hart, APPA president at the time, noted, “From the research, we know that the role of the principal is a key factor in the effectiveness of students learning to read at school.”
APPA led the development of the Principals as Literacy Leaders (PALL) project which highlighted The Big Six of Reading (Deslea Konza), a research-based synthesis of the critical elements of reading development. APPA continues to advocate for this professional learning and focus on reading. These key areas for reading should be evident in every classroom. For more information and access to the guides please click here.
The Big Six of Reading
• Vocabulary Knowledge is fundamental to being an independent and successful reader and writer and is comprised of the words that are understood when heard or read.
• Oral Language is the foundation for the development of literacy skills and is considered to be a strong indicator of later reading, writing and overall academic achievement.
• Phonological Awareness is an individual’s awareness of the phonological structure, or sound structure, of spoken words and is an important and reliable predictor of later reading ability.
• Letter-sound Knowledge (Phonics) instruction is an essential component of a comprehensive literacy program because it is a high-yield strategy to draw upon when attempting to name words that are not immediately known.
• Fluency is a key contributor toward independent and successful reading and is comprised of three components: accuracy, rate and prosody (expression).
• Comprehension is about understanding authors’ messages and responding to these messages in a range of ways.
In addition to schools providing that focus on reading, APPA calls for teacher education providers to ensure graduates not only have high levels of literacy themselves but also are highly competent at teaching reading.
Anecdotally, many principals indicate a real concern about the competence level of graduates to teach reading. This trend can be reversed by ensuring that the teaching of reading component in the teaching course is clearly demonstrated in practice through professional experience sessions in schools.
APPA would encourage all principals to have a strong partnership with Initial Teacher Education providers to ensure the practice of teaching reading in the classroom is reflected in the learning of the graduate teachers.
Australian Primary Principals Association