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Posts Tagged ‘value of reading’

A link between increased screen time and falling literacy standards of school aged students was extensively explored in a recent Four Corners program aired on ABC TV.   Broadcast on November 11, 2019, the program can be viewed on ABC iview

A report about the program on ABC News (11 November 2019): The first generations of ‘digi kids’ are struggling with literacy as experts warn against screen time makes interesting, but disturbing reading.

Their investigation reports that education experts fear screen time is contributing to a generation of skim readers with resulting poor literacy.  A longitudinal study of Australian children, they report, indicates that by age 12 or 13, up to 30% of Australian children’s waking hours are spent in front of a screen.

In an attempt to explain the low literacy levels being recorded in Australian schools, this program also focused on methods being used in schools to teach reading and questioned whether our education system is failing our students.  Responses by students about their interest in reading books is, to put it bluntly, woeful.  Mobile phones and technology are far more appealing than reading a book.

After analyzing the initial results of a national survey of 1,000 teachers and principals conducted by the Gonski Institute: Growing Up Digital Australia study, which its authors describe as a “call to action” on the excessive screen use “pervasively penetrating the classroom”, Four Corners concludes

The survey found excessive screen time had a profound impact on Australian school students over the past five years, making them more distracted and tired, and less ready to learn.”

 

Infographic: Key findings from the Growing Up Digital Australia study which surveyed 1000 Australian teachers and principals. (Four Corners)

 

It’s clear.  We have a problem.

Attempts to improve reading standards in our schools need to be addressed.  Proficiency and interest in reading will not magically happen without a concerted effort to create change.  Considered planning and thought to devise innovative and inspirational programs that will make reading appealing is essential.

School library staff, a rapidly diminishing group of professionals in our schools, have the skills, the knowledge and and the passion to make this happen.  School administrators, just like those at Caroline Chisholm Catholic College where, as was reported in The Age in early November 2019 – Melbourne school turns its results around by reviving its dying library – must take note and act now.

Just recently, I proposed a range of different ways that could be implemented to improve and develop a positive reading culture.  While not exhaustive, it is a list of ideas that could and should be implemented to ‘start the ball rolling’ in a school that has a poor to non existent reading culture.

  1. At the outset, it is important to avoid the ‘blame game’.  No one person or group of people within a school can be the root cause of a school’s poor reading culture.  Identifying issues of concern and then creating a program that tackles the issues constructively is what needs to be put in place.
  2. Ideas and enthusiasm are more important than throwing lots of money at the problem.  No amount of money on  its own can garner an interest in reading.  Sure, having money in the kitty can be a great help, but not having oodles of money to fund a whizz bang program shouldn’t be a show stopper.
  3. Refurbishing an old library or building a brand new library in a school will not, on its own, inspire a changed school reading culture.  If such plans are in place, a program to inspire the joy of reading should be implemented well in advance of the construction of a dedicated new building.  Such a program should commence at least 12 months ahead of construction beginning.
  4. Creating a positive school reading culture requires a comprehensive and well thought out program.  Utilizing the skills of Teacher Librarians, professionals  who hold recognized teaching qualifications along with qualifications in librarianship/library management, together with other trained and qualified Library Staff – Librarians, Library Technicians and Library Assistants – should take a leadership role in the school to lead and advise other school staff in the creation of an innovative and inspirational program.
  5. A successful program to inspire a love of reading that may have any chance of initiating a changed school reading culture can only be achieved if a school’s Library Staffing is at an optimal level to ensure programs can be effectively initiated, planned, communicated, staged and at their end – evaluated.  Ensuring that a skilled and experienced Head of Library is employed to be the voice and the driving agent of both the Library Staff and programs that are to be initiated is essential.  A good starting point to determine Library Staffing numbers is through ALIA – School Libraries.
  6. To ensure the success of any programs initiated to improve and develop a positive school reading culture it is essential for Library Staff to team with the school’s English Staff.  Ideally the Head of Library and the Head of English will work as a unified team initiating, planning, communicating and staging events that will feed into altering the current school reading culture.  Strength in numbers along with the authority they hold as respected faculty leaders will have a powerful effect at many school levels: administration, teachers, students as well as the extended school community.
  7. Both Library Staff and English teachers across the school should lead by example.  Becoming role models to their students by openly demonstrating and expressing their love of reading is stating the obvious.  By talking about books read/or books that are on a teacher’s list to read and most of all, silently reading in the classroom when that is what the students in the class have been asked to do, sets a powerful example to students of the value and importance of reading.
  8. Reading is an essential life skill and is a component of all subjects across the curriculum.  As such, it is the responsibility of all teachers in the school to demonstrate to their students the value and importance of reading as an essential life skill.  Bombard all teaching staff with promotional information to develop their awareness of the value and importance of reading as a life skill essential to all subject areas and to help them find ways to incorporate reading into their daily lessons.  And yes, that includes sport, maths and science subjects too!
  9. Teachers across the school need to be encouraged/required to participate in Library/English based events and activities in the same way that all staff are encouraged/required to participate in the many sport, music and art events that occur throughout a school year.
  10. Schools regularly present awards, prizes and scholarships to students for achievement in a variety of endeavours.  Aim to present prizes, awards and scholarships to students for literary pursuits in equal measure with those awarded for sport, art and music.
  11. At the time of developing the school calendar, consideration needs to be given to co-curricula and extra curricula programs that focus on literary pursuits.  So often the only inclusions in this area revolve around sport, art and music.  If a school is serious about wanting to change its school reading culture, it must tweak time allocations and program offerings to incorporate literary related events.
  12. School administration personnel, the school’s Curriculum Committee or the schools’ Teaching and Learning Team need to to devise ways to promote the place of reading based initiatives into the school calendar.  Ensure that students who want to pursue footy training or choir practice at lunch time are also able to attend literary based events being held in the school.  Lunch times are precious non class times.  Check these times are not all devoted to the usual trio – sport, art and music.
  13. To effectively develop a positive reading culture across the school there must be a ‘top down approach’.  High level action from Principal/Deputy Principals, Executive and the Teaching and Learning team emphasizing the joy of reading needs to be developed and implemented.
  14. Introduce programs that aim to ‘ingrain’ reading as a habit.  Consider the implementation of the DEAR (Drop Everything and Read) program at the start of each English period.  To ensure the right message is being shared, the program should require the participation of all students and all teachers.  Explore other similar programs until the right one is identified.
  15. Schools are not just comprised of students and teachers.  A wide range of support personnel, including maintenance and administrative staff are also part of the mix.   Most importantly and not to be forgotten though are the parents of students in our care.  Programs that extend across the school community should be a major focus if aiming to create a positive reading culture.
  16. School students spend more time in their home with their parents and family than they do in school.   Creating specific programs for parents to educate them of the importance of reading skills and programs that help them learn how to encourage their children to read is as essential as those programs being developed for use in the school.

Having spent many years working in education, in a variety of school settings as both a classroom teacher, a teacher of Deaf students, a Teacher Librarian and a Head of Library, I have seen and experienced much.  Working in a school that has a rich and exciting reading culture is exhilarating.  Working in a school that has a poor to non existent reading culture is heartbreaking.

Although I have recently tendered my resignation to my current school, it is my hope to still be able to contribute, in some way, to the collective consciousness of those working in schools, stating loudly, clearly and often:

Reading is the cornerstone of all education!

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Being one of those people who likes to make a noise – constantly – about the value of reading and being one who just doesn’t understand why it is that the entire education sector doesn’t get the message about the value and importance of reading in the overall school curriculum, I couldn’t resist posting a tweet together with this infographic a couple of weeks ago:

Take note school admins! Haven’t TLs been saying this for years?

Reading-habits-that-lead-to-success-full-infographic-840x7634

One thing’s for sure though – I intend sharing it with my students at school!  It’s too much of a gem to not share!!

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As schools across Australia brace for the annual NAPLAN tests to measure basic literacy skills, opinion articles analyzing the reason for declining reading levels among our teens start popping up.

A recent article by Christopher Bantick: Why parents must unplug their kids to improve their literacy suggests that ever increasing screen time spent by teens in front of smartphones, tablets and computers is a significant factor contributing to low reading levels.  Parents, it is intimated, need to  encourage their children to switch off and read more in the home.

What would help would be if families read together.  A half-hour reading period where every member of the family read, sends a very positive message.

….. To get kids to read is not about ordering them to do so, but modelling behaviour. If parents don’t value reading, or privilege it over screens, it is hardly any wonder than children do not?”

I totally agree with Bantick.

While peer pressure can be very strong, behaviour traits learned and acquired at home are most often more powerful life lessons.  So reading to children from a young age, valuing print in the home, reading together as a family, sharing literature read – are all very powerful ways to implant the value of reading into the minds and habits of our children.

But ….. modelling reading habits at school is just as important!

Bantick suggests that schools “manage children in classrooms and the range of activities that they are asked to do. Reading is one of them.”

Really?

I’m yet to be convinced that reading is really valued in our secondary schools!  Competing demands of completing curriculum content or analyzing texts (to death) seem to predominate whenever I’ve found myself in discussion with teachers.   So, I’m left asking:

  • How much reading is really happening in secondary classrooms?
  • Does reading only ‘happen’ in English classes?
  • Is reading being incorporated in subject across the curriculum?
  • Are students encouraged to read widely beyond their comfort zone?
  • Do teachers model reading to their students?
  • How many classes start their periods with a 10-15 minute reading session?
  • How many teachers themselves put aside time to read?
  • How many teachers read YA literature?
  • How often do teachers chat about books and reading with their students?
  • Indeed – do our teachers value reading?

Sure – reading within families is important, but reading within our school communities is equally important!  If NAPLAN reading literacy levels for our teens are to improve, an increased emphasis on reading needs to occur in our secondary schools.  Reading is the cornerstone of all education.

Reflecting on the message of Fleur Morrison’s recent Huffington Post article Anyone who says they are too busy to read is talking fiction may go a long way to help sway educators to make a shift in what and how they operate in secondary school.

Mark Zuckerberg spent 2015 reading a new book every two weeks. Bill Gates consider himself a great reader and Barack Obama packed six books when he went on his summer holiday last year.  Former White House reident Theodore Roosevelt famously conumed one book a day when he was busy, and two or three when had a free evening.

And yet, whenever the issue of reading comes up among my friends and family, it seems like everyone says they don’t have time to read books …..”

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It was early December last year that a newspaper headline screamed out at me:

Teach teens to read, NAPLAN chief warns”

Finding the same article online (The Age. December 2, 2015) the headline had been toned down a little:

NAPLAN chief says first step to better results is teaching teenagers to read”

The message however is the same: students need to be taught to read throughout their school years, not just up to Year 2, which, it is said, is a common occurrence in schools across our country.

Following a report on the controversial NAPLAN testing conducted throughout Australia in Years 3, 5, 7 and 9 which indicates that reading levels beyond Year 7 are stagnating, ACARA (Australian Curriculum, Assessment and Reporting Authority) general manager, Stanley Rabinowitz, comments that as students get to higher levels there needs to be an emphasis on not just reading to learn but learning to read. 

The assumption is that because we think they are reading, we don’t have to do reading instruction in years 7 and 9.”

I have long argued that reading is the cornerstone of all education.  I’ve talked about this at conferences and endlessly with work colleagues in schools in which I’ve taught.   I’ve blogged long and hard over the years about the importance of reading and the necessity to create an atmosphere that inspires our students to read.

Over the years, I’ve put my words into action by creating a range of innovative and inspiring reading programs within those schools I’ve worked.   Most of all though, I talk with the students in my classes each and every time I have the pleasure of sharing with them in my library.  I talk with them about the importance of reading and the immeasurable joy and knowledge that can be gained from reading. Without a doubt, I tell them

Read a book ….. Learn about the world!”
There’s no doubt in my mind that reading is the key to successful educational achievement.  Resources poured into education seem misdirected if they are not supporting this basic key skill.  Our students need to not just be taught to read, but to be inspired and encouraged to read.  A positive and inspiring reading climate in each and every school must be created.
  • Saturate students with books.
  • Inundate students with positive role models.
  • Make reading a ‘cool’ activity.
  • Initiate enticing book events.
  • Talk lots about books, authors and writing.
  • Encourage a whole school reading involvement.
  • Utilize the enthusiasm & expertise of Teacher Librarians.
  • Talk regularly about the value of reading.
  • Create reading opportunities during the school day.
  • Invite – often – authors, illustrators & storytellers to the school.

There’s no room for complacency.  Programs designed to encourage reading should come with no strings attached.  Negative overtones should not enter the picture.

A fascinating discussion about education was recently presented by Fareed Zakaria in his regular CNN broadcast.  Reporting on the merit of Australia’s announcement for a bold new school curriculum which gave more prominence to coding over history and geography, Zakaria moved the discussion on to the importance of developing workers who not only had skills but learned how to interact, relate and communicate with others.  “Succeeding at work and in life is more complicated” he says “than simply learning to code.”  Distinguishing between ‘relationship workers’ and ‘knowledge workers’ he emphasized the importance of students learning to interact with people.   A powerful tool to develop these skills is reading.

Reading fiction with complex characters and stories trains us to observe others and empathize with other people … which is why many medical schools are requiring that their students read fiction to become better doctors. (at 3.17 mins)

Fareed Zakaria-What in the world- Coding vs humanities

It is encouraging to hear the voice of a highly reputed social analyst support what Teacher Librarians have been saying for a very long time.

Encourage our students to read.  Inculcate reading across the school curriculum rather than relegating it to the sidelines of school programs.

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