A Popular Question Answered
‘How do schools teach Reading?’ has become a popular question. Parents recognise the importance of learning to read, seeing it as a key link to their children’s success in school and beyond. Falling literacy standards and struggling readers have caused many parents to ask schools about their teaching methods. You might have seen the many news headlines which have talked about flawed teaching approaches which are making it harder for children to learn to read and write. Despite Australian schools wanting the best for their students, 1 in 10 students cannot read at a basic level by Year Nine and almost 2 in 10 can’t write. This also doesn’t include the children who ‘can read and write at a minimum standard’, but not well enough to thrive.
At Wandong Primary School, we are passionate about ensuring a different story for our children. We want all of our students to be skilled readers and writers when they leave primary school. For us, this means listening to science, staying up to date with current research and letting go of methods that don’t work.
In 2019, Wandong Primary School signed the Reading Pledge– to reduce to near zero the number of children who finish primary school unable to read effectively, and since then we have been reinventing our English programs to reflect the Science of Reading and the Science of Writing. Our programs are now informed by science, which is based on thousands of studies across the world, investigating how the brain learns to become literate.
It is a BIG body of research which has been developed by scientists for the past 50 years. It outlines:
- how the brain learns to read and write.
- why some children struggle to learn to read and write.
- the approaches which will ensure the majority of children learn to read and write well, regardless of other things like socioeconomic status or parental education.
- that unlike a baby learning to speak, learning to read is not a natural process; it requires significant conscious effort for most people.
- how to teach most effectively, using a step-by-step process, with clear techniques- techniques which can be used in schools.
- The Six Pillars of Effective Reading Instruction and the Seven Pillars of Effective Writing Instruction
- The Reading and Writing Ropes
- The Simple View of Reading and Writing (Word Recognition x Language Comprehension)
- The neuroscience of reading and writing in the brain, including brain imaging
- Explicit and multisensory approaches to instruction, such as Sounds-Write
- Intervention approaches (for when some students need an extra helping hand)
What does Reading and Writing instruction look like in Foundation to Grade Two?
In Foundation to Grade Two we know that children are still learning to read and spell words. We use special decodable texts in these year levels so that the books children read, and the texts they write, only contain letters and sounds they have been taught. We build these skills over the first three years of school, until our students are able to confidently read and write natural texts at a Grade Three level.
Using decodable texts doesn’t mean that children in years F-2 don’t get to hear natural language texts and to develop their comprehension skills. We simply make the distinction that ‘decodable texts are for children to read to us’ and ‘adults will read natural language texts to our students’. With a 1:1 laptop program, it makes it possible for all students to hear and respond to rich texts daily.
In Grades Three to Six, the focus shifts from ‘learning to read’ to ‘reading to learn’. Our students are immersed in a broad variety of rich texts, which they confidently read themselves after years of phonics instruction and decodable practise. They also explore spelling, grammar and syntax more closely (skills which are sometimes from a lost era), and this enables them to become skilled writers.
Across the school our students receive two hours of Reading instruction and one hour of additional Writing instruction each day. Our daily programs include all of the following:
- Phonological awareness training
- Systematic, synthetic phonics instruction
- Fluency exercises (including rapid letter recognition and decodable text reading in F-2)
- Spelling, grammar and syntax instruction
- Exposure to rich natural language texts which build background knowledge about topics linked to the curriculum and our world
- Dynamic vocabulary instruction
- Comprehension exercises, including literal, inferential and analytical text analysis
What Happens If a Child Still Struggles?
We have a highly comprehensive referral process for children who still need a further helping hand to become skilled readers and writers. Support includes:
- An English Intervention team of trained teachers and tutors who are full time out of the classroom.
- An Education Support team of more than 18 staff, who work in classrooms beside our vulnerable students.
- A school employed Psychologist, Speech Pathologist and Social Worker who are qualified and equipped to diagnose specific learning disorders, including Dyslexia.
To find out more about our tiered approach to Literacy intervention, visit this tab on our website.
Getting the Right Start
Wandong Primary School also offers a kinder Literacy program for students who are enrolled to begin at our school in Foundation. Our Launchpad Program includes both a take-home program (accessible like an app, or a hard copy book), as well as onsite classes for kinder children throughout June-November each year. This program equips parents with the information they need to start teaching their children to read and write before they start school. The Launchpad moto is ‘Starting Ahead to Stay Ahead’.