How we teach reading at Bundoora Primary School
By Sherrin Strathairn, Principal
At Bundoora Primary School, we are deeply committed to delivering on the promise of education and equipping every child with the ability to read – and read well! Learning to read is such an essential skill to not only find success in school and to thrive in society, but to also experience the joy that reading brings to life. We want every child to be successful in reading! We are learning more about what research says about how children learn to read, how to make sure every student learns to read, and what to do when a child encounters difficulty learning to read. The research that we’re learning about, and implementing is called the ‘Science of Reading.’
When we know better, we do better
The reading scores of Australian children have remained somewhat stagnant for over 40 years! Each year, the data shows that only about 35% of grade four students are proficient in reading. We’re not satisfied with that at Bundoora PS! While the nationwide trend has been to accept that this is okay, we at BPS want more for our kids. The research is telling us that while reading is more challenging for some students than others, with evidence-based reading instruction, nearly every child can become proficient by the end of grade three. With the research available to us now, we can realistically set 95% proficiency as our goal in three years.
Decades of research have determined that reading occurs in a specific way in the brain in all people. It does not occur naturally the way that speech does the process much be taught. It is a process of building neuropathways in the brain that link sounds of speech to written symbols or letters. The strings of letters are attached to meaning, and then those ‘letter strings with meaning’ are stored in the brain’s ‘letterbox’ for later retrieval that is instantaneous and effortless. This process is called orthographic mapping and it is our goal to help our students build a giant ‘letterbox’ of instantly retrievable words. That translates into fluent reading and subsequent comprehension. Guessing at words based on context does not aid in orthographic mapping; phonic decoding does.
The Science of Reading
“The body of work referred to as the ‘Science of Reading’ is not an ideology, a philosophy, a political agenda, a one-size-fits-all approach, a program of instructions, nor a specific component of instruction. It is the emerging consensus from many related disciplines, based on literally thousands of students, supported by hundreds of millions of research dollars, conducted across the world in many languages. These studies have revealed a great deal about how we learn to read, what goes wrong when students don’t learn, and what kind of instruction is most likely to work the best for the most students.” Dr Louisa Moats
A New Path at Bundoora Primary School
If your family has been a part of BPS for some time, you’ll notice some changes in how we teach reading. If you’re new to BPS, jump on board; it’s going to be a fantastic journey! It’s an exciting time to be in education as we align our instruction with the Science of Reading.
Listed below are some points of research that we will be addressing as we embark on a new school year at Bundoora Primary School.
Decoding emphasis in Primary Grades. This means that grades Prep to two especially will focus on acquiring the skills to crack the code of our alphabet to the speech sounds in English. (There are 44 speech sounds in English and 150 ways to read and spell them!) Children must first be explicitly taught to learn to decode/sound-out words before they can understand the meaning of text, therefore, we will emphasise instruction in ‘cracking the code’ in P-2.
Explicit and systematic phonics instruction. We will have an order or continuum of phonic skills, progressing from simple to complex, which will be followed throughout the early grades. Students will progress through the continuum as they master skills. In the intermediate grades (3-4) word study will continue with more grammar and morphology (learning word parts such as Greek and Latin roots, for example).
Early Intervention. If we see any signs that your child may be struggling with the foundational skills of reading, we will not take a ‘wait and see’ approach; we will immediately implement interventions and monitor their progress. The best solution to the problem of reading failure is early identification and intervention.
Phonemic Awareness. This is the availability to get to the individual sounds in words by listening, identifying and manipulating those sounds orally. While this skill will be emphasised in grades P-2, we will make sure all students at BPS have this necessary foundation. Students in the intermediate grades may need to practice these skills until they have firmed up this foundation of reading. Don’t be surprised if you have a grade three to grade five student who will be working on phonemic awareness! This is an area that the research has indicated is hugely important!
Decodable Readers. Our early readers will be working with decodable readers. These are books that only include words that the students can ‘decode’ (sound out) according to the skills they have been taught thus far, or sight they have explicitly been taught (for example, I, my, and the). Our students need practice with the phonics skills they are learning, and these books provide that practice. So be aware that at times, your primary students may be bringing home the same book a few time times a week to allow for practice and fluency.
Assessments. Your child will not be assigned a PM reading level, such as 5, 15, or 25 (or any level 1-30) as in the past. Student will be assessed on the Oral Reading Fluency rate for their grade level. These nationally normed one-minute assessments give us a good indication of how easy or difficult reading is for your child. From here will assess your child (in grades one to six) using CARS online assessment for reading comprehension. As students become proficient word readers comprehension is a natural outcome. They will participate in a non-word spelling test that will show which phonics patterns they are able to apply in their writing. If your child shows a weakness in any area, they will be progress monitored and given interventions to help them become stronger in their area of weakness.
Levelled readers. Your child will NOT be assigned a reading level that corresponds to a number. They will work with a variety of text. Some text may address specific phonics needs, some may be grade level text to build knowledge that is pertinent to a grade level, some may be interest-base, some will be at a determined level for fluency practice, but they will not be confined to a certain ‘level’. Prep and year One students will not bring home books with patterned sentences that are easily memorised ( i.e., I can see the dog. I can see the cat. I can see the mouse etc.).
Knowledge Building and Vocabulary. Research has indicated that reading comprehension is closely connected to the background knowledge we have on a topic we’re reading about and by understanding the vocabulary contained in the text. BPS is developing knowledge-building curriculum for students in grades Prep to year three. Our students will have the opportunity to build a broad knowledge base of history, science, and the arts. Students will have access to complex text, often read aloud by their teacher, and in the process gain more complex vocabulary. The research tells us that building knowledge and vocabulary contributes significantly to their reading comprehension and should be taught beginning in the earliest grades.
Comprehension. The ultimate goal of all reading instruction is for students to understand what they read. The model of “The Simple View of Reading’ demonstrates that reading comprehension occurs only when students have both Decoding/Word Recognition Skills and Language Comprehension Skills. Children need the essential skills to get the words off the page as well as knowledge, vocabulary, and a good understanding of how our language works in order to comprehend what they read. We must provide instruction that will help our students achieve our goals.
The Simple View of Reading
Ability to apply sound-symbol relationships to read words.
Ability to understand spoken language
(Gough & Tunmer, 1986: Hoover & Gough, 1990)
We now know a great deal about how the brain develops as we learn to read and what instructional practices are most effective for all children. We are committed to stop doing what doesn’t work and be guided by scientific research to ensure that we deliver on the promise of literacy for every BPS student. Again, it’s an exciting time to be in education and we need you as parents as our partners!