At the launch of the 2018 Premier’s Reading Challenge earlier this week, Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk and Education Minister Grace Grace announced the reinstatement of a reading program in schools which was scrapped by the previous government in 2012, when it decided that a raft of literary and cultural initiatives were no longer necessary in Queensland. Much of the media attention at the time focused on the axing of the former Qld Premier’s Literary Awards. The literary community, led by Stuart Glover and supported by a word-heavy army, ensured the Qld Literary Awards survival. I was, and still am, a judge on these literary awards and it was a privilege to witness, and be a small part of, the huge groundswell of support for these important awards. Sadly, many other important literary and literacy programs at the time sunk into oblivian, along with early literary levels in Queensland it now seems.
Who would have thought it? Scrap a stack of literacy and literary programs and reading and writing results in early childhood nose-dive. Honestly that could really never have been predicted. Who KNEW children needed to be read to and be heard reading? Who knew writers and illustrators needed a freaking income? Who KNEW? Excuse my complete and utter cynicism.
That particular government are now in opposition, but it has been a slow crawl back to the surface for the cultural and literary community of Queensland.
And so to this week, when the Premier confirmed the Palaszczuk Government would recommence the Ready Reading Program in Queensland and call for volunteers from early May. The Premier has said that $1.5 million will be spent over three years to train 3000 volunteers to hear children read in schools, in a bid to improve NAPLAN results. I read in one news article that NAPLAN results will be the measure of the programs success. I am going to leave that point alone for now, but please take five minutes to read my thoughts on NAPLAN here.
Note: there will be a change of tone change after this inspiring photograph of children reading in an idyllic setting (not my actual life).
I am awfully, deliciously, over-excited about the Ready Reading Program and what it may mean for little people around Queensland and, more broadly, for overall literacy levels. To send volunteers into schools to share quality books with young readers – read them to students and have students read them, is just plain sensible. Yes it requires funding and willing volunteers and perhaps it’s worth will not be as easily quantifiable as improved test results, but for some children it could be the beginning of something great. It is not at all uncommon to hear highly successful adults from all walks of life talk about that ‘moment’ in their childhood when a light was switched on, and many of those moments involved words or books. The Ready Reading Program is a spectacular start in improving literacy.
Reading is, of course, already a daily occurrence in schools and teachers and teacher aids spend hours of each day reading and sharing books with students and having students read aloud. However there is a difference in teaching the mechanics of reading through guided reading experiences and thoughtfully planned lessons and ‘teaching’ a love of reading through one on one reading sessions with a child. A love of reading begins with trusted adults taking the time out from the busyness of a day to read with a child and have a child read to them. One on one reading time with a child helps to form powerful associations between books and moments of happiness and calm.
In an ideal world, I would like to see the following happen with this program:
- Volunteers recruited from all ages and stages of life – pre-service teachers, retirees from every profession imaginable, grandparents, aunts and uncles. Ideally, it would be nice if some politicians were also appropriately trained in how to read to a child – just imagine how much easier media conferences in libraries would be for them (she says with a smirk, having watched far too many awkward media conferences filmed in school libraries…always also surprised they can even find school libraries to film in these days*)
- Focus taken off the mechanics of reading, that is what teachers are for and they are the experts. Focus put on creating positive shared reading experiences for individual children. Many children come to reading with ingrained negative thoughts about themselves and books. Lets rewire those brains to see the joy of books, before we bang on about sight words again.
- I dearly hope that volunteers are encouraged to work with teacher librarians* to choose quality books which work as read aloud texts and work with classroom teachers to chose books for children to read aloud where they will experience success. Leave the teaching of the mechanics of reading to teachers and let the volunteers work on attitudinal changes towards books and reading.
- Volunteers must absolutely be ‘taught’ to read a book aloud. There is far more to reading a book than properly articulating the words of a text and there are some great examples of reading aloud online if you know where to look for them. Modelled reading is one of the best ways to enthuse children to read aloud themselves.
- Book discussion is as crucial as the reading of the book. It’s not simply a case of ‘open front cover, start, finish, close back cover, next kid’. Volunteers must have a stash of bookish chatter techniques up their sleeve and the ability to create dialogue around books in order to maximise the learning and enjoyment.
- It would be nice to see Jarrod Bleijie given the opportunity to take part in training. As opposition education spokesman, he said today that the reinstatement of this program was unnecessary and “I didn’t need to get training on how to read Bob the Builder to my son in primary school.” Well Mr Bleijie A) Bob the Builder is a pretty appalling text (unless we’re talking the beautiful version by Emily Rodda which I suspect we are not) and B) you said this is ‘a slight on parents and grandparents who already helped in classrooms.’… I’m not sure many parents and grandparents are actually helping in classrooms, for a plethora of reasons I will not expand on now, but isn’t it wonderful that they will be properly trained and equipped with some knowledge?
For more of my ranting on all of the above, listen to this 612ABC ‘Afternoons’ episode with Katherine Feeney (I’m about 38 minutes in).
Registrations to become a Queensland Ready Reading Volunteer will open from 14 May 2018: https://volunteeringqld.org.au/
*While school communities and academics are seeing the long-term effects of lack of a reading culture within a school caused by shutting libraries and doing away with teacher librarians, it appears governments are not. Well-resourced school libraries and quality teacher librarians are worth their weight in gold and the impact they can have on an entire school community is breathtaking to behold. Well-resourced and staffed school libraries foster a life-long love of reading and help students to find literature with which they connect. School libraries and teacher librarians help communities to become literate and to think critically and creatively. Well-resourced school libraries with exemplary teacher librarians develop and sustain a vibrant reading culture, promote and integrate innovative use of technologies and help with information navigation and communication. Do not underestimate the importance of their role. Again…see here.Booktopia. You can also compare prices on Fishpond and Bookworld for Australian purchases.If you live in the US or would prefer to use Amazon click here. If you live in the UK or would prefer to use Book Depository click here. Purchases clicked through from the Children’s Books Daily site result in a small commission. Commission is used in part to maintain Children’s Books Daily and to support community groups which connect children with books.