I count myself as very fortunate to have been involved in Catholic Education South Australia’s Reading to Learn professional development program over the past two years. Given the fact that it has been at the front of my mind for the past term and going into the ASFLA conference next week, I felt it required a descriptive/reflective post to explain my fervour.
Reading to Learn was developed by Dr David Rose and is based on principles of functional grammar. It aims “to enable all learners at all levels of education to read and write successfully, at levels appropriate to their age, grade and area of study.” (http://www.readingtolearn.com.au/) This provides a key point of access to the Australian Curriculum, which also demands that students of all abilities work with age-appropriate, challenging texts across the curriculum. Whilst Reading to Learn was originally developed with EAL students in mind, the strategies are applicable to mainstream students of all levels.
Having said this, I think David Rose explains the theory behind the strategy best:
My Reading to Learn journey began with my colleague’s encouragement two years ago. Getting involved is the best thing I have done for my teaching. It has strengthened my prior knowledge of linguistics, changed my approach to literacy education, and helped me to develop a lot more empathy with my students and what they experience when learning to cope with complex genres in secondary school.
As well as its application in my English and Religion classes, I have also found the pedagogy successful in my LOTE classroom. Whether in English or Italian, I am seeing my students’ confidence and willingness to attempt challenging genres growing by the week. With this, their reading comprehension and ability to produce quality writing is increasing tenfold. It is hard work and time consuming, but the fantastic results make it worthwhile.
Reading to Learn is being used at an international scale, and my colleagues and I have had opportunities to network with visiting teachers from Denmark, Sweden and Norway, as well as teachers from across South Australia. We are looking forward to continuing to share ideas and learn collaboratively at next week’s Australian Systemic Functional Linguistics Association Conference next week in Melbourne.
Some generous gifts to our school by our Scandinavian Reading to Learn visitors.
This program is not just for English and EAL teachers, either. Literacy is a cross-curricular priority, and as a school we are working with staff to develop a consistent approach across the learning areas. This is an on-going process, which is still in its very nascent stages, however there are some promising signs and I will continue to post as we progress through this stage of our Reading to Learn journey.
I would love to hear from other teachers and schools using this pedagogy. What have been your successes and challenges? How do you implement it in your classroom and across the curriculum?
Yesterday a colleague and I attended a Purposeful Assessment workshop run by ACER. It focused on the PAT-R and PAT-M tests, and how they can be interpreted and used for diagnostic data and to inform classroom strategies. It was a clearly-structured, relevant workshop which provided me with direction for how to effectively use the PAT-Reading tests my Year 8 English students completed at the end of last term.
Something which the presenter said that struck me was about the necessity for teachers to have a deep understanding what makes a text complex. This seems obvious, I know – but it got me thinking, I wasn’t taught this at uni. At no stage in my degree do I remember doing a topic or unit that focused on explicit teaching of grammar. We did a lot of work on unit planning, lesson planning and the curriculum, but nothing when it came to teaching students language (other than in in my Italian elective). But nothing substantial when it came to English. So as a graduate, I didn’t have the depth of knowledge and skills required to explain linguistic operations to students, or to effectively deconstruct a text. I could do it myself, but to make some of the concepts accessible to students was a struggle.
It wasn’t until my work with the EAL team at Catholic Education SA that I was truly able to explain the connection between what I could do, and the theory behind those skills. Then I was able to effectively communicate them to my middle school students in a way that set them up for successful reading and writing. Given that I was training to be an English teacher, this is a gaping hole in the course. Fortunately in my first few years I have been exposed to and participated in courses and projects surrounding literacy and have made links with amazing colleagues from whom I have learnt the necessary skills.
Essentially what beginning teachers need in order to learn to move students from general decoding of language to real comprehension, interpretation and analysis is a starting point. The Reading to Learn program was my stimulus, and now that we are using the PAT-R test I am able to effectively identify and target the skills that my students need to develop. There are a wealth of resources out there to help students develop the language they need to be effective readers but it is important to be discerning. We must consider multimodal presentations, and whether or not the questions posed are appropriate. For example, questions that simply require the students to recount the events word for word do not require any critical thinking or manipulation of language and therefore are not an accurate measure of comprehension. Questions and activities need to encourage students to explore, infer, interpret, analyse and crate using language.
Some recommended resources for building students’ language skills and comprehension include: