There are many paths to being a successful reader

By Greg Whitby, 6 June 2018


Weekly Column from the Executive Director of Schools, Diocese of Parramatta

We know that high levels of literacy mean more opportunities for young people. We also know that teachers play a critical important role in teaching children how to read. The work of most teachers is evident in the early years when students begin developing their vocabulary and awareness of letter sounds.

The saying that ‘There’s more than one way to skin a cat’ can also apply to teaching children to read. Decades of research show the benefits of using several strategies for teaching reading.

There have been a number of stories in the media in the past months about the Reading Recovery early intervention reading program. I am a strong supporter of Reading Recovery and we have used and continue to use the program to great success in schools in the Diocese of Parramatta. I also acknowledge that other strategies, including phonics, have an important role to play in teaching children to read.

The work of schools in teaching children to read is vitally important but we are misguided if we think that this responsibility sits only with schools. Babies and toddlers do not have access to teachers – they have access to parents, grandparents and other carers. We know that the earlier we expose children to spoken language, reading singing rhymes and books, the earlier we lay foundations of literacy.

Most parents, whether they are aware of it or not, use different strategies when they are reading or singing to a child. They sound out the letters in a word such as ‘c-a-t’, they may make connections between the word and the pictures, they ask questions about the book cover in an attempt to provide clues about the story.

If as a society we are serious about addressing declining literacy levels among young people, then we need to look beyond what we teach in Kindy or Year 1. We need to be looking at ways we can support children from the time they are born. This may mean providing additional support and education to parents with lower literacy levels, encouraging more parents to visit libraries and, where it’s possible, using technology to connect skilled readers with young children.

Reading is one of the most complex skills any of us ever have to master. We need to be looking at approaches to reading that are not aimed at fixing the problem but preventing it from happening in the first place.

Greg Whitby

Executive Director of Schools – Diocese of Parramatta


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