Education is my passion.
I have spent almost my entire life thinking about how to educate, and the rest of it being educated.
That is to say, just like everyone else, I began to learn about the world from the moment I was born, if not before; probably before.
From age ten I knew that I wanted to be a teacher and worked hard through school to achieve that goal.
When I completed school I was fortunate to receive a teacher’s scholarship which meant that my three years of training was provided by the state education system and, in return, I was required to teach within the system for three years. Without the scholarship that path would have been unattainable.
I remember sitting in my classroom on, what I will say was, my first day of teaching. I gathered a group of children around me, each of us with a reader in our hands, ready for a reading lesson. Suddenly I realised I didn’t have a clue what to do.
Realisation 1: Teaching reading isn’t as simple as putting book in the hands of children and telling them to read.
This was a third grade class, so I’m hoping that most of them were already able to read and we figured it out together. Round robin reading seemed to be the method of the moment.
During that first, and the following year, I put a lot of energy into sorting books into levels and children into groups to read the books at the different levels. I’m not sure what the children learned but I know I was earning my pay. I was ‘teaching’.
Realisation 2: Children learn to read at different rates.
At the beginning of my third year of teaching I was listening to children read individually, in order to group them according to reading ability, when one of the children, considered a good reader by his previous teacher, informed me proudly that he could read the book without looking; and proceeded to do so. He had memorised it! He didn’t recognise any of the words and could not read any other book.
Realisation 3: Reading is more than reciting the words on the page.
Major realisation: There was something wrong with the way reading was being taught, and I still didn’t feel confident about teaching it.
Fortunately most children learn to read despite how it is taught, and although I sometimes think I’d like to apologise to all those students I “taught” when I didn’t have much of a clue, I’d like to say “I hope they’re not reading this”, but I really hope they can!
Not long after this I had a break from teaching for a few years. During that time I read a lot of books about education, especially alternative views of schooling. I continued to feel strongly about reading instruction and even wrote a series of readers (unpublished) based on instruction in phonics. (Such was my ignorance!)
I worked with groups of upper primary remedial readers who made great progress ostensibly using a phonics program. However they also received lots of individual attention, encouragement and opportunities for reading real books.
At the same time I watched my three year old son become a reader without any formal instruction. I read to him, talked with him, wrote stories for him and transcribed his stories which we read together. We played games with language making up rhymes, playing “I spy”, singing songs and talking about print in our environment. Before I knew it he was jumping into bed in the mornings, prising my eyes open and begging to read to me!
I struggled to make sense of what I was observing.
Then the serendipitous moment arrived: I saw an advertisement for a graduate diploma in reading and language. It sounded tailored to my needs exactly. And it was.
We packed up the family and moved across the country to enable me to undertake the study.
It was one of the best things I have ever done. Suddenly everything made sense. The course about developing literacy skills also supported my developing beliefs and understandings about learning in general. I was at last in a place I felt comfortable. This was where I belonged. The course reignited my passion and provided the knowledge and skills that would underpin everything I have since done in education. Time has moved on but the essential understandings are timeless.
The coordinator of the course, the person who deserves my sincerest gratitude, is just as passionate about literacy education today as he was then, influencing new generations of teachers and students. His name is Brian Cambourne, Principal Fellow on the Faculty of Education at the University of Wollongong. He is affiliated with the International Reading Association and the Australian Literacy Educators Association.
Recently a friend sent me a link to an article about reading on The Conversation. It is titled “The seven messages of highly effective reading teachers” and begins with a caption under a photo:
Teaching kids to read isn’t just about learning the alphabet or “sounding out”, it’s about making sense of what’s on the page.
I read the article and quickly responded to my friend saying that I agreed wholeheartedly and that I was, in fact, writing a book about those very same ideas, right at that moment!
Then I checked the author. Imagine my surprise when I discovered it was Brian Cambourne! I am delighted to be able to share his wisdom with you.
In the article Brian explains the seven messages that highly effective reading teachers share with their students:
A reader’s major focus should always be meaning
Effective readers draw on all sources of information in the text
Effective readers are always predicting
Effective readers self-correct
Effective readers have a range of strategies
Effective readers know how they read
Effective readers love reading
Please read Brian’s full article on The Conversation.
I welcome any feedback.