Passionate about literacy education

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:

  1. A reader’s major focus should always be meaning

  2. Effective readers draw on all sources of information in the text

  3. Effective readers are always predicting

  4. Effective readers self-correct

  5. Effective readers have a range of strategies

  6. Effective readers know how they read

  7. Effective readers love reading

 

Please read Brian’s full article on The Conversation.

 

I welcome any feedback.

6 thoughts on “Passionate about literacy education

  1. Cultivating Questioners

    Reading is such an interesting topic. There are so many different models out there that try to tell you how to teach it, but it seems so much more individually-determined than any other subject. I really liked seeing the 7 messages about effective reading at the end of your post — I think sometimes we get swept up in teaching all of the components of reading and we forget that meaning is really our ultimate purpose.

    For me, the hardest thing about teaching reading in my first year has been grouping. I am always hesitant to group by ability, so I try to keep mixing things up to keep my students on their toes. It’s a challenge to balance “just in time instruction” with trying not to turn students off from reading by thinking they are in the “slow” group.

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    1. Norah Post author

      Hi Nicole,
      Thanks for stopping by and leaving your thoughtful response. I love your comment about “just in time instruction”. It is such an important concept, and each learner has their own time. Understanding the reading process helps the teacher know what that time and the appropriate instruction/guide/suggestion is. Like you, I cringe at the thought of the ‘slow group’. You may be interested to read some memoirs of School at Seven shared on Lisa Reiter’s blog http://sharingthestoryblog.wordpress.com/2014/05/08/school-at-seven/. One by Ruby McConnell is especially appropriate. http://littlemissgonewild.blogspot.com.au/2014/05/bite-sized-memoir-i-school-at-seven.html Your students will benefit by the reflection that is obviously a part of your teaching process.

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  2. Bec

    Thanks Nor for your insights into reading. Perhaps these things feel quite intuitive to you, but it’s a real privilege as an ‘outsider’ to have this opportunity to learn about the philosophy of education. I expect many others, like me, wouldn’t appreciate the extent of knowledge and capability that inspiring teachers such as yourself invest into helping children to be all they can be.

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    1. Norah Post author

      Hi Bec, Thanks for your generous comment. I appreciate your use of the word ‘intuitive’. I think why it works for me is that every part of my pedagogical practice is based upon a very strong educational philosophy.I know what I am doing, why I am doing it, at which stage of development my learners are at and where I want to take them. Many teachers use a range of methods which have been shown to work, but have no firm understanding of the purpose for using them or why they work. They are not based on a philosophical framework or understanding of learning processes and development. Brian Cambourne was instrumental in helping me develop that ‘intuition’.

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  3. Annecdotist

    Interesting post, Norah, and great to hear what you did with your son – you must have both enjoyed it so much. Looking in very much from the outside, there seems to be an awful lot of anxiety about children learning to read. Although this is understandable given that it’s such a disadvantage growing up unable to do so, too often this anxiety gets transferred to the children which must impede learning. In Britain, all children are taught to read from the age of four, which is fine for some of them but others might not be ready until they’re old as eight (a friend’s son, who couldn’t read till 8, more or less straightaway went on to read a full Harry Potter on his own) but already have the sense that there’s something wrong with them that they can’t do it. it’s lovely that you have such passion and flexibility to enable children to reach their potential.

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    1. Norah Post author

      Hi Anne, Thank you very much for your comment. I always look forward to your response as you ensure I do a little more thinking, which is a good thing. I agree with you: a lot of anxiety does accompany anything to do with children learning to read; anxiety for teachers, parents, and children. I also agree that not all children are ready to read or interested in reading at the same time. When we are adults it doesn’t matter when we started to read, as long as we learned to do so. Unfortunately many educational systems worldwide now have set reading levels that children are expected to reach by a particular age. These levels are assessed in national tests and results achieved by individual students and schools are rigorously compared. This focus on testing, rather than learning, applies a lot of pressure to all involved in the process, particularly the children who are not yet ready to meet the imposed expectations. I have friends with children in prep year (age 5) who feel they are failures (parents and children) because the children can not recognise all “their sight words” or identify the sounds associated with letters and letter groups. The push to meet set targets fails to recognise individual differences and the developmental process. A focus on didactic teaching and test scores ensures that the conditions most conducive to literacy learning are not being met. Many teachers feel they no longer have time to read children stories because they must practice phonics skills. Without the richness of language and books, the phonics skills seem irrelevant and monotonous. The joy of reading is replaced by meaningless drill and practice and workbook exercises. Oh dear, some people know better than to get me started on this topic!

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