By Peter Wood.
The ability to read is essential for any citizen to exist comfortably in our society.
Children who find learning to read easy are lucky. They have - a brain set that remembers shapes, parents who interact with them encouraging the content of books, caregivers/grandparents who read to them consistently, and encourage them to access many books matched to their age. A community that values reading is the environment for reading success.
People have been teaching reading to children for several hundred years, so the mechanics of success are well known and unlikely to change. For example, they are - the use of context to guess the word meaning, the use of phonics where appropriate, repetition of the most common words in the language, the gradual increase of a reading vocabulary that sparks interest and humour.
All this takes place in the first four years at school. The test for achievement is when a child “silently” reads for enjoyment. After that, reading is concerned with increasing knowledge and vocabulary, and using a dictionary should be automatic (every family to own one).
There may be some aged people who remember being taught reading from the Whitcombe readers, with such stories as The Hobyahs. This series was supplanted by the Janet and John graded readers with the McKee set (Tip and Mitten) as supplementaries. Repetition of a limited vocabulary was an important part of instruction at that time.
Our country’s reading ability had been adequate, and in recent years, we topped the world as a reading country. (In international reading evaluation in 2020, NZ is now 20th on the same level as Spain.)
Our superiority in reading came about by having a New Zealand, composed and printed (by a Government department) series of readers that were head and shoulders above anything that had come before.
They were the “Ready to Read” series, containing contemporary story themes and a limited vocabulary. They were supported by commercially produced supplementary readers (the PM series) and an activity book from the teachers’ union (the NZEI). The children of the Bay Boomers will remember the 12 introductory booklets followed by readers such as The Hungry Lamb and Sliding and Flying. After this series was completed, children were using the foremost children’s magazine in the world: The School Journal. Children who moved from school to school were picked up where they left off.
So why has our reading education toppled from first to double in world standing?
The answer lies in the Government lurch to the ‘new right”, where everything that promotes the running of our society has to be competitive, privatised, commercialised and incentivised with money and greed. The School Journal has been discontinued.
So, what happened to “Ready to Read”?
Well, with the removal of education boards and their expertise and a flawed drive to competition between schools and teachers, there is the need for teachers to look good by being ‘nnovative’ and displaying ‘wonderful’ visual results – all to puff out the CV and allow teachers to climb the promotional ladder to where they no longer are responsible for a classroom.
Principals are absent from the chalkface. The using of school funds to buy commercially produced books, removed the Ready to Read series, despite an American group’s taking them on.
Do we want to improve our children’s reading? Of course, we do! But giving more computer time or taking teachers from where they are doing well will be unproductive.
Let’s use the money to produce a mandatory New Zealand - wide series of readers especially written for our society along the lines of the most successful Ready to Read series and perhaps we can halt the steady decline of our education system.
Unfortunately, the government’s ideology expects the commercial world to produce this. It won’t because competition negates co-operation.
Peter Wood taught primary school children in New Zealand for more than 40 years. He taught the first wave of baby boomers. He retired in 2003 from Te Puru School on the Thames Coast, and he is now a resident of Whitianga. He specialised in reading for five- and six-year-olds for many years.
Quote – “The children of the baby boomers will remember the 12 introductory booklets followed by readers such as “The Hungry Lamb and Sliding and Flying”.
Peter’s Reading Hints to Grandparents
Children bring home books from school and libraries.
If the grandparent is interested, the children will share these books with them.
Note, it is not the grandparent’s role to teach reading but to give the child pleasure in the experience.
They can do this by firstly, discussing the story and discussing the illustrations and secondly, by letting the grandchild read any part he/she is able to or by reading it to them.
This last is especially helpful if the children find a passage too difficult. Let the child point to the difficult place or words occasionally. (Too much slows the process down).
Find their opinion to finalise the interaction. “What do you think they should do next?”
Reading at bedtime gives pleasure and creates a helpful attitude towards reading, so keep it simple.
Caption: Peter Wood.