Young New Zealanders are turning off reading in record numbers – we need a new approach to teaching literacy



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Christine Braid, Massey University

Meet Otis. He’s eight years old and until recently he didn’t want to read or write. Then his teacher changed the way she taught and things began to improve.

After a few weeks, Otis (not his real name, but he’s a real child) wanted to read and write at every opportunity. With this new-found knowledge and motivation his skill increased too. And his confidence.

So what was different? Technically, Otis’s teacher had begun using what is known as a structured approach to teaching literacy. Essential for children with a literacy learning difficulty such as dyslexia, it has been shown to be beneficial for all children.

The structured approach is a departure from what is known as the “implicit” teaching approach most teachers have used in the classroom. There are now calls for “explicit” instruction to be adopted more generally, including a petition recently presented to the New Zealand Parliament.

New data suggest this is an urgent problem, with growing numbers of young people turning off reading. According to a recent report from the Education Ministry’s chief education science adviser, 52% of 15-year-olds now say they read only if they have to – up from 38% in 2009.

The report made a number of recommendations, including that the ability to “decode” words become a focus in the first years of school. The importance of decoding to literacy success was reiterated by learning disability and dyslexia advocacy group SPELD NZ. It called for a change in teacher training and urgent professional development in structured literacy teaching.




Read more:
Why every child needs explicit phonics instruction to learn to read


How does a structured approach work?

Structured literacy teaching means the knowledge and skills for reading and writing are explicitly taught in a sequence, from simple to more complex. Children learn to decode simple words such as tap, hit, red and fun before they read words with more complex spelling patterns such as down, found or walked.

Learning correct letter formation is a priority. Mastery of these skills builds a strong foundation for reading and writing, without which progress is slow, motivation stalls and achievement suffers.

children's books with words and pictures
The simple spelling in structured literacy texts helps children decode the words and build confidence.
Author provided

The books children first read in a structured approach employ these restricted spelling patterns. Reading these with his teacher’s help, Otis built on his skills with simple words and progressed to decoding words with advanced spelling patterns.

These structured lessons also allowed him to master letter and sentence formation, so he made progress in writing too.

Old approaches aren’t working

By contrast, an implicit approach to teaching reading essentially means children have lots of opportunities to read and write, and learn along the way with teacher guidance.

Unfortunately, children like Otis can get lost along the way, too.

Implicit reading books use words with a variety of spelling patterns – for example: Mum found a sandal. “Look at the sandal,” said Mum.




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Explainer: what’s the difference between decodable and predictable books, and when should they be used?


When Otis tried to read these books, he looked at the pictures or tried to remember the teacher’s introduction before attempting the words. But he was not building his skills and was getting left behind.

Otis is not alone, and New Zealand’s literacy results support the calls for change. Despite many interventions and the daily hard work of teachers, it is common for schools to report 30% of children with low reading results and 40% with low writing results.

However, a Massey University study in 2019 found reading outcomes improved when teachers were trained in a structured approach. The results were particularly good for children with the lowest results prior to intervention.

Overall, the findings suggest the change in teaching had a positive effect on children’s learning.

An example of how structured literacy is taught in the US; methods vary depending on the country.

Change is already happening

Fortunately for children like Otis, more teachers are now seeking training in a structured approach. One project based on the Massey research involved more than 100 teachers in over 40 schools. Teacher comments suggest the knowledge and training support has helped them change their teaching for the benefit of the whole class.




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Further signs of hope include recent Ministry of Education efforts to develop structured approach teaching materials, and the resources now available for teachers on the ministry’s Te Kete Ipurangi support site.

No one pretends change is easy in a complex area such as literacy teaching. But every child like Otis has the right succeed, and every teacher has the right to be supported in their approach to helping Otis and his peers learn.

With courage and effort at every level of the system – not just from classroom teachers – a structured approach to literacy teaching can improve outcomes and have a positive impact that will stay with children for the rest of their lives.The Conversation

Christine Braid, Professional Learning and Development Facilitator in Literacy Education, Massey University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Reading and Writing in Early Modern Europe


The link below is to an article that looks at reading and writing in early modern Europe.

For more visit:
https://lithub.com/in-early-modern-europe-reading-and-writing-meant-getting-your-hands-dirty/

Reading during coronavirus: books can be triggering, but difficult texts teach us resilience, too



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Kate Douglas, Flinders University and Kylie Cardell, Flinders University

We teach English at university. Our weekly engagements include navigating unnerving plot twists, falling in and out of love with iconic characters, and evaluating the complexities of language and genre.

Reading challenges how we think. Each week, in English classes, we explore some of the most significant issues and representations affecting various historical periods and cultures.

In the first semester, our reading list included classic works of literature that deal with themes including mental illness and psychological as well as physical isolation: Charlotte Perkins-Gilman’s The Yellow Wallpaper, Virginia Woolf’s Mrs Dalloway, and Sylvia Plath’s The Bell Jar.

Then COVID-19 happened.

News reports began circulating on what professors were reading for refuge during the pandemic. An article in the New Yorker pondered why “anxious readers” might be soothed by Mrs Dalloway. This is a text that, in the past, has seen students request trigger warnings for its of “examination of suicidal tendencies” which “may trigger painful memories for students suffering from self-harm”.




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When literature takes you by surprise: or, the case against trigger warnings


Our teaching suddenly moved online, which created an even more unsettling set of conditions. We were teaching literary texts representing various kinds of trauma to students coping with a range of new (or exacerbated) issues due to sudden loss of employment, social disconnection, anxiety and fear.

Would reading these difficult texts prove to be a solace for our students, a timely example of the social role of literary storytelling, or a trauma all of its own?

What are difficult texts?

Great stories move and they challenge. They draw attention to diverse social and cultural issues and to the transformative potential of empathy. But they can also be difficult and there are a range of reasons why.

The challenge might be intellectual. Or the text confronting on a psychological or emotional level.

A lot of literature is perceived as perpetuating racist stereotypes. Until quite recently, a good deal of canonical literature excluded the perspectives of women. This is something Woolf has written extensively about and that we can see at work in Mrs Dalloway. Part of her novel’s radicalism is its transgressive (for its era) narrowness of scope: a day in the life of a woman.

Sylvia Plath’s The Bell Jar explores mental illness, and could be triggering for some readers.
Flickr/kristina, CC BY-ND

And of course, there are themes in literary texts that are in themselves inherently challenging or traumatic: war, racial violence, and misogyny are staples in Shakespeare’s plays.

In identifying difficult literature, the goal posts shift: what was confronting to past generations may not remain true for current readers. So too, what was acceptable to readers of a certain era may no longer be acceptable in the 21st century.

Universities have seen an escalation of interest in content and trigger warnings. Viewpoints have run at both ends of the extreme. Content warnings are either coddling the minds of the “snowflake generation”; or one step away from censorship. Others consider warnings as essential in protecting students from psychological harm.

As literature scholar Michelle Smith notes, it seems widely accepted a lecturer should give a warning before showing a graphic visual scene. However, the argument trigger warnings should accompany written literature that represents difficult or challenging subject matter has been met with more scepticism and opposition.

This places a great deal of responsibility on teachers to decide where to draw the line.

Teachers face the ambitious balance of wanting to protect our students from representations that might be too difficult and trigger unwanted emotional responses, alongside a desire to expose students to complex representations, and histories — for instance of inequality, discrimination, racism and sexism.




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We use the term “trauma texts” to explore how new literary subjects and voices have emerged in the 21st century. Trauma texts reveal literature’s potential for direct and active political and cultural engagement. When we take these texts into the classroom, we ask students to accept difficulty into their lives (if they can), and to witness complex lives and histories in nuanced, critically engaged ways.

Teaching in the time of COVID has re-energised these ongoing debates. For instance, there is an opportunity to recognise (with renewed vigour) how a reader’s individual experience shapes how they approach a particular literary text. We have developed new understandings of how literary texts operate in moments of great cultural or social upheaval.

Virginia Woolf’s Mrs Dalloway is a radical text for its times.
Flickr/Wolf Gang, CC BY-SA

Iso-lit reading during COVID

In our research and practice we have found many positive outcomes when we teach difficult texts in university English. Our students appreciate the texts we teach address recognisable real-world problems.

These books offer opportunities for readers to show empathy, witness injustice and reflect on the ethics of representation. They offer skills (critical reading and thinking, debate, negotiation) that are transferable to diverse work contexts. They come to understand the value of literature (broadly conceived), and the wide cultural and political influence it may have.

Research has shown reading difficult texts with students requires care, and an awareness of how to approach content and trigger warnings. As life narrative theorist Leigh Gilmore reminds us, when we bring trauma texts into the literary classroom, we should teach as if someone in the room has experienced trauma.

The classroom needs to be a safe space.

In teaching difficult texts, it is a reasonable expectation we provide information (in advance) to students regarding any difficult content. We need to open a dialogue between student and teacher and this needs to be maintained throughout the semester so we can offer ongoing support.




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As well as empowering our students, this approach provides us with an opportunity to reflect, dynamically, on why we want to teach these texts.

In previous research we have argued that in English, we want to encourage students to confront new ideas and to be challenged by what they read. This is integral to the university experience. We are asking students to be generous readers who have the capacity to look inward and outward.

Now, more than ever we need tools to read and respond to human experiences of crisis and pain. Reading difficult literature is one way by which the eternal and ongoing responsibility of humanism can be fulfilled.The Conversation

Kate Douglas, Professor, Flinders University and Kylie Cardell, Lecturer in English, Flinders University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Reading Has Increased


In the previous post it was noted how difficult reading was to do in the current climate of anxiety and fear regarding coronavirus. However, the link below is to an article reporting on the surge in reading during the pandemic.

For more visit:
https://www.theguardian.com/books/2020/may/15/research-reading-books-surged-lockdown-thrillers-crime