Coronavirus: five books to keep young people happy during lockdown – children’s author


George Rudy via Shutterstock

Mimi Thebo, University of Bristol

Stories can be mirrors that help young people express feelings about a given situation. They give children a vocabulary for what is happening. But, because of how fiction works in the brain, stories can also be windows. When we read fiction, we inhabit other bodies and feel the concerns of other people. This helps young people to develop empathy – but has another profound effect. Reading stories makes us feel experienced and increases resilience.

I’ve chosen some wonderful books that all function both as mirrors and windows for children as the world faces the effects of Coronavirus. They are beautifully written and/or illustrated and should fire young imaginations, while comforting the whole family.

The Red Tree

This is a beautiful picture book – sparse of text – with lush landscapes in Sean Tan’s magical style. The reader loses themselves in pages that are achingly evocative of yearning, loss and wonder in a kind of heady cocktail of intense emotion, boredom and stoicism.

For a child, there is always hope.
Amazon

Dark leaves fall in our character’s bedroom, but by the end, they have coalesced into a beautiful red tree.

There is space here for even a very young reader to express what they think is happening page by page. The art could stimulate imitation. I can also imagine making a little red tree trunk and branches and adding a leaf to it, day by day.

There is very little reading to be done, so a slightly older child could also “read” it to a younger one.

The Mousehole Cat

Antonia Barber sets her classic story on the Cornish coast. The narrative is about a cat who saves the day when her community is threatened. It is wordier than many picture books, but narrated by the cat in clear, beautifully written prose – it’s a pleasure to read aloud.

Moving story of bravery, sacrifice and companionship.
Amazon

Nicola Bayley’s illustrations are engaging and immersive – who wouldn’t like to go to the seaside right now? – and the characters easily inspire affection.

Touching on concepts of scarcity and sacrifice, this is a very empowering story for a young listener or reader. The smallest character in the story is the hero who saves everyone – by singing. It would be easy to live in this story for a while, going fishing from the laundry basket, practising storm singing, repeating some of the turns of phrase.

The illustrations are inspiring for young artists and could also be the basis of remembering visits to the seaside, pretend beach picnics or natural history lessons.

Comet in Moominland

A trip to Tove Jansson’s Moominland always makes everything better. Here, the family flee from an approaching comet, meeting many favourite characters on the way.

Full of adventures and narrow escapes.
Amazon

The much-beloved Moomins are eccentric hippo-like people, very accommodating of difference and otherness. That said, many of the characters have their little ways, and being accommodating isn’t always comfortable. The realism of the relationships gives even the silliest of Jansson’s stories the texture of real life.

Quirky line drawings are immensely endearing and the story, while exciting with elements of real fear, never feels as if it will end badly. The language is fun, with word play and characters’ attitudes and, again, the child is the hero. It’s not hard to draw a Moomin, and there are endless opportunities for drama. Year twos or threes can probably read it to themselves, with someone on hand for the tricky bits, but it’s fun enough to engage older children, and silly enough for littlies.

The Wee Free Men

Tiffany Aching comes from chalkland, where nobody has it easy, and everyone works hard. When a rift opens on her doorstep and her despised little brother is taken, she discovers she’s not ordinary, after all. Armed with a cast-iron frying pan, she takes on the full force of Fairyland.

A riotous out-loud read.
Amazon

This is a riotous out-loud read from the late Terry Pratchett, featuring a tribe of “pictsies” who speak in a Scottish accent that sounds a lot like the stand-up comic Billy Connolly. Tiffany’s gran has recently passed away – and the danger feels quite real – but we know that Tiff will get us through. She certainly does, battling forces of depression and self-doubt to do so – another young leader in a time of community danger. Even hardened teenagers might smile at the best bits and tweens will devour it whole. Children as young as six or seven can follow along.

The narrative is a role-play bonanza and there are opportunities to investigate British folklore, identities in the United Kingdom and gender roles. Illustrations in the text might inspire art and mapping the settings would be an interesting exercise. Further adventures of some of the characters could be written, and geography lessons about chalk grassland would be easy to work in.

The Book Thief

For resilient older children and teens, Markus Zusac’s story is set in a time of many lives lost – Germany during the second world war – and narrated by Death. It is gorgeously written (an international bestseller, adapted for film) and, while the subject matter is difficult, the narrative pulses with life and hope.

Navigating trauma and hard times.
Amazon

For a young person engaged with current events, questioning authority and impatient of parental efforts to shield them from the grimmer elements of our current reality, this book could be a lifeline.

Liesel Meminger is illiterate when the story begins, but takes a book that has been dropped at her brother’s graveside. As she begins to read and to leave childhood behind, she steals many more books. Love, death and the importance of even futile actions inform the story of Liesel’s coming of age and provide ways of thinking about what it means to be human.

This could be read together silently, perhaps taking chapters in turn, rationed out as a treat for discussion or not. It’s a natural accompaniment to history lessons, geography, or some online German instruction and watching the film could lead to a discussion of adaptation. But perhaps you could just leave a copy of it out for anyone who needs it to find and make their own.

Many of these titles are available electronically, but local bookshops are delivering and posting orders. After all, there’s nothing more comforting than snuggling behind the protective embrace of an open book.The Conversation

Mimi Thebo, Reader in Creative Writing, University of Bristol

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

How to Raise a Reader


The link below is to an article that looks at how to raise a reader.

For more visit:
https://bookriot.com/2020/02/13/how-to-raise-reader/

Curious Kids: why does reading in the back seat make you feel sick?



Looking out the window instead might stop you feeling sick, but that doesn’t work for everyone.
Vadiar/Shutterstock, CC BY

Wayne Wilson, The University of Queensland

Why does reading in the back seat make you feel sick? – Jane, aged 10, from Coburg North, Australia.

Hi Jane, your question about why reading in the back seat makes you feel sick is a very good one. The answer has to do with our eyes, our ears and our brain.

Reading in the back seat can make you feel sick because your eyes and ears are having an argument that your brain is trying to settle!




Read more:
Curious Kids: Why do our ears pop?


When you’re reading in the back seat, your eyes see that your book is still. Your eyes then tell your brain you are still.

But your ears feel the car is moving. Your ears then tell your brain you’re moving.

How can your ears tell you’re moving?

Your ears don’t just hear, they help with your balance too.

Your ear has three main parts:

  • the outer ear is the bit you can see on the side of someone’s head
  • the middle ear is your eardrum and some tiny bones and muscles
  • the inner ear is the part of your ear that can help with your balance.
The ear includes more than what you see on the outside.
sanjayart/Shutterstock

Your inner ear contains cells that have hairs sticking out the top. Scientists call these “hair cells”.

Some of these hair cells help us to hear. When sound hits those hair cells, the hairs move and the cells send signals to the brain. Our brains use those signals to hear.

Other hair cells help us to keep our balance. When the car we’re sitting in moves, that movement makes the hairs on those hair cells move too, and they send different signals to the brain. Our brain uses those different signals to tell we’re moving.

Why doesn’t the brain like this?

Some people’s brains don’t like it when their eyes say they’re still but their ears say they’re moving.

When eyes and ears argue like this, the brain can think that something dangerous might be about to happen.

If this happens, the brain can get the body ready to fight or run away (scientists call this the “fight or flight” response).

The conflict between our eyes and ears make the brain think something dangerous might happen.
wavebreakmedia/Shutterstock

One of the things the brain can do is take blood away from the stomach to give to the muscles.

Giving blood to the muscles can help us to fight or run away. But taking blood away from the stomach can make us feel sick.

What can you do about it?

If reading in the back seat makes you feel sick, you might need to settle the argument between your eyes and your ears.

One way to do this is to stop reading and to look out the car window. This could help your eyes to tell your brain that you’re moving as you see the world whizz by, and your ears to tell your brain that you are moving as you feel the car moving.




Read more:
Curious Kids: Do astronauts get space sick when they travel from Earth to the International Space Station?


But this suggestion won’t work for everyone. Some people will still feel sick when they ride in a car, even if they aren’t reading.

This is because while our eyes and our ears help us to balance, so do our skin and our muscles. This creates many opportunities for arguments that our brain has to settle!


Hello, curious kids! Have you got a question you’d like an expert to answer? Ask an adult to send your question to curiouskids@theconversation.edu.auThe Conversation

Wayne Wilson, Associate Professor in Audiology, The University of Queensland

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

Children Who Own More Books Read Better


The link below is to an article that claims children who own more books read better – which is fairly obvious I suppose.

For more visit:
https://lithub.com/children-who-own-books-more-likely-to-be-good-readers-reveals-obvious-study/

Start a tradition of choosing picture books to share with children in your life



More recently, the study of reading has turned to examine the social and emotional benefits of storybook reading.
(Shutterstock)

Sandra Martin-Chang, Concordia University and Stephanie Kozak, Concordia University

It started with Frederick, by Leo Lionni — a beautifully illustrated story about the importance of the arts.

‘I am gathering words,’ Frederick the mouse tells his harried mouse community.
Penguin Random House

Or it began with The Christmas Miracle of Jonathan Toomey by Susan Wojciechowski — an exquisite storybook about a sullen carver who is transformed by the love of a little boy.

These are some of our own first favourite books. That was before we understood the benefits behind storybook reading. But we gave the books to our nieces and nephews based on our pure appreciation of the stories themselves. And thus began family traditions of carefully selecting, signing and gifting cherished books to one another.

Social and emotional benefits

For educators, the importance of storybook reading in the home is well documented. Reading to children is associated with a heap of benefits, including more expansive expressive and receptive vocabularies, better language comprehension and better early math abilities. More recently, the study of reading has turned to examine the social and emotional benefits provided by storybook reading.

Different themes explored by storybooks can develop aspects of socio-emotional understanding, because a well-written story can transport the reader into fictional worlds and let them experience emotions by proxy.

Parents who are more familiar with storybooks (presumably through reading them with their children), have children who are better at identifying and separating their own emotions and desires from the emotions and desires of others. Such social and cognitive skills are part of developing towards what psychologists call a “theory of mind” — gaining the ability to understand that other people’s thoughts and beliefs may be different from your own, and to consider why.

Books may help children develop such skills and insights because the plots often focus on social relationships between characters and contain rich language related to feelings and identity formation. Books can also encourage children to think of ways to enrich the lives of those around them, thereby enriching their own.

Of course, it’s not enough to simply own many books; it’s the frequency of shared storybook reading with the quality of time that matters. But whether books are borrowed from the local library, or part of your own collection, having access to them in your home is a good place to start.

Here are some of our favourites.


I’d Know You Anywhere, My Love by Nancy Tillman.
(Macmillan)

Books that explore themes of love and community: Porcupine’s Bad Day by Emilie Corbiere is an English- and Ojibway-langugage account of how porcupine’s friends help him move beyond his grumpy mood as he tries to sleep in the daytime — and to understand they all share the forest. Nancy Tillman’s I’d Know You Anywhere, My Love explores how intimacy and love are tied to recognition and acceptance, told through the delight of animal disguises and a woman narrator. Max and the Tag-Along Moon by Floyd Cooper narrates the love of a boy and his grandpa against the backdrop of the moon’s ever-present mystery.


‘The Book of Mistakes,’ by Corinna Luyken.
(Dial Books)

Books that celebrate the occasional misstep in creativity: The Book of Mistakes by Corinna Luyken, The Most Magnificent Thing by Ashley Spires, and Ish or The Dot, by Peter Reynolds. The Dot is about a schoolgirl, Vashti, who goes from believing she can’t draw to a celebration of self-expression and creativity — beginning with a dot. These books would make wonderful gifts for the creative but cautious children in your lives.


‘Ada Twist, Scientist’ by Andrea Beaty.
(Abrams)

Books for young budding professionals: Andrea Beaty’s books, including Ada Twist, Scientist and Iggy Peck, Architect would make wonderful presents that showcase new worlds opening up through science and design, and that show children the road to success is often littered with road blocks that can be overcome.


‘What Do You Do With An Idea?’ by Kobi Yamada.
(Compendium)

Books that embrace challenge: What Do You Do With An Idea by Kobi Yamada is an encouraging book suitable for all ages. After the Fall (How Humpty Dumpty Got Back Up Again) by Dan Santat contains themes of perseverance and overcoming fears.


‘A Child of Books,’ by Oliver Jeffers.
(Candlewick Press)

Books that celebrate themselves: The Good Little Book by Kyo MacLear, and It’s a Book by Lane Smith are stories about the love for reading, and the value of a good book. These support the message that reading is a beautiful thing. A Child of Books by Oliver Jeffers and Sam Winston is a lyrical celebration of a childhood filled with books.


‘Chester,’ by Mélanie Watt.
(Kids Can Press)

Books that don’t take themselves too seriously: Chester by Mélanie Watt,
The Book With No Pictures by B.J. Novak, Oddsockosaurus by Zanib Mian and I Want My Hat Back by Jon Klassen all provide a shared giggle between adult and child. Books like these reinforce the value that reading is a fun and intrinsically enjoyable activity.


Above we’ve included some of our favorite titles, but there is no one perfect book. We encourage you to spend some time talking to your local bookshop staff or librarians to find titles that will resonate in your family.

The psychosocial and educational benefits from shared storybook reading do not depend on whether the books are bought or borrowed or whether they’re new or used. All you need are books with convincing characters, good conversations and a place to snuggle up and read.

[ Like what you’ve read? Want more? Sign up for The Conversation’s daily newsletter. ]The Conversation

Sandra Martin-Chang, Professor, Department of Education, Concordia University and Stephanie Kozak, PhD Candidate, Concordia University

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

5 reasons I always get children picture books for Christmas



Children who love being read to are more likely to find learning to read easier.
from shutterstock.com

Kym Simoncini, University of Canberra

Christmas is just around the corner. If you’re wondering what to get your child, your friends’ children, your nieces, nephews or basically any very young person in your life –  I highly recommend picture books.

Many people can remember a favourite book when they were a kid. Some of my favourites were the Berenstain Bears with Papa Bear trying, unsuccessfully, to teach his children how to ride a bike or gather honey.

Sadly, a 2011 report from the UK showed the number of young people who say they own a book is decreasing. The report also showed a clear relationship between receiving books as presents and reading ability.

Children who said they had never been given a book as a present were more likely to be reading below the expected level for their age.

Most people can remember a favourite book when they were kids.
The Berenstain Bears/Screenshot

There are lots of benefits of reading aloud to young children, including developing children’s language and print awareness. These include knowing that the squiggles on the page represent words, and that the words tell a story.

Such knowledge gives children a head start when they go on to reading at school.

1. Reading to kids increases their vocabulary

Research shows books have a greater variety of words than conversations. But it also suggests the conversations had during reading matter most.

Adults should discuss ideas in books with children, as they occur, as opposed to just reading a book from start to finish. Talking about the pictures, or what has happened, can lead to rich conversations and enhance language development.

The more words you know, the simpler it is to recognise them and comprehend the meaning of the text. Children who read more become better readers and more successful students.

It’s important to have conversations with your kids about what you’re reading.
from shutterstock.com

2. Books can increase children’s maths and science skills

Picture books show children maths and science concepts through a story, which helps kids grasp them easier.

Some books (like How Many Legs and How Big is a Million) explicitly explore concepts such as numbers. Other stories, like the Three Little Pigs, have concepts embedded in them. Children can learn about the properties of materials when adults talk about the strength of hay, sticks and bricks.

A study in the Netherlands found kindergarten children who were read picture books, and were engaged in discussions of the maths concepts in the books, increased their maths performance, compared to a control group of children who weren’t read these books.

Three Little Pigs can teach children about the properties of hay, bricks and sticks.
from shutterstock.com

Early Learning STEM Australia has created a booklist which gives parents and teachers ideas for books that contain STEM (science, technology, engineering and maths) ideas. These include:

  • They All Saw a Cat, which shows the perspectives of different animals

  • Lucy in the City, where a cat loses her way home and an owl helps her

  • Dreaming Up, which contrasts children’s constructions with notable works of architecture.

3. Books are mirrors and windows

Nearly 30 years ago, children’s literature professor, Rudine Sims Bishop, wrote how books can be windows, through which we see other worlds. These windows can become sliding doors when we use our imaginations and become part of them.

Books can also be mirrors, when we see our own lives and experiences in them. In this way, they reaffirm our place in the world.

Books can help kids see into other worlds.
from shutterstock.com

Children need both types of books to understand people come from different cultures and have different ways of thinking and doing things. Books can show that children of all cultures are valued in society.

Children who never see themselves represented in books may feel marginalised. Unfortunately, the majority of books feature white children or animals, so many children only experience books as windows.

Examples of books that show the lives of Indigenous children include Big Rain Coming and Kick with My Left Foot (which is also a great book about left and right).

4. Books can counter stereotypes

Children learn gender stereotypes from a very young age. Research shows by the age of six, girls are already less likely than boys to think girls are “really, really smart” and they begin to avoid activities thought to be for “really, really smart” children.

Picture books can challenge these and other stereotypes. Reading books that portray atypical behaviours such as girls playing with trucks or with girls in traditional male roles such as being doctors, scientists or engineers, can change children’s beliefs and activities.

Iggy Peck, Architect; Rosie Revere, Engineer; and Ada Twist, Scientist are very popular. And Sofia Valdez, Future Prez has just been released.

Children who have more books at home end up more educated.
from shutterstock.com

The City of Monash in Melbourne has created a list of children’s picture books that promote gender equality and challenge gender stereotypes. This includes one of my favourite books, The Paperbag Princess, who saves herself from a dragon and decides not to marry the prince after he complains she is a mess.

5. Just having more books makes you more educated

A study that looked at data from 27 countries, including Australia, found children growing up in homes with many books got three years more education than children from bookless homes. This was independent of their parents’ education, occupation and class.

Adults need to model good reading habits and their enjoyment of reading. Giving children a love of reading can be the best present we ever give.The Conversation

Kym Simoncini, Associate professor Early Childhood and Primary Education, University of Canberra

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

Humour, justice, belonging, danger, and wonder: 5 story senses and the art of writing for children



Want to capture the heart and mind of a young reader? The five story senses will set you on the right path.
iam Se7en/Unsplash, CC BY

Sean Williams, Flinders University

At the heart of every adult writer lies a novel they adored as a child. No wonder then so many try to write for kids themselves. So why do they often fail?

Perhaps it’s because, on the whole, adults are taught to write for adults, utilising the full power of the five regular senses – sight, sound, touch, taste, and smell – to evoke meaning in even the most trivial of everyday events.

This approach is less successful with younger readers, for one very simple reason: there are five other senses that speak more potently to them.

Consciously or unconsciously, successful writers use these other senses to hook young readers (and open their parents’ wallets) in ways that seem almost magical.

It’s not magical at all, though.

Here are the five story senses guaranteed to stir a child’s literary heart.

1. Humour

Everyone with kids in their lives knows the horror of a joke compendium: the same old gags we learned in childhood, repeated over and over, quickly lose appeal.

The only thing worse would be forcing kids to stop telling them.

Humour is the key to anyone’s heart.
Ben White/Unsplash, CC BY

It is easy to forget jokes are hilarious the first time around, and funny doesn’t mean trivial. Humourist Terry Pratchett understood a reader can learn just as much from a book that provokes a laugh as from one that doesn’t – and he was the bestselling UK author until J K Rowling came along.

Make a kid laugh and they’ll be a fan forever.

2. Justice

People develop a sense of fairness at a very early age, some studies suggesting it kicks in as early as 12 months. Who doesn’t love seeing justice done? For this reason, crime fiction is one of the biggest genres in the world – and kids are no different to adult readers.




Read more:
Young morals: can infants tell right from wrong?


Few people would seriously suggest a sense of justice should be drummed out of children, but it can definitely be quashed when parental authority is under assault. Kids therefore are constantly on the pointy end of injustice, or feel they are.

This is why Rowling takes Harry back to the despicable Dursleys at the end of every book. Exploiting the sense of justice ensures her readers never lose interest.

3. Belonging

The one genre bigger than crime is romance.

While not all kids will be into romantic love (The Princess Bride notwithstanding), they will have a keen sense of belonging. They have friends, family and pets in their lives, and stories engaging this sense helps them navigate these relationships, particularly when loss or denial is involved.

Mark Twain’s The Adventures of Tom Sawyer remains a classic because, beneath everything else, it is a story about a young boy finding his place in the world, and in people’s hearts.

4. Danger

The Adventures of Tom Sawyer also contains scenes of terrible peril, as does Doctor Who. Children love to be scared by fictional stories because in life, alas, many find themselves in very real peril. Fiction gives kids a safe way to activate their sense of danger, and maybe learn a life-saving strategy or two, as well.

Fiction is a safe way for children to explore danger.
Anuja Mary Tilj/Unsplash, CC BY

The sense of danger is so fundamental to our psyche that it might actually be hardwired into us: the Moro, or “startle”, reflex is innate in healthy newborns.

There are limits, of course, but no one ever ever lost a young audience by trying to push them. (Parents are a different matter.)

5. Wonder

Everyone will have some of these senses, but some people won’t have all of them. This sense, my personal favourite, is very hard to explain to someone who doesn’t possess it. It is the engine that drives fantasy and science fiction. When something makes a reader go “wow”, their sense of wonder has been engaged.

Kids understand this sense very well, because everything to them is big and new: just note how many synonyms they have for “awesome”. While it too may be drummed out of young people as they age, it can be revived under particular circumstances. Reading JRR Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings has been one for many avid readers.

It is easy to forget The Hobbit predated this work, and, although no less awe-some, it was originally created for children.

These senses are just the start

Hefty doses of humour, justice, belonging, danger, and wonder will go some way towards compensating for deficiencies in other aspects of the writing craft. Children, and many adults, will often choose a good story badly written over a well-made dud.

This formula will also work for other media. Take Star Wars and Avengers movies, for example: both rich in the five story senses, and both part of the Disney stable, home to many other examples.

Any author wanting to pen a bestseller could do worse than start here. As always, though, there is no substitute for hard work – and luck.The Conversation

Sean Williams, Lecturer, Flinders University

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

Reading progress is falling between year 5 and 7, especially for advantaged students: 5 charts



Are we failing to challenge the reading
skills in advantaged students?
from shutterstock.com

Peter Goss, Grattan Institute

There is a hidden problem with reading in Australian schools. Ten years’ worth of NAPLAN data show improvements in years 3, 5 and 9. But reading progress has slowed dramatically between years 5 and 7.

And, somewhat surprisingly, the downward trend is strongest for the most advantaged students.

Years 5-7 typically include the transition from primary to secondary school. Yet the reading slowdown can’t just be blamed on this transition, because numeracy progress between the years has improved. So, what is going wrong with reading?

Reading base camp is higher each year

Progress in reading is like climbing a mountain. The better your reading skills, the higher you are. The higher you are, the further you can see. And the further you can see, the more sense you can make of the world.

Like a real mountain, the reading mountain must be tackled in stages. NAPLAN – the National Assessment Program, Literacy and Numeracy – provides insight into those stages, by measuring reading skills at years 3, 5, 7 and 9.

The good news is that the average level of reading skills of year 3 students – reading base camp – is getting higher.

To make the results easier to interpret, I’ve converted the NAPLAN data into the equivalent year level of reading achievement. For instance, in 2010, children in year 3 were reading at equivalent year level 2.6 when they sat NAPLAN. This means they were four-and-a-half months behind a benchmark set at the long-run average for metropolitan non-Indigenous students.

By 2019, the mean reading achievement among all year 3 children was equivalent to year 3.0, meeting this benchmark.

Over ten years, the improvement has been worth about five months of extra learning.



Reading progress improved in years 7-9

There is more good news in secondary school. Recent cohorts have made better progress between years 7 and 9 than earlier cohorts. My best estimate is that learning progress has increased by almost three months of learning over this two-year stage of schooling.



Students in years 3-5 haven’t made the same gains. But (if anything) they are heading in the right direction.



But progress in years 5-7 has fallen

Something is going wrong between year 5 and 7. Students are making six months less progress than they used to. It’s not that they are getting worse at reading; they just aren’t climbing as fast as previous cohorts.



This drop in reading progress can’t simply be attributed to the transition from primary to secondary. Among other things, numeracy progress during this stage of schooling has increased by about six months since 2010.

It’s as if students have started skipping a term in each of their final two years of primary school, but only in English, not in maths. And not all groups of students are affected equally.

Advantaged students are affected the most

Reading progress has slowed the most for students from advantaged backgrounds. For instance, students whose parents are senior managers make ten months less progress from year 5 to 7 than earlier cohorts.



Interestingly, the student groups with the biggest slowdown in years 5-7 have also shown the most improvement in year 5 reading.

This pattern – big gains in year 5 that evaporate by year 7 – rules out poor early reading instruction as a cause. This reading problem isn’t about phonics, but a failure to stretch students in upper primary school.

My analysis also shows:

  • the years 5-7 reading slump is happening in every state and territory
  • Queensland and Western Australia had big drops in years 5-7 reading progress in 2015, the year those two states moved year 7 from primary to secondary
  • students from English-speaking backgrounds are affected more than those who don’t speak English at home
  • neither gender nor Indigenous status affects the strength of the slowdown.

So, what is going on?

Maybe some primary school teachers focus more on helping students reach a good minimum standard of reading, and not on how far they go. This fits with the trend in year 5; no need to push hard if students are already doing well.

But it doesn’t explain the large drop in progress in Queensland and WA the year they shifted year 7 to secondary school.

Maybe schools push hard on literacy and numeracy until students have done their last NAPLAN test in that school. This would help explain the 2015 drop in reading progress for Queensland and WA, but not the divergent picture for reading and numeracy progress, including in the Queensland/WA change-over year.

Maybe students are reading less as technology becomes ubiquitous. This could explain the difference between reading and numeracy. But why would it reduce progress between years 5 and 7 but not between years 3 and 5 or 7 and 9?

Increased use of technology also fails to explain the sudden slump in Queensland and WA in 2015.

Other potential explanations need to explain the complex pattern of outcomes, including the fact the reading slowdown is so widespread even while numeracy progress is going the other way.

My best guess is that some advantaged primary schools focus on literacy and numeracy until the year 5 NAPLAN tests are done, but then switch to project-based learning, leadership or year 6 graduation projects. These “gap year” activities don’t displace maths hour (which drives numeracy progress) but may disrupt reading hour or other activities that build reading skills.

Meanwhile, disadvantaged primary schools are very aware of the need to keep building their students’ reading levels to set them up for success in secondary school.

This story is speculative, but it fits the data.

What next?

Education system leaders need to figure out what is happening in reading between years 5 and 7, and quickly. They should look closely at upper primary years, as well as the transition to secondary school. This is much more subtle than a traditional back-to-basics narrative.

In the meantime, teachers in years 5, 6 and 7 should be aware their students are making less progress than previous cohorts, and focus on extending reading capabilities for students who are already doing well. All students deserve to climb higher on their reading mountain.The Conversation

Peter Goss, School Education Program Director, Grattan Institute

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

‘I’m in another world’: writing without rules lets kids find their voice, just like professional authors



When children write freely, they say they escape from everyday thinking.
from shutterstock.com

Brett Healey, Curtin University

Ask a child why they write and you might receive a common response: the teacher told me to. Kids often lack confidence as writers and find it emotionally draining. The problem might be the classroom and its detachment from what writers do in the real world.

In some classrooms, students learn writing techniques and then apply them to a writing assignment. In others, students are given freedom over their writing with little teacher intervention.

Authors spend a lot of time writing freely.
Julia Joppien/Unsplash

Both approaches work to develop the writing craft, for similar reasons they work for authors. Authors learn discrete techniques from mentors to improve their skills and also write freely to experiment with style.

Teachers have a lot of influence over their classroom writing environment. But, while most identify as proficient readers, not many know what it’s like to be a writer.

Studies show teachers who identify as writers have a positive impact on their students’ writing. This is because they empathise with the experiences of writers at different stages of the writing process.

I conducted a study to help teachers understand what the creative writing experience is like for the students they teach. I interviewed eight children in Year 6 (10-11 years old) throughout a creative writing unit in class to find out.

Another world

When children write freely, they often feel as though they’re stepping into a different world. All kids I spoke to talked about this experience, with one student summarising it this way:

I feel like I’m in that place, another world, another zone. So I go into that place where I’m writing. I take my characters there, this large meadow or something. When I come back I’m like, where’s the meadow gone?

Most feel as though writing is a momentary “escape from your everyday thinking”. One student felt they don’t need to think very hard, because “my head is creating that and not me”.

Where’s the meadow gone?
from shutterstock.com

This other-world experience is like watching a movie in vivid detail. Ideas “come out of the blue” and “pop in and out like a slideshow”. One student said ideas “flow into words like water, through your brain and onto your page”.

Published authors have a similar experience. In Writing Down the Bones, a book on the writing process, author Natalie Goldberg writes:

Of course, you can sit down and have something you want to say. But then you must let its expression be born in you and on the paper. Don’t hold too tight; allow it to come out how it needs to rather than trying to control it.

My thoughts have been caged up

All students I spoke to talked about the frustration of being pulled out of this other world. One student recounted moments when he thought his writing ideas did not meet the task set by his teacher:

My mind is stuck inside, like, a perfect writing thing. It’s like all those sections where all my thoughts have been […] have to be caged up.

All caged up.
from shutterstock.com

For these children, it is impossible to be a student and a writer at the same time. Being a student means maintaining awareness of task requirements, grade-level standards and rules of spelling, punctuation and grammar.

Addressing school requirements made one student feel as though they “need to put away good ideas, and think of what would give me an A”. Another said doing this means they “can’t let my brain fly” and “can’t add my own words”.

This leads to “so many mental blanks because I’m afraid I’m gonna fail”.

Balancing the student and the writer

Most students I spoke to expressed being frustrated when free writing time gets interrupted.

A progressive view of teaching suggests teachers allow children to explore their writing world, encouraging them to make decisions at each stage of the writing process. This is called the process approach to writing and it helps kids develop their writer identities.

A traditional view favours providing students with fundamental writing skills aimed at developing a finished product, known as the product approach. This develops kids’ knowledge of texts.

But are writing identities and knowledge mutually exclusive?

The students I spoke with understood the need to learn explicit knowledge such as text structures, vocabulary and literary techniques to grow as writers. But they did not think of these things when writing freely.

Even Hemingway admitted to bad first drafts.
Sergey Zolkin/Unsplash

Authors think more about these things, but not necessarily in the first instance. Ernest Hemingway is famously known to have said: “the first draft of anything is shit”. And Anne Lamott advised:

Perfectionism is a mean, frozen form of idealism, while messes are the artist’s true friend. What people somehow (inadvertently, I’m sure) forgot to mention when we were children was that we need to make messes in order to find out who we are and why we are here — and, by extension, what we’re supposed to be writing.

We can teach kids to think more like authors.

The solution may be in striking a balance between kids as students and kids as writers. Kids, like published authors, need space to write freely first without distraction from teachers and expectations. This helps them generate ideas, motivating them to find a purpose for their writing.

Then they become students. They write another draft, but this time they seek advice from teachers to use literary techniques, like authors and their mentors.The Conversation

Brett Healey, PhD Student, Curtin University

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