Avoiding Reading Slumps


The link below is to an article that takes a look at how to avoid a reading slump.

For more visit:
http://www.epicreads.com/blog/goodbye-reading-slump/

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Worth reading: Tried and true manuals for success



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Recommended books offer a path to success for everyone, writes Michael Armstrong.
Shutterstock

Michael J. Armstrong, Brock University

Editor’s note: The Conversation Canada asked our academic authors to share some recommended reading. In this instalment, Michael Armstrong, an operations research professor at Brock University who has written for The Conversation Canada on topics as diverse as student success rates in school to the mathematics of Civil War battle, shares the top three books that he recommends for guidance on making the most of your career at any age.

Here are three books that I often recommend to my students and friends. All are practical guides that have stood the test of time. The first will help you start your career, the second will help you succeed in it and the third will help you profit from it.

What Color is Your Parachute? by Richard N. Bolles.
(Handout)

What Color Is Your Parachute?

A Practical Manual for Job-Hunters and Career-Changers

by Richard N. Bolles (Non-fiction. Paperback, 2016 and others. Ten Speed Press.)

This is a popular guide for job seekers. Like most such books, it gives advice on the mechanical details of job hunting, such as good ways to organize a resume.

More importantly — and less commonly — it helps people figure out what they want to do with their lives. What kind of career will best fit your personality? Will you be happier working with people or with data?

The book is an obvious fit for graduates seeking their first job. But it could also help teenagers choose the best education to pursue after high school, or adults trying to make their careers more satisfying.

 

The Ropes to Skip and the Ropes to Know by Ritti, Levy, Toucher.
(Handout)

The Ropes to Skip and the Ropes to Know

Studies in Organizational Theory and Behavior

by R. Richard Ritti, Steve Levy and Neil Toucher (Non-fiction. Hardcover, 2016 and others. Chicago Business Press.)

Don’t let the academic-sounding subtitle deter you. This is a highly readable book. It consists of short stories or parables that illustrate how people behave and interact at work.

Every workplace has an official structure and formal rules. But workplaces contain people with individual personalities and relationships. This book will help you understand the unofficial structures and unwritten rules, before they get you into trouble.

I often recommend The Ropes to Skip and the Ropes to Know to people starting their first job. It would be especially good for someone promoted to their first management or supervisory role.

 

The Wealthy Barber by David Chilton.
(Handout)

The Wealthy Barber

The Common Sense Guide to Successful Financial Planning

by David Chilton (Non-fiction. Paperback, 2002 and others. Stoddart.)

Once you receive your first paycheque, you’ll want to read this beginner’s guide to personal finance. It covers the basics of investing: retirement savings, mutual funds, etc. It also introduces a lot of other financial topics: savings versus spending, insurance that you do or don’t need, and so on.

This probably isn’t the only financial guide you’ll ever need, but it is a good first one. I typically recommend it to recent graduates starting their careers. But it also suits mature adults dealing with money issues for the first time, perhaps after the death or divorce of their spouse.

The ConversationHave an enjoyable and productive fall!

Michael J. Armstrong, Associate professor of operations research, Brock University

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Tips for Reading Multiple Books at the Same Time


The link below is to an article that looks at 5 tips for reading multiple books at the same time.

For more visit:
https://bookriot.com/2017/09/24/tips-for-reading-multiple-books-at-the-same-time/

New phonics test will do nothing to improve Australian children’s literacy



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Research in England has found that the proposed test was no more accurate than the teacher’s judgement in identifying children with reading difficulties.
Shutterstock

Misty Adoniou, University of Canberra

Minister Birmingham released a report today recommending that all Year 1 students in Australia complete a phonics test. The panel responsible for the report has recommended that Australia adopt the Year 1 phonics screening check that has been used in England since 2011.

What is phonics?

Phonics is the process of matching sounds to letters. It is an important skill when learning to read and write in English. There are two main approaches to teaching children phonics – synthetic phonics and analytic phonics.

Analytic phonics starts with taking a word that children know the meaning of, and then analysing it to see how the sounds in the word match the letters we see within the word. So five-year-old Emma will learn that her name starts with the sound “e” which is represented by the capital letter E, followed by the sound “m” which is represented by the two letters “mm”, and ends with the sound “u”, which is represented by the letter a.

Synthetic phonics starts with letters which the children learn to match with sounds. The meaning of the words are irrelevant, and indeed, inconsequential. The theory is that the children should master letter/sound matches first before trying to attend to meaning.

Which phonics method is better?

There is no evidence that one phonics approach is better than the other. In England, the US and Australia, there have been major inquiries into reading and all have concluded that systematic and explicit phonics teaching is a crucial part of effective reading instruction. But none have found any evidence that synthetic phonics approaches are better than analytic phonics approaches, or vice versa.

All inquiries have concluded that whatever phonic instruction method is chosen, it should be one part of a suite of skills children should have when learning to read.

What is the phonics test?

The phonics test is based on synthetic phonics. The children are given 40 words on a computer screen, with no context. The words are not put in a sentence, or given any meaning. This is deliberate, and an important feature of a synthetic phonics approach, as the children must show they are not relying on meaning or prior experience with the word in order to successfully decode it.

To this end, 20 of the words the children are given are nonsense words, like “thrand”, “poth” and “froom”, to ensure they are not using meaning to decode the words.

Why are we introducing it?

Minister Birmingham is concerned about the numbers of students in Australia who are struggling with literacy. The decline in literacy standards of Year 9 students is very concerning, and he is right to be looking for solutions. But the solution will not be found in this phonics test for six-year-olds.

As the test has been has already been in use for six years in England we are fortunate to be able to learn from their experience. A major evaluation of the test conducted by the Department for Education in England found that the test is not delivering improvements in literacy capabilities, and in fact, is delivering some unwanted side effects, like class time being spent learning to read nonsense words rather than real words.

Numerous other recent studies of the implementation of the phonics test in England provide valuable information that allow us to test the claims for the test against research evidence.

What does the research say?

Claim: The phonics test has improved reading results in England since its introduction.

Evidence: Year 1 children in England are certainly getting better at passing the phonics test. Over the past six years, pass rates have increased by 23%. This means around 90% of Year 1 children in England can now successfully read nonsense words like “yune” and “thrand”.

However research has found that the ability to read nonsense words is an unreliable predictor of later reading success.

And so far, the phonics test in England has not improved reading comprehension scores.

As the test only tests single syllable words with regular phonic patterns, it is not possible to know how many English children can read words like “one”, “was”, “two”, “love”, “what”, “who”, or “because”, as such words are not included in the test. This is unfortunate because these are amongst the 100 most common words in the English language, which in turn make up 50% of the words we read everyday – whether in a novel, a newspaper article or a government form.

“Yune”, “thrand” and “poth”, on the other hand, make 0% of the words we read.

Claim: The phonics test will pick up children who are having reading difficulties. Birmingham has stated “the idea behind these checks is to ensure students don’t slip through the cracks”.

Evidence: Research in England has found that the test was no more accurate than the teacher’s judgement in identifying children with reading difficulties. Teachers already know which children struggle. As researchers, teachers and principals
have all said – teachers need more support in knowing how to support those struggling children.

Claim: The phonics test will provide detailed diagnostics to support teachers to make effective interventions. The chair of the panel recommending the test says that the phonics test will drill into the detail of phonics to establish what children know.

Evidence: A thorough analysis of the test’s components found it fails to test some of the most common sound/letter matches in English, and indeed screens for a very limited number of the hundreds of sound/letter matches in English. They found that children can achieve the pass grade of 32 from 40 with only limited phonic knowledge.

Other research found the test fails to give any information about what the specific phonic struggles of a child might be , or whether the struggles are indeed with phonics.

These limitations mean the check has negligible diagnostic or instructional use for classroom teachers.

Learning lessons

Australia is in the fortunate position of being able to learn from the research that has been conducted since the implementation of the phonics test and mandatory synthetic phonics teaching in England. The lesson is clear. The test is unable to deliver what was hoped. Australia should look elsewhere for answers to its literacy challenges.

Already state Education Ministers have begun to let Birmingham know that they will not be taking up the offer of the national phonics test.

The ConversationThis may be an issue where Australia is able to overcome its intellectual cringe, and act on the research evidence rather than old colonial ties.

Misty Adoniou, Associate Professor in Language, Literacy and TESL, University of Canberra

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Disadvantaged Indonesians defy the perception that they’re not interested in reading



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School children read books at Palipis beach in Mandar, West Sulawesi.
The books were brought by library boat.
Pattingalloang, which was part of a network of moving libraries called Pustaka Bergerak.
Urwa/Pustaka Bergerak, CC BY-NC-SA

Lukman Solihin, Research and Development Agency of Indonesian Education and Culture Ministry

It was a sunny day at a public elementary school in a rural area near Yogyakarta. Students lined up to return the books borrowed from Helobook, a non-profit organisation that regularly lends books for free to schools in the province’s outskirts.

The kids looked happy and laughed a lot because this was their opportunity to access new, interesting books and movies.

Their school’s own library collection was mostly made up of books from government aid in 1990s, published by state-owned publisher Balai Pustaka. The books were out of date and there weren’t enough of them.

These students were also disadvantaged by the fact that their nearest book store is 15 kilometres away and the nearest public library is about 20 kilometres away. This is a problem because these students are from low-income families who can’t afford to travel to borrow books.

Are Indonesians interested in reading?

Low rates of interest in reading among Indonesians is something frequently referenced in news reports from media like Kompas, The Jakarta Post and Antara, which quote data supposedly sourced from UNESCO. These stories quote that one in every 1,000 Indonesians has a high interest in reading. But an exploration of UNESCO’s database and a request for this data have both failed to confirm these statistics.

This perception has also been reinforced by officials and public figures, who have raised the same concerns.

Students of public elementary school in Sleman regency, Yogyakarta, look at books brought by literacy community Helobook.
Lukman Solihin, Author provided

Last year, a Central Connecticut State University study put Indonesia’s literacy rate at 60th out of 61 countries, one above Botswana. Officials and public figures also quote this but the ranking is not about reading interest. It’s about computer access, newspaper circulation, and reading comprehension, among other things.

A National Socio-Economic Survey by Indonesia’s Central Statistics Agency showed the country’s TV audience reached 91.5% in 2015 while newspaper readers sat at 13.1%, the lowest point since 1984.

https://datawrapper.dwcdn.net/pnoVl/1/

This low rate of reading might not be due to a lack of interest but rather a lack of opportunity to read.

Book access and library condition

Let’s take a look at the data that could serve as a parameter to understand reading interest. First, school library data.

In 147,503 primary schools we only have 90,642 libraries, that’s 61.45%. The percentage shrinks more when we look at the condition. From the total 90,642 libraries, only 28,137 are in good condition (19% of schools, 31% of total libraries). Junior high and high schools have similar situation.

https://datawrapper.dwcdn.net/euDSv/1/

The quantity of village or subdistrict libraries is the same. From 77,095 villages, Indonesia has only 23,281 libraries or about 30%.

The number of book stores is also much lower compared to the vastness of the archipelago. The biggest book store network, Gramedia, has only 100 stores in only a handful of big cities, out of the 514 cities and regencies of Indonesia.

The number of book stores, school and public libraries show how limited the access to books is for many Indonesians. How would people develop some reading interest if access to books is limited?

Library quality and communities of readers

Nurturing reading interest begins with making books available. Unfortunately, the number and condition of school and public libraries are far from adequate. Some school libraries might have a decent building, but the collection is an entirely different matter.

Libraries often serve a dual purpose, such as a storage room or sports hall. One library in Sleman in Yogyakarta, for example, is complete with a ping pong table to indicate its “flexible” function.

The government has instructed schools to allocate budget – increased to 20% of the government school funds in July from previously 5% – for library development and buying textbooks. But most of the funds are spent to buy school textbooks. The result is underdeveloped reading interests among students because of the inadequate book collection; students are bored with outdated books.

Amid this inadequacy, communities of readers in these have proven valuable. These communities open mini libraries in neighbourhoods. One example is the moving library network, Pustaka Bergerak. The growth of these communities is massive and sporadic, as readers reaching out to underrepresented and remote areas.

The government estimated there were over 6,000 mini libraries across the country. Meanwhile, as of August 2017, the Pustaka Bergerak network recorded reaching 312 communities, and counting.

This network has library ponies, libraries on rickshaw, libraries on bicycles, libraries on boats, and even a mobile herbal drinks seller that brings books to lend for free.

Villagers, mostly children, welcome a library pony in Rangkasbitung, Banten province. The volunteer spirit of literacy communities helps develop reading interests in off-the-beaten-track places in Indonesia.
Mohammad Hashemi Rafsanjani/Pustaka Bergerak, CC BY-NC-SA

This movement has had a positive response from the government. After a meeting between literacy activists and President Joko Widodo on May 2 this year, the government, through state postal company PT Pos Indonesia, allowed citizens to send books free of charge to the communities registered in this list on the 17th day every month.

Small in scale but big in spirit

Communities of readers are usually built on the members’ love of books and their aspiration to share. Enthusiasm, idealism and capacity to build network are key to the growth of literacy communities and have less to do with the existence or the absence of government funds.

The network has been facilitated by Community Libraries Forum, initiated by the government. Pustaka Bergerak network has also shown great passion in their social media account, enabled by initiator Nirwan Ahmad Arsuka.

Children borrow books brought by a library pony in Manokwari, West Papua.
Ali Sunarko/Pustaka Bergerak, CC BY-NC-SA

The number of these communities of readers, compared to the geographical and population size of the country, is perhaps minuscule. Nevertheless, this movement deserves an appreciation for its impact: nurture reading interest.

An example of the success of these communities is Pustakaloka Rumah Dunia in Serang, Banten. This community enabled a scavenger’s son to finish higher education, a fried snack seller to become a journalist, and a farmer’s son to become a poet. Their stories are compiled in a book Relawan Dunia (World Volunteers).

Discovering books also changed Muhidin Dahlan’s life. He was a kampung boy in Sulawesi’s remote area, who was curious about books, before he moved to Yogyakarta to become a writer and an activist in Indonesia Boekoe, a community known for its dedication in archive management, book publishing and establishing Radio Buku. His story is written in a book, Aku, Buku, dan Sepotong Sajak Cinta.

Unlike formal education institutions like schools, the success of reader communities is not measured quantitatively, like how many people have their access to books improved, or how large their book collection is. But the lack of impact in this area is dwarfed by their spirit, their effort to share the importance of books and the efforts to help others access books. Literacy, in this case, is not merely about reading materials and knowledge, but also about volunteer spirit.


The ConversationThe author is doing a research on literacy movement by communities in Yogyakarta, in Anthropology Department in Gadjah Mada University.

Lukman Solihin, Researcher, Research and Development Agency of Indonesian Education and Culture Ministry

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Research shows the importance of parents reading with children – even after children can read



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Research has typically found that shared reading experiences are highly beneficial for young people.
Shutterstock/Alfira

Margaret Kristin Merga, Murdoch University

Many of us will be able to recall the enjoyment of shared reading: being read to and sharing reading with our parents. However, my research has found that of the 997 Year 4 and Year 6 respondents at 24 schools who took part in the 2016 Western Australian Study in Children’s Book Reading, nearly three-fifths reported that they were not being read to at home.

A sample of these children also participated in interviews, where I asked them how they felt about shared reading. While a few children did not mind no longer being read to, others were disappointed when it stopped. For example, when I asked Jason about his experience of being read to by his parents, he explained:

… they kind of stopped when I knew how to read. I knew how to read, but I just still liked my mum reading it to me.

His experience is common, with other recent research suggesting that more than one-third of Australian respondents aged six to 11 whose parents had stopped reading to them wanted it to continue.

But why is it so important for us to keep reading with our children for as long as possible?

Research has typically found that shared reading experiences are highly beneficial for young people. Benefits of shared reading include facilitating enriched language exposure, fostering the development of listening skills, spelling, reading comprehension and vocabulary, and establishing essential foundational literacy skills. They are also valued as a shared social opportunity between parents and their children to foster positive attitudes toward reading.

When we read aloud to children it is also beneficial for their cognitive development, with parent-child reading activating brain areas related to narrative comprehension and mental imagery. While most of the research in this area focuses on young children, this does not mean that these benefits somehow disappear as children age.

As young people’s attitudes towards reading reflect their experiences of reading at home and at school in childhood and beyond, providing an enjoyable shared reading experience at home can help to turn our children into life-long readers.

However, not all shared reading experiences are enjoyable. Some children described having poor quality experiences of being read to, and children did not typically enjoy reading to distracted or overly critical parents. In some cases, parents attempted to outsource this responsibility to older siblings, with mixed results.

While many children really enjoyed the social aspects of reading and being read to as valuable time with their parents, they also felt that they learned from these experiences. For example, listening was felt to provide an opportunity to extend vocabulary, and improve pronunciation. Gina recalled the advantage she lost when her parents stopped reading to her, as:

… when they did read to me when I was younger, I learnt the words; I would like to learn more words in the bigger books and know what they are so I could talk more about them.

Similarly, Craig explained how being read to enabled his academic advantage in literacy, as “they were teaching me how to say more words”, and “that’s why I’m ahead of everyone in spelling and reading and English”. When this stopped “just because my mum thought I was smart enough to read on my own and started to read chapter books”, Craig was disappointed.

In addition, children were sometimes terrified of reading aloud in the classroom, and this fear could potentially be alleviated through greater opportunities to practice at home.

Hayden’s anxiety around reading aloud at school related to his lack of confidence, and his tendency to compare his skills with those of his peers. He described himself as “always standing up there shivering, my hands are shivering, I just don’t want to read, so I just start reading. And I sound pretty weird”. No-one read with him at home, so he had limited opportunity to build his confidence and skills.

This research suggests that we should not stop reading with our children just because they have learned to read independently.

The ConversationWe should continue reading with our children until they no longer wish to share reading with us, ensuring that these experiences are enjoyable, as they can influence children’s future attitudes toward reading, as well as building their confidence and competence as readers. It is worth the effort to find time to share this experience with our children in the early years and beyond.

Margaret Kristin Merga, Senior Lecturer in Education, Murdoch University

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Worth reading: Future visions of women, war, time and space



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Former Globe and Mail newspaper reporter turned novelist Omar El Akkad contemplates his debut book American War in his publisher’s Toronto office in this 2017 file photo.
(THE CANADIAN PRESS/Chris Young)

Bryan Gaensler, University of Toronto

Editor’s note: The Conversation Canada asked our academic authors to share some recommended reading. In this instalment, Bryan Gaensler, an astronomer who wrote about life in 2167, highlights a few of his recent picks.

My passion is science fiction. Here are my favourite sci-fi books that I’ve read this year:
 

The Power by Naomi Alderman.
Handout

The Power

by Naomi Alderman (Penguin)

Women around the globe spontaneously develop the ability to deliver electric shocks through their fingertips. As they begin to use this power to intimidate, control and kill, the world order is turned upside down.

A spectacular novel, and surely the favourite to sweep all the sci-fi book awards for 2017. People can be both cruel and good-intentioned, often at the same time. Introduce a new power imbalance, and society is abruptly transformed. Wonderful writing, and a whopper of a story twist. Turns The Handmaid’s Tale on its head.

American War by Omar El Akkad.
Handout

American War

by Omar El Akkad (McClelland & Stewart)

A hundred years from now, Florida has vanished under the seas, the Bouazizi Empire is the new world superpower, and the United States has begun its second civil war. In the South, a young woman ends up in a refugee camp and is slowly radicalized into terrorism.

An intense, moving portrait of a future America that maybe isn’t the future after all. The characters are complex and the story is all too real. A spectacular debut.

 

All Our Wrong Todays by Elan Mastai.
Handout

All Our Wrong Todays

by Elan Mastai (Doubleday Canada)

Tom Barren travels back in time, accidentally alters the course of history, and returns to a horrifically changed, dystopian present day. The catch? Tom grew up in a utopia of flying cars and moon bases, and the dystopia that he finds himself trapped in is our timeline, warts and all.

A gem of a story that provides several new twists on time travel. If you’ve screwed up the timeline, should you fix it? What if there were two different ways to travel through time, with different rules and different consequences? And under all of this is the classic sci-fi question writ on the scale of billions of lives: Do the needs of the many outweigh the needs of a few? Hard to put down, with a lovable lead character.

4 3 2 1 by Paul Auster.
Handout

4 3 2 1

by Paul Auster (McClelland & Stewart)

The life story of Archibald Isaac Ferguson, born in 1947 in Newark, N.J. Except that this is the story of four identical Fergusons, each of whom take divergent paths as their lives play out.

A tour de force story of adolescence and the path not taken. It’s hard to believe a single author could possibly cram so many real-life details, emotions and characters into a single book. Extraordinarily memorable and engaging.

 

The Collapsing Empire by John Scalzi.
Handout

The Collapsing Empire

by John Scalzi (Tor)

Humans have spread throughout a galactic empire, our worlds interconnected by faster-than-light wormholes. But what happens to trade, the economy and civilisation itself when the wormholes start to break down?

The ConversationA fun and fast-spaced space opera, centred on some forthright women and some fresh ideas. In the spirit of Asimov’s Foundation, Scalzi explores the theme of the downfall of empire on a galaxy-spanning scale.

Bryan Gaensler, Director, Dunlap Institute for Astronomy and Astrophysics, University of Toronto

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

How to encourage literacy in young children (and beyond)



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Ask your child what their toys did while they were out today or invite them to help you read the mail.
Evgeny Atamanenko/Shutterstock

Louise Phillips, The University of Queensland and Pauline Harris, University of South Australia

How can parents best help their children with their schooling without actually doing it for them? This article is part of our series on Parents’ Role in Education, focusing on how best to support learning from early childhood to Year 12.


Literacy involves meaning-making with materials that humans use to communicate – be they visual, written, spoken, sung, and/or drawn. Definitions vary according to culture, personal values and theories.

We look to a broad definition of literacy as guided by UNESCO to be inclusive for all families. Children learn to be literate in a variety of ways in their homes, communities and places of formal education.

What research tells us

New research in three-to-five-year-old children’s homes and communities in Fiji, has revealed that children’s regular engagement in literacy across many different media has supported good literacy outcomes.

There were ten main ways of engaging in literacy-building activities. These included print and information, communication and entertainment technologies, arts and crafts, making marks on paper, screens and other surfaces like sand and concrete, reading and creating images, and talking, telling and acting out stories that were real or imagined.

Children also engaged with reading, recording and talking about the environment, reading signs in the environment, engaging in music, dance, song and, lastly, with texts and icons of religions and cultures.

These activities were enjoyed and valued by children and their families as part of their everyday lives, and were further bolstered by creating books with children in their home languages and English.

Parents and communities include their children in daily activities, encouraging their literacy experiences.
ChameleonsEye/Shutterstock

This research can be used to add to our discussions on how parents can help develop their children’s early literacy.

The Melbourne Institute of Applied Economic and Social Research found daily reading to young children improves schooling outcomes, regardless of family background and home environment.

The OECD Program for International Student Assessment (PISA) results also indicate a strong correlation between parents reading and storytelling with children in the early years and reading achievement at age 15, with those students performing one to two years above their peers.

However, it is not just being read to that matters. The adult-child interactions are also very important.

These interactions need to be lively and engage children with the text-in-hand. Alphabet toys and phonics programs alone offer little to develop literacy, as they focus on a code without contextual meaning. Words, and their letters and sounds, are best understood when seen and applied in everyday experiences, driven by children’s motivations.

How to be a talking, reading, writing, viewing, and listening family

There are several practical things parents can do to encourage broad literacy and learning in early childhood years.

  1. Don’t wait. Read what you are reading aloud to your newborn. Children become attuned to the sound of your voice and the tones of the language you speak as their hearing develops.

  2. Share stories at mealtime. Provide prompts like: “Tell us what your teddy did today”. Alternatively, randomly select from ideas for characters, problems, and settings, for example: “Tell us about an inquisitive mouse lost in a library”. Oral storytelling provides a bridge to written stories.

  3. Record on your phone or write down your child’s stories. Turn them into a book, animation, or slide show (with an app). Children will see the transformation of their spoken words into written words. These stories can be revisited to reinforce learning of words, story structure and grammar.

  4. Talk about their experiences. For example, prompt them to describe something they have done, seen, read or heard about. Research shows children’s oral language supports their literacy development, and vice-versa.

  5. Guide literacy in your children’s play, following their lead. For example, help them follow instructions for making something, or use texts in pretend play, such as menus in play about a pizza place. Children will engage with various texts and the purposes they have in their lives.

  6. Books, books, books. For babies and toddlers, start with durable board books of faces, animals and everyday things with few words that invite interactivity (e.g., “Where is baby?”). Progress to more complex picture books with rhyming language. Talk about personal links with the stories and ask questions (such as “I wonder what will happen next or where they went to”) as these will support comprehension. Look to the Children’s Book Council for awarded quality children’s literature.

  7. Talk about words children notice. Be sure the words make sense to children. Talk about what words look like, what patterns, letters and sounds they make. This builds children’s word recognition and attack skills, and understanding of what words in context mean.

  8. Involve your children in activities where you use literacy. For example, if you make shopping lists or send e-cards, your children could help create these with you. Explain what you are doing and invite children’s participation (e.g., “I’m looking at a map to see how to get to your friend’s house”). Children can meaningfully engage with and create texts and see the place these texts have in their lives.

  9. Use community and state libraries. Most offer interactive family literacy programs. Early Years Counts and The Australian Literacy Educators Association has a range of resources for families.

The ConversationAbove all, be sure the experience is enjoyable, playful, and encourages children’s active involvement. Literacy should be engaging for your children, not a chore.

Louise Phillips, Lecturer, School of Education, The University of Queensland and Pauline Harris, Research Chair in Early Childhood, University of South Australia

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

As Harry Potter turns 20, let’s focus on reading pleasure rather than literary merit


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Platform 9 and ¾, the portal to Harry Potter’s magical world, at Kings Cross in London.
Harry Potter image from http://www.shutterstock.com

Di Dickenson, Western Sydney University

It’s 20 years on June 26 since the publication of Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone, the first in the seven-book series. The Philosopher’s Stone has sold more than 450 million copies and been translated into 79 languages; the series has inspired a movie franchise, a dedicated fan website, and spinoff stories.


Goodreads

I recall the long periods of frustration and excited anticipation as my son and I waited for each new instalment of the series. This experience of waiting is one we share with other fans who read it progressively across the ten years between the publication of the first and last Potter novel. It is not an experience contemporary readers can recreate.

The Harry Potter series has been celebrated for encouraging children to read, condemned as a commercial rather than a literary success and had its status as literature challenged. Rowling’s writing was described as “basic”, “awkward”, “clumsy” and “flat”. A Guardian article in 2007, just prior to the release of the final book in the series, was particularly scathing, calling her style “toxic”.

My own focus is on the pleasure of reading. I’m more interested in the enjoyment children experience reading Harry Potter, including the appeal of the stories. What was it about the story that engaged so many?

Before the books were a commercial success and highly marketed, children learnt about them from their peers. A community of Harry Potter readers and fans developed and grew as it became a commercial success. Like other fans, children gained cultural capital from the depth of their knowledge of the series.

My own son, on the autism spectrum, adored Harry Potter. He had me read each book in the series in order again (and again) while we waited for the next book to be released. And once we finished the new book, we would start the series again from the beginning. I knew those early books really well.

‘Toxic’ writing?

Assessing the series’ literary merit is not straightforward. In the context of concern about falling literacy rates, the Harry Potter series was initially widely celebrated for encouraging children – especially boys – to read. The books, particularly the early ones, won numerous awards and honours, including the Nestlé Smarties Book Prize three years in a row, and were shortlisted for the prestigious Carnegie Medal in 1998.

The seven books of the Harry Potter series, released from 1997 to 2007.
Alan Edwardes/Flickr, CC BY-NC-ND

Criticism of the literary merit of the books, both scholarly and popular, appeared to coincide with the growing commercial and popular success of the series. Rowling was criticised for overuse of capital letters and exclamation marks, her use of speech or dialogue tags (which identify who is speaking) and her use of adverbs to provide specific information (for example, “said the boy miserably”).

The criticism was particularly prolific around the UK’s first conference on Harry Potter held at the prestigious University of St Andrews, Scotland in 2012. The focus of commentary seemed to be on the conference’s positioning of Harry Potter as a work of “literature” worthy of scholarly attention. As one article said of J.K. Rowling, she “may be a great storyteller, but she’s no Shakespeare”.

Even the most scathing of reviews of Rowling’s writing generally compliment her storytelling ability. This is often used to account for the popularity of the series, particularly with children. However, this has then been presented as further proof of Rowling’s failings as an author. It is as though the capacity to tell a compelling story can be completely divorced from the way a story is told.

Daniel Radcliffe in his first outing as Harry Potter in the Philosopher’s Stone, 2001.
Warner Brothers

Writing for kids

The assessment of the literary merits of a text is highly subjective. Children’s literature in particular may fare badly when assessed using adult measures of quality and according to adult tastes. Many children’s books, including picture books, pop-up books, flap books and multimedia texts are not amenable to conventional forms of literary analysis.

Books for younger children may seem simple and conventional when judged against adult standards. The use of speech tags in younger children’s books, for example, is frequently used to clarify who is talking for less experienced readers. The literary value of a children’s book is often closely tied to adults’ perception of a book’s educational value rather than the pleasure children may gain from reading or engaging with the book. For example, Rowling’s writing was criticised for not “stretching children” or teaching children “anything new about words”.

Many of the criticisms of Rowling’s writing are similar to those levelled at another popular children’s author, Enid Blyton. Like Rowling, Blyton’s writing has described by one commentator as “poison” for its “limited vocabulary”, “colourless” and “undemanding language”. Although children are overwhelmingly encouraged to read, it would appear that many adults view with suspicion books that are too popular with children.

There have been many defences of the literary merits of Harry Potter which extend beyond mere analysis of Rowling’s prose. The sheer volume of scholarly work that has been produced on the series and continues to be produced, even ten years after publication of the final book, attests to the richness and depth of the series.

The ConversationA focus on children’s reading pleasure rather than on literary merit shifts the focus of research to a different set of questions. I will not pretend to know why Harry Potter appealed so strongly to my son but I suspect its familiarity, predictability and repetition were factors. These qualities are unlikely to score high by adult standards of literary merit but are a feature of children’s series fiction.

Di Dickenson, Director of Academic Program BA, School of Humanities and Communication Arts, Western Sydney University

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.