[Reflection of ETL401 Module 5]
Hold your horses cowboy! I’ve just been triggered!
Let’s begin with learning to read and reading to learn. The (ETL401) 5th module jumps straight to reading to learn and doesn’t really mention learning to read, but it is my belief that the two are intrinsically combined and that the education system currently fails students in separating the two (Robb 2011).
Learning to read: This separation of ‘learning to read’ (for some purposes, abbreviated to ‘decoding’-although it is sometimes not referred to as this, the focus has shifted to phonics and decoding) and ‘reading to learn’ (for some purposes, abbreviated to ‘critical thought'(CILIP 2016)) has been directly witnessed and practised by me and my colleagues for at least 5 years (I started in 2014), as part of the Early Action for Success (EAfS) funding program.
This program, in phase 1, poured money into (and continues to do so to some degree) several things like ‘Instructional Leader’ Deputy Principal level positions and ‘mentoring’ time off class, and a large portion of the money has gone towards training teachers in Targeted Early Numeracy (TEN) the ‘Language Learning & Literacy in the Early Years‘ (L3) narrow pedagogies for teaching kindergarten to year 2 students foundational literacy and numeracy skills.
- [Sidebar 1: Originally, the TEN program was, in my opinion, almost completely a spin off of the Count Me in Too (CMIT) program (in which I am trained) and Developing Efficient Numeracy Strategies (DENS), using the Schedule for Early Numeracy Assessment (SENA) 1 or 2. Once trained in TEN, teachers, including myself, utilised CMIT, DENS and SENA to effectively teach the TEN math group games and lessons. Similarly, the L3 program is a spin off of Reading Recovery, linked to Best Start and focussed on kindergarten children (Howell & Neilson 2015).
- Later, L3 teacher training was revised to suite ‘stage 1’ or year 1 & 2 students (which is where I joined the training). Currently, the EAfS program is in ‘Phase 2’ and has embraced micro-level data collection and the new National Learning Progressions …I am being critical here about L3 but not without foundation (Howell & Neilson 2015 p.8).
- And don’t even get me started on the fact that the (now defunct) NSW Literacy Continuum provided for EAfS schools meant that we didn’t even crack open the NSW English Syllabus all year-much less the National Curriculum–we simply taught to and reported on the NSW Literacy and Numeracy continuums! Roar! Outrage! Sirens! Remind anyone of the teaching to the test arguments against NAPLAN? Well hello new Learning Progressions, which have replaced the previous continuums…but I digress…]
What all of this means to me at the moment, in terms of teaching Information Literacy / ‘Reading to learn’, is that, in my current context, half of any given school is focussed on ‘Learning to read’/decoding using L3 guided reading groups, using decodable/phonics/guided readers, teaching students ‘how to read’/decoding without any thought into teaching students ‘reading to learn’/critical thought.
In fact, until a student reaches a particular level of knowing ‘how to read’ (measured in our schools as reading a PM Reader level of 15, based on a 95% success benchmark or ‘running record’ of their reading of a PM Reader that they’ve read at least once before) they may then begin learning skills of ‘reading to learn’/critical thought. For some students, particularly in schools in low Socio Economic Status areas (who, coincidentally, have low NAPLAN results that qualify them for EAfS funding) they don’t reach the PM Reader level of 15 until they are 8 or 9 years old (year 3 or 4) and thus, by that point, reading (so purely focussed on ‘how’ rather ‘why’) has lost all value.
Teach Information Literacy From the Start: What I propose is to teach students, regardless of their age or decoding ability to think critically about texts, using quality texts. It is very difficult to think critically about a (commonly fiction) text that is lacking depth like the little decoding readers that are all the rage at the moment (Adoniou, Cambourne & Ewing 2018). And there is an aspect of L3 that I thought did this particularly well, called ‘Initial, Modelled and Shared readings (IMS),’ However, I was the only teacher at one school who was making time for it amongst the time-heavy requirements of ‘guided reading groups’/how to read lessons. Let’s let that sink in for a moment: nobody had time for information literacy because teaching students how to decode boring levelled readers was taking up all of their time.
Information Literacy is teaching how to think critically and this is a key part of comprehension and reading for enjoyment. In L3 IMS for stage 1 students (the kindergarten version do something similar but not to the same degree and they call it ‘Reading to’ or similar), is not exclusively the rights of L3 (see this link for further reading) and so I will go into how to run the IMS lessons and how they relate to Information Literacy and a year one (age 6-7) classroom:
- Quality texts: First, the teacher first picks a quality book like The Fantastic Flying Books of Mr Morris Lessmore (2012) by W.E. Joyce. (This was also adapted as an award winning short film (Joyce 2011)- which I just watched for the 20th time and was reduced to tears AGAIN, because I just realised the importance of Information literacy and Teacher Librarians! If you watch it, try to think of the grey people are ‘learning to read’ and the colourful ones are ‘reading to learn’).
- In the world of the story: The teacher reads the book and nobody (including the teacher is allowed to comment).
- Quality Talk Question Prompts: The teacher critically analyses the book and creates a list of possible ‘critical thought’ questions that will be expected from the students in the third reading of the book and has those ready as a reference for the second reading of the text to the students. (For an example of this, see one of my teacher prompt sheets.)
- Modelled reading(s):The teacher reads the book aloud again, possibly even a third time to the students (who are not allowed to comment) but this time the teacher can either explain the meta-language or ‘difficult’ words in the text and then model thinking critically about the book with thoughts based on the prepared list of questions (without actually saying those questions out loud).
- Shared reading: The teacher reads the book a final time and then releases the students to comment freely about the text in a round table / dinner scenario. For younger students, I use a behaviour management / talking technique of a smiley ball that gets passed to those who want to speak and if you have a turn speaking you put a popsicle stick in front of you. If you don’t have a turn speaking about the text, I can see clearly and offer prompts based on my prepared question sheet to help reluctant students.
- Writing: I like to link this to writing lessons, sometimes filming the students
and typing their discussions (or using my Accelerated Literacy sentence board to work on writing conventions), so that they can use what they said about the text in their writing but this is just something that I do and not really related to IMS reading/L3.
So what this all means for me in practice as a TL, is that I need to continue to read to my students and continue to utilise information literacy / critical thought strategies (CILIP 2016) that are proven to improve literacy outcomes for students (regardless of their reading ‘levels’), including aspects of L3 and aspects of Accelerated Literacy because student access to quality (fiction and non-fiction) texts and the ability to practice Information Literacy skills is a key component to learning how to read AND reading to learn.
Next post: Information Literacy for reading to learn and inquiry teaching models…I promise…
Adoniou, M, Cambourne, B. & Ewing R. (2018). What are decodable readers and do they work? Retrieved from: https://theconversation.com/what-are-decodable-readers-and-do-they-work-106067
CILIP Information Literacy Group. (2016). Information literacy definitions.
Howell & Neilson (2015). A critique of the L3 early years literacy program. Learning Difficulties Australia, Volume 47(2). pp.7-pp.12. Retrieved from https://www.ldaustralia.org/client/documents/Bulletin%20Winter%202015.pdf
Joyce, W. E. (2012). The Fantastic Flying Books of Mr Morris Lessmore. London: Simon & Schuster.
Joyce, W. E. [Screen name] (2011, January 30). The Fantastic Flying Books of Mr Morris Lessmore. [Video File]. Retrieved from: https://youtu.be/Ad3CMri3hOs
Robb, L. (2011). The myth of learn to read/read to learn. Scholastic Instructor. Retrieved from http://www.scholastic.com/teachers/article/myth-learn-readread-learn