Putting reading first
by Joyanne Gill
With over 150 teachers expected at the Savannah Hotel for the annual conference of the Barbados Association of Reading tomorrow, December 7, it may be necessary for them to become au fait with the National Policy on Reading.
Even after attending the BAR forum which has as its theme: Developing Literacy through Technology, the educators, who facilitate reading in public and private nursery, primary and secondary institutions, should find the document a worthwhile read.
A publication of the Ministry of Education and Human Resource Development, the National Policy on Reading seeks to establish clear guidelines and principles for the delivery of reading instruction in Barbadian schools. It provides a framework for the implementation of curriculum initiatives in a way that extends literacy opportunities for all students and contributes to national development.
Issues on reading which have plagued society from time immemorial, though not detailed, will be addressed as the document identifies the specific instructional focus which should be pursued at particular class levels.
With the advent of technology and the tendency of 21st century students to read less from books and more from the Internet, diverse literacy demands have been thrust upon the education system. The document recognises that these technological advances, currently being witnessed in many societies around the globe, require a higher level of skill and knowledge from all involved in the teaching profession.
This is made more emphatic in its prescription that “as lifelong learners, persons should be able to engage in critical thinking, generate solutions to complex problems, and gather and synthesise data”.
In order to facilitate this “lifelong” goal, the document, published in 2007, further recommends that students in our schools must be prepared to read strategically. It noted: “Concomitantly, as the society increases its expectations for student achievement, it must provide teachers with the prerequisite training in the knowledge and skills required for its realisation. In order to promote reading, students must be provided with adequate and interesting reading materials, which match their developmental levels and learning styles.”
Above all, it stresses that the 21st century student needs teachers who will teach the skills and strategies necessary for interacting effectively with print.
It is with the foregoing principles in mind that the National Policy on Reading was formulated with input from myriad stakeholders that included schools, Ministry officials, the Erdiston Teachers’ Training College, and the University of the West Indies.
The reading policy aims to increase the consistency with which high quality reading instruction is delivered across the school system; continuously assess student growth in critical reading skills and provide supplemental, individualised interventions for students who have reading difficulties, while also placing emphasis on “the role of language variation and culture in the acquisition of literacy”.
It is also envisaged that along a child’s educational journey a love for reading as an enjoyable past time would be cultivated. Reading is defined as a search for meaning through an interaction of the reader with text. It involves the decoding of written symbols, the interpretation of their meanings, and the creation of new meanings through manipulation of concepts already known by the reader.
It is, therefore, in keeping with this definition that students at the primary and secondary levels will be taught how to use relevant strategies to decode words accurately and fluently; interpret, analyse and evaluate critically texts from different genres, as well as learn to relate text to personal, artistic and real world experiences.
It is also anticipated that children of all ages would be able to create their own text inspired by their reading abilities and employ reading as a tool to learn about the world while solving problems. The creation of text by our students is welcomed against recent observations by our Education Minister, Ronald Jones, that the system here has used a lot of material from the region and there is a need for more creative writing from our teachers.
Minister Jones is on record as having asked: “What is wrong with our teachers? If we boast that we have some of the best teachers in the world, why are they not producing texts?”
Contending that there is a disconnect, Jones said then at the launch of a text by one of the island’s principals: “You are teaching; the pedagogical aspect is brilliant; we are producing all of these students with CXC or CAPE, but we are still not capturing the beauty of the mind in a written form or in a digital form … with the new technology.”
Reading programmes in our schools are known to teach the eight essential skills that lead to success in this sphere. Teachers know these as comprehension skills, context clues, fluency skills, vocabulary skills, emergent literacy, structural analysis, phonics and basic sight vocabulary. Early learning of reading tends to emphasise phonics — initial consonants; initial blends and diagrams; ending sounds, vowels, phonograms; blending and substitution — but progressively a student learns to analyse, synthesise; evaluate and recall — developing the art of comprehension along with the other skills.
The National Policy on Reading recognises the importance of all stakeholders in the development of a successful reader. Along with our schools providing reading instruction, assessment and reporting on the abilities of a child, parents are expected, as a child’s first teachers and role models, to develop that initial literacy foundation by reading to them at home, in libraries or even on computer. Exposing their charges to nursery rhymes, talking with, and not to them, as well as ensuring real world knowledge, through trips or outings are examples of how success in reading may be attained.
Institutions of learning such as the ETTC and UWI are expected to continue to prepare teachers by equipping them with the knowledge and skills necessary for utilising the best instructional methods. Additionally, the contribution of non-governmental organisations, such as BAR is encouraged.
This notwithstanding, knowledge of the national policy document on reading is not in itself sufficient. Teachers should be able to employ assessment tools and document reading ability and growth in children, while keeping up-to-date on research and best practices if their charges are to achieve success in reading.
More importantly, our 21st century teachers, with technology at their disposal, should be able to facilitate both the provision of specialised services for pupils with learning or reading difficulties and the creation of indigenous reading resources.