Susan Court (seen above on the right with Lisa Allcott, National Library Facilitator) has been a Reading Recovery Teacher since 1991, both in New Zealand and Australia, and is now a Reading Recovery Trainer and Tutor at the University of Auckland. Hot from speaking at the IBBY Congress, Susan addressed around 23 Teachers and Librarians on the last day of winter at The National Library in Parnell.
Learning to read is a very complicated cognitive journey and there is no one rule to fit all, as Susan Court says, “Reading, like thinking, is a complex process”. No one can explain why one child finds it easy to read and another finds it so hard. However, we all know the benefits of reading, and that even though it may take some students longer than others to acquire this skill, once learnt it will reap enormous rewards. As with the most competent of readers “the books we select to teach children to read should be ones they want to read and enjoy” (Clay, 2005).
In 1963 Marie Clay, a New Zealander, followed children in an observational survey of early literacy achievement for a year, and asked ‘Can we see the reading process going astray?’ As a result she came up with The Standardized Observation Survey of Early Literacy Achievement, which is a means of determining gaps in a six year-old students grasp of reading and writing, and a very useful tool for reading recovery. “All readers …need to find and use different kinds of information in print and combine the information which they find in print with what they carry in their head from their past experiences with language” (Clay, 2013:14).
Susan showed us examples of the Ready to Read series of books, which were first published in 1963. They are “student texts, for guided and shared reading distributed free to all New Zealand schools with junior classes.” (http://literacyonline.tki.org.nz/Literacy-Online/Planning-for-my-students-needs/Instructional-Series/Ready-to-Read) She then went on to clarify the difference between the two instructional approaches of shared and guided reading. Shared reading involves teachers using large books with their students so that they can enjoy, participate and respond to the story together. Once they have shared the stories many times, students can read smaller versions of the book independently. So guided reading texts are those introduced after the shared reading.
In order to demonstrate the elements of reading (and how confusing this can be) Susan put us in the place of students who are just beginning to learn how to read. She did this by showing us a page of symbols and challenging us to decipher them. Then she asked us to explain what techniques we had used to find any meaning. The next step was to look at a page of symbols with a picture and it was amazing what this added to the process. Finally we looked at some Ready to Read picture books and tried to spot the literacy challenges, and progression, across a variety of reading levels. As a group we found it a very interesting exercise and it even highlighted the reasons why some senior level readers find the repetition, and the familiar content of series, so compulsive.
Apart form gaining an insight into how children learn to read I think we all enjoyed the excuse of reading the Greedy Cat stories!