READING & READING
Lockdown – paving the way to review archaic methods
According to the 2016 PIRLS study, 78% of South African Grade 4 children cannot read for meaning in any language (all 11 languages were tested) . That is to say that they cannot locate and retrieve explicitly stated information in a simple and easy text. These children should now be in Grade 10 . Just imagine struggling to read your schoolwork in Grade 10 because you never learned how to read for understanding. We’ve made many gains – and these were achieved against a myriad of almost insurmountable challenges. For this, we all congratulate our education par tners, but the pressing matter at hand is that we still have a long way to go.
Accepting that with the current rate of improvement, only 36% of Grade 4’s in South Africa will be able to read for meaning by 2031 is morally and politically unacceptable. Furthermore, new data (released in January 2022) reveals that children have lost 1,3 years of learning in 2020 and 2021 due to COVID restrictions in education.
It is widely accepted that the following aspects are some of the critical issues when looking at improving reading:
1.Teacher competency in learn-to-read (understanding reading)
2.Researched and proven reading methodology in class
3. Creating a literacy-rich environment at school and home
5.Monitoring reading gains, support and intervention where and as needed
Understanding how children learn to read is fundamental to the great dream of ensuring that all Grade 4 children can read for understanding by 2030. There are various ways to teach a child to read, but there are few ways to do it successfully. Internationally, much attention has been given to the so-called Reading Wars, pitting ‘Balanced Reading’ against ‘The science of Reading’. The latest neuroscience research has indicated the importance of phonics when teaching a child to read. Language is sounds, and connecting the sounds we hear to the orthographic presentation in words on paper is crucial when ‘wiring’ the mind for reading.
Neuroscience confirms that your brain is a self-organising creative system. Every skill and ability you have was constructed in a specific region or regions of your brain as a result of training and application. Learning is connecting neurons: developing neural pathways and enhancing neural networks.
Most teachers in South Africa do not understand the mechanics of reading and use rote-learning through curriculum materials provided by the department or their school board. It has been proven repeatedly that trying to teach without in-depth understanding is a breeding ground for failure. For too long, teachers have been failing at the most important aspect of learning… teaching our children how to read for understanding. And this is not a fault of their making, but a lack in developing to understand and training to use well-proven, researched methodologies and resources to teach and develop our learners to learn-to-read and read-to-learn.
Let’s start with a very simple description of reading. Scarborough proposed the famous ‘Reading Rope’ in 2001, wherein the different aspects of the reading action is identified. Any ‘Learn-to-Read’ program or curriculum that does not include ALL these aspects in the development plan will not achieve the goal of teaching and developing champion readers
For Scarborough, reading consists of language comprehension and word recognition. These areas have various dimensions that must be in place for skilled reading to be achieved. Background knowledge, vocabulary, language structures, verbal reasoning, and literacy knowledge undergirds language comprehension. Word recognition develops from accurate phonological awareness, decoding skills and sight word recognition. As these skills become increasingly strategic and automatic, readers achieve fluent execution and coordination achieving skilled reading.
IS THERE A BETTER WAY FORWARD?
According to the 2020 Reading Panel Background report, the EGRS study tested Grade 3 learners in 2018 and, to measure the impacts of the pandemic, went back to these 206 schools and tested Grade 4 learners in the same schools in Term 3 of 2021
WHAT DOES THE SCIENCE OF READING MEAN FOR ‘LEARN-TO-READ’IN SOUTH AFRICA?
Reading is not just recognising symbols or reading and writing basic words. Skilled reading is an art and teaching a child to read is a science. But, like any science, we need to be at least able to detangle the rope to understand the intricate parts of our topic if we want to succeed in our goal.
Reading is not just recognising symbols or reading and writing basic words. Skilled reading is an art and teaching a child to read is a science.
Those tests showed that looking at children in the same schools, the average 10-year-old in 2021 knew less than the average 9-year-old in 2018. As seen earlier, South Africa has been on an upward trajectory since at least 2006, improving by about an extra 20% of a year of learning per year. However, given that learners have lost about 1,3 years of learning due to rotational timetables and school closures, this is the equivalent of wiping out 6,5 years of learning progress in South Africa.
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Spaull. N. (2022) 2022 Background Report for the 2030 Reading Panel. Cape Town.