From the Deputy Head of Junior School

Doug Fisher, who is a professor of language and literacy education at San Diego State University and an acclaimed educational leader, recently gave a lecture stating that children who read 20 minutes a day outside of school learn approximately 2700 new words every year, and generally score in the 90th percentile in SAT tests. He said that a child who reads for five minutes a day learns 800 words over the course of the year. This is powerful information and doesn’t sound too difficult to achieve. Or does it? What does this information mean for you as parents?

Part of our core business is to develop literate and numerate students. Reading is at the heart of developing those life skills. Balanced reading instruction means that we develop and teach:

  • word recognition skills (decoding)
  • vocabulary
  • knowledge of the world
  • comprehension strategies.

I thought I would explain how we do this in the Junior School in the hope that you as parents can replicate parts of this when your child reads with you at home.

Milk has an expiry date for very good reasons! However, there is no expiry date on when to stop listening to your child read, or reading with or to your child. As parents, we tend to invest a lot of our time in the early years to help our children decode the words and assist with understanding the gist of a story or information text. Younger children need us to sit with them and help them decipher the hieroglyphics in front of them. Many parents have admitted to me that once their child can ‘read independently’ they tend to allow them more freedom to read on their own, so their parental engagement with that process ceases or slowly dwindles. I contend most strongly that you should, when possible, stay connected and involved in your child’s reading –throughout their schooling, up to Year 12!

Just because a child can physically read a word does not necessarily mean they know what it means. For example, the word ‘heart’ can have multiple meanings depending on how it is written and its context. Consider the meaning of ‘heart’ in these phrases:

  • to have a heart
  • to have one’s heart in one’s mouth
  • one’s heart goes out to
  • take something to heart
  • to wear one’s heart on one’s sleeve.

Students of all ages need world knowledge and a large vocabulary to understand the complexities of our language. A strong message we state at our two Reading Information Evenings is to ‘TALK TALK TALK’ to your child. Explain to your child the multiple meanings of words; explain words in context; and explain to them what is going on around them and in their world. Children need to learn general word meanings and domain-specific word meanings.

So many of you are already doing this when you take the time each night to listen to your child read their Take Home Book or, for students in Years 3 to 6, their Book Chat book. Many of those books contain complex themes or storylines that need an explanation. This helps build not only literal understanding of texts but also inferential and evaluative skills of reading comprehension. Each moment when you take the time to ask a question, you are developing those skills. We don’t want reading at home to become a lesson, but any type of conversation you can have about your child’s reading matter means you are adding to the 2700 new words each year mentioned earlier by Fisher. Click here to view some questions you could ask your child after reading with him or her, rather than only asking, ‘What was the story about?’

Visualisation is an important reading comprehension skill that we teach, and it can help children of all ages in their comprehension. We try to help students to develop the ability to create mental pictures. Many students do not automatically create mental pictures when you ask them to invent a new ending for a story, or to write about an imaginary adventure.

When we work with children in developing their imaginations, we are actually helping them establish and strengthen the link between the left and right hemispheres of the brain. We encourage students to react to what they are reading: to laugh, question, cry, be sad, be happy, and re-read when unsure. We talk about how reading is like ‘making a movie in your mind’. The comprehension skill of visualisation is difficult for some students, and can take a lot of practice. That is why allowing students to look at and scrutinise pictures, diagrams and other important graphics on the page, is important as it clarifies and confirms what they have read.

As your child gets older and reads more independently, you can always ‘check in’ with him or her and ask the odd question about the book. A helpful way in which to do this is to read the same book that your child is studying. This certainly helped my two children as they tackled Year 12. I was able to help them understand the more difficult themes and concepts they were studying, quite often whilst cooking dinner or ironing clothes! One of my children used to listen to audio books; this took the stress of reading away and allowed him to enjoy the novel more and connect to what he was reading. This took time and energy on my part but I will never regret the time I spent with my son and daughter, knowing that I was extending or confirming their vocabulary base, and knowledge about the world along the way!

Austrian philosopher Ludwig Wittgenstein (1889–1951) once said, ‘The limits of my language mean the limits of my world’. I think that best sums up the importance for all of us in helping our children navigate and understand their world, and it all starts with a conversation, which costs us nothing but our time.

If you would like more hints and examples of how to help your child read at home, please see your child’s classroom teacher or pop in to see me or Amy Lovell (English Co-ordinator Prep to Year 6).

Carey is one of just over 200 schools that participated in the recent NAPLAN Online tests for 2018. Our Year 3 and 5 students coped extremely well with the new platform and format of the Literacy and Numeracy tests. NAPLAN is one of many assessment tools we use to track students’ achievement. We look forward to receiving the results later in the year and unpacking what they mean for our programs and each child’s learning journey.

No Nuts
A reminder to all families of our Junior School that under no circumstances should any child bring food to school that has nuts in it. Recently we were shocked to find an empty muesli bar packet on the ground, and discovered that the muesli bar contained nuts. We have many students in the Junior School who are anaphylactic to nuts and ask that you take great care and check ingredients on all packaging when selecting food for your child to bring to school. Thank you for your co-operation on this important matter.

Louise Sayar
Deputy Head – Student Learning