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Fostering a Culture of Reading – Jennifer Oaten

Reading is not just an escape into the wonderful realms of the magical world, fantasy or adventure; it is a foundational skill that influences many aspects of our lives and is an aspect of education where parent actions can have a significant impact.

The Grattan Insitute report titled: ‘The Reading Guarantee’ has been widely discussed in the media in recent weeks. This is because according to their results about one-third of Australian school students are unable to read at their grade level. When you send your child to school, you expect they will learn how to read. But according to this data that is not the case. For Indigenous students, students from disadvantaged families, and students in regional and rural areas, this percentage increases.

When children do not learn to read fluently and efficiently in primary school, it can undermine their future learning across all subject areas, harm their self-esteem, and limit future possibilities. Parent actions in regard to reading in the primary years can have a substantial influence on reading skills, interest and enjoyment. At Santa Maria, we aim to foster a deep love for reading and provide opportunities for our students to develop literacy skills.

What influences children's ability to read?

Literacy development is influenced by many factors which include socioeconomic background, language barriers, exposure to reading programs and access to reading materials. More recent factors affecting the development of reading skills include the digital age and increased neurodiversity.

As the world becomes increasingly digitised, people are consuming more and more content through social media platforms and digital devices. Scanning of information has led to the erosion of our ability to focus and read deeply. The allure of smartphones, tablets, and gaming consoles can detract from reading time, making it essential for schools to find innovative ways to engage students with literature. While this trend has brought about significant benefits in terms of convenience and connectivity, it has also had some unintended consequences. The digital challenge is universal, affecting students in all schools. 

The educational landscape is also witnessing a significant increase in the number of neurodiverse students. This diversification brings richness to our communities, introducing a wide array of learning differences that affect how students read, understand, and communicate. It necessitates a tailored approach to literacy education, one that acknowledges the unique strengths and challenges each student brings to the classroom.

Benefits of Reading

What exactly do human beings get from reading books? Is it just a matter of pleasure, or are there benefits beyond enjoyment?

Academic Benefits: Studies have shown that reading has numerous cognitive benefits that increase the potential for academic success. Reading improves our focus or ability to concentrate on one task at a time rather than the usual multi-tasking that we do every day. Reading improves listening skills and also improves memory retention as the brain is challenged to remember different characters, relationships and settings as we become involved in a story.

Reading exposes young people to new vocabulary and promotes critical thinking skills, making connections and predicting storylines. MRI scans have shown that reading involves a complex network of circuits and signals in the brain. As your reading ability matures, those networks grow stronger and more sophisticated, leading to greater capacity of thinking.

Health Benefits: The joy of finishing a great book and desperately wanting to get started on the next one in the series is a great feeling for people of all ages, as is the feeling of never wanting a book to end.

Reading provides a sanctuary for the mind, reducing stress, improving sleep quality, and offering solace during challenging times. Engaging with stories fosters empathy and emotional intelligence, crucial traits for personal development and social interactions. Reading is a great way to calm the body and promote good sleep patterns. For young people, quality sleep is one of the biggest protective factors against mental health issues.

Social Benefits: Books promote empathy and emotional intelligence. They teach us to relate to others by constantly presenting us with thoughts and scenarios outside of our perspective, enabling us to show a heightened ability to understand the feelings and beliefs of others. This is important for young people who may be self-centred in their thinking and actions.

Reading can also improve social cohesion. By creating shared experiences, reading can help bring people together and encourage positive outcomes. There are many great outcomes for young readers who have conversations about books that their friends are reading, such as Harry Potter, a hugely popular book for young people. This is also true in families where conversations about books can be a great form of connection.

Career Benefits: Reading and comprehension skills are required in every subject at school, in every university course and in most jobs, so these skills, along with reading speed, will influence success in many aspects of life.

The skills developed through regular reading are invaluable in the professional world, enhancing communication, analytical abilities, and emotional intelligence. These competencies are not only sought after in the job market but also contribute to job satisfaction.

How we support students

We are fortunate to have the resources and flexibility to tailor our literacy programs to meet the needs of our students. Our approach to overcoming literacy barriers includes the following:

  • Resources: We are fortunate to have excellent resources in our library with dedicated library staff and  teachers to assist with selecting suitable books. This includes audiobooks for those who prefer this alternative. Classrooms are also well-resourced, particularly in the lower years, to ensure easy access to a range of books. We provide students with various options to explore, from classic literature to contemporary digital formats.
  • Focused Attention: With smaller class sizes, we can offer each student more personalised and focused attention, addressing individual learning styles and needs to ensure the development of reading and literacy skills. Small support classes also aim to establish necessary foundations in younger years through targeted intervention.
  • Digital Literacy: Acknowledging the digital era’s challenges, we incorporate digital literacy into our curriculum, teaching students how to balance screen time with reading and other educational activities.
  • Community Engagement: We encourage a culture that values and supports reading both at school and at home.

"In Years 5 & 6, we recognise the importance of literacy in lifelong learning. Our goal is to foster a love for reading among our students by integrating it into their daily lives and working collaboratively with parents."

Promoting reading in your family

Reading ability has one of the biggest impacts on school success and is one of the factors that parents can greatly influence. So, how can we counteract technology and make time for reading in a world that is constantly distracting us?

  • Foster Shared Reading Experiences: Carve out uninterrupted time slots dedicated solely to reading. This could be a cozy evening routine or a weekend morning tradition. Scheduling specific times for reading can help. Even if it is just 20 minutes a day, setting aside time to read helps reinforce the habit and ensures regular immersion in the book world. Discuss the narratives, exchange views on characters, and enjoy the shared journey through the pages. This not only strengthens bonds but also models positive reading behaviours.
  • Embrace the Digital Opportunities: A Kindle is something I never thought I would engage with, yet the availability and choice of books at any hour or while on holidays is a great benefit. It also helps with being able to increase font or improve background lighting to increase ease of reading. While a book is preferred, any form of reading is better than no reading. For reluctant readers, listening to audiobooks and following along in a book is a great way to increase confidence.
  • Promote Access to Books: By carrying a book with us at all times or leaving books around the house in convenient places, we can make reading a more accessible and visible part of our daily lives. Encourage a household culture where digital media consumption is balanced with reading. This might involve setting aside tech-free times or zones in the home where the focus shifts to books and reading material. In our house, everyone takes a book on holidays, just in case they need it, and more often than not, it is read even when there is initial resistance. Holidays provide the time needed to get started with reading.
  • Celebrate Reading Achievements: Acknowledge and celebrate when a book is finished. These celebrations can be as simple as a discussion over dinner or as elaborate as a themed party reflecting a book’s setting or characters. If you are not enjoying a book, don’t force yourself or your children to keep reading it. There are plenty of other books out there to try. Read the first 100 pages, then change them if needed. Books for presents, especially ones researched and popular for the age group or from a favourite author, are a great reward.

By incorporating these strategies into your routine, reading becomes not just an educational task but a pleasurable and integral part of life.

Looking ahead

Our approach has yielded positive outcomes for our students due to the hard work of our students, the dedication of our teachers, and the supportive environment we cultivate. It reflects our commitment to overcoming the barriers to literacy, recognising that every student’s success contributes to a brighter future for all.

Reading is an essential activity with numerous benefits for individuals and society as a whole. With the influence of technology, it is more important than ever to make time for reading. We can ensure that we continue to reap the academic, health, social, and career benefits of reading in a world that is increasingly dominated by technology. So the next time you find yourself mindlessly scrolling through social media, put down your phone, pick up a good book, and encourage your children to do the same.

What will be your next read?

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