Saturday, 25 January 2014

A Ladder to Reading

          A double-whammy this week, as my usual Saturday blog
Scherezade telling stories for learning: Art work copyright Andrew Price
coincides with my posting day over at Do Authors Dream of Electric Books - the 25th of the month.

          So, over there I'm posting about the reading scheme, Stories4Learning.

          Below I post an interview with Dr David Rose, who set out to help the children routinely dismissed as 'not academic' - the children who reach Secondary School with poor literacy skills. Their education more or less comes to a halt, and their opportunities in life become very limited.
          As Dr Rose puts it, 'In primary school you learn to read. In secondary school, (and after) you read to learn.'
          Much of the groundwork for learning to read is actually laid before a child ever gets near a school. If a child is talked to by its family and told stories, if it's shown picture books and read stories - then that child will begin school with a larger vocabulary, a greater ability to listen to and understand instructions, a familiarity with books and stories.
          This gives them a huge advantage over a child who isn't talked to as much, who isn't read or told stories.
          And that's without even considering the children who speak a different language at home, but are taught in English.
          If, because of this early handicap, you are slower to read than others in your class, that's humiliating. You may retreat from this and protect yourself by taking the stance that reading is 'stupid', or that you are not clever enough, and so might as well not bother.
          If you find reading so slow and difficult that most of your energy is spent in simply figuring out what the signs on the page are, rather than understanding the information they convey, then reading is going to seem, even more, a pointless and frustrating activity, which you avoid whenever possible.
          How much you will then miss! - Not only simple information, and entertainment, but insight into the motivations and emotions of others.

          But I'll shut up, and let Dr. Rose speak for himself. (The video is about 8 minutes long.)


          One of the great advantages of this form of learning languages - whether written or spoken, your own or a foreign language - is that it can be used for any age-group, at any level.
          It also simultaneously teaches a subject and improves reading. For instance, if the subject you're teaching is geography, you take a short text from the geography lesson, and go through the stages of examining the text in detail, taking it apart and reconstructing it. The students not only improve their reading ability - they end by knowing the content of the text better too.
          The text you use in class could just as well be about football, or ponies, or whatever else will interest the students.
         Dr Rose has data from many schools, which demonstrate that the more able students continue to improve - but the 'less academic' students improve more, and improve faster. The method 'ladders' the weaker students up to a more equal standing with the best students.
          Here, some of the teachers who use the Reading To Learn method in New South Wales, talk about it. (This video is about 3 minutes.)

          Follow this link to the Authors Electric blog, and you can read about the Stories4Learning site, which I am developing with Alan Hess, a special needs teacher who lives and works in Switzerland.

          And fare thee well...
Puss in Boots bows out - Artwork copyright Andrew Price


Joan Lennon said...

Important stuff - thanks for posting!

Anonymous said...


It might be worth pointing out that Functional Grammar (SFG) is just a small part of the whole approach. Much is based on alternative psychological, social and language based theories of learning.

Many teachers may have studied 'Piaget' theories and might be well acquainted with his rather 'linear' view of learning, where a child progresses in age appropriate stages along a predefined path. This seems to make some sense to many and indeed politicians find this view appealing. i.e. If kids don't make progress then the school or the teachers must be to blame.

A contemporary psychologist to Piaget was Lev Vygotsky, who built on the Piaget model to describe learning as more multi-dimension progression in the social learning space. i.e. Not a straight line! Consider the pub darts player who can calculate the score table like lightning but was rubbish at maths at school. Or the special need kid who can't learn a simple list of school vocabulary but knows over 200 pokemon cards and their special features by heart!

Unfortunately Vygotsky was persucuted by Stalin and also dies young, so he is relatively unkown. Take a look here for a brief description of how his theories have been used in more recent times. For example in the 'Scaffolding' concept described by Jerome Bruner and others. David Rose's R2L relies heavily on Scaffolding.


Sue Bursztynski said...

I haven't watched the video, as I'm reading this on my iPad and it's not showing up. Even if it was, I don't dare to use up the download time, so will check it out later on my laptop.

Meanwhile, I work at a school with a literacy program based on one set up by Dr Carole Christensen. We have set aside fifty minutes a day, four days a week, for streamed literacy classes. I teach kids between Year 7 and 10 who are reading at Grade 2 level. It works! It may be that by the next year their reading level has only gone up by one year, but gone up it has. Some, of course, do better. We have a lot of low-literacy students and many ESL kids and something had to be done, so the school rearranged it's timetable, took some time off English and other subjects and set it up so that at the same time every day, each campus is teaching the same thing. Streaming, however briefly, means the kids are with others at the same reading level and can just get on with it, without feeling shame.

Anonymous said...


Of course, any form of group reading can only be good and variety in approach is also good. I would applaud any form of detailed and teacher led reading activity.

However, there is a very important point made by David Rose in the video. Streaming, although at first sight advantageous, tends to leave slower learners making slower progress and better readers showing them their heels! It's quite difficult to appreciate how it works, but 'Reading 2 Learn' aims to close the gap, so that the slower readers catch up!

It's quite a hot issue and I appreciate that many might disagree. On the other hand, I've personally seen the R2L strategy 'save lives'.



madwippitt said...

To sverve off the subject momentarily ... I hope Puss in Boots' farewell bow isn't on Blot's behalf?