Standards for Teachers of English Language and Literacy in Australia
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2.2 Teachers create and maintain a challenging learning environment

3.3 Teachers are active members of the professional and wider community

How does the teacher enable students to engage with and make connections between school and community-based literacies?

How does the teacher articulate educational ideas and take action to develop support for policy and curriculum change in the school and wider community?

  Sue's Boys
Year 5
Helen Nissner

The problem: A group of boys, who can, but don't read. So what does a good teacher do?

The teacher is Sue, a highly accomplished teacher, and a friendly, compassionate and talented educator to whom staff, parents and students relate. She is a champion state grade netballer, a good sport and a fantastic organiser of camps, excursions and sporting events. She has a personality that appeals to primary school children. She is very popular and sought after as a teacher and as a planning colleague.

During extensive meetings with the parents of the students involved, strategies, incentives and reward systems had been set up through individual learning plans. A great deal of work needed to be done in raising the boys' self esteem as there were years of continual failure to overcome. Certainly there had been some signs of improved attitude to school in general and improvements in reading skill development had been documented through records kept as part of the school's RAAPT (Reading Assessment and Program Tutoring) program (Nissner, 1989). This is a reading support program that I had implemented in the school for students who required intensive one-to-one support, similar to Reading Recovery, but adapted to suit older students experiencing difficulty.

The program concentrates on the integration of cues and strategies, prediction and comprehension through oral retelling and I was responsible for training tutors, assessing reading development periodically through a miscue analysis procedure and working with the class teacher on monitoring the student's reading program in the classroom. Some students had their own special box of carefully selected books for home and silent reading times. There had been significant improvements in some cases which were recorded on the RAAPT record cards and in Sue's assessment folder but, as recorded above, it was still the case that the students could read, but didn't choose to.

It was brought home to us how much work still needed to be done after observation of the boys during the LAP testing program. The boys were completely overwhelmed by the experience and actively disengaged in the tasks in some instances. One look was enough for some students! The last thing these vulnerable students needed at this crucial time was further illustration of their failure as readers.

The breakthrough! (we hope!)
In August Sue attended a Professional Development program and came back to school very motivated and enthusiastic about what she had learned and what she perceived of the power of Mem Fox's delightful picture story books. She started reading them to the class and was thrilled to see the reluctant boys picking the books up at silent reading time and really reading them, whereas previously, 'reading' meant flipping through the non-fiction books in the room.

To celebrate Literacy Week, I suggested to Sue that we arrange for the whole grade to visit one of the local pre-schools and share a Mem Fox book with the small children. She thought this was just the thing to give the boys meaningful messages about reading. They would have to be fluent and use expression and they would need to read the books several times in preparation for the visit to the pre-school.

We designed class activities to focus the study and to concentrate on fluency and expression. These included activities such as Reader's Theatre, shared book experiences, small guided reading group discussions, retelling favourite parts after silent reading, puppetry and students and teacher reading to the class. The Mem Fox Internet site was visited by the class and books were brought from home. The school and local libraries were stripped of Possum Magic, Wilfred Gordon McDonald Partridge and all the other well-loved books.

Sue also involved all the students in the making of 'feely' books based on the Mem Fox texts to share at the kinder. Clear guidelines were set up for the students and lessons dealing with identifying key aspects of the text and events were completed. The visual arts teacher's expertise and resources were tapped for the construction of the books. So the visit to the pre-school was planned. Students were armed with Mem Fox books, feely books, vegemite sandwiches and lamingtons!

We were hopeful that the impact of the picture story genre would enthuse the boys and were eagerly anticipating a change in their engagement and enjoyment of text. . To assess the impact of the study on the boys, we planned to ask the students to compose written texts to match the photos we were going to take and structure their responses in such a way as to gauge changes in attitudes. We also planned to interview selected students and ask them what was useful about the activity. As part of Sue's usual classroom organisation, she would also require all students to complete a self-evaluation of the Mem Fox topic.

The visit

The pre-school visit took place in September. Sue took photos with the digital camera and I took conventional photos. It was a great success with all students displaying compassion, patience and complete enjoyment whilst reading to the young children. It was a delight too for all the adults present to watch the Year 5 students interacting with the pre-schoolers. Students who were worried about their ability to read the books aloud quickly realised that they had a captive audience and any errors went unnoticed. Sue had done an excellent job of preparing the students and most appeared very confident and excited about the activity. The 'feely' books were very popular and the students received enthusiastic praise from the adults and students present. It was interesting watching the response of the boys to being acknowledged in this way. They were very proud of themselves.

We believe that this activity did more for the boys' self esteem than anything tried previously and we are now looking forward to reading their written comments and photo labels.


Paul Jennings says, "My definition of a reluctant reader is: a child for whom adults have not been able to find a good enough book." (Practically Primary, Resources for Reading, ALEA Vol 4 June 1999)

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Australian Association for the Teaching of English A L E A ~ Australian Literacy Educators' Assoication
Department of Education & Training (Victoria) Education Department of Western Australia