1.2 Teachers know their subject
3.1 Teachers demonstrate commitment
She does not remember learning to read. It is as if she was just 'able'.
She can recall reading the words on the breakfast cereal box. The Vegemite jar providing words to roll around on the tongue &.. riboflavin and niacin. Nor does she remember being read to as a child but there are dim images of a flying elephant and a determined donkey. She worked her way through the town's library, such as it was, walking to and fro during school time in hand-holding pairs, a straggly line of young borrowers without a school library.
There was an English teacher at secondary school who read an episode of a serial every lesson, introducing her students to Alan Marshall and Paul Galico. Reading is a passion. It was inevitable that her love of reading would impact upon her teaching and upon her pupils' learning.
She had always read to students: picture-books to Year 6, books with chapters to eight-year-olds, non-fiction to preps. For her, reading to children serves many purposes. It is a calming activity after a lunch break of frantic games, it relaxes and cools on a sticky summer's day. It is a magic opportunity to transport listeners to places long ago, far away or just around the corner. Sometimes the children listen to poems over a few minutes. At other times, thirty or forty listening minutes pass.
As an avid reader she has marvelled at the words authors use, in combinations specifically their own, to create unforgettable mental images. As a teacher she wanted to provide opportunities for others to experience the power and wonder of words.
She is reading the novel I am David as a class serial in Year 6. A discussion breaks out because one child expresses a preference for books with pictures. 'How can you say it would be better?' asks another pupil. 'I can see it all in my head.'
So they talk about how language can create mind pictures, each with the listener's individual emphasis. Eleven-year-olds who can understand the story without knowing all the words. Child authors who experiment with this new vocabulary in their writing. Readers who tackle challenging and varied texts with increased confidence.
Year 2 pupils line up to begin another school day. 'Can I choose the book you will read when we go in?' asks a bright-faced boy.
She has a favourite poem from long ago and reads it to Year 6 children. 'The Highwayman' by Alfred Noyes. The language is rather old-fashioned but an illustrated version of the story is presented to facilitate the children's understanding. Stopping to explain new vocabulary would break the spell this particular story can cast. What ensues is a lively argument about the morals of the characters: who was good, who was bad. This is not the planned direction the lesson might take but a valued opportunity, more meaningful and memorable for the listeners.
After reading a selection of Greek myths to Year 4 children it is delightful to hear one earnest child point out that a mirror in a budgie's cage might make it narcissistic! Whether responses to literature are inward and personal, overt and enthusiastic, written or spoken it is the 'capturing' of a child's interest and imagination that is important. And, for some along the way, habits of life-long readers have been shaped. Her love of language was developed and extended through experiences provided by teachers who were excited about literature and about English and its more formal structures.
As a reader she can be carried into imagined worlds that writers have so clearly described. Without the imposition of the visuals associated with film and television, the mind is able to create images for itself. She feels strongly that when someone reads aloud, listeners are not bound by difficulties that may be associated with making sense of the written word. Their fluency and word attack skills are not tested. They are 'freed' by aurally experiencing language - its ability to develop mental images, to exercise the emotions, to change attitudes and ideas.
And then there's Munching with Mozart. But that's another story!
In writing this narrative, I am attempting to demonstrate something of the learning opportunities and enrichment provided by the consistent activity of reading a broad range of texts to children. The 'what' to read is guided by personal knowledge about children and books, my emotional responses to content and by the children - what they might like to hear.
I feel strongly that anything I read to the children has been read by me. Knowing the whole story adds a dimension to one's reading aloud - inflexions and pauses, drama and softness. My judgements about 'literary worth' are personal and applied to most material read to the children. Ideally I want my listeners to listen and respond, not just to hear. I know that reading to children provides for a more equal access to the work of wonderful writers.
It is 'more equal' in the sense the person reading aloud does all the work in extracting meaning, using the punctuation and interpreting the language to best effect. The listener's reading skills are not called upon, just the depths of their experience and imagination.