One question we are often asked by parents of young learners is: “How do you teach reading and writing?”. It is an important question as parents seek to understand more about their child’s experiences in school. The question places an emphasis on the tools and strategies teachers use to ensure children are successful in their literacy learning. The response is underpinned by our fundamental beliefs about teaching and learning and about how we view young learners, and so also considers the equally important question: “How do young children learn to read and write?”. The emphasis here is on the child’s role in their own learning as they construct and develop their understandings about print and how it can be used to communicate meaning. This is framed by our belief, as a school, that learning is a co-constructive process with the learner actively making meaning about the world in collaboration with others.
The development of literacy is a complex process: children are simultaneously learning to read and write, learning about reading and writing, and learning through reading and writing. Children also learn at different rates, in different ways and at different times. Teachers play a crucial role in the development of children’s literacy through careful planning of meaningful opportunities for reading and writing, through the assessment of children’s developing understandings and by scaffolding the next steps along the road to literacy.
Teachers at ISZL support children to develop their knowledge and understanding of:
- letters and sounds – often referred to as ‘phonics’ and later as ‘spelling’
- words and their meanings
- the structure of language – often referred to as ‘grammar’
- the role of literacy in their lives and for their learning
They schedule daily times for a whole class focus on literacy, which may include reading the morning message and looking at connections between specific letters and sounds or jointly constructing a text and drawing attention to punctuation. There may be a time for reading along and joining in with repeated words, phrases or sentences, as vocabulary and knowledge of language structure are developed, and there is always time for listening to a story by a favourite author as children develop a love of literature that will benefit all of their learning.
Teachers also schedule times for working with small groups of children. Guided reading sessions make use of carefully selected books specifically written to scaffold early readers. Teachers focus on specific strategies for comprehension such as using letter sounds, using context clues, reading on, and using the illustrations to predict unknown words.
They also understand the value of working with individual children. Conferencing with a child about their writing is a two-way process during which the teacher learns more about the student’s understanding of the writing process and provides the feedback, guidance and encouragement needed to further their development. The focus may be on the conventions of writing such as spelling and punctuation, or on the craft of writing where vocabulary choice or the structure of the piece are discussed and developed together.
There are also scheduled opportunities for children to work independently or collaborate with other children as they read or write. This important time is when children actively apply their knowledge about literacy and continue to build their understanding of how texts work.
At ISZL we understand that the school is only one part of a child’s whole learning environment. We know that children are most successful when there are positive, supportive and collaborative relationships between the child, the home and the school, which leads to another question we are frequently asked: “What can I do at home to support my child with reading and writing?” Underlying this response is the belief that children learn best when they experience positive attitudes towards literacy.
Supporting your child as they read with you
- Before you read together: make sure you have time; look through the book together before starting to read; wonder aloud what it might be about; look at the illustrations.
- As your child reads: listen and show interest; encourage strategies for tackling unknown words eg. “What’s the beginning sound?” “Let’s look at the picture?” “Shall we read that sentence again and see if it helps?” “Read ahead a little bit and see if that helps.” It’s also fine to read the word for them-the aim is to keep the fluency going.
- After reading you could: talk about the story; comment on the characters; wonder about something; say how much you enjoyed the time; read it again!
Supporting your child as they write at home
- Let your child lead: children enjoy writing about things they are interested in.
- As your child writes show interest in the content; encourage strategies for writing unfamiliar words eg “What sounds can you hear?” “What letter could that be?” It’s also fine to spell the word for them, using letter names.
- After writing you could: ask them to read it to you; ask open questions about the content e.g. “I’m wondering why the monster became so mean?”; wonder who else they could share their writing with; let them know how much you enjoyed reading it!
- Take time to read to your child: read familiar texts again and again; take on the characters’ voices; read along together; wonder aloud what might happen next; look at the illustrations, talk about some of the vocabulary the author uses; wonder how you could find out more about something you are reading; visit the school library together and encourage a range of types of text based on your child’s interests – fiction, non-fiction, popular culture, magazines, books in your first language, picture books, ‘chapter’ books.
Our goal is for children to enjoy using their literacy skills and understanding to share their own knowledge, thoughts and ideas and to access and understand the knowledge, thoughts and ideas of others.
- Early Years