JUNIOR teachers at Mount Blowhard primary have sought old-school ways to teach children how to read despite methods being out-of-favour across the state.
Prep-one teacher Zoe Bilton and grade two-three teacher Kelsie George says explicit, phonetics-based lessons are backed by strong research evidence. But they also choose this because they can see the effectiveness in their pupils' results and, in turn, improves their confidence in the classroom.
They question why teachers are not equipped with such tools when studying teaching at university or in many literacy training courses.
It's a hard thing to admit in a respected profession and when you're finding your feet that you don't actually know how to do something so basicZoe Bilton, graduate teacher
This debate stretches back decades with most schools in Victoria favouring the whole language approach in which children are taught to recognise whole words instead of sounding them out.
At the moment, the best way to teach children how to read has been dubbed the reading wars across Australia.
A Victorian campaign spearheaded by a coalition of groups advocating for students with dyslexia and other learning difficulties called for a return to best evidence-based reading programs in schools and this campaign continues to gather momentum. The coalition's petition also demanded the end to programs like Reading Recovery, which predominantly uses the whole language approach.
In the whole language approach, words are often presented with pictures for clues. Pupils are regarded to learn phonics naturally through immersing themselves in books and guess the meaning of unknown words through context.
Phonics breaks down words into sounds, syllables and patterns. Decodable readers contain letter-sound knowledge specific for the pupils to work through without the need to guess words with sounds they had not yet learnt.
At Mount Blowhard, at least 90 per cent of pupils in infant grades are reading at or above standard under this approach.
Ms George, in her fifth year teaching, initially started using the approach as a graduate teacher in the prep-one classroom. She found it daunting to enter a classroom without really knowing exactly how to best teach a child to read and understand why this worked.
So, Ms George started researching literacy methods and, with support from her then-principal, adopted the approach for her prep-one class.
"It's not what teachers can't do - just what they don't know," Ms George said.
Now teaching grades two and three, Ms George hoped to build on these foundations in a bid to help pupils avoid a literacy slump that could occur for some pupils when texts became more difficult and complex.
Teachers in New South Wales, where the reading debate is hot, have been crying out for help to teach younger children who might be dyslexic or have difficulties learning how to read.
It's not what teachers can't do - just what they don't know.Kelsie George, Mount Blowhard teacher
Ms George and Ms Bilson said research showed a good reader would fly regardless, but explicit teaching was a good grounding and essential to helping children with reading difficulties, which were not often evident early. But explicit techniques, of which phonics was one, and the science behind reading was not really taught in university.
Ms Bilton is in her first year teaching and faced what she said was the same stressful prospect as Ms George in teaching children the skills to read.
"It's a hard thing to admit in a respected profession and when you're finding your feet that you don't actually know how to do something so basic," Ms Bilton said.
"It's the easiest thing to implement in the classroom. You're following the evidence and getting results...Lots of new graduates wouldn't get this opportunity, they would be left to trial and error or following their team leaders."
Mount Blowhard will showcase their early years literacy in an open information for teachers, student teachers and parents of children who have difficulty learning to read. The session is at the school on September 8, 11am.
CLICK on the photo below to learn how Ballarat Reads helps children prepare for school
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