So, you have established a reading culture: now what?

Students at Endeavour College in South Australia have been sharing their love of reading with disadvantaged students in the wider community through The Smith Family student2student Reading Program. Teacher librarian Catherine Barnes shares their story.

‘Fortunate’ is a word I use to describe my school. We are fortunate to be in an environment where we have a full-time teacher librarian and library technician. We are fortunate to be located within walking distance of a public library and a university library. We are fortunate that we have adequate resources available for our students to borrow. This good fortune has had a positive effect on students, with the majority of them being enthusiastic readers. For a secondary school, we have an amazing completion rate for the Premier’s Reading Challenge, with some classes achieving 100 per cent.

We are well aware that in some areas of our community there is not so much good fortune. For this reason, for the past two years, our college has been involved in The Smith Family student2student Reading Program.

The literacy foundations built by children during their primary and early secondary years are crucial to their ability to do well at school. Research shows a connection between the development of cognitive skills such as literacy and numeracy at an early age and higher levels of education achievement, greater employability, higher earnings and greater social participation (ACER 2010).

Sadly, the reading gap in primary school between the lowest socioeconomic students (SES) and the highest is equivalent to almost three years of schooling (Department of Education, Science and Training 2005). The Smith Family student2student Reading Program works by matching students who are up to two years behind in their reading development with peer buddies who help and encourage them.

The peer buddies are trained by The Smith Family using the ‘Pause, Prompt, Praise’ reading support method. This is great training for staff and students alike to learn the tools required to help someone learn to read, as opposed to the skills generally taught in a secondary setting. The peer support the buddy shows to their student is integral to the program. Evidence indicates that the best way to support students with reading difficulties is for help to come from others near their age (Rohrbeck 2003).

Reading support takes place over the telephone two to three times a week for 20 minutes, over an 18-week period. Each student and buddy receive an identical book pack from The Smith Family and the buddy uses their training to offer the student encouragement and praise. The first phone call is often nerve-wracking for the buddies as they need to contact someone they don’t know using technology many of them don’t frequently use.

The buddies are supported throughout the program by a facilitator at The Smith Family and a school contact. This support is important as the young students involved in the program often have challenges related to language, household stability, and other factors that may limit their ability to commit to an ongoing literacy program. The support often involves encouraging the buddy to try again when the phone has not been answered for a whole week, advising on how to deal with interactions that have not been positive, and sometimes acknowledging that the program needs to be terminated for the pair. This outcome is challenging for all involved, but a great lesson in resilience for
our students.

Despite its challenges, the program has been an overall success for our college, the students, and their buddies. Based on pre- and post-program testing, in 2017, the reading age of 100 per cent of students working with our Endeavour College buddies improved. The average improvement made in the nine-month program was 2.5 years. In the wider student2student program, 88 per cent of students said they felt more confident with their schoolwork, and 90 per cent said they now enjoyed reading more (The Smith Family 2018).

Equally beneficial has been the growth of our own students in developing these relationships and their confidence. They have developed the ability to communicate outside their own environment, negotiate the challenges encountered, and be a mentor. These are important skills that are difficult to develop as part of a standard school academic program.

We feel privileged to have been involved in this program for the past two years, and to have shared the reading journey with young children across our state.

References

  • Australian Council for Educational Research 2010, ‘National Assessment Program: Literacy and Numeracy Report’, Ministerial Council for Education, Early Childhood Development and Youth Affairs (MCEEDCDYA)
  • Department of Education Science and Training 2005, ‘Teaching Reading: National Inquiry into the Teaching of Literacy’, Commonwealth of Australia, Canberra
  • Rohrbeck, CA et al 2003, ‘Peer-assisted Learning Interventions with Elementary School Students: A Meta-analytic Review’, Journal of Education Psychology, vol. 95, no. 2, 240–257
  • The Smith Family 2018, Student2student, www.thesmithfamily.com.au/programs/literacy/student-2-student

Catherine Barnes

Teacher librarian

Endeavour College, South Australia