Thank you for taking the time to find out a little bit more about how we teach literacy at Gulf Harbour School.
From the day your children enter our school we teach them that reading and writing are important tools for learning.
No matter if they are in Year 1 or in Year 6, they gather information and enjoy new worlds through reading.
At the same time your children record new information, communicate ideas and express their creativity in their writing lessons.
The Treasure Chest, our school blog, provides ample evidence of the wonderful writing outcomes throughout the school.
When we start our journey to become readers, we have to learn how to figure out what the words on a page are. This process is called decoding. We are cracking the code, you could say. That means our youngest learners learn that letters are pictures for sounds. They learn to listen for the sounds that make up words and to put them together to read and write words.
Phonics work that promote these skills is done daily in all junior classrooms. At this stage you will also find that your child learns to read and write words, called sight words, high frequency or heart words. For the majority of students a growing repertoire of these words will speed up the reading and writing process.
However, some children struggle to memorise these words. They might not pick up the connections between letters and sounds as quickly as other children either. There are many possible reasons for why a student might not grasp these complex and abstract relationships. We know that it is certainly not an indicator of how bright a child is and we want all our students to access the academic world of reading and writing as soon as possible. We want every child to feel successful, therefore we need to support children that need more than the approach to reading that is prevalent in New Zealand at the moment.
Research into the science of reading tells us that struggling readers need systematic and explicit reading instruction, which can be delivered through a programme called structured literacy. This approach to teaching reading works for all children and we are in the process of introducing and trialling this programme at Gulf Harbour School.
In 2020 we started the programme with identified students in years 0 and 1 who take part in an intervention that is delivered on the principles of structured literacy. We are encouraged by the results and are building on them.
At this point in time we are still also using the Reading Rocket program for our mainstream reading programme which is a carefully scaffolded series of readers with increasing complexity and difficulty. Each new reading level is celebrated until the child leaves the so called “colour wheel” behind.
Good readers can decode and understand what they have decoded. If a student can figure out a word like “prehistoric”, but has no idea what this word means, they will not understand the text they are reading. The older our students get, the more our reading lessons will focus on the comprehension of text. By year 3 or 4 they have become good decoders. Now they learn how to use a variety of strategies to make meaning and gain information from a text that is more difficult to understand.
Our students learn how to use comprehension strategies such as predicting, questioning or inferencing, as they read more and more complex and sophisticated texts, such as School Journals and chapter books. We want our students to read for enjoyment, to read as researchers and as critical thinkers, when they leave our school at the end of Year 6.
At home you can help your child to become great readers by following your teacher’s advise. This might look different for different students and for different year groups.
In junior and middle school some children might bring colour wheel books home and sight words to learn, others might work on sound-letter connections and read a few so called “decodable” sentences or short texts. If a text is decodable it won’t have any words with sounds in it that the child doesn’t know at this point in time.
In senior school the students might read about their inquiry topics and the teachers might ask you to have a chat about the new learning content at home. They might bring home words that they have learned, or they might have to do some research. Your engagement and interest in these topics, for example when you are chatting at the dinner table, is invaluable for your child’s vocabulary development and background knowledge. Both are the keys to understanding a wide variety of texts.
Thank you for your interest in our reading programmes. Our parents and caregivers are very important to us as partners in education. That’s how we understand “teaching and nurturing our community together’.
Nga mihi nui, nga mihi aroha
How can you help at home?
Early writers plan their texts by drawing a picture or talking about their ideas. They might only record the beginning sounds of the words they want to create. Very soon you will see that your child’s writing becomes more complex, as they use longer strings of combined letter sounds to make unknown words, and the sight words they have learnt to create longer texts.
Every school year our students learn more about texts, their purpose and how to address a specific audience. They are taught to identify more and more sophisticated language features in texts and apply their knowledge as readers, when they write. The same applies to their knowledge and competence regarding grammar and spelling.