St Brigid’s joins a national ‘reading revolution’

By Damita Whiteley

St Brigid’s Catholic School in New Norfolk is part of a national “reading revolution”, where schools are moving away from reading instruction of decades past to try more targeted methodologies backed by scientific research.

The Grattan Institute, an independent national research and public policy think-tank, released a report this month advising schools to move away from the “whole language” approach, which became popular in the 1970s, to a “structured literacy” approach, which breaks down reading into smaller sequential tasks that are easier to achieve and to build upon.

This approach is exactly what the primary school has implemented in its classrooms this year.

In the report entitled The Reading Guarantee: How to give every child the best chance of success, Grattan Institute Education Program Director Dr Jordana Hunter said schools also needed to focus on “phonics” from the early years.

Grade 1 teacher Emily Kent explained what this emphasis on phonics looks like in early years education at St Brigid’s.

“Each week we introduce students to a new two-letter combination which makes one sound. We call this a digraph,” Miss Kent said.

“We hand-write the letters, we sound out the digraph, we show them words using the digraph and we do games and activities centred around it.

“We focus on this one sound for a whole week so they develop automatic recognition of it.” 

Miss Kent said this style of explicit instruction keeps reading education clear and simple, allowing students to understand the digraph and retain this knowledge, then build on it as they add more to their repertoire.

“Giving them that explicit instruction takes away the guesswork for them,” she said.

St Brigid’s joined Catholic Education Tasmania’s Insight program this year, which equips teachers with scientific, evidence-based, high-impact teaching practice called the Science of Reading and Learning.

Miss Kent is one of two mentors from St Brigid’s who receive professional learning and coaching through the Insight program, then guide their fellow teachers in using these techniques.

“It is an exciting time and a wonderful opportunity for growth,” she said.

These techniques will be shared on a broader scale when Catholic Education Tasmania hold their national summit Teaching Matters 2024: Science of Learning.

Held from March 24-26 in Hobart, the summit will see hundreds of teachers attend from all educational backgrounds, featuring national and international experts.

Dr Jordana Hunter will be a presenter at Teaching Matters 2024, where she will further detail the Grattan Institute recommendations around reading.

“Australia needs a reading revolution,” Dr Hunter said.

“We need to transform the way we teach reading in school, so that every Australian child gets their best chance in life.”

With Term 1 now well underway, Miss Kent said she is excited to see the outcomes throughout the year and to continue in her beloved work as a teacher.

“I have been a teacher for four years and have been at St Brigid’s this whole time, and I just love it,” she said.

“It is a privilege to work with these lovely students, parents and teachers.

“Every day is different and there is always joy, especially working in those early years.”

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