|The Reading to Learn program|
The aim of Reading to Learn is to support every student in a class to read and write challenging texts at their grade level. Through carefully designed guidance, all students are continually engaged and successful at each step of the R2L teaching strategies. The program includes three levels of support that can be integrated at various points in a teaching program.
Peparing for reading and modelling writing
The first level prepares a class for reading and comprehending curriculum texts, then uses these readings as models for guided and independent writing activities. These strategies can be used as a teaching method for any lesson units in primary or secondary.
Detailed reading and writing
The second level is used to deepen students’ understanding of written texts, and to use the information and language patterns from these readings in their own writing. These detailed strategies enable all students to read challenging curriculum texts with complete understanding, and to write successfully, no matter what their starting levels. They are applied daily in primary and weekly in secondary.
The third level provides intensive support for students to manipulate language patterns in selected sentences, and to practise spelling, letter-sound correspondences and fluent writing. These intensive strategies can be used each day in early years to upper primary classes, and for additional support where required for primary and secondary students.
Integrating the curriculum
The program thus directly links curriculum teaching goals with the skills that all students need for successful independent learning, at each stage of schooling. All students learn to read age and stage appropriate texts with critical understanding, and creatively write the texts required of the curriculum. Reading to Learn applies research in language across the curriculum, providing students with explicit knowledge about language that will make them confident independent learners.
In addition, Reading to Learn includes strategies for working with maths that have achieved extraordinary improvements in numeracy outcomes. These strategires have been trialled and refined by primary and secondary maths teachers.They target specific points in maths lessons to ensure that students can solve maths problems successfully.
Academic reading and writing
Finally, Reading to Learn includes strategies developed for academic reading and writing, both in the senior years of high school and university study. These strategies have been developed with mainstream academic programs, as well as with international and other students groups. They designed for use in both lectures and academic support programs.
More information about the program can be found in reports and articles that can be downloaded free from this website. Details about how to use all these strategies are provided in the teacher resource books and training DVDs.
Planning, implementing and evaluating the Reading to Learn strategies require high level skills in both classroom teaching and text analysis. The teaching strategies involve detailed planning of classroom interactions, to ensure that all students are able to participate actively at the same high level. Planning these lessons requires linguistic knowledge to select appropriate texts, and to analyse their language patterns.
These skills are developed through eight days of training workshops, with supported classroom practice and evaluation between workshops. In each cycle of workshops and classroom practice, teachers build up their skills in teaching reading and writing, and their knowledge about language. Each cycle also involves planning lessons within teachers’ curriculum programs, and assessing students’ growth.
Supporting the workshops and teaching practice is a set of ten course books, that teachers work through during and between workshops, and a training DVD of demonstration lessons with early years, primary and secondary classes. These course books and DVDs can be ordered directly from this website.
Workshops typically involve teachers of junior and upper primary years and all secondary subject areas. This allows cross-fertilisation of ideas and practices, both across grades and across schools. Within workshops there is a balance between whole group activities, and dividing into grade and subject groups for practising lesson planning.
In addition arrangements are made for the whole group to visit a local school, to practise the intensive strategies with one or two students per teacher. This provides practical guidance in using the strategies effectively. This component of the training is also offered for tutors and Indigenous education workers, to gain skills in supporting students.
Closing the gap in schools
Learning outcomes of the Reading to Learn strategies have been independently evaluated for over ten years. In 2001, the Australian government's What Works program for Indigenous education reported that in one year, "the average improvement in reading and writing was 2.5 Profile levels". As each English Profile level eqalled a year and a half's growth, this improvement rate was equivalent to almost four year's growth in one year.
In 2006, the Catholic Education Office Melbourne reported similar results, measured against the Victorian Curriculum and Standards Framework (CSF), "that average literacy gains across all schools and classes, and among students from all backgrounds and ability ranges, was consistently more than a CSF level in improvement within approximately three school terms, or approximately double the expected rate of literacy development. Furthermore, 20% of students made gains of two or more CSF levels, or four times the expected rate of literacy development."
Two key aspects of these results are that all students are accelerating their growth well above average learning rates, including the top students in any class, but that less successful students are accelerating much faster. No other program we know of closes the gap between top and bottom students so rapidly, at the same time as it accelerates the learning of all students.
In 2008 the R2L program in NSW involved around 90 schools. Writing assessments were conducted before and after two or three terms of classroom implementation. The chart here compares growth rates of the top and bottom groups, and the gap between these groups before and after the program. Results are averaged across Year 1 to Year 8. They are grouped in A-E grades used in Australian schools, in which a C grading is considered the acceptable standard. The top groups’ growth, from average B to A levels, is equivalent to over a year of expected growth. The bottom groups’ growth from E to C levels is equivalent to three years expected growth. The gap between them has almost halved.
In addition to these quantitative studies, qualitative studies of the professional learning program and effects in the classroom were conducted for the NSW Board of Studies. Findings included that "the model was seen as superior by practising teachers in relation to other previous professional development experiences… teachers witnessed a general improvement level in all students irrespective of reading ability and literary experience… A work ethic became evident among those students that had never previously been able to engage for anything more than very short periods… attendance had elevated from 50% to 86% attending on a regular basis".
Academic and adult education results
For academic programs similar results have been reported. A research project with Indigenous health science students at the University of Sydney reported, in one year, "an improvement from a mean junior secondary [to] matriculation level [and] improvement from a mean middle secondary [to] an academic literacy standard expected at first year undergraduate study". A more qualitative study for the National Centre for Vocational Education Research reported "that the Reading to Learn approach had positive results in increasing teacher knowledge about language and reading processes. It also helped the teachers become more systematic in their lesson planning. Students responded positively to a more explicit pedagogy as demonstrated by improved attendance and improved reading and language skills."
Reading to Learn and other literacy programs
Reading to Learn shares some techniques with other literacy programs in Australia, such as the Accelerated Literacy program, but provides teachers with far broader skills to integrate literacy with curriculum teaching in all year levels and subjects, including knowledge about language, texts across the curriculum, lesson planning and assessment. The Reading to Learn intensive strategies also share some techniques with Reading Recovery, but foundations skills in reading are integrated with curriculum teaching at all year levels. Reading to Learn also covers all the elements of basic skills programs such as MULTILIT, but integrated with curriculum teaching, rather than skills in isolation. Reading to Learn is also consistent with the NSW DET program Focus on Reading, but provides well-tried explicit tools for teaching reading.