By Manfred J. von Vulte
Deputy Headmaster, Northmount School
There is always a sense of satisfaction when we finally see our children reading, especially when they have been deemed reluctant readers. The phrase that is most often heard, “Well, at least they are reading!” Granted, a milestone has been reached. This cannot be underestimated or relegated to a natural stepping stone that would have ultimately occurred. The difficult truth remains that if a student is not encouraged or driven to read, the process can be markedly protracted with episodes of stagnation and loss of competency with the development of literacy and comprehension. Thus, while there is much to celebrate when a reluctant reader begins to find an interest in reading, which is akin to the germination of a seed. If one wishes a child to flourish and bloom (to use an overstated, and frankly, syrupy term) that initial spark needs to be stoked, so that a competent student can be forged. The question remains, how then do we progress our children beyond that initial “Big Bang” effect? At the heart of the issue is a required acceptance that reading is a long-term temporal construct that requires all stakeholders to recognize that while short-term solutions may affect change (tutoring, differentiated instruction, moments of intervention, and academic accommodations) the genuine drive to move forward rests in the frequency and consistency of the aforementioned short-term solutions acting in concert with each other inside, and perhaps more importantly, outside of the course and classroom experience. Much like the broad consensus regarding student success: an interested and active parent in education equals high performance; so too, the same active and interventionist oversight is required.
Ultimately, our children should be able to gain the techniques required to see and interpret the world behind the book. To take hold of a text and deconstruct it, based on a set of criteria inherent to their ability to read and evaluate/synthesise material. As a laudable goal, this is undoubtedly the end game. The items listed below are the bridges across that great gulf from first contact to mastery. Be warned, be cautious, and be patient, the transference of literacy to a level beyond cursory entertainment-based reading does work in tandem with the passing of time, the development of scholastic skills, and something that cannot be disregarded, the evolution of personality, maturity and life experience that ebbs and flows along an intersecting continuum, not a straight line. Perhaps the former is the factor which most acts as a governor switch on the development of literacy.