Shepparton kids find love of books with new research-based reading model

By Madi Chwasta

A learning model for reading — based on how much kids can handle before they ‘switch off’ — has been implemented at the start of the day at primary schools across Shepparton, with stellar results.

Known as a ‘reader's workshop’, the research-based model alternates between group and independent learning at specific and consistent time periods: the first 10 to 15 minutes of the day is a whole class ‘mini lesson’, followed by one-on-one teacher interaction to discuss the children's progress and independent reading to work towards their goals.

Kialla West Primary School principal Wesley Teague said the workshop model had been in place for reading and writing lessons for the entire school for 18 months, during which time he had seen his students’ engagement with reading grow.

“Their love of books has increased,” he said.

“You just want children to be enjoying reading and writing, so that’s the focus.”

While Mr Teague said they had a reading lesson at the start of the day before implementing this model, the crucial difference with the workshop was the timing of the different components of the lesson.

“This particular teaching model is very specific around the timing of the lesson and the content of the lesson,” he said.

“It’s making sure our teachers get the timing right.”

He said the success of the workshop was a result of teamwork, as the school had worked closely with Shepparton East Primary, Orrvale Primary, Kialla Central Primary and Guthrie Street Primary to share ideas as to how best to implement the model.

“Our teachers get together once a term to look at different components of our literacy practice,” he said.

“That’s been really beneficial, picking out the best bits and sharing that practice.”

Mr Teague said one of his teachers would also be trained up as an expert of the model, with the intention to work with other schools in the region.

However, the exemplar of the model has been Cobram Primary School, which was recognised as a Victorian Education Excellence Award finalist for ‘outstanding school improvement’ last year.

Cobram Primary School principal Matthew Knight said the model was implemented about three years ago, and was the reason they had seen tremendous improvement in education outcomes.

“It’s difficult to lift performance for kids who are rurally isolated,” he said.

“Seventy per cent of our students are classified as being disadvantaged, and they’re all succeeding.”

Mr Knight said NAPLAN results had dramatically improved since the introduction of the workshop model.

“The percentage of students performing within the top two bands has increased significantly, while those performing in the bottom two bands has decreased dramatically,” he said.

But he also said the “climate” of the school had changed enormously.

“Student, parent and staff survey data is all exceptionally positive,” he said.

“It just works.”

Mr Knight said about 50 primary schools had visited to observe their implementation of the workshop program, including Kialla West Primary and Guthrie Street Primary, as well as Grahamvale Primary and Mooroopna Park Primary.

The school has also extended the model to writing and maths lessons.

For Mr Teague, he said the collaboration between schools in the region had made these outcomes possible.

“We’ve lucky to have a school we can check out as a mentor,” he said.