October 31st, 2020

Reading and academic success

By Submitted Article on January 15, 2020.

In the blink of an eye, life can come full circle. For nearly three decades, I’ve enjoyed the great blessing of being in a profession focused on children, learning, and all the opportunities public education provides to our students.

Throughout my teaching career, one of my primary observations has been around the diverse learning needs and differing abilities among the children in our schools. A common, and repeated, thread over the years is the correlation I witnessed between academic success and a student’s ability to read.

Over the holidays, my 18-month-old granddaughter, Lucy, would constantly grab her favourite book and sit on my lap to read. Together we would flip through the colourful pages of her books, filled with artwork and simple words while she jabbered away with delight. As I watched the exuberance and enthusiasm Lucy showed towards her books, I reflected on my struggling readers in elementary, junior and senior high over the years. Almost without exception, the students who struggled the most academically were my students who were struggling readers.

The more students read, the more vocabulary they are exposed to, and the more confident they are in describing what’s been read, the better they perform on classroom assessments. Kelly Gallagher’s book, “Readicide,” references a famous study of fifth graders by Anderson, Wilson and Fielding (1998) which compared student reading time per day with their performance on standardized tests. The results aren’t surprising. Students who read 90 minutes a day, or approximately 4,733,00 words in a year, ranked in the 98 percentile on testing. Students who read 21 minutes a day, or 1,168,00 words a year, ranked in the 70th percentile. Students who read only two minutes a day were only exposed to 51,000 words a year and fall in the bottom 10 per cent. Just like any other skill, the more you practise, the better you become.

How do we start on this path of reading success? First, surround your children with books that interest them. Books, novels, ebooks and magazines all fit the bill. Find books that are at, or just above, your child’s reading level, which your school will be able to help you identify. Set aside time for your child to read and let them get lost in the flow of their book without interrupting.

Most importantly, model reading to all in your care. Read stories out loud to the toddlers and show your older readers your love and appreciation for reading by reading yourself alongside your children. Teaching and fostering the ability and love of reading might be the best thing parents can do to ensure future success for their children.

Darren Mazutinec is the Superintendent of Westwind School Division

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As an avid reader, I heartily agree with Mr. Mazutinec’s perspective.

My concern, however, is for students suffering from cognitive learning deficiencies. For example, students suffering from dyslexia, a life-long disorder, must first be identified and then treated using specific educational approaches and techniques.

Under the current provincial government financial constraints in education it is likely this expertise, time and resources in the classroom will not be available to first, identify students suffering from dyslexia; and, second, to provide the appropriate learning environment to enable students to succeed and/or direct families to specialist programs.

The International Dyslexia Association states:

“Dyslexia is a language-based learning disability. Dyslexia refers to a cluster of symptoms, which result in people having difficulties with specific language skills, particularly reading. Students with dyslexia usually experience difficulties with other language skills, such as spelling, writing, and pronouncing words. Dyslexia affects individuals throughout their lives; however, its impact can change at different stages in a person’s life. It is referred to as a learning disability because dyslexia can make it very difficult for a student to succeed academically in the typical instructional environment, and in its more severe forms, will qualify a student for special education, special accommodations, and/
or extra support services.”

More information and resources are available at Dyslexia Canada and the International Dyslexia Association.