Wednesday, 26 March 2014

How do we assess reading?

When my daughter was two, she passed those famous golden arches and immediately pointed and said "McDonalds!" I was of course, very proud of her and considered that at that point, she had begun to 'read', that is, she was able to see a previously abstract symbol, make sense of it and assign appropriate meaning to it.

Reading is always a very emotive subject for parents. Of all the skills we teach at school, it is probably the one that causes most concern for parents...and for good reason. Being able to gain meaning from text is essential for us to be able to make sense of our world, as so much revolves around this important skill that most of us take for granted.

Reading is actually an incredibly complex and sophisticated skill. To gain meaning from text helps us feel connected to the world around us, able to make sense of where we are and to some extent, who we are. When I visit Thailand or China, to be unable to read any of the words around me makes me feel quite powerless!

So how do we assess a student's reading ability? One important way is through a running record (RR), developed way back in 1960 by a teacher/researcher called Marie Clay. Clay describes a RR as a way to capture what a reader does and says while reading. "They capture how readers are putting together what they know in order to read. They allow teachers to describe how children are working on a text." (Clay 2000)

At Bradbury, RRs are seen as a vital way of collecting reading information and are regularly used to assess both decoding and comprehension skills until a student is considered to have achieved reading mastery- typically this is in the upper school.

There are six levels to a RR analysis:
1. Looking at print- is the child looking at and scanning print in consistent ways?
2. Accuracy- how difficult is the text for the reader?
3. Self- correction- the outcome of cognitive 'reading work' done by the child
4. Analysis of errors and self corrections: information sources used and neglected- visual, semantic and meaning. Is the child using a variety of cues to work out unknown words and make sense of what they are reading?
5. Analysis of the child's reading strategies- what is the child doing with their information sources to make meaning of the print?
6. Analysis of the child's orchestration of processing behaviours- how does the child put together all aspects of reading, for example, eye movement, visual perception, language & phonological knowledge and strategic problem solving, into a balanced, efficient and fluent process to construct meaning from print?

Quite a process! From this analysis, our teachers are then able to work out a reading level and pinpoint areas of reading behaviours that a child may need support with. It may not be about simply moving up a reading level- a child may have difficult with fluency and phrasing and so the teacher may correctly assess that a child needs to stay on an 'easy' text until this is established.

Your child's teacher will be able to show you a completed running record- please ask to see one if you are interested!

Thursday, 13 March 2014

Looking after the Whole Child

I have often written about how education is changing in order to allow students to succeed in a dynamic world. Another area that I have noticed become a priority for our school is the need to adopt a holistic approach to education and ensure that we are aware of the whole child. This means attending to their emotional and social health as well as to their academic success.

The Student Wellbeing Action Partnership (SWAP) from the University of Melbourne defines student well being as " a state of positive psychological functioning that allows students to thrive, flourish and learn. Wellbeing refers to a state of positive emotional and social functioning that we would wish to nurture in all our students. The term wellbeing has been used to refer not only to a person's subjective experience of 'feeling good' about themselves and their relationships with others but also to their sense of meaning, purpose and growth."(

The Sydney  Morning Herald of March 13 2014 had this to say about student well being:
A "study of almost 4500 year 7 to 12 students, also revealed that 34 per cent of girls and 30 per cent of boys felt constantly under strain and unable to overcome difficulties. More than half had low levels of resilience and of those, 43 per cent felt violence was an appropriate way to solve relationship issues. A third were drinking at dangerous levels, and one in four lacked the confidence to say no to unwanted sexual experiences, while 16 per cent feel it necessary to carry a weapon.
The findings, from Resilient Youth Australia, have prompted calls for the federal government to make emotional resilience lessons part of the national curriculum. Psychologists and educators say many young people lack the basic skills of impulse control, conflict resolution and relationship-building to help them cope with life's challenges.

''The role of schools is in educating the whole child rather than just focusing on a narrow band of literacy and numeracy. (bold added by me)
Fairfax Media last week highlighted the growing popularity of teaching emotional intelligence in schools...Emerging research suggests teaching children how to regulate their emotions not only helps reduce stress and anxiety but can boost academic performance."

Scary stuff! While the above excerpt focuses on emotional intelligence and resilience, at Bradbury, we embrace the IB's learner profile, one trait of which is 'balanced'. This means that
we encourage our students to understand the importance of balancing different aspects of their lives: intellectual, physical, spiritual and emotional, in order to achieve well-being for ourselves and others, recognising our interdependence with other people and with the world in which we live. Hopefully while doing so, our students become emotionally resilient, emotionally intelligent and become 'whole' people.

In no way do I see that school replaces the home in ensuring the well being of our students- developing the above emotional traits does not and can not develop in isolation. We need our parents to support this approach and view it as a part of the strong partnership philosophy that we believe in here at Bradbury.

It is an area of growth for us- I was interested in the fact that when I consulted staff about our CPD priorities for the next academic year, a focus on well being with professional development around this area was seen as a priority.

So, it is a learning journey for us here at Bradbury, we already have aspects of well being that we do very well, we have a strong ethic of caring and we have an environment that I believe promotes the capacity to allow students to "thrive, flourish and learn"- we see this everyday and it is a real joy.

Wednesday, 5 March 2014

Mission - Vision- Values- do they matter?

I am currently writing a policy around guidelines for reviewing our mission, vision and values statements, collectively known as our Guiding Statement (GS). Like many things in education, the lens with which we view what is important has refocussed and this includes the emphasis on our guiding statement.

We all probably went to a school with a motto, or some sort of statement that was associated with our institution. I wonder though, how many of us remember what it was, or, if you do, why do you remember it? The GS for schools, certainly for Bradbury, has moved in focus from being simply a statement underneath the school logo, to something that we live, to being the ideals and standards to which we hold ourselves accountable and strive for.

As the professional leader of Bradbury, I often reflect on how well I am enabling the ideals of 'inspiring learners, inquiring together and enhancing our world' in our school. One way of doing this is to listen to what other people are saying about education. Sir Ken Robinson is well known for his non conventional views on education and I very much enjoy having my own ideas challenged by him. I have just watched a clip of one of his presentations entitled 'Changing Education Paradigms'. (

In this, Sir Ken presents some convincing arguments around why and how we should change our current models of not just the structure of schools, but even the way we think about intellect and how we measure it. He says that because of our current education model "many brilliant people think they are not". This is because they do not fit comfortably into our current understanding of what 'school' and 'education' is and he challenges us to change our understandings and perceptions of these concepts.

I do believe that our concept driven curriculum and emphasis on collaboration, global citizenship and responsibility is a key change to education and a move in the right direction toward changing the paradigm of education. Are we there yet? No, I don't believe so but with a sound GS that truly reflects our beliefs, ideals, aims,aspirations and that are used as a measure for every decision made in our school, we are on our way!

Today, thinking about 'enhancing our world', we had presenters come to speak to some of the Year 6 students from across all ESF schools from 'Plastic Free Seas'. Our students were presented with scary facts around the harm, danger and pollution discarding plastic in the sea causes to marine life and the purity of the ocean. The 'plastic bag monster' in the photo below is wearing a costume made out of the 500 plastic shopping bags that the average person uses in one year. From now on, I am packing a folding shopping bag in my handbag so I can reduce my plastic bag usage and help enhance the world!