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The Science of Language and Reading: New Project for Girls Grammar Primary Students

This week, I am excited to focus on a project being implemented across the primary school this year. Ten of our staff are engaged in 'The Science of Language and Reading', offered through La Trobe University. As a school, we believe that reading is perhaps the most essential skill that a girl can learn. Not only does it open doors to new worlds and experiences, it also provides a foundation for academic success across all subjects. Research shows that the reading learning experience girls have in their first three years of school is the primary determining factor for all subsequent academic learning. That is not to say that girls cannot improve their academic achievement after that point, but it will always be more difficult to do so.

The premise is that whilst we have an innate inbuilt capacity for oral language, we do not have the same natural capacity for the secondary skills of reading and writing. These skills have to be explicitly and systematically taught. As adults, we can forget that reading is a complex, non-automatic process. When we read, we must recognise letters and blends, process their sounds, and connect them to form words. We then must comprehend the meaning of those words and integrate them into the context of the sentence and the passage as a whole. Reading can be thought of as a two-step process. The first is decoding and the second is language comprehension. These two steps successfully completed, result in reading.

Decoding is the process of interpreting written scripts. It is the intellectual process of translating graphemes into phonemes. The next step is language comprehension which requires the student to be able to interpret written language and make correct meaning. Without both, reading is not occurring. A typical example of this is where some very young students are able to ‘read’ quite complex (for their chronological age) texts. Harry Potter novels come to mind. In many cases what is actually happening is that the child is an excellent decoder, and they can decipher and interpret some quite complex words. It can be astonishing to hear such a reader out loud. However, often times they are not able to sustain that comprehension over longer sections of text or even within sentences. The appearance of reading is merely a folly. Whilst not entirely the same context, you might recognise this effect as an adult when you read entire sections of text but at the end, you don’t know what you have just read and have to go back to the start.

Successful readers become automatic decoders through repeated explicit instruction which allows working memory to engage in the real job of comprehending. One key aspect of reading is phonemic awareness, or the ability to hear, identify, and manipulate individual sounds in words. Research has shown that phonemic awareness is a strong predictor of reading success, as it helps children to decode unfamiliar words and to build their vocabulary. Another important skill is fluency, or the ability to read smoothly and accurately with appropriate speed and expression. Fluent readers are able to focus on comprehension rather than struggling with decoding individual words.

At Girls Grammar, we prioritise reading instruction that emphasises phonemic awareness and comprehension. We use a variety of evidence-based approaches to support our students, including small-group instruction, explicit phonics instruction, and guided reading. We also believe that reading should be enjoyable and engaging for our girls. We encourage independent reading and provide a variety of reading materials. We encourage this to be modelled and mirrored at home.

I hope that this article has provided some insight into the Science of Language and Reading, and the ways in which we support our girls in developing these essential skills.

Dr John Fry

Deputy Principal - Studies



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