Academic journal article Australian Journal of Language and Literacy

Build on the Rock: Teacher Feedback and Reading Competence

Academic journal article Australian Journal of Language and Literacy

Build on the Rock: Teacher Feedback and Reading Competence

Article excerpt

Introduction

It is expected that children leave primary school able to read, write and speak well enough to meet the demands of secondary school. The rock upon which the high school curriculum is built is the premise that students can read, write and speak with reasonable competence, both to take in printed material and to communicate their own thoughts through speech and writing. These skills are needed to understand more about the world outside school (Eisner 1993), and are important for survival and success as adults in our culture.

The relevant responses to a questionnaire completed by Year 7 students from a rural area in South-east Queensland, however, reveal that only 66% of those students were confident of their competence in reading. In line with this finding, comparatively few students admitting to lack of confidence agreed that they read outside school or attained `good' marks for their schoolwork, yet not all could see a link between lack of reading competence and low marks in schoolwork and difficulties with homework. The study revealed little correlation between their reading habits and either parental reading and support or rime spent at the computer or television screen.

The research suggests the need for both teachers and parents to give regular explicit feedback to children and to stress more forcibly the objectives and value of literacy skills.

Methodology

The purpose of the research was not to investigate reading alone, but to probe the expectations of students in their final year at primary school as they approached the transition to high school, but not simply to replicate what other researchers had done. In the belief that students' habits and attitudes, personal experiences and aspirations might have a bearing on their expectations about high school, the questionnaire was devised to include statements and both closed and open questions which, it was hoped, would reveal such links. Ample room was available for comments, but only a handful took full advantage of the opportunity. As part of wider research into the transition, 185 students from 13 Year 7 classes in 11 schools completed the questionnaire during November 1998. Two were one-teacher schools, one had two teachers, one four, and the others at least one class at every year level. Two were church schools, one of which is part of a P-12 college. Four day-girls from the grammar school in a nearby city, easily accessible from outlying areas, also completed the questionnaire.

This paper concerns only parts of the questionnaire that directly or indirectly involve reading: how students see themselves as readers, how they manage schoolwork and homework, how the teacher interacts with them, whether or not they believe the ability to read easily affects the way they cope academically, their own and their parents' reading habits, the amount of time spent on video and computer games and television, and their perceptions of parental support.

Results

It was necessary, first, to find those who did not see themselves as `good' readers. The term `good' was not defined, nor were students asked to define it. It was expected that in the context of this questionnaire, a broad, `common-sense' understanding of the term was sufficient.

Of the total cohort, over one-third could not agree that they were good readers.

In the belief that reading habits would reflect reading ability, students were also asked about the frequency of their reading outside school.

The percentage of students in each category who often read decreases as their images of themselves as readers diminish, while the percentage of those who seldom read increases.

It is reasonable to assume that the 17 students who marked `Not sure' and claimed to read once or twice a week or more often are more competent, but either unsure of what constitutes good reading or mindful of their patchy performance and/or comprehension, even generally modest in disposition and lacking self-confidence. …

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