Academic journal article Reading & Writing

Developing Early Readers: Patterns in Introducing Critical Reading Skills and Strategies to South African Children

Academic journal article Reading & Writing

Developing Early Readers: Patterns in Introducing Critical Reading Skills and Strategies to South African Children

Article excerpt


A universally accepted goal of primary education is the mastery of reading comprehension, since reading comprehension provides the basis for most learning that takes place in secondary school (Sporer, Brunstein & Kieschke 2009). This study aims to illustrate the link between the introduction of early home literacy activities as well as reading skills and strategies early in the Foundation Phase to aid the development of comprehension and thus reading literacy achievement amongst South African Grade 4 learners. In South Africa, grave concerns with regard to low levels of learner achievement pervade research initiatives and educational debates. Despite considerable investments in educational inputs (such as policy and resources) and processes (such as curriculum provision and teacher support), outcomes (in the form of learner achievement) remain disappointingly low. Despite national efforts, South African school learners have repeatedly been failing grades or leaving school, a trend that is reported by Taylor, Fleisch and Shindler (2008) in their review of educational changes in South Africa since 1994. Almost half of the learners who dropped out of the system did so due to a lack of basic learning skills, more specifically a lack of adequate language skills. Another reason for this high attrition rate can be attributed to child-headed families where parents are absent (Richter & Desmond 2008): those learners who leave school prematurely no longer deem education as important when compared to basic needs; rather, they seek out work to support and provide for their family (MacLellan 2005).

South African learners' poor performance in reading literacy was first evidenced by the results of the Progress in International Reading Literacy Study (PIRLS) 2006. As an international comparative study, PIRLS is administered in five-year cycles and requires the assessment of learners who have had four years of schooling (Mullis et al. 2007). For most countries, this requirement translates to Grade 4 learners. PIRLS 2006 aimed to describe trends and international comparisons for the reading achievement of Grade 4 learners. It also focused on learners' competencies in relation to goals and standards for reading education, the impact of the home environment and how parents foster reading literacy, the implementation of the curriculum, time and reading materials for learning to read in schools and classroom approaches to reading instruction (Mullis et al. 2004).

The South African PIRLS 2006 study assessed a first population of Grade 4 learners, but also included a second population of Grade 5 learners as a national option within the study (Howie et al. 2009). South African Grade 5 learners achieved the lowest score of the 45 participating education systems with a score of 302 (SE = 5.6). Grade 4 learners achieved on average 253 points (SE = 4.6). Average achievement for both these grades was well below the fixed international reference average of 500 points.

In PIRLS 2011, the South African study assessed a Grade 5 population in an attempt to develop trends from PIRLS 2006 to PIRLS 2011. However, to assess Grade 4 learners, South Africa opted to participate in the preProgress in International Reading Literacy Study (prePIRLS) 2011. Mullis et al. (2012) describe prePIRLS 2011 as a less difficult version of PIRLS which allows developing countries to assess children's reading comprehension with shorter texts, easier vocabulary, simpler grammar and less emphasis on higher-order reading skills. PrePIRLS is designed to test basic reading skills that are prerequisites for success in PIRLS (Mullis et al. 2012). South African Grade 4 learners were assessed across all 11 official languages.

PrePIRLS 2011 results point to continued underperformance by South African learners with little evidence of improved reading literacy scores, even when administering an easier assessment. The prePIRLS 2011 study results revealed that South African Grade 4 learners obtained 461 (SE = 3. …

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