Research has shown that ‘children in classrooms without literature collections read 50 per cent less than children in classrooms with such collections’ (Morrow, 1998). The importance of early primary education in developing reading skills has been largely ignored and there is a need to investigate and support best practice in the teaching of reading during those years.
Trialing the project with two disadvantaged schools in South Australia, the outcomes of the project strongly relate to the objectives of The Alec Prentice Sewell Gift; increasing children’s access to education and improving the literacy outcomes of students from disadvantaged communities.
The project sought to address the need for increased access to books in classrooms, particularly for disadvantaged children. In acknowledgement of the ‘reading gap’ that exists in disadvantaged communities throughout the world, the project aimed to close this gap by increasing access to ‘just right’ books and providing time for reading and discussion in classrooms.
The project provided expert, school based assistance and literacy teaching in addition to providing each student with a ‘just right’ book to take home and own.
By equipping students with reading skills this project sought to help young people reach their potential, close the achievement gap and to prevent issues with schooling that can arise in the later years because of poor reading skills.
Following the conclusion of the project, every teacher interviewed, without exception, gave a positive account of the methods and results of the Choosing to Read Project.
The student evaluation data shows that ALL students have made gains in their reading levels. This has resulted in higher engagement with reading, and greater achievement in reading levels by many students. Some students have progressed by more than 10 levels in less than a year.
The success of the program has resulted in the project and/or variations of the project being successfully implemented in a number of classes and new schools. One teacher involved in the project commented, 'I've seen growth in the kids. It's been exciting to be involved in something of this scale...seeing the kids' excitement about books grow. They are [now] happy to pick up a text from our bookshelf and engage in a book to read.'