The arts as a bridge to literacy — 2019 literacy conference

The NZ Literacy Association’s 42nd conference was held recently in Christchurch. This conference is an annual event and considerable effort went into achieving an outstanding calibre of keynote speakers, a wide range of engaging workshops choices for participants, and a wonderful selection of New Zealand authors and illustrators.

The over-arching themes for the 2019 conference keynotes and workshops covered learning through the arts, inspiring a love of literature, and sharing practice-based inquiries and research. Read on for a look at some of what was on offer!

Open book with swirling colours

Image by susanaWildnerFox. Pixabay. License to use.

In defense of read-aloud

One of the many highlights of the conference was attending a keynote presentation by Dr Steven L. Layne. Steven delivered an energised and entertaining session while sharing best practice in the art of reading aloud in the classroom. Steven made several references to his book 'In Defense of Read-Aloud: Sustaining Best Practice' where he explores ideas for establishing the 'read-aloud time', launching a new book to the class, and becoming 'master of the text'. He is an author of many books including 'Igniting a Passion for Reading'.

Reading aloud to students of all ages, including teenagers, is a vital part of any good reading programme. It's enjoyable, stimulates interest, imagination and language, and exposes students to the joys of reading.

Making the most of independent reading time

Sheena Cameron and Druinie Perera in their workshop shared many practical ideas for promoting a reading culture in the classroom. They referred to The Reading Book: A Complete Guide to Teaching Reading written by Sheena Cameron and Louise Dempsey.

They covered:

  • the role of the teacher — an active role through taking an interest, and spending time, in conversation with students about what they are reading
  • student accountability
  • managing independent reading
  • activities for independent reading time.

For more information on how you can develop and maintain a reading culture in your classroom or school library for all age groups, check out Strategies to engage students as readers in the Services to Schools' section of our website.

Readers as superheroes

Melinda Szymanik (author of Fuzzy Doodle (pdf, 371KB) and The Were-Nana amongst other titles) explored the power that words have in connection with students' emotional, social, and cultural literacy. Melinda engaged us in the sheer joy and experience of listening to a short story — 'Crocodile dreaming' from Time Machine and Other Stories (pdf, 1.2MB) — which reminded us of the value of reading aloud as a way to inspire people of any age!

A key message from her workshop was the importance of adults in role modelling for children. This includes:

  • knowing children’s and young adult literature
  • modelling wide reading such as non-fiction, graphic novels, and picture books
  • ensuring sustained silent reading (SSR) is part of the class programme.

Melinda also reinforced the key message that, in order to develop writers, we first need students engaged in reading for pleasure and participating in rich conversations through a school-wide reading culture.

Watch My reading superhero videos, a series of animated short episodes celebrating the teachers, librarians, and family members who read to and inspire young people to read.

Sound for kids

Prue Langbein shared her passion for audio, particularly in our increasingly visual world. She described how listening can tap into a part of the brain that reaches deep into the imagination.

Furthermore, the value and power for children of hearing kids' voices narrating stories were endorsed by both Prue and other workshop participants.

The workshop covered:

  • Prue’s experience of recording audio with children
  • practical examples of her work, in particular, for 5 and 6-year-olds at Hei Listen Iti and for 7- to 9-year-olds at Hei Listen Nui
  • tips for recording children.

Changing text layout to support children with dyslexia

Conference attendees also had the opportunity to learn how changing the layout of text can help children with dyslexia engage with reading and literature.

Katie Lumsden (a librarian specialising children’ services from Christchurch City Libraries) discussed how the layout of words on a page is an important element in the process of reading. By changing this, the process of reading can be improved for many children, not just those with dyslexia.

This was a hands-on workshop, covering the following:

  • factors in the layout of a page that affect reading and how they can be changed to facilitate reading
  • how to identify the beneficial factors in books in your collection so you can recommend to students.

Dyslexia affects 10% of the population. By including a range of fonts and page layouts in our library collections (eBooks and print), we can assist more students in the process of reading and as a result, increase their reading enjoyment. Audiobooks also give students with dyslexia another format to enjoy reading and literature.

The benefits and joy of audiobooks are highlighted in our blog post.

Book launches

As part of the conference programme this year, there was a fabulous opportunity to attend two book launches. The first was The Reading Book: A Complete Guide to Teaching Reading written by Sheena Cameron and Louise Dempsey and mentioned earlier in this blog post. The book offers practical advice and activities that cover guiding principles and practices, reading to students, shared reading, guided reading, independent reading, and activities. For information about the authors and their resources, check out their website: The Literacy Place.

The second book launch was Avis and the Promise of Dragons by Heather McQuillan. Heather writes for young people as well as writing adult short stories, flash fiction, and poetry. She is the Director of WRITE ON School for Young Writers in Christchurch.

Literacy Association professional development in your region

The aims of the New Zealand Literacy Association are to encourage and actively promote enjoyment of literacy, encourage research, and foster continuing literacy education programmes. 

Look out for professional development opportunities offered each year by the 12 regional councils across New Zealand.

By Jan Boustead and Julie Wright

Jan is a Facilitator (National Capability) based in Christchurch. Julie is the Collection Development Specialist for Services to Schools.

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