Holy Cross College | Ellenbrook
'I came that they may have life, and have it to the full' John 10:10

Give the gift of reading


While 2020 has been a challenging year, it has been a privilege to be the principal of such an awesome school with the most amazing staff, students and parents. Amidst the craziness of the events beyond school everyone is pitching in to make the school such an exciting and engaging sanctuary of learning, fun and friendship.

I would like to commend Mrs Christine Hay and the talented students from our Husahuasi Plaza who have excelled in developing their herb garden. Students have been developing their skills in the garden while learning about the nutritional benefits of fresh produce. The best part is that we all get to enjoy the fruits, or should I say herbs, of their labours.

“If you want your children to be intelligent, read them fairy tales. If you want them to be more intelligent, read them more fairy tales.” – Albert Einstein

Reading is the key to all learning. When you walk along a sign filled street, watch television, walk into a room or simply sitting at the train station and you can read effortlessly, words and knowledge just get into your head. I believe that one of the biggest gifts we can give our children is the gift of reading. But, can we truly gift reading to someone. I think we can.

We give the gift of reading when we model reading to our children. When they see us read, especially reading the same books, they see it as a natural family thing to do. We give the gift of reading when we talk to our children about the books we have read and by encouraging them to talk about the books they have read. This promotes recall and comprehension. We give the gift of reading when we make time to listen to our children read, as well as when we read to them. We give the gift of reading to our children by making reading time interesting and exciting. For example, reading scary stories in the backyard at night with a torch; building cubby houses in the lounge using blankets and reading inside; making a book of our own stories; using a recipe book to make something really delicious; reading comic books and dressing up as our favourite character or hero. We can give the gift of reading by joining the local library and checking out some really interesting books. We can simply give the gift of reading by buying our children some books.

However, literacy is more than just the capacity to read.

I recall an award night address by Marie Martin, Consultant, Connecting Learning, way back in 1998 at a school award night celebration. It was in the very early days of standardised literacy testing in Western Australia; pre-pre-NAPLAN. Ms Martin expressed concern that the standardised tests were based on a very narrow understanding of literacy and that we should honour a broader definition of literacy than simply reading and writing. Part of her address is presented below:

When I was in school we learned about the three Rs: reading, writing, arithmetic.  Now most of the students in this audience can probably tell you that writing is spelled with a “w” and arithmetic starts with the letter “a”.  Perhaps this is why we have had such an emphasis on spelling lately!

Literacy, is not just reading, writing and spelling.

I’d like to give you some examples.

I work with teachers all over WA.  In my work in the Kimberley I met a teacher who is working in a remote Aboriginal community.  Ellen, the teacher, was shopping in the community store.  Another teacher came in. Ellen smiled at Mary and kept on shopping.  After some minutes, Mary came over to Ellen and she said “Why are you avoiding me?”  Ellen said she wasn’t avoiding Mary, why would she think that?  Mary said “I’ve been to your house twice today.”  Ellen said “How would I know that?”  Mary said “You should have seen my tracks”.  You see, Mary could read the footprints in the sand, but Ellen couldn’t.  Ellen said to me “Marie, in this community, I’m illiterate.”

I went with a friend and her son to the art gallery.  In the Modern art section there were two panels side by side.  One was painted a glossy grey and the other was painted a glossy blue.  The two of them together were one work called “Untitled”.  My young friend said “Why is this art?”  We stood and we looked at the two panels and we noticed that we could see reflections in them.  They were so glossy they acted like mirrors.  We could see ourselves, each other, and the things behind us.  We saw things in those panels.  They weren’t just a grey panel and a blue panel.  What’s more the things that were reflected in the blue panel looked different when they were reflected in the grey panel.

I was telling these stories to a woman from Brazil.  She told me how she taught her children to dance as soon as they could walk.  Every movement of the hands and feet had a purpose, every gesture had a meaning and the combination of those gestures and movements told a story.  I thought “If I saw that dance, would I know what it meant?”

When children play instruments they use a combination of notes that they know to play because they read them on their music.  But they are reading more than the notes.  There are words, signs and symbols telling them how loudly or softly or quickly to play.  There’s a conductor who does much more than wave his arms about.  And there’s the sound, the relationships between the sounds, and the ways each of the sounds blends together.

My children write a lot through the computer on a thing called a “chat”.  I don’t know how familiar you are with chatting, but the idea is that there are several people on-line on their computers, at their own homes, all around the world, or around Perth…  and they are all writing messages to one another at the same time.  Messages come up on the screen and you type in what you want to say.  There’s often a short delay between messages while the people are all typing their responses.  Sometimes you write a response to something and by the time you send it other things have been written and new ideas have been introduced.  Sometimes the conversation overlaps.  If you read the script as a conversation, it doesn’t really make sense.  But it isn’t a conversation, it’s “chat”.

There are rules and conventions about greeting people.  When we are literate we know what those rules are, whether we are greeting our friends or the Prime Minister of Australia.

When we are literate about print we know what a symbol means, whether it be Mary’s footprint in the sand or words on a page.

When we are literate about art we know about symbols, art elements and art expression, whether it be plain blue and grey panels or Aboriginal rock painting.

When we are literate about music we know about the notes, symbols, signs, harmony and discord whether it be composed by Mozart or Perth band Ammonia.

When we are literate about chatting on the computer we know about writing in short sentences, writing all in capital letters only when we want to shout and how to emphasise words without underlining or putting words in italics.

When we are literate about dance we can interpret the gestures and movements to understand what the dance is about, whether it be ballet or Spanish dance.

Literacy is more than reading, writing and spelling. It is about:

  • Speaking;
  • Listening;
  • Viewing;
  • Reading;
  • Writing.

Literacy is also about understanding that the way we communicate is different in different situations

Literacy is understanding that the language we use influences the way we think about people, about ourselves and about the world and that it also influences the way other people think about us.

Literacy is using reading, writing, viewing, speaking and listening in the right ways and knowing which is the right way this time and why some ways are better than others.

Literacy is about using language in different ways to think, solve problems, to brainstorm, to get information, to explore other people’s ideas, to express our own ideas, to present information.

Literacy is not 3Rs.

Literacy is:

  • Recognising what is relevant in a situation;
  • Reasoning about our own and others relationships and responsibilities; and
    • Being able to reflect on the situation so we can better:
    • Respond;
    • Reproduce;
    • Represent;
    • Retrieve information; and
    • Review.

That’s a lot of Rs!  And that’s why the results from a two and a half hour test do not tell us how to improve children’s literacy.  It is why teaching is such a difficult and complex job.  And it is why children need to be active learners, participating in the process of learning to be literate:

  • Recognising what is relevant in their learning;
  • Reasoning about their relationships with the friends, peers and teachers, what they are now learning and what they have learned before;
  • Accepting the responsibility for their learning; and
  • Reflecting on their learning so they can better:
  • Respond;
  • Reproduce and represent ideas; and
  • Retrieve and review information.

More than 20 years after Marie Martin delivered her speech her wisdom still rings true. While I still believe reading is the key to all learning, a broad understanding, knowledge and experience of literacy will only enhance a child’s reading and comprehension, as well as many other personal and intellectual attributes.

It is not enough to simply teach children to read; we have to give them something worth reading. Something that will stretch their imaginations—something that will help them make sense of their own lives and encourage them to reach out toward people whose lives are quite different from their own. —Katherine Patterson

This week we celebrated Book Week. The annual dress-up parade of book characters was held on Wednesday 5 August 2020. The efforts of students, parents and staff was amazing and everyone must be congratulated on their efforts, creativity and imagination. Due to coronavirus restrictions the Book Fair took on a different form and was live-steamed from the San Salvador building. Students completed activities at home and submitted their responses on SeeSaw with more than 700 submissions. The live-stream can be viewed below.

A big thank you to Mrs Azzopardi, parents and staff who spent untold hours setting up and decorating the Learning Resource Centre with the theme of an ‘Arctic Adventure’. Book Week and the Book Fair is truly a great gift of reading.

“To learn to read is to light a fire; every syllable that is spelled out is a spark.” – Victor Hugo