First in UK to pilot new reading program

Rhondda Cynon Taff Gazette, 15th October, 2013


Parents and carers flock to ‘Story Talk’ workshops to support their children’s reading for meaning and enjoyment at home.

A South Wales primary school is at the centre of a pioneering educational project, which aims to give young children a love of reading for meaning that develops comprehension skills, and involves parents in the process.

Coed-y-Lan School in Pontypridd is undertaking a pilot of ‘SPECtacular Story Talk’, a skills-based programme which provides a gentle introduction to reading for enjoyment and understanding, showing parents and children how to share and explore books together.

‘SPEC’ refers to the set of comprehension skills in the programmes that help children to make meaning of text for themselves: summarising, predicting, enquiry and clarifying.

“The response has been even greater than we expected and early feedback from parents has been extremely positive,” said creator Donna Thomson, of Think2Read, the not-for-profit company which runs the programme. “We plan to extend the number of sessions to accommodate the extra parents who want to take part.”

“Children, teachers and parents are particularly excited by Think2Read’s interactive ‘SPECtacular Story Talk’ resources that provide them with memorable and easy to apply reading strategies for use in the classroom or at home”.

She added: “The involvement of parents in their child’s education is known to be hugely beneficial: it promotes important two-way communication between the school and the family, and fosters common aims that provides all-round support for the child.”

The Coed-y-Lan pilot is the first in the UK, and involves:

  • Think2Read and the school evaluating the impact of the ‘SPECtacular Story Talk’ programme on young children’s reading for meaning and enjoyment at home and in school (Nursery, Reception and Year 1).
  • Family workshop running in tandem with ‘Story Talk’, involving Nursery, Reception and Year 1 – understanding meaning through picture book talk using a familiar story.
  • Two weekly two -hour workshops for families with children aged 3 – 6 years.
  • Parents and carers receiving a demonstration of how to use ‘Story Talk’ interactive book marks to support their children’s reading for meaning at home.

“The programme benefits children, parents and teachers,” said Ms Thomson.

“Children love the interaction with their parents or carers. They enjoy taking part in the simple reading for meaning steps with them. They are shown how to discuss and explore pictures and text with confidence which encourages a love of books, reading for pleasure, and develops communication and reading skills.

“For parents and carers, it provides understanding of the processes involved in reading other than decoding, and this encourages them to discuss the stories in greater depth with their children, giving a structure for them to support reading for meaning at home.

“Then for teachers, it improves communication between families and school, providing a structure for teaching of early comprehension skills in line with Think2Read’s whole-school ‘SPECtacular Reading Mission’ programme for independent reading and learning.

“It’s especially appropriate for Wales, because Think2Read fits in with Wales’ literacy framework and new curriculum by tackling the teaching of comprehension and cross-curricular literacy head-on,” she added. “This is because it explicitly teaches young children how to independently identify and apply core reading strategies and questioning techniques that support understanding of text across the curriculum.”

Coed-y-Lan’s headteacher , Robert James added: “Think2Read fulfills most of the skills of the new curriculum in Wales because it asks children to summarise, predict, evaluate and make connections when they read text – in other words to understand, and enjoy, what they are reading.

“Also, it helps teachers because it has a specific framework of teaching ideas. Unlike other schemes where you have text books and group readers, this is all ICT-based. For example you have a Powerpoint on the screen that takes the children and the teacher through the various skills and the questions in the lesson.

“That gives us real structure to what we do. The teachers love it and the children have really taken to it like ducks to water, and it has been absolutely marvellous for them – because they are given specific roles, for example scribe or negotiator – so they are learning collaborative skills too.”

Think2Read is a not-for-profit UK-based educational project committed to help teachers fulfil the reading comprehension and learning potential of children of all abilities.

Its creator Donna Thomson is a researcher, primary educational writer and reading comprehension specialist with 15 years’ experience of supporting and extending children with reading and writing difficulties.

‘SPECtacular Story Talk’, which is being piloted at Coed-y-Lan, is the first part of a three-stage Think2Read programme, which aims to develop children’s literacy and comprehension skills throughout primary school.

Ms Thomson added: “‘When you see how empowering it is for six- year-olds to ask and answer their own in-depth questions about text and pictures as they read to support their understanding, it makes you realise just what could be achieved if you begin the reading journey for them at an earlier age through ‘talk’ and discussion about books at home with their parents.”