The workshop was held at the Ministry of Education by visiting teacher from New Zealand, Ali Alder.
Alder said teachers all want to get about the business of helping kids, and on the whole, a majority of children get what they try to teach and they progress.
But, on the other hand, she said they all find themselves with children who struggle for one reason or another.
Alder said it can be important for teachers to change their way of thinking to help all children read, not just the bright and capable ones.
“Reading is a really complex task. The brain is being asked to do a multitude of tasks all at the same time to understand a story,” she said.
Alder said some kids need more explicit help and attention to help unpack the process of reading, and teachers have the challenge to help them as much as they can.
When she was doing her reading recovery training, Alder said the tutor used to always say, “Do you remember what it was like when you were learning how to drive a car, and you had to think about ten different things at once and somehow pull it all together to avoid an accident?”
Alder said it is exactly the same when children are learning to read.
During the workshop, the teachers were put into groups and asked to come up with a definition for reading.
One group said reading was a very complex process, where the reader was required to use brain-eye coordination to interpret text and symbols and understand the message and context behind it.
Alder said her basic definition of reading is to understand what you read.
“If you haven’t understood what you are reading, you haven’t actually read,” she said.
So, Alder said teachers have a big job ahead of them when teaching children to read.
“Lots of people some time just think that just reading the ‘black squiggles’ on a page is reading, but it is also important to help our kids understand what the ‘black squiggles’ mean,” she said.
One of the key aspects of teaching this, is making sure that they aren’t doing the children’s work for them, Alder said.
“Many teachers may get top marks for rushing in and talking them through the problem and solving it for them, but we’re actually doing them a disservice when we do that,” she said.
She said it’s the child who has the job to do, and teachers are there to engage them and bring them in, and support them to do the work themselves.
“The students who struggle will do everything in the book to get us helping them, so we sometimes have to just zip our lips and do a little more watching and a little less talking.”
Alder also had advice for parents teaching their children to read at home. “It is important for children to use the pictures when trying to read.
Some parents seem to think that it is cheating to use the images, but it is all part of understanding the story and making connections,” she said.