Write to Read - Developing readers, writers and thinkers

Write to Read is a professional development model that supports teachers to deliver high quality literacy programmes for children. Developed by Dr Eithne Kennedy at the School of Language, Literacy and Early Childhood Education in DCU’s Institute of Education, the project currently works with 13 highly disadvantaged partner schools in Dublin.

The project aims to support all children, regardless of their socio-economic background, to emerge from primary school as confident, engaged readers, writers and independent thinkers with high expectations for themselves and their futures, and the tools, persistence and confidence to reach their highest aspirations.

Stephen Brett teaches in Our Lady of the Wayside NS in Bluebell, Dublin 12, which has been involved with Write to Read since 2012. In this piece, he describes how the programme has changed the school’s approach to literacy and how this has benefitted their students.

What motivated teachers in Our Lady of the Wayside to join the Write to Read project? What were the specific challenges teachers wanted to address?

“We were particularly attracted to the motivational aspect of Write to Read. Prior to the project, children in our school were not particularly excited about writing a story or choosing a novel. We knew that Write to Read places a huge emphasis on fostering a genuine love of reading and writing in children and we have definitely seen the results in this regard. When viewed simply as a means to an end, literacy really isn’t fun for children, but today, children of all abilities in our school enjoy writing stories, reading and genuinely enjoy the challenges of literacy.

Teaching literacy in a DEIS (disadvantaged) school brings different challenges to teaching in a non-disadvantaged context.

One of the biggest challenges is the difference in oral language development between children in a DEIS and non-disadvantaged context. Our children tend to come to school with a much weaker repertoire of language and this is something that we, as teachers, must be mindful of.

 

Teachers can make a real difference and improve children’s oral language by prioritising vocabulary development on a daily basis, as we now do from the get-go in our school. We have high expectations for the children’s oral language and we put significant emphasis on it right through the school. As we hoped, Write to Read has helped our school to develop a rich literacy environment where reading, writing and oral language are celebrated, and that has been a huge factor in the success of literacy here since 2012.”

 How has Write to Read changed the school’s approach to literacy?

“There have been huge changes in our school since the start of the project. Thanks to the whole-school approach, we now have a consistent approach to literacy in every classroom.  Another big change is the resources that we have now compared to eight years ago.

Our library is packed with rich literature and you really couldn’t compare the choice that children now have in fiction and non-fiction texts! Each class has dozens of novels for their age group and there is now a real culture of reading within our school, which is fantastic to see.

 

Another hugely positive change was the introduction of a daily Writing Workshop. With traditional approaches to literacy, children might pass an entire week without writing a story, limiting their opportunities to express themselves. With Write to Read, children are writing every day in different genres. As teachers, we use mentor texts to teach a specific craft with the hope that children will emulate authors that they like.

Our children are constantly developing orally and using more sophisticated language; they now choose complex novels and have deep discussions around the characters and the storyline. It is all very innovative and very inspiring. It is an amazing contrast to see what the children are producing now compared to before our involvement with Write to Read. The progress they make every year has been quite unbelievable.”

What changes have you noticed in your pupils since the school began to implement Write to Read?

 “Where do I start?! First of all, it’s their motivation towards literacy. They genuinely love reading and writing.

Seeing children now reading for pleasure and seeing their noses in books at any given opportunity, even at break time, is something which would not have happened in our school ten years ago! Our children are so articulate now.

 

They are very resilient and they approach tasks with a greater determination than before. They are determined to succeed in all their literacy tasks and genuinely want to do well. We hope this gives them a strong foundation and the necessary skills to succeed in second level education and hopefully go on to third level education.  

It is well documented that there is a significant gap in literacy achievement between DEIS and non-DEIS schools. Children in DEIS schools tend to score below national norms on standardised reading tests. With Write to Read however, the children in my class have consistently performed above national norms, something which we are very proud of!”

What difference does Write to Read make to you as a teacher?

“As you can probably tell, I am very passionate and enthusiastic about literacy. I know it is a cliché but thanks to Write to Read, I feel I can make a difference in the classroom and I feel literacy is now one of the school’s main strengths, which wasn’t always the case. I really enjoy teaching literacy and I feel I now have a lot of expertise in the field due to the continued professional development provided through Write to Read.

In addition to the on-site support, I have attended summer courses and professional learning communities and have undertaken some research for the project too. I also completed a Certificate in Literacy through Write to Read and I am currently writing up my thesis for my Masters in Literacy.”

Stephen, you grew up in the area close to this school. How have your own experiences influenced your determination to raise the aspirations of the children that you work with through initiatives such as Write to Read?

Having grown up close to this area and having attended a DEIS school myself, I am acutely aware of the different paths which these children may take in life. Sadly, some of my own classmates did not complete their education or became involved in criminal activities. I was lucky to have very strong parental involvement and an interest in soccer, which kept me on the straight and narrow. I come from a very close-knit family where education is valued and third level education was viewed as mandatory!

“I really enjoy working in a DEIS school because I feel I recognise the significance of it. I feel an obligation towards these children to support them in every way, with the hope that they too can grow up to be successful.”

Would you like to know more about Write to Read?