Independent reading

The development of early literacy skills has a positive impact on a child’s success in learning to read independently later on in life

Moving into the second week of the New Year, I think it is important to take stock and reflect on what we have achieved and the challenges that lie ahead of us. We must take up the challenge to spread functional literacy and implement innovative ideas to promote reading at every level. Independent reading will help build fluency, increase vocabulary and build background knowledge.

The development of the National Literacy Strategy (2014) led to the birth of the National Literacy Agency (NLA), which seeks to promote high quality literacy practices among children, adolescents and families. The Agency is providing support to schools through the 10 literacy teams; each team works within its own College to provide literacy support specific to the needs of particular schools.

The setting up of the literacy teams supported the decision to decentralise literacy support. This was a bold move that empowered the colleges and schools to move beyond the one size fits all approach. Literacy teams work directly with schools supporting educators in the implementation of a balanced literacy methodology through regular meetings, classroom demo lessons, continuous support and training opportunities.

The Ministry for Education is supporting primary and middle schools by sustaining and enriching classroom and school libraries across all colleges. Research indicates that children are more likely to read, if books are available close at hand. Students must be given opportunities to choose what to read from a wide range of books.

Through the NLA Aqra Kemm Tiflah Programme, each classroom of every primary school is receiving 100 high-appeal fiction and non-fiction books in Maltese and English. Last year, the Aqra Kemm Tiflah project was initiated in 22 primary schools and thousands of books and resources were distributed to students, teachers and literacy support educators. This year several more primary and middle schools will benefit from this programme and this will ensure that high-quality, attractive books will be accessible to more children. 

Through its range of family literacy programmes, the NLA strives to work with and empower parents and caregivers to be actively involved in their child’s literacy development. One such programme is the Aqra Mieghi/Read with Me early literacy programme, for babies and toddlers aged up to three, which promotes a love of books through the sharing of storybooks and the singing of nursery rhymes.

Story-telling sessions are organised weekly, in Maltese and English, in over 50 centres in Malta and Gozo. Children’s imagination is strengthened through fun and stimulating activities which are brought to life by the Aqra Mieghi storytellers.

Research shows that storytelling fosters oral language development in toddlers and babies. The development of early literacy skills has a positive impact on a child’s success in learning to read independently later on in life. Parents or caregivers who participate actively in the Aqra Mieghi storytelling sessions are encouraged to carry out similar reading sessions with their children at home.

Due to the demand from parents or caregivers to extend our programmes to older children, we are currently piloting a storytelling and reading for fun initiative, called Seher l-Istejjer/The Magic of Stories. This will involve children, their parents as well as classroom teachers.

Research shows that there are long-term cognitive and non-cognitive gains for disadvantaged children and their parents if they participate in family literacy programmes. That is why we will be extending the Nwar after-school family literacy programme for children who experience literacy difficulties and lag behind their peers in reading and writing.

In this programme held twice weekly, children together with their parent or caregiver follow an individualised learning programme which is embedded within a multi-sensory framework. The session is broken down into a range of short, well-paced literacy activities to engage and keep each child on track.

A literacy game brings the session to an end as children and parents or caregivers work together to ‘compete’ with other teams! Parents or caregivers are actively engaged in the teaching and learning process to encourage them to practise the literacy strategies and skills at home. Parental involvement makes a difference in a child’s early literacy development.

Through the writing club, Klabb Kitba Kreattiva, which will commence later on this month, children will have a unique experience to work on and sharpen their speaking, reading and writing skills. They will share this experience with their parent or guardian who will follow their lead within the parents’ writing group!

Throughout the club, children and adults alike are encouraged to read and share their writings and talk about what they have read or written. Speaking, reading and writing become engaging, social activities encouraging children to read more books and become independent readers. 

I am very grateful to all parents, caregivers, classroom teachers, tutors, reading support assistants and programme coordinators for their sterling work, commitment and dedication. It is to their credit that we are able to offer a variety of reading for pleasure and family literacy programmes, and hence promote literate communities and social inclusion. Let us all ensure that every child is provided with opportunities to make sense of his or her experiences and acquire the skills required to lead a fulfilling life.

Evarist Bartolo is Minister for Education and Employment