Small wins that bring about big change

We have come to a place where reading isn't seen as a must-do. It's no longer about ancient books and same-old titles. We've modernised not just through investment in new material, but also in presentation and the way it is done

Some of the biggest wins you can get in education might not necessarily be the big grandiose projects, but the more simple and endearing stuff which brings about a big change in its own little world.

Through the introduction of reading and literacy programmes, there were small but important wins in the way children, and adults, look at reading. One of the most delightful moments in my political life was seeing young children so excited about reading, and so engaged in the story-line.

We have come to a place where reading isn't seen as a must-do. It's no longer about ancient books and same-old titles. We've modernised not just through investment in new material, but also in presentation and the way it is done. The smile and happiness these programmes bring about, not just in children but also in adults and the connection of these parents with their own children through this experience, makes the gloomy part of politics worthwhile.

The Reading Recovery programme is an accredited school-based literacy programme for the lowest achieving six-year-old children, that enables them to reach age-expected levels within 20 weeks/100 sessions. Effective early intervention is designed to reduce dramatically the number of children with literacy difficulties in schools.

The big news now is that this will no longer be limited to English, but will expand to Maltese as well. It is a second chance, prevention programme delivered in the second year of school. It involves a short series of daily 30 minutes one-to-one lessons for with a specially trained teacher. The programme is different for every child, starting from what the child knows and what he/she needs to learn next. The focus of each lesson is to comprehend messages in reading and construct messages in writing, learning how to attend to detail without losing focus on meaning.

Its effectiveness has been widely researched internationally and statistics indicate that 8 out of 10 students reach the desired level. The goal of Reading Recovery is that children not only catch up with their peers but sustain those gains, remaining in the average band of literacy attainment. Many research and evaluation studies demonstrate that Reading Recovery students maintain and improve their gains in the years following Reading Recovery.

In Malta the problem of illiteracy has been long identified, however, students were still slipping through the net and their literacy needs were not being reached. On this premise, the National Literacy Agency together with the Ministry for Education and Employment wanted to invest in a structured programme which trained Maltese teachers specifically to be able to reach students within a limited time-frame and at an early stage before student’s self-esteem and motivation are effected by this.

It is proven that the timing and intensity of instruction does have an effect on the outcome. Furthermore, research shows that appropriate instruction by trained teachers is also an important factor to help students overcome literacy.

In March 2018 the NLA in agreement with University College London launched Reading Recovery in Malta offering two different courses; a post-graduate teacher course and a Master's degree, for teachers in Malta and Gozo. Seven teachers opted for the Master's course, these teachers will become Reading Recovery teacher Leaders who will train teachers locally. 15 RR teachers who followed the RR teacher course this scholastic year 2018-19 have successfully finished the course in June 2019.

In all this past scholastic year (2019-19) 133 children were offered Reading Recovery intervention. 72 out of 86 students (84%) reached the expected literacy level, the remaining 16% were referred for further assessment or alternative intervention programmes. The second cohort consisted of 43 students. These were offered Reading Recovery intervention, however they will continue Reading Recovery intervention next scholastic year, as they did not complete the programme by the end of the year.

Next scholastic year, 32 teachers, complementary and literacy support teachers will be starting the RR course, therefore more students, in more schools will be reached through this programme. Another important factor in this programme is parental involvement, as parents are encouraged to attend information meetings and to observe sessions with their child. The long-term benefits of literacy achievement significantly outweigh the short-term cost of instruction and teacher preparation.

By intervening early, later costs on special education and catch-up programmes are reduced. Therefore, a strong Reading Recovery implementation, in which almost all children are enabled to succeed, has the potential to close the attainment gap completely and permanently for children beginning to fall behind.

This is despite the fact that children were identified for Reading Recovery when they were six because they were the very lowest attaining in their class.