Message regarding Reading Together® from Jeanne Biddulph 2013

Note: The following message was written at the request of John Good, Ministry of Education Project Manager for the Reading Together® Briefing Meetings held around New Zealand in 2013.

Kia ora koutou

The story of Reading Together® began in 1982 when I returned to the University of Canterbury as a part-time student to complete a research project for my Masters degree.

As a primary teacher I knew that it’s difficult for classroom teachers to provide enough one-to-one support for children’s reading, and it’s even more difficult when children are struggling and classes are large. I also knew that many parents try to help their children, especially with reading, but many of them use approaches which are actually unhelpful and confusing for the child. Parents mean well and they really want their children to succeed, but many of them put too much pressure on their children and inadvertently create confusion and anxiety because they do not know how to help in constructive ways. Uninformed help and pressure at home make things harder for the child, the parents and also for teachers and schools, but informed help with reading at home enables teachers, parents and librarians to support children’s learning much more effectively than any of them can do if they are working independently of – and often at odds with – each other.

That’s why I decided my action research project would develop a group workshop programme for parents, which I called Reading Together. I wanted to see what happened when I showed groups of parents how to help their children’s reading at home, how to choose appropriate resources, and how to use community libraries. I deliberately designed Reading Together to complement and support the work that schools and libraries do, and to be low cost, manageable and user friendly.

The results of the original Reading Together research far exceeded my expectations of what could be achieved with four short workshops, and the benefits of Reading Together have been demonstrated repeatedly throughout the past 30 years. The responses of participants have been remarkably positive and consistent across socio-economic and ethnic groups, age levels and time.

The Reading Together®: Workshop Leader’s Handbook contains all the information needed to implement the programme effectively. The Handbook is firmly grounded in 30 years experience implementing Reading Together in different schools and with diverse groups of parents and children. The Handbook is also informed by my experiences helping numerous educators and librarians to implement Reading Together. It is user-friendly, sound, practical and avoids jargon.

Teachers, school leaders and librarians who read, understand and follow the processes of each section of the Handbook maintain the integrity of Reading Together and are therefore likely to implement it effectively. As a result the participants find the programme enjoyable and worthwhile, and Reading Together becomes a sustainable and valued part of the programmes which schools and libraries provide for their communities.

Those who implement Reading Together say that they do so because they believe in it, know it works, know it’s manageable, and know it provides multiple benefits. They value its rigorous research base and long history of success in New Zealand. They are motivated, and also humbled, by the positive responses and gratitude of the parents and whānau.

It is important to understand that Reading Together is deliberately designed to be implemented by one or more keen competent teachers within each school. It is not a programme which every teacher in every school could or should implement, and it is not a programme which 'outsiders' could or should implement for the school. Reading Together recognises, values and utilises the expertise and experience within each school and each community library. School leaders are now taking an increasingly active role in the implementation of Reading Together, and their involvement has obvious benefits for everyone.

You are the ones who know your communities well, and you will get to know more families even better through each series of Reading Together workshops.  It is wise to start with a small group of parents (for example 10 or 12) who are likely to respond readily, feel comfortable in school settings, and then become 'advocates' for Reading Together in your communities.

Most importantly, value the positive things that happen, and avoid feeling disappointed or guilty if some parents do not respond immediately and fully. We know it takes time to engage 'hard to reach' parents. Some, who face serious issues in their daily lives, may never be able to respond as you hope and others may participate in Reading Together at a later stage.

At this point I want to acknowledge the essential role my family has played in the development and wider implementation of Reading Together throughout the past three decades. Without their voluntary input, Reading Together would have remained just a research report in the University of Canterbury archives. In important respects, the history of Reading Together is a story of one family supporting other families 'in their spare time', while also helping other teachers and librarians to support other families throughout New Zealand.

We see the NZ Ministry of Education scale up project as a precious and unexpected opportunity to extend the benefits of Reading Together to many more families, schools and libraries than would otherwise be possible, and we are particularly grateful to Dr Pita Sharples whose support for Reading Together led to the Ministry of Education project.

Today, though, I especially thank you for your interest in Reading Together. I trust that you will enjoy implementing the workshops as much as others do, and that you will find your experiences informative and rewarding.

Jeanne Biddulph
February 2013

Posted: Thursday 28 February 2013