Message regarding Reading Together® from Jeanne Biddulph

Note: The following message was written for the New Zealand Ministry of Education Reading Together® Briefing Meetings.

Sometimes people ask why I developed Reading Together® and Early Reading Together® in the early 1980s and why we, as a family, financed and supported both programmes for so long. The answers to these questions are many and varied, and beyond the scope of this message. Fundamentally though, Reading Together® and Early Reading Together® are driven by a strong commitment to social justice, fairness, equity, opportunities and choices for all children and families/whānau.

My experiences as an educator in New Zealand, the Solomon Islands and the Cook Islands showed me that well-intentioned, but uninformed parental involvement, frequently has a negative impact on children's learning, and particularly on children's reading development. However, I also knew that when educators, librarians and others work in collaborative, mutually-respectful and evidence-based partnerships with parents and whānau, there are significant and sustained benefits for the children and adults involved - hence my decision to develop Reading Together® and then Early Reading Together®.

The benefits of Reading Together® have been demonstrated across diverse families, schools and libraries since 1982. The positive impact of Reading Together® is also evident in the 'word of mouth' dissemination of the programme throughout New Zealand, and the extent of voluntary 'spare time' implementation of the workshops.

Educators, librarians and others who implement Reading Together® do so because they believe in it; they know that it works; that it's non-threatening and manageable for busy people, and that it has multiple benefits for participants. They value the evidence base of the programme, and they are motivated - and also humbled - by the positive responses and gratitude of the parents and whānau.

St Joseph's School OtahuhuFor example, in 2012 Liz Horgan, Principal of St Joseph's School Otahuhu, reported that:

We have found Reading Together® to be the most effective home/school programme we have run. ... It is truly a wonderful programme to be involved in and the feedback we have received from parents is heart-warming, humbling and always extremely positive.

In 2013, Sir Pita Sharples (as Associate Education Minister) credited the programme's whānau focus for its success, saying:

There are other programmes out there but the thing about this one is that the families are involved. Reading Together® is receiving absolutely glowing feedback.

Ngāti Moko MaraeIn 2016, Fairhaven School DP Vicki Hiini reported on their implementation of the Reading Together® programme at Ngāti Moko Marae:

These workshops have been truly fantastic. ... we have presented these workshops bilingually. We have given whānau mini-libraries to take home with books in English and Te Reo Māori. We have also modeled most parts of the workshops in Te Reo as well as English, including reading with a child, and reading from a dictionary.
The small amount of funding that is required to make these workshops happen is minimal in comparison to the social value that they provide.

In 2017, Manurewa Central School DP Sandy Griffin commented:

Because reading is built on relationships, it promotes social wellness. The relationships that develop over a book are positive feelings, provided we take the stress out of the situation and Reading Together® does that.

There is clear evidence that educators, librarians and others who read and understand each section of the Workshop Leader's Handbook and follow the step-by-step processes carefully, implementing each workshop as intended and adopting the required timeframes, are able to maintain the integrity of Reading Together®. The result is that the programme is effective, enjoyable and worthwhile for the families, educators, librarians and others involved, and Reading Together® then becomes a sustainable component of the language and literacy programmes which schools, libraries and other organisations provide for their communities.

It is important that those who lead and support the Reading Together® workshops value the positive things that happen, and avoid feeling disappointed or guilty if some parents do not respond immediately and fully. It takes time to engage 'harder to reach' parents. Those who face serious issues in their daily lives may never be able to respond as you might hope, but you have provided an opportunity for them to do so, and some may be able to participate in Reading Together® at a later stage.

I would like to acknowledge the contribution of dedicated school leaders, teachers and community librarians throughout New Zealand who have implemented the Reading Together® programme since the early 1980s. These educators and librarians have provided informed and effective support for tens of thousands of families and whānau.

And finally, I want to thank you for your interest in Reading Together®. I hope that you will enjoy implementing the workshops as much as others do, and that you will find your experiences satisfying and rewarding.

Jeanne Biddulph

Posted: Monday 14 August 2017