Sandra Howard at Tamatea Intermediate.

Reading independently with enjoyment is a pivotal point in human development, but unfortunately for a number of young people, they never reach that stage. As many a teacher or parent can tell you, for some children learning to read can be a real challenge and often they arrive at high school unable to do so.

There are complex reasons for delays, but Hawke’s Bay teacher, Kerri Thompson is determined to address that too-common experience. She is the founder of #NZreadaloud and is achieving notable success with former reluctant readers from Years 1-10 in many classrooms around Aotearoa. 

Not just reading aloud 

#NZreadaloud is a literacy initiative with a simple goal … ‘One Book to Connect Kiwi Kids across Aotearoa’. The focus is on New Zealand authors writing stories in New Zealand settings. It is an interactive and integrated approach to literacy that inspires a love of story.

Kerri says, “My mission is to encourage and foster connected learning. I want to give Kiwi students the opportunity to connect, share and discuss learning by flattening the walls of our classrooms; to understand that they are a part of something far bigger than themselves. I want them to develop a love of books and reading and to show them the power of taking yourself out of reality through the story.” 

Kerri has been a teacher for 26 years, including at Tamatea Intermediate, where typically, there’d be 5-6 reading groups working on different novels making it a complicated process for her and her students. The result? A limited critical engagement with the books. 

While looking for fresh approaches, she stumbled across #Global Readaloud developed by a United States-based teacher, Pernille Ripp, who believes that a widely spread collaboration ‘shows students that they are part of something bigger than themselves’. 

Kerri saw the initiative as a catalyst to developing a way of reading that is engaging, inclusive and shared. Not only celebrating our New Zealand writers but allowing students to read content to which they can connect – places they may have been, characters that reflect whanau, relatives, familiar settings and language true to our Kiwi culture. As a result learners become engaged and motivated. And discover a love of story. 

Observing the classroom in action … 

Sandra Howard reads the Term 2 book Spark Hunter giving a voice to each character. Written by Sonya Wilson it’s an epic Kiwi adventure-fantasy set in Fiordland, a tale of survival in one of the world’s last great wildernesses.

The Year 7 pupils sit at their tall desks, chin-on-hands listening and registering the ebb and flow of words, absorbed in the story. Sandra pauses on an unfamiliar word, asks its meaning and suggestions are made. Again, a pause – they unpick the meaning and context of a word in te reo Māori. It too is noted. They use sketchnoting skills to record the themes, meanings, sparks of curiosity inspire their own inquiry, children in the learning driver’s seat. It’s a dynamic and evolving learning environment.

Readers both reluctant and fluent, all benefit from this approach. If a student is struggling to read on their own, having a story read to them brings it to life, allowing connection with characters, settings and the plot. 

When the reading ends they move around the classroom to find their chosen group and the different technologies are put to use – Twitter, Edmodo, Zoom, Flipgrid, Baamboozle. Through their desk tablets they share ideas with kids in schools elsewhere in Aotearoa.

Like the US model, #NZreadaloud is offered to schools at no cost. As its founder, Kerri works long hours reading and evaluating books, developing learning resources, information sharing and supporting teachers. She is paid nothing for her mahi but does it because she believes so strongly in what she is doing – it’s an incredible contribution. 

There is also a website from which teachers can access resources and a blog. Information and ideas are exchanged. With that mutual support teachers learn from each other using #NZreadaloud in the way that suits them and their students best.

Sandra Howard at Tamatea Intermediate, who has been working with Kerri from the start, has brought many of her own innovations to the learning method, applying them across all of the NZ Curriculum. “It has so much potential once you know what can be done with it,” she says. 

While term-to-term, year-to-year numbers fluctuate (especially during the Covid period) the schools and classroom teachers registered with #NZreadaloud form a network from Kaitaia to Bluff.

Book choices are crucial, requiring Kerri and her colleagues to read and then decide which book should be studied for the term. A very time-consuming task. Their selections, which focus on New Zealand and its culture, provide a strong connection to place and people and offer a broad scope for further inquiry by the students. 

Each term a new book is chosen, to be studied across Aotearoa and the chapters for each week are set out so that every classroom is reading the same content at the same time.

Classroom in action 

At Tamatea Intermediate, Sandra wants her students to follow their own interests and independent lines of inquiry, then report back to class and teacher with their learning outcomes. Her class is involved with all curriculum areas, not just reading but also with maths, history, drawing, science of the natural world and the environment; and rapidly expanding their knowledge of the digital tools. It is self-motivated and self-directed learning.

The visionary approach is compelling. Two students who were involved in #NZreadaloud at Tamatea over the past two years recognise that it has played an integral part in who they have become as learners.

Taradale High School student, Daniel Lott says that being involved in #NZreadaloud helped him in all areas of learning. Having the opportunity to use his passion and skills for digital technologies saw him directing his own coding projects and websites inspired by the #NZreadaloud story at the time. With the adoption of sketchnoting techniques, he said that his writing improved and he gained a critical understanding of authors’ writing techniques and these things have helped with his enjoyment of school.

Luca Theedom-Whyte, now at Havelock North High School, says, “I really disliked school when I started at Tamatea Intermediate and I certainly wouldn’t read books. Mrs Howard and #NZreadaloud played a big part in getting me over that by building my interest and reading abilities and it’s just got better and better now I’m at high school.” Besides his greater confidence, he is constantly using the sketchnote skills learned from #NZreadaloud. “It’s great when planning an essay or while researching and when revising my notes,” he says. “My knowledge of grammar has meant my essay writing is enhanced and so is my daily leisure-time reading.”

This innovation in children’s learning has been running since 2015 and has had notable success for the many learners who have had the opportunity to be involved. The #NZreadaloud approach allows students to experience reading as active, social and connecting participants wherever they are. 

Kerri and Sandra are keen to share their experience and resources with teachers and schools through the #NZreadaloud website and in-school visits within our region.

Mary-anne Scott reads aloud 

The #NZreadaloud book choice for Term 1 of 2022 was The Tomo written by local writer, Mary-anne Scott who specializes in place-centred New Zealand stories for the young teen target audience.

Mary anne Scott

In this book Mary-anne vividly describes a remote location on the East Coast and the realities of farming life. The main protagonist is Phil, a likeable, kind and ordinary 15-year-old who experiences some testing and extraordinary circumstances. In this, her sixth book, the story is based on a true event from her own family. 

Many years ago, one of her sons observed, “Nobody ever does anything brave in our family.” To which Mary-anne had replied indignantly, “What about my Granddad’s story?” This was the trigger that prompted her to write the fictional account of a true event that occurred in 1926 in the raw farming country inland of Wairoa when her grandfather was 18 and his precious farm dog Blue fell 97 feet (30 metres) down a tomo. Three days later, he with two of his mates returned to rescue her in a remarkable feat of courage. 

While in lockdown at Mahia, Mary-anne imagined the story aloud with her husband, Paul. “He took out a fishing reel and they rolled the line across the ground. Ninety-seven feet, the enormity of it! Even a third of the way down it would feel terrifying,” she says.

Subsequently, she saw a #NZreadaloud video of her young readers measuring out 97 feet, just as Paul had done. “They too needed to see what it looked like,” she says. The sight of the children actively imagining the story, learning about knots and listening to an expert caver on a zoom call, reinforced the benefits of the programme. 

“My protagonist had to be someone the children cared about, but not too perfect, he’s a bit tweeby with his glasses; he’s 15 and so is Emara. The target is middle-grade kids – they want to read about kids that little bit older than themselves and the suggestion of a love interest adds to the intrigue.”

The new reading curriculum wants children to understand our culture, where they come from and for city children to have an understanding of what life is like on a farm. “It raises issues such as, this is where the animals come from, ‘farm dogs never die of old age’, this is the dog tucker area –it’s all pretty basic and rather confronting,” she admits, but also, very authentic. 

“When I started writing the story my girl was called Emily – my grandmother’s name. There she was, a young private-school girl in her hunting jacket and joddies, coming in to Wairoa with the horsefloat for the showjumping. But on a road trip with my brother to the actual location I realized it was all wrong. I had to change Emily and make her a sassy Māori girl, called Emara.” 

Mary-anne’s grandson Lachie, aged 8, is a keen reader but also likes to be read to. “We were snuggled up as I read him the chapter where Emara kisses Phil the night before the rescue and he said, ‘Oh Gran, I can’t believe there’s kissing in your book.’ It was priceless,” she says.

Going into the classroom she is asked questions such as, “Will Blue be ok”, “Can you write another book about Blue’s puppies” and they send her their drawings of Blue. “The children fell in love with her and became invested in her wellbeing. But they knew something awful was going to happen.” 

Mary-anne feels a huge gratitude to #NZReadaloud, that they spend the time to interpret her work, framing questions for children to explore how they feel about the raw realities of farming life, the meanings of words and the behaviours of the characters. It’s not just reading a book, it’s studying and analyzing the text. “I think the teachers who get involved in #NZreadaloud offer a superior experience,” she says.

Photos: Florence Charvin


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1 Comment

  1. NZReadAloud is wonderful. Our tamariki gain so much from the experience and often revisit the stories themselves. Kerri is an inspiration!

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