An evaluation of foundation phase reading processes in an ndependent school context

DU TOIT, Demi Lauren
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Rationale: An evaluation of the foundation phase reading processes within an independent girls school will provide insight into the status of reading within the elite context. Whilst the public schooling sector participate in a number of national and international assessments with results being made publicly available, the national and international assessments within the independent schooling sector are less readily available. Questions arise as to what the level of performance and proficiency of reading is within the independent schooling sector and how this level is achieved. Aims: (1) To describe the educators’ approach to reading. (2) To describe the implementation of a phonics program within the school and the educator’s perception thereof. (3) To describe educator strategies and intervention strategies in assisting students with reading. (4) To describe the setting in which children learn within the independent school including resources available. (5) To determine the reading proficiency of students within the foundation phase. Method: Eight educators responsible for teaching of the main curriculum subjects within the independent school completed a survey and participated in a focus group. Analysis of the educator’s approaches, opinions and strategies for the teaching of reading was conducted. Reading scores for students in Grade 1, 2 and 3 on the Schonell Single Word Reading Test and the New Group Reading Tests (NGRT) were analyzed in comparison to age appropriate norms. Results: The participant educators were all female with five or more years of experience in education. Jolly Phonics is currently being implemented at the school but only one participant expressed confidence in the Jolly Phonics approach. Other factors relating to reading i.e. how reading is taught, how frequently various methods, techniques and activities are utilised in the classroom and the educator’s opinions on reading development were inconsistent from participant to participant. The participants’ experience significant pressure to ensure that the students achieve in reading but demonstrate confusion in the methodology used to reach success in reading. Whilst the majority of the participants reported feeling good or comfortable in the teaching of reading initially, a picture of uncertainty, dismay, pressure and educator confusion became evident. Within the assessments conducted by the school, the Schonell Single Word Reading Test showed that the majority of the students from grades 1- 3 score above average for reading. However, within the NGRT assessment of passage comprehension, sentence completion and phonics, a less proficient image of reading within the foundation phase was depicted as a larger number of students scored below the average range. Weaker scores in the NGRT is of particular interest when considering: (1) the fact that the participants described not teaching comprehension skills due to limited understanding of the how to teach the skill and (2) the reading comprehension performance of students within the public schooling sector according to the PIRLS 2016. Conclusion and discussion: The statistics on reading within one independent school were shown to be significantly better than what appears to be the case in the public schooling sector despite a significant number of students scoring below average, particularly within reading comprehension. The children and educators alike continue to experience confusion, pressure, anxiety and failure within the literacy domain despite context.
A research report submitted in fulfilment of the requirements for the degree of Master of Arts in Speech Pathology to the Faculty of Humanities, School of Humanities and Social Science, University of the Witwatersrand, Johannesburg, 2020