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Cobram Primary leads reading initiative in region

By Madi Chwasta

Cobram Primary School has perfected a learning model for reading — based on how much kids can handle before they ‘switch off’ — and has inspired schools across regional Victoria to take on the initiative.

Known as a ‘reader's workshop’, the research-based model alternates between group and independent learning at specific and consistent time periods: the first 10 to 15 minutes of the day is a whole class ‘mini lesson’, followed by one-on-one teacher interaction to discuss the children's progress and independent reading to work towards their goals.

Cobram Primary School principal Matthew Knight said the model was implemented about three years ago. He cited this as the reason the school had seen tremendous improvement in education outcomes.

“It’s difficult to lift performance for kids who are rurally isolated,” he said.

“Seventy per cent of our students are classified as being disadvantaged, and they’re all succeeding.”

Mr Knight said the students’ NAPLAN results had dramatically lifted overall, leading to the school being acknowledged as an ‘outstanding school improvement’ finalist at the Victorian Education Excellence Awards last year.

“The percentage of students performing within the top two bands has increased significantly, while those performing in the bottom two bands has decreased dramatically,” he said.

But he also said the “climate” of the school had changed enormously.

“Student, parent and staff survey data is all exceptionally positive,” he said.

“It just works.”

The school has also extended the model to writing and numeracy.

Mr Knight said representatives from about 50 primary schools had visited to observe their implementation of the workshop program, including from Kialla West Primary School, near Shepparton.

Kialla West Primary School principal Wesley Teague said the workshop model had been in place for reading and writing lessons for the entire school for 18 months, during which time he had seen his students’ engagement with reading grow.

“Their love of books has increased,” he said.

“You just want children to be enjoying reading and writing, so that’s the focus.”

He said the success of the workshop was a result of teamwork with Cobram Primary School, as well as with four other Shepparton schools.

“That’s been really beneficial, picking out the best bits and sharing that practice,” he said.

“We’re lucky to have a school we can check out as a mentor.”