It is not by chance that educational systems channel their best efforts and resources towards the universal teaching of reading and writing, as these skills are crucial in modern societies. Nonetheless, some children experience difficulties learning to read and write from an early age, which is why one of the main goals of the AaZ - Reading better, learning better project, designed by the Teresa and Alexandre Soares dos Santos – Iniciativa Educação, is to minimise and overcome such difficulties at a time (during the early years of schooling) when the intervention is likely to succeed.
- Reading is a social activity, not a natural one. It is a complex skill that requires us to have mastered several other competences in order to be able to carry it out. For an overwhelming majority of people, this social activity, which is of paramount importance in today’s societies, is reliant on another equally important and meaningful social activity: education.
- In any classroom, it is commonplace that some children find it easier to learn to read, and others find it more challenging. Therefore, difficulties in learning to read should be perceived as something normal and expected (although undesired), and approached as part of a regular education programme (rather than integrated in a special education programme). Teaching to read is, without a doubt, the most challenging aspect of education, as it generally requires an individualised and intensive intervention and, in some cases, can take several years. This type of intervention cannot, therefore, take place in the classroom, as it requires a differentiated approach.
- Some school skills are necessary (although insufficient on their own) in order to learn almost all of the other skills. Such is the case of reading and writing.
- The gap between students who experience these difficulties and their peers tends to increase over time, and so, the earlier the difficulties are detected, the more likely the intervention is to succeed.
- Experiencing learning difficulties in the early years of schooling greatly undermines students’ willingness to achieve in school, and significantly reduces their motivation. The initial self-confidence and enthusiasm tend to dissipate and are replaced by a sense of incompetence or by negative feelings towards learning and towards school.
With this project, the Teresa and Alexandre Soares dos Santos – Iniciativa Educação seeks to tackle and overcome gaps in the initial learning of reading and writing, and avoid the discouragement and progressive disparity between the students in the programme and their peers.
By the end of the programme, the students who participate are expected to be able to read/write to a level that matches the average that can be expected in their group/class.
These students are also expected to exponentially increase their reading proficiency, and gain confidence in their reading and writing skills as well as self-motivation to read.
The project is aimed at year 1 and 2 primary school students (ages 5 to 8 in Portugal) who experience reading and/or writing difficulties. The choice of the target group is based on the belief that, the earlier these difficulties are detected, the greater the chance of overcoming them (the chances tend to decline rapidly and drastically between years 1 and 4, corresponding to ages 5 to 10 in Portugal), given the cumulative nature of the learning process and the preceding learning deficits.
The AaZ - Reading better, learning better project will be implemented for three years.
The first step of the programme is to assess the areas that are lacking and the processes involved within these areas. In the specific case of reading, it is vital, first of all, to analyse how students read/write letters, syllables, words and text. This specific evaluation is fundamental to gage each student’s attainment level in each skill before the intervention begins. This baseline will allow us to understand the extent of the difficulties experienced, and therefore focus the intervention on the areas in which the greatest deficits can be found. It will also aid in predicting the programme’s probability of succeeding, and create measures against which the future reading/writing skills acquired can be measured.
The second step is to create an individual support structure, within which each student will have a minimum of three, and a maximum of five sessions per week with a professor/tutor. Ideally, the sessions will be conducted on a one-to-one basis, and will be 30 to 45 minutes long. A maximum of three students per tutor shall never be exceeded.
Finally, the third step of the programme will be to re-evaluate the students every three weeks. The students’ entire classes will also complete three assessments throughout the year (one at the beginning of the school year, one in January, and one at the end of the school year). The combination of these assessments will allow us to keep track of the students' progress by comparing results with their own standards and with the average of their group/class.