Teacha! caught up with world-renowned literacy expert and KEY LINKS author, Jill Eggleton, and CHASE co-founder, Lynne Beachy Head, to discuss this iconic series and why it’s savvy to lean on teacher support in resources such as these when teaching reading.
Teacha!: Jill, you are so well known globally for your work as an educator and author. What is a key belief that you hold about teaching children to read?
Jill: First and foremost, reading must be enjoyable. There can be no room for struggle or pain or boredom. One of the greatest challenges for teachers is to create a love of reading so children will grow up to be life-long readers.
Teacha!: Easier said than done, right?
Jill: Learners today are very visually sophisticated. We all know that books will compete with TV and computer games, social media… We need resources that feel modern and cutting edge. We have to keep them captured with visually appealing material.
Teacha!: Is this what drove you to develop KEY LINKS?
Jill: This, and the knowledge that teachers are under such huge pressure, especially now. I have been a classroom teacher and know the challenges of this incredible job. It is very difficult for classroom teachers. They have all these children. They have to think about all their individual needs, and, for reading, they have to group children according to levels. Then they have to think about the specific book: “What skills can I bring out of this book?” “What am I going to ask them?” “What comprehension strategies?” “What processing strategies… what phonemic awareness and phonic knowledge can I focus on?” Then they have all the other children that they have to keep an eye on. And when they’ve done that, they have another group waiting that needs a different set of skills and a different set of comprehension strategies… It’s a very difficult task!
Teacha!: So your focus is on helping teachers?
Jill: I just wanted to be really supportive of those teachers ̶ give them something that would help them to ask the right type of questions and hone in on the right type of skills. And also to help the children to have the questions that will make them think critically. Because what we’ve got now are good decoders of text, but they are not so good at comprehending. Somerset Maugham said: “The only important thing in a book is the meaning that it has for you”. I wanted to develop a series that supports both the teachers and the learners to discover meaning.
Teacha!: How have you done this uniquely in KEY LINKS?
Jill: Teachers have been incredibly supportive of our unique focus panels in the readers that do just that…the oral language, comprehension, vocabulary phonics and so on for each page. There’s nothing else out there that provides such explicit support as this. Teachers need this support. They don’t have to use it, but it is there. Teachers are so busy with everything they have to do today that they just don’t have time to prepare in this level of detail for each book so we’ve done it for them.
Teacha!: With the Covid-19 lockdowns we’ve seen parents needing to take more responsibility for learning at home. What support is there for parents of children learning to read?
Jill: Even in ordinary times the home and school relationship is crucial for the child learning to read. I’ve seen so many children that get frustrated, bored or upset about reading often because parents do things without understanding the reading process. It’s not intentional of course! So the focus panel is brilliant for parents. It trains and directs them as well so that everyone is on the same page and parents can be confident they’re doing the right thing. In these extraordinary times, with parents picking up more responsibility for learning at home, this is critical.
Lynne: This explicit teacher support is one of the factors that drew us to introduce KEY LINKS and version it for our CAPS curriculum. I remember training as a teacher years back and being expected to draw up all our own lesson plans from scratch. You felt that you were an inferior teacher if you relied on teacher support in resources. It was seen as a copout. I think that stigma still exists today. We forget that thousands of hours of expertise have gone into scaffolding and crafting these resources, ensuring that the teacher support explicitly highlights every opportunity for learning. It’s a massive time-saver for teachers and a real safety-net that you are doing the right thing in the classroom. It’s savvy for a teacher to embrace this support and make it their own.
Teacha!: What else is unique about KEY LINKS that makes a difference?
Jill: KEY LINKS has a strong emphasis on oral language. This is crucial to a child’s development. In KEY LINKS we give children loads of opportunities to talk together as partners which is different to other series out there. They can talk together and develop their oral language and ideas for ways they can ask questions instead of the teacher always asking the questions which is often done. It should be the children asking and answering the questions. I often say, “The one doing the talking is doing the thinking.” We want our learners thinking and engaged.
Teacha!: Jill, you are especially known for the shared book experience. Why do you think this approach is so important?
Jill: I’m passionate about Shared Reading. It’s so effective! It really hooks children. Teachers are always asking me for new Shared Reading titles wherever I go. One important thread we’ve included in many shared reading books is humour. I always say, “‘How can children be stressed about reading if they are laughing?”. Besides humour, a true shared reading book must have musical, magical rhythmical text that children can model. Shared Reading to me is the heartbeat of the reading programme. Like the Guided Readers, the KEY LINKS Share Reading books also have explicit built-in daily support for the teacher.
Teacha!: Lynne, what new developments can we expect for KEY LINKS with CHASE in the future?
Lynne: The full KEY LINKS series is currently available with CAPS approval in English and is CAPS aligned in Afrikaans. We have now launched aligned Shared Reading titles in isiXhosa and isiZulu as well. One of the major challenges teachers face is levelling learners according to their reading level so that they can be correctly grouped for Guided Reading. We’ve recognised how important this is so that learners aren’t failing or bored due to being grouped incorrectly. We now have the KEY LINKS Benchmark Assessment Kit in English and are planning on releasing one for Afrikaans as well. We really value the feedback from the community of teachers using KEY LINKS and would welcome any input and suggestions. We are also introducing Jill’s emergent reading series, Bud-e for early learners, and Connectors and into-Connectors for Independent and Paired Reading as well as levelled classroom libraries. We are looking to versioning these into Afrikaans too.
Teacha!: Jill, from your vast experience across the world, can you summarise for our teachers what you think the universal secrets are to reading success?
Jill: I believe there are three keys to teaching reading effectively: learners need PRACTICE, they need to experience SUCCESS, and there must be genuine ENJOYMENT. This will create positive attitudes to reading so that children will be “forever readers”.