A new teacher resource co-authored by UNE’s Dr Helen Harper to help students engage with the world of storytelling has been nominated for a prestigious education publishing award.

UNE School of Education’s Dr Helen Harper, says the nominated book, Teaching with Intent 2, co-written with University of Adelaide’s Dr Bronwyn Parkin, is a new, practical guide to help primary students gain deeper literacy skills beyond the ability to read and write.

“In teaching, we’ve become very focused on the discrete elements of literacy, such as phonics, comprehension, reading accuracy, writing skills, reading skills, all those kinds of things. But it can lead to a very compartmentalised way of teaching, and some students struggle to engage,” Dr Harper says.   

“In this book, we’re offering a more coherent approach to literacy where we cover these elements, but we start with developing an emotional interest in the characters and the story of a text, and in what’s going to happen.

“It’s an approach that uses a particular set of activities to move from talking about a text, such as a picture book, novel or short story, to reading and writing, and always in that sequence,” she says.

Dr Harper has seen the difference this sequenced, meaning-based approach to critical literacy skills can make, particularly during her long experience working with communities in the Northern Territory.  

“I remember one time being in a remote community where the teachers and kids were using this approach, and seeing a bunch of kids after school walking down the street putting on different voices, mimicking the language in the text they were studying.

“The fact they were doing this for fun was really striking.

“It’s also exciting to see when kids move from learning to read to being able to write a story where they know what effect they want, and they know how to use words to achieve that effect.”

But there are important reasons beyond enjoyment of reading and writing a story why critical literacy skills are necessary.

“I think in the current political climate, we’re really seeing the result of having a whole population that can’t comprehend, and can’t tell the difference between fact and fake,” Dr Harper says.  

“For a democracy to function, we need people who are literate. Understanding narrative by analysing an author’s language choices and how they choose their words very carefully for effect is the first step in developing critical literacy, which is essential for participatory citizenship.

The authors hope teachers will find their book a valuable resource in their classroom.

“I love to see teachers who can bring a whole class of children into a story together, so that everybody understands how a story works,” Dr Harper says.   

“We hope it will be a really powerful addition to other approaches teachers might be using, which will help enable marginalised students to be included in the classroom.”

Teaching with Intent 2, by Dr Bronwyn Parkin and Dr Helen Harper, has been nominated for a 27th Educational Publishing Award by the book’s publisher, Primary English Teaching Association Australia (PETAA) in the Reference Resource category. Winners will be announced on 3 September 2020.

The book can be purchased from the publisher’s website.