Just Read: Final Report

What is Just Read?

Just Read is a program that encourages reading for enjoyment amongst our K – 12 students. What students and staff can read is really open; you can choose whatever you like, as long as it is fiction, in English and a hard copy text. Just Read is silent, sustained reading (SSR).

WHEN IS JUST READ?

In the Senior School, Just Read occurs every day except Wednesday from 12:05pm – 12:25pm. Students remain with their Period 3 teacher. Our Junior School students begin every day with their 15 minutes of Just Read. 


WHY DO WE DO JUST READ?

Just Read is an initiative of the QLiteracy Committee that is designed to encourage and build a reading culture within our school, as well as improve the literacy skills of our students. The program is evidence-based, as its design stems from peer-reviewed educational research.

Research Project

‘‘Would engagement in a daily sustained silent reading program increase student enjoyment and motivation to read?”

With the support of our Principal and School Executive the QLiteracy Committee undertook a literature review to inform and develop our SSR proposal. Called Just Read, it consisted of daily, self-selected silent reading of fiction texts for all students and staff. Research from leading Australian academic in children and adolescent literacy, Dr Margaret Merga, was an integral part of this proposal. This literature review then formed the basis of our AIS School Based Research Project application. Our research question was investigated with a mixed method data capture of both students and staff. We were thrilled to be awarded an AIS school based research grant.  

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PROJECT TIMELINE

The Need for Change

Queenwood is an independent, non-denominational girls’ school located in Mosman, Sydney, that offers a contemporary liberal education from Kindergarten to Year 12. At Queenwood, approximately 14% of students receive additional learning support to address literacy needs.

Research shows that reading impacts the academic, emotional and social development of students. As a school we were observing declining rates of leisure reading amongst the students, particularly in the Senior School setting. This echoed a worrying worldwide trend of declining literacy in young people. In light of this, in 2019 the QLiteracy Committee at Queenwood proposed a sustained silent reading program (SSR) called Just Read to develop a reading culture at Queenwood.  

Changing the culture

Once Just Read was launched, there were many facets involved in the development of a strong reading culture at Queenwood for both staff and students.

We sought staff feedback via focus groups and we provided professional development for our teachers. Leading up to, and throughout the project, we have acted on direct and indirect feedback from staff, students and parents. Resources including Currently Reading posters and Conversation Stems for Book Talks were developed to increase the incidental discussion about books in our school. Essential to changing the culture were the many staff heroes, who were either passionate readers themselves or who could identify the potential benefits for our students. 

“Good to forget about everything else that is going on and get lost in your book. It decreases my stress”  

 

– Year 7 student

 



 

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Student Voice

Research shows that a strong student voice is crucial to the development and success of a project such as Just ReadStudent Advisory Committees were formed through self-nomination in both the Junior and Senior School.

The committees designed and executed a series of activities pertinent to the ages of the students they were representing in each school. These included Digital Book Talks in Junior School and in Senior School a fortnightly newsletter plus student developed website designed to extend students reading choices, with a focus on real world issues within fiction. These student-led committees were a crucial component of changing the reading culture at Queenwood. The Student led committees also provided invaluable feedback to the QLiteracy Committee about the student experience of Just Read.
 

 

FURTHER READING:

Isaac Dargan Student Advisory Committee Video  

Isaac Dargan Student Advisory Article 

Bookmarks PDF  

Real World Reading

Evidence of Change

As the Just Read project became integrated into our school we observed an increase in incidental conversation amongst staff and students about books. This has continued and strengthened throughout the entire project. 


The majority of our students and staff already had some kind of established reading habit prior to Just Read. The project saw an increase in staff and students reading more for enjoyment as reading fiction became a habit and books became less “nerdy”. This has been one of the greatest achievements of the Just Read project. Some staff and students have begun enjoying books of fiction for the first time in their lives and others have rekindled a love of reading.  

The school libraries represented only one source of possible reading materials available to our students. Despite this, in the Junior Library borrowing rates increased by 300% within 6 months of Just Read commencing. Given that many Primary School settings (including Queenwood) have regular Library lessons and often a DEAR program in place, these statistics are significant. Comparing borrowing rates before Just Read (February-March 2019) and early in the program (February-March 2020), the Senior School borrowing rates increased by 30%. 

Quantitative data to measure changes in literacy skills were collected prior to the project starting and after 12 months using PAT-Vocabulary and PAT-Reading Comprehension tests for Years 5 – 12, 2020.  Over the 12 months of Just Read, vocabulary improved on average for students in all grades bar one, with the greatest improvement for students in the lowest quartile. The improvements in vocabulary were greater in the Junior School than the Senior School. 

The results for the Reading Comprehension tests were much more varied with improvements in some year groups but not others. This was to be expected with only a 12 month data capture, and reading comprehension being affected by a number of factors in addition to reading habits.

Before the Just Read project 13.5% of students indicated that they did not like to read silently at school. After intervention this dropped to 9.8%.  In the attitudinal survey of staff, teachers reported that after Just Read students were ‘more relaxed, more settled, more focused’ with an ‘increased interest in the library/interest and engagement in books’ and  ‘a sense of calm around the school’. This indicates that in addition to the literacy benefits there have been wellbeing benefits for both our staff and students.  

Staff recognition of the value of Just Read as a classroom practice increased over the project.

85% of the staff respondents agreed or strongly agreed that their students were benefiting from silent reading. The perceived benefits included increased literacy, wellbeing, engagement in reading and educational skills.  

Watch more about our Junior School Perspective here and Senior School Perspective here.

Overcoming Challenges

Any research project seeking to drive cultural and systemic change in a school takes time and presents both foreseen and unforeseen challenges.  

Open communication was an essential component in identifying issues and generating feedback from students, staff and parents. This dialogue allowed Just Read to continue through the COVID-19 pandemics of 2020 and 2021. During this time the fundamental structure of the project remained intact, as the school responded flexibly and responsively to these challenges and change. During the three years of our research project three members of the QLiteracy Committee took up roles in other schools. The commitment and determination of the remaining members of the QLiteracy Committee ensured that the project and program continued.  

“It has normalised reading for enjoyment. The stigma of reading or not reading is gone – all girls read.”

 

– Senior School Teacher




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Reflections from the QLiteracy Committee

The QLiteracy Committee consists of passionate educators across a K – 12 continuum. Project Leader, Gabrielle Mace has led the team of the QLiteracy Committee (Merrilyn Lean, Vanessa Collins, Catherine Phoon, Isaac Dargan) through the ups and downs of this project.  

This research project has been an incredibly worthwhile investment of time, energy and expertise, as it has changed reading within our school. In the early days of the design and development of the project the QLiteracy committee could not have imagined the sheer impact that Just Read would have in so many facets of our school as the project unfolded. The workload at times was immense and sometimes seemed never ending. Our belief in our shared vision kept us moving forward. We have seen the project blossom in ways that were not expected, and this has brought us all incredible joy.  We all feel very proud of the Just Read project.

FURTHER READING:

Symposium Presentation

 

 

History of the QLiteracy Committee

The Qliteracy Committee was formed in 2016 to improve the literacy skills of our students in all areas of our school, with a focus on their literacy development and skill acquisition. Our objective was 'to develop and articulate a school wide vision for ensuring all students acquire the literacy skills necessary for academic and future success, including the motivation to read'. The QLiteracy Committee consisted of interested teachers and middle leaders across a variety of subject areas, from both Junior and Senior School. In 2018 the QLiteracy Committee developed and trialled a pilot study of Sustained Silent Reading for Years 7 – 10 to inform the development and implementation of the Just Read project.  

Current Members of the QLiteracy Committee 

The current QLiteracy Committee and AIS research project is lead by Gabrielle Mace (Head of Library & Information Services) and supported by Merrilyn Lean (HSC & IB Senior School Science Teacher), Vanessa Collins (Junior School Curriculum Coordinator), Isaac Dargan (Junior School Classroom Teacher) and Catherine Phoon (Head of Specialised Programs). 

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Publications & Presentations

The following articles were published in connection to our School Based Research project;
The following articles are in preparation;
  • Evidence of Change – reflections on the ‘Just Read’ project, Connections Magazine 2023 (Gabrielle Mace & Merrilyn Lean)

Where to from here

Although our AIS School Based Research project has concluded, the Just Read program is now fully embedded into our timetable and culture at Queenwood.

We look forward to conducting a longitudinal study in the future to quantify the long term expected changes in student literacy growth and development. We believe these newly developed reading habits will continue to strengthen for both our staff and students as Just Read continues at our school.

“My Year 9 daughter has always been an avid reader but I had noticed that the habit was sliding as other distractions started to creep in. I’m pleased to say she is back into it and reading for pleasure and relaxation once again. Keep up the great work!”

 

– YEAR 9 PARENT









 
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Our Acknowledgements

The funding, guidance and wisdom from the Association of Independent Schools (AIS) particularly Dr Rachel Perry, Tiffany Roos, Crichton Smith and Lesley Wright, have been invaluable throughout the project.

A project of this magnitude would not have been possible without the approval and support of our Principal, Elizabeth Stone and the Senior Executive at Queenwood. We are also very grateful for the contributions of the members of the QLiteracy Committee who left before the project was completed. Kim Elith (former Director of Curriculum) was instrumental in the development of the early stages of our project. Dr Rosalind Walsh (former Catalyst Coordinator) had an enormous impact on the structure of the project and our understanding of Knowledge Translation requirements. She also co-wrote an academic paper on the Just Read project. Anthony George (former Head of English) contributed particularly to the project through his involvement in the Student Advisory Committee at Senior School. Dr Margaret Merga, as academic mentor, guided us through the enormous challenges of ethics permission and survey development, and was always just an email away for guidance and support. We appreciate the skills of Saiyidi Mat Roni who analysed the data for the project. Thanks to Rosa Morgan (Design and Marketing Manager) for the layout of this report on the website.

Perhaps most importantly, our sincere thanks and gratitude go to the staff, students and broader community of Queenwood for their ongoing support of Just Read and their willingness to be part of this AIS research project. Without their support and generosity Just Read would still be an unrealised idea.

About Queenwood

Queenwood is an independent, non-denominational girls school that offers a contemporary liberal education from Kindergarten to Year 12.  

The School is located across three campuses in Mosman and Balmoral, with a student population of approximately 900. 

Read more about Queenwood here.

This report was prepared by Queenwood for The Association of Independent Schools NSW.
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