We sat down (virtually) with respected speech-language therapist Elizabeth Nadler-Nir, who is the brainchild behind Oxford Reading Safari (ORS). She tells us a bit about herself, what inspired her to invent ORS, and shares simple tips for parents to keep their children reading in a digitally distracted time.
Tell us a bit about yourself, and why you pursued speech and language therapy as a career.
I come from a large family – I have 7 siblings – so as you can image the personalities, learning styles and interests were varied. Little did I know that the members of my family who struggled with concentration, anxiety and reading were laying the foundations for my life’s work – to get rid of the shame around learning differently!
At 16 years old, I had a friend with a severe stutter, and I was totally fascinated! I asked him everything about it and am so grateful that he was so open about the challenges. At that moment I knew I wanted to learn how to help people communicate better. For my university bachelor’s degree I chose Drama, English, psychology, Linguistics, and anthropology – I enjoyed the content, but something was missing for me. As luck would have it, a friend of the friend who stuttered, told me to apply to Logopaedics (the study and treatment of speech defects). I was accepted and from that very first lecture, I fell in love with the profession. I have not looked back in the 27 years I have been a speech-language therapist.
How did the idea to develop Oxford Reading Safari come about?
I work with a team of speech and language therapists to help school aged people with challenges in learning – specifically in the areas of language, reading and writing. These children need a lot of practice. I could not find a reading tool which applied all the basic principles I know work well. I also wanted a tool that could be accessible and more affordable, beyond my therapy practice. So, I set out to try and create an accessible methodology. Each time I hit a problem with the methodology, I chatted to my team, and imagined a kid in my practice and what they would need. This is how the answers came.
Oxford Reading Safari uses mentoring in its approach. What are the advantages of this approach?
Parents often feel frustrated when their children are reluctant readers. They buy them books and think that if they would just read more, they would improve. These readers are resistant because reading is hard work for them. By introducing a mentor or a reading partner, and a structured programme with a reward system like ORS, these readers start feeling that reading can be fun. The tutorial videos teach the mentors how to guide the reader – so the mentor’s skills improve. The reward scheme and the feedback on progress within each session motivates both reader and mentor. Success breeds success, especially if a person has someone who believes in them!
What has been your biggest Oxford Reading Safari success story?
One of the most recent success stories is a boy with a severe decoding deficit who has been using ORS as part of his intervention for the past 3 years. When he started in Grade 2, ORS was too difficult for him. It took us a year of foundation work before he was able to start on the first level. After three years on ORS, and a lot of work on underlying skills, he is reading at his grade level. He still makes lots of errors, but his comprehension is excellent. The greatest success, however, is that his mother found him reading a fat chapter book on his own, unprompted. And he was loving it!
How, in your experience, has the lockdown and subsequent absence of learners in classrooms impacted children’s reading?
I do not have hard data, but from my observations on a case by case basis, there has been a large and negative impact on reading. This is especially true for those who are at the earliest stages of reading development. In Grades 1 to 3, children are still becoming ‘wired up’ for reading. This takes daily practice which happens at schools and when readers are sent home for repeated daily reading. During lockdown, books were not coming home. A lot of work was sent via screens. Parents were struggling to get through each day. They were trying to juggle work and home schooling. This meant that often the reading fell off the timetable. The good thing is that as soon as a routine of reading is reinstated, kids will catch up.
What is the best piece of reading advice you could give to parents who are parenting in a distracted and digitally disrupted age?
Read to your children every night. If you have a partner, take turns. Put devices far away in another room, then snuggle together and read a story. Try to make this time special and not just another chore. Let your children fall asleep to the sound of your voice. Choose a book that is both age appropriate and enjoyable to you. Only stop reading to your children when they no longer want you to, because they now want to read on their own. Make this part of your bedtime routine. You will be making beautiful memories for your children, who will do the same thing for their own children one day.
Stay tuned for Part 2, in which Elizabeth unpacks common and uncommon reading challenges, and how they are addressed by Oxford Reading Safari.