B.C. Grade 4 students among top readers in literacy report

B.C.’s Grade 4 students ranked among the best readers in the world in an international literacy report released Tuesday.

The Progress in International Reading Literacy Study put B.C. in seventh place among 45 countries and nine provinces that took part in the survey.

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Hong Kong topped the list, followed by the Russian Federation, Finland, Singapore, Northern Ireland and the United States. Canada sat 15th.

B.C. finished well above both the national and international averages in the study of 325,000 students around the world.

Education Minister Don McRae, who taught school before entering politics, credited government’s investment in literacy programs for the strong results.

“Over a billion dollars has been spent on literacy since 2001, so things don’t happen by accident,” he said after speaking to a class at Victoria’s Margaret Jenkins Elementary, one of the schools that took part in the study.

McRae also praised B.C. teachers for giving students the necessary tools and instilling in them a passion for reading.

“We have really amazing teachers in this province,” McRae said. “They work hard to ensure what’s best for their students and today’s just another example.”

Steven Toleikis, who teaches Grade 4 and 5 at Margaret Jenkins, uses a range of techniques — from claymation to new media — to get his students fired up about reading and storytelling.

In one popular assignment, students read and summarize Kenneth Oppel’s award-winning novel Airborn, and then turn it into a graphic novel.

“I think some of the things I do in here pay off — big time,” Toleikis said.

“High expectations help, too, and positive support.”

Maureen Dockendorf, B.C.’s new superintendent of reading, also gave credit to parents.

The study shows that Canadian Grade 4 students whose parents often read books to them before they started school scored 35 points higher than those students whose parents read to them only sometimes or never.

Dockendorf said B.C. teachers recognize the important role that parents play in education, and are increasingly focused on getting them more involved.

“There’s a huge shift in our thinking about really looking at education as a community,” she said. “It really takes the community ... and I see that happening more and more.”

The study also shows that girls continue to outperform boys in reading in jurisdictions across Canada and around the world, and Dockendorf said B.C. is working hard to close that gap.

“For me, it’s the school system that has to change, not boys,” she said. “It’s about these boys having choices.

“It’s about honouring the fact that they might prefer to read a manual about changing the brakes on an F-150 [pickup truck] as opposed to ... a novel.”

Dockendorf said that’s why the Education Ministry is moving to a personalized learning model that gives students more choices and tries to appeal to their passions.

“I think if you look at the B.C. [gender] results, you’ll see them narrowing, because we’re really working at that,” she said.


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