Principal 'bursts the literacy bubble'

KATHRYN KING
Last updated 09:00 14/06/2014
Manchester Street School principal Rex Wheeler
INSPIRING PUPILS: Manchester Street School principal Rex Wheeler is helping boys who struggle with literacy learn to love to read.

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Manchester Street School principal Rex Wheeler remembers being a "sandpit boy" as a child - keen to be doing almost anything other than reading or writing.

It wasn't until he was introduced to comic books by his mother when he was 10 that he found his passion for reading, and it's a fuse he's now trying to ignite for a new generation of "sandpit boys" lagging behind in their literacy skills.

Wheeler shared the insights he'd gained from implementing a Principal's Reading Group at his Feilding school as part of a series of presentations organised by The Reading and Literacy in the Manawatu group, or ReaLM, at the Massey University Sports and Rugby Institute yesterday.

ReaLM is a group of librarians and teachers who aim to provide professional development opportunities for librarians and literacy educators, as well as hosting events promoting children's literacy.

Wheeler's class of pupils needing additional help with reading gather in his office for half an hour each day, where he reads books to them and discusses the text and images as he goes.

Standardised literacy tests consistently showed that boys scored lower than girls in multiple countries, and it troubled Wheeler when he saw children, particularly boys, at his own school who needed "reading recovery" help, but left school without having "got there".

"What disappointed me [was] that I was letting learners out of our school into intermediate, that wouldn't have the skills to really make them successful there, or really help them when they went on to high school."

"As a youngster, when I try and think back, I cannot remember ever, my mum or my dad, ever reading me a story."

His "life of books" didn't start until he was 10 years old, when his mother bought him the Topper and Ginger English cartoon comics.

Incorporating themes, critical thinking and materials, the classes, which he has run for both year five and year six boys, have been turning things around for their pupils. The words of one of Wheeler's pupils, written in a statement about the class, probably sums up its results best.

"It's like I had a big bubble cloud in my head and now it's burst and let out my writing, thinking and reading . . . so now it's all easier and I'm getting better."

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- Manawatu Standard

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