Movie-based programme a boost for struggling readers' literacy

Published by Communications and Development

18 July 2008

Hollywood movies, often considered a threat to reading, have now proved to be a powerful ally.

Researchers from the University of Canterbury’s School of Literacies and Arts in Education have just trialled a US-based reading programme in six Christchurch schools. Struggling readers who took part in the programme improved their reading age by 1.2 years in just six weeks.

The patented programme, called Audio Visual Achievement in Literacy, Language and Learning (AVAILLL), is based on the use of movie subtitles to support literacy activities. Low achieving students in primary schools are enticed into books through “read-watching” of popular movies that are themselves based on books.

The programme builds on research undertaken in 1992 by UC Emeritus Professor Warwick Elley. Professor Elley analysed the results of the International Education Assessment study of reading literacy and discovered that heavy watching of subtitled TV for students in five of the top performing countries may be a variable that contributed to higher results.

AVAILLL was developed by Dr Alice Killackey, previously from Northern Arizona University in the USA, who has also overseen trials of the programme in Christchurch.

“Normally when people first read and then see a movie, cognitive dissonance can occur between both versions. In this programme, the students first read the movie and then see the book while practising imagery as they read,” Dr Killackey said.

UC senior lecturers Jilaine Johnson and Faye Parkhill (Literacies and Arts in Education) were invited by Dr Killackey to act as research consultants while the programme was introduced in 23 classrooms in Christchurch.

Ms Johnson, who is the UC project leader, said the gains in reading comprehension levels, oral fluency and vocabulary knowledge from those who participated in the study had been dramatic, especially among minority and below-average readers.

“Many schools struggle to help minorities and below-average readers. AVAILLL taps into student strengths and gets them involved in reading within a media that they are so familiar with ie, the movie, and, by using text subtitles, takes away the fear of failure.

“The students read-watch; they hear, see and read simultaneously. It is a style of learning that suits the second-language learner and those students who have experienced years of failure, a proportion of whom have really ‘given up’ on schooling,” Ms Johnson said.

“The AVAILLL programme engages students in learning; it literally ‘hooks’ them in and they desire to be involved. Because of its structure, AVAILLL has students reading at high concentration levels for one hour per day.

“Many children do not realise they are reading so much because it is ‘fun’ but certainly become aware of their improvement after two weeks on the programme,” Ms Johnson said.

“To see children improve so markedly was startling. It raised participants’ levels of self-esteem and gave struggling students self-belief in their ability to learn. Many of them had never achieved in their academic studies and this provided a boost to them and their families.”

Ms Parkhill said the programme had huge potential to motivate students in becoming life-long readers.

“The results are very exciting as are the expressions of dismay from many students when the programme ended. The practice of continuing to use subtitles when viewing DVDs in leisure time is a testament to the interest and motivation that many students now have towards reading.”

She said she was particularly excited about the potential of the AVAILLL programme to reduce New Zealand’s 20 per cent tail of reading underachievement that kept emerging in international comparisons.

“Results for Māori students from a bilingual class were particularly significant where these students made an average gain of 1.5 years in just six weeks.”

Dr Killackey said she had enjoyed working with staff in the School of Literacies and Arts in Education.

“The expertise, professionalism and collegial hospitality of Jilaine Johnson, Faye Parkhill and Head of School Julie Mackey have gone far beyond any expectation. They have truly exemplified why US educators look to New Zealand for the most effective experience in literacy education. The research quality and embrace of the programme's innovations by these very clever Kiwis I have found inspirational.”

In 2009, a larger study will occur to determine longer-term effects and wider use of AVAILLL to enhance reading programmes in New Zealand schools.

For further information please contact:
Jeanette Colman
Communications Manager
University of Canterbury
Ph: (03) 364 2260