Exemplar Review - Tamahere School - Reading - April 2019



Under Part 28 of the Education Act, 1989, the Chief Review Officer has the power to administer reviews either general or relating to particular matters, of the performance of applicable (pre-tertiary) organisations in relation to the applicable services they provide, and prepare reports on the undertaking and results of such reviews.

An exemplar report may be produced when ERO finds an organisation demonstrates effective practice in relation to specific aspects of performance.

Effective Practice: Keeping children engaged and achieving in reading

ERO reviewed Tamahere School to investigate the teaching approaches and strategies that have led to considerable improvements in reading achievement in Years 5 and 6. In particular, we wanted to learn more about any short‑term interventions or long-term strategies that the school had implemented which may have been influential in bringing about these positive achievement trajectories.

Tamahere School was selected from a database of 129 schools, with rolls over 200. The school was chosen because increased numbers of students were achieving at or above standards as they moved through Year 4 to Year 6. The school’s achievement levels were also higher than the average for their decile.

Before the review, we sent the school a set of discussion points and questions for leaders to consider. We asked leaders what they saw as the reasons for their positive achievement trajectory. We then looked for evidence of the approaches and strategies used, and the outcomes, by:

  • talking with children, parents, teachers, leaders and, where possible, trustees
  • observing in classrooms
  • looking at documentation, student work, class displays and the school environment.

Context: Progress and achievement in reading Years 5 to 8

Reading is a critical skill that enables children to engage with all aspects of The New Zealand Curriculum. Reading proficiency provides a doorway into the world. Children’s success in all learning is largely the consequence of effective literacy teaching. Literacy learning builds cumulatively on each learner’s existing proficiency.

National data shows that while many New Zealand children make good progress during their first three to four years at primary school the rate of progress slows during Years 5 to 8.

Like the National Education Monitoring Project (NEMP) before it, the National Monitoring Study of Student Achievement (NMSSA) found that many more Year 4 than Year 8 students are achieving at the expected curriculum level. The 2014 NMSSA report on English: Reading showed that similar percentages of children at Year 4 and Year 8 scored above the minimum score associated with their expected curriculum levels. This is different to many other curriculum learning areas where considerably fewer children achieve as well in Year 8 as they do in Year 4. However, Year 4 achievement is higher in all other areas than it is in reading.

Although many New Zealand students achieve well, by international standards our results are not improving when compared with other countries. The Progress in International Reading Literacy Study (PIRLS-2016) results highlight minimal progress and then a decline in achievement in reading since the beginning of the century. Out of English-speaking countries New Zealand had one of the largest ranges in reading ability.

Assessment Tools for Teaching and Learning (asTTle) norm data indicates the need for many children to progress through the levels more quickly in upper primary school. If most children were progressing well, our national norms would show changes of about three sub-levels every two years. However, data for the reading asTTle norms for the 2010 cohort indicated that the achievement trajectory does not ensure most children will reach Level 4A by the end of Year 8.

International assessment studies confirm a decline in the rate of progress in the upper primary school years and show that this pattern continues into secondary school. According to recent Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) data, the reading achievement of our 15 year olds is on a steady decline. New Zealand was one of very few countries where informational reading was a weakness relative to our overall reading performance. PISA data also showed that within the same school, young people can experience widely divergent opportunities to learn. This within-school inequality is amongst the highest across the countries that participate in PISA assessments.

Exemplar: Using the library to engage readers

Libraries are key components of every school’s reading and information skills programmes.

This report shares some of the strategies used at Tamahere School to encourage reading, particularly for reluctant readers.

The board of trustees funded 18 hours a week for a qualified librarian as part of its commitment to developing successful readers. Two of the activities the librarian helped with were directed at fostering children’s love of reading. The first specifically supported reluctant readers and the second encouraged children to read over the holidays. The librarian had a variety of responsibilities targeted at engaging children in reading. These included supporting children to access books at school and in other libraries, promoting a love of reading and building children’s reading mileage.

The librarian used a variety of strategies to support reluctant readers to become more engaged with texts. Teachers let her know which children were reluctant readers or who needed extra support choosing books. The librarian also used the library software to track the number and kinds of books children borrowed. This quickly identified children who:

  • were reluctant readers
  • had difficulty choosing what they could read
  • were stuck on a particular genre or series of books.

The librarian then interviewed each identified child to support them to read more. A consistent factor she noticed with children who were under utilising the library was that they felt overwhelmed.

“I ask them, ‘when you come into the library and you’re asked to choose a book, do you feel like there are too many books?’ Astonishingly every single one of them says yes. Then we talk about what they like to do and what they don’t like, and if they’ve liked any particular books.”

The librarian talked to them about their interests and reminded them of the areas and ways books are stored in the library. She then developed a ‘Reading Advisory’ list of books for each child based on their preferences. Below is an example of one child’s list.

Book Title - Author - Where to find it - Did you like it? What did you like/dislike?

Tom Gates series - Liz Pichon - Senior fiction area PIC - 

Tiny Timmy Series - Tim Cahill - Senior fiction CAH - Didnt enjoy it

Super Soccer Boy series - Judy Brown - Senior fiction BRO -

Diary of a rugby champ - Shamini Flint - Senior fiction FLI - 

Weirdo series - Anh Do - Senior fiction DO - I really enjoyed it

The lists stayed in the library and were available to the students each time they went to the library. The student accessed their individualised sheet and selected from a variety of books that considered their particular interests. Sometimes other children asked for their own reading advisory list. The librarian would then interview them and provide personalised choices.

At the end of the school year, the library was open to parents and students to select books for issue over the summer holidays. A newsletter was sent to parents outlining the library opening times and inviting them to select books with their child. The librarian was available to help with selection. The newsletter also provided parents with a link to the National Library providing information about the summer slide.

An additional activity that children and parents told us helped with reading was the 50 book challenge undertaken every second year. Students could choose whether they took part in the book challenge, where they recorded each book they had read, or had read to them. Below are the rules for the 50 book challenge for Years 1 to 4 children.

  • The books to read include picture books and children reading over level 20 should include first chapter books.
  • A minimum of 50 books must be read by the child, or read to the child by parent/grandparents, for the child to receive a certificate and go into the prize draw.
  • The book record should be signed by an adult when each book is completed.

Parents commented on how motivating this was for their children. Including a record of books read to the child, meant that even the youngest children were able to participate, and this encouraged families and whānau to read to their child at home.

Other activities to encourage reading:

  • A library blog shared such things as online books, reading activities, links to authors, the latest books, book awards and information for parents of reluctant readers. 
  • The librarian taught children how the library is organised using games that explain the Dewey Decimal system, and how to use and online public access catalogue (OPAC).
  • Children’s information packs shared what was available and popular with reluctant readers.
  • Covers of some books in the library were displayed together as posters to show children some of the options available to them and to encourage them to read more widely.

Why is this exemplar important?

It is vital all schools have organisational structures, processes and practices that enable and sustain collaborative learning and decision making designed to continuously improve student achievement.

The exemplar highlights how well planned library activities Teachers introduced reluctant readers to text that matched their chronological ages and interests, and gave them strategies to succeed with the text. Children enthusiastically talked to ERO about the reading tasks that contributed to their success. They liked having choices about texts and activities. They also appreciated when the tasks were interesting and complex enough to challenge them. Some children particularly liked the competitive nature of things like book challenges or online programmes where they could compete against themselves.

Recommendations for system improvement

ERO recommends that school leaders continue their improvements and share with other schools their approaches related to responsive curriculum, effective teaching and opportunities to learn.

ERO also recommends that school advisers and PLD providers share this exemplar with other schools to improve their performance.

Diana Anderson

Deputy Chief Executive Review and Improvement

On behalf of the Chief Executive/ Chief Review Officer

April 2019