ERO’s evaluation

This report presents information from ERO’s evaluation of literacy teaching and learning practices in early childhood services. ERO undertook this review in 353 services having an Education Review in Term 4, 2009 and Term 1, 2010. The review considered:

  • how services valued and promoted literacy learning
  • what literacy teaching and learning was occurring in early childhood services
  • how services knew literacy teaching practices had improved outcomes for children.

ERO found the quality of practices associated with literacy teaching and learning varied considerably across early childhood services. Educators at most services had a shared understanding of literacy teaching and learning and used a range of planned and spontaneous opportunities that encompassed oral, written, and visual literacy. In some services, educators lacked a shared understanding of appropriate literacy teaching and learning practices. This variable knowledge of early literacy meant opportunities for learning were sometimes missed. Literacy teaching and learning was inappropriate in a few services and did not reflect the socio-cultural framework provided by Te Whāriki (Ministry of Education, 1996), or align with what is known about best practice in early childhood education.

In most of the services demonstrating high quality literacy practice, ERO found that leaders and educators could describe clearly how literacy learning was valued. The importance of literacy learning was evident in services’ philosophy and strategic goals, and in the practices educators used to engage children with literacy. Literacy learning was more likely to occur in an authentic and meaningful context in the services where educators received appropriate guidance and professional learning and development (PLD) about socio-cultural processes involved in oral, visual and written literacies.

In less effective services, guidance on literacy teaching and learning was not clear or documented. Opportunities to extend children’s literacy learning were often not recognised or not taken. In some services, formal and educator-directed literacy teaching and learning limited the opportunities for children to begin their own spontaneous literacy learning in ways that were meaningful to them. Many services did not adjust their programmes for different groups or abilities of children, which led to disengagement with literacy for some children.

Although some guidance is available about effective literacy teaching and learning in early childhood, this is not gathered into an easily interpreted framework accessible to educators. More could be done to provide guidance on specific practices that would align the principles, strands and goals in Te Whāriki with effective early literacy learning expectations inherent in The New Zealand Curriculum. In some services, educators showed a lack of awareness of the pathways children take in developing literacy knowledge and skills before they start school. These educators sometimes responded to parental pressure to introduce formal “readiness for school” classes. The most unsuitable of these were uninteresting, non-inclusive and lacked meaningful purpose or context for children in early childhood. They did not align with school entry literacy practices and had little educational merit.

Services should use self review to investigate the impact of their practices on children’s learning. In many services, the potential to evaluate and improve literacy outcomes for children through self review was not well understood. In these services either no evaluation of literacy practices, processes or outcomes occurred; or self review was limited to considering resources and their placement in the service’s environment. In a small proportion of services, educators considered the impact of their teaching on literacy outcomes for children and used their findings to make improvements.

A recent New Zealand review of international research highlights the importance of positive links between participation in early childhood education and positive literacy outcomes and overall student achievement (Mitchell et al, 2008). This evaluation set out to investigate literacy teaching and learning in the early childhood sector, and is a starting point for further exploration in this important aspect of children’s learning and development.