Learning to read and write

Teachers have an important role helping children acquire the knowledge, strategies and awareness necessary to become effective readers and writers. An emphasis on planned, deliberate teaching along with providing opportunities for other incidental literacy learning is critical. As children begin formal instruction at school they have to know how texts work and in particular that there is a relationship between what they hear and the written text they read or create through writing. Teachers cannot assume that children will learn to read and write by being in a literacy programme. They need explicit and direct instruction, focused on specific outcomes.

Learning to read and write is like being a ‘code cracker’. Writing has conventions that require the decoding and encoding skills of reading and writing letters, words and text. Learners have to master not only the code, but also use their knowledge and strategies to get meaning from what they read, and to convey meaning through what they write.

Many teachers regularly provided highly motivating opportunities for children to develop and enjoy their writing. They gave children a purpose to their writing and encouraged them to write about things meaningful to them. Teaching was focused and well paced, helping children to maintain enthusiasm and participate at a challenging and achievable level.

As children master the skills involved in decoding, their reading becomes more fluent, freeing them to use more of their cognitive abilities to work out the meaning of different sorts of texts. Similarly, as they master the expertise needed to record sounds, spell words, and form sentences, they become more fluent writers and can then apply more of their thinking to convey meaning in increasingly sophisticated ways for different audiences.

Schools brought about positive changes in teaching practice through managing their own PLD. School leaders or lead teachers in schools, shared literature about best teaching practice. Teachers observed and shared recognised good practice that they could then introduce into their own classes. Lead teachers mentored colleagues to use an increasing set of teaching approaches, and school leaders and trustees identified ways for supporting teachers to enhance their content knowledge and skills.

Creating an environment to learn

Effective teachers create an environment in which children’s learning flourishes. They understand that children learn best when they are accepted, acknowledged for who they are and are able to actively contribute to their own and others’ learning. However, a positive and supportive environment alone is not sufficient to promote children’s literacy progress and achievement.

When children come to school they bring existing knowledge and experiences gained from social, cultural and language settings outside the school. This knowledge is used to construct meaning and develop new understandings. The diversity among learners can present a challenge for teachers. They need in-depth content knowledge of reading and writing teaching to recognise and build on what the child knows.

Successful teachers used a range of reading teaching practices and combined these to cater for the needs of students from different cultures and with differing abilities. Teachers captured children’s interest, helped them to identify word patterns, encouraged them to share ideas, explored the meaning of new words and helped them to progress and achieve.

Effective teachers made expectations clear to children by talking about their reading and writing goals. They explained to children why they were working towards these and why they were important. They also discussed progress towards these goals with parents and, together, decided on how parents and families could work with their child to support ongoing learning.

Assessing to learn

Effective assessment is focused on improving teaching and learning, and on raising achievement. It involves the process of collecting, analysing and using information about what children know and can do. Teachers with rich information about children’s reading and writing skills can actively involve them in their learning, by helping them understand what they need to do next to progress. They can also collect and share assessment information with parents and whānau to support children’s reading at home.

Teachers collect assessment information in different ways. Sometimes this is informal and constructive in supporting immediate learning needs. Most often it is planned and systematic. To be effective, teachers need to be clear about which assessment tools and reference points to use, and how best to apply these to help them plan for, and monitor, their children’s achievement and progress.

Teachers are also involved in making judgements about how well children are achieving. This involves drawing on and analysing evidence gathered up to a particular point in time. Effective teachers were skilled at using the range of formal and less formal sources of information to make these judgements. They could match these with the targets and expectations set, and had ways of ensuring that their judgements were consistent with those of their colleagues.

Setting and monitoring expectations 

The expectations of both school leaders and teachers can influence the rates of children’s progress or actual success.  Even when teachers are focused on children’s learning, inappropriate teacher expectations can undermine them, or impede practice.  Teacher expectations have been found to vary according to student ethnicity, ability, gender and other characteristics unrelated to a student’s actual capability.[22]  In his early review of two decades of research on teacher expectations, Good [23] concluded that the critical element in teacher expectations was training teachers to expect to teach students effectively regardless of the child’s current performance. 

Effective leaders work collaboratively with teachers to analyse their Years 1 and 2 assessment data before setting goals or targets designed to improve achievement. They make important expectations, targets or milestones known to school trustees, teachers, students and parents. Leaders assist each of these groups to understand how they can help children achieve the agreed expectations.

Monitoring student achievement and progress is a key area of accountability for school leaders and boards. Inquiry-focused leaders develop a professional and reflective school climate where teachers and trustees are encouraged to examine achievement data to decide where learning and teaching improvements are needed. They are highly interested in how well students are developing and progressing as readers and writers from when they start school.