The skillful use of instructional teaching, using different methods and contexts, is essential in the teaching of both reading and writing. Each child starting school comes from different social settings, has already developed varying literacy perspectives and is likely to progress through differing routes from his or her peers. Therefore, teachers need an in-depth understanding of the theories and content knowledge they can use for each of those children to learn to read and write successfully.

Effective teaching is complemented by regular and systematic assessments that allow teachers to make overall judgements about how children achieve and progress. The information gained from assessment helps teachers to focus their teaching on the learning needs of individuals and groups of children. This may require alterations to the way they teach or changes to the resources used in their teaching. Assessment information can also influence the expectations teachers have of and for children, and can help them to involve both children and parents in the learning process.

In this evaluation, ERO considered the following questions when making judgements about how well teachers of Years 1 and 2 managed their reading programmes.

The key focus questions were:

  • How well do teachers in Years 1 and 2 classes use reading assessments to inform their teaching?
  • How well do teachers in Years 1 and 2 classes use instructional teaching strategies in their classrooms?
  • What is the overall quality of teaching of reading in Years 1 and 2 classes?

What was not working well

A lack of confidence in use of instructional reading strategies limited some teachers’ ability to implement a variety of teaching methods. In some instances, inexperienced literacy teachers new to the school were given responsibility for teaching in the critical Years 1 and 2 class levels, despite the fact that other teachers in the school had recently completed extensive literacy PLD. Beginning teachers, still effectively in training, were also given charge of junior children’s reading programmes. Teachers were often not given time to share effective teaching strategies or resources during syndicate or staff meetings. As a result they were not fully aware of the range of junior school texts or strategies they could use.

Reading programmes and materials in some classes were not well linked to children’s needs or interests. Whole-class teaching for the entire lesson meant children were not given targeted reading opportunities at their level. In some instances, they had no formal instructional reading and mainly participated in independent activities or unstructured one-to-one reading with the teacher. In some cases children read aloud around the group or participated in ‘echo reading’, where they read back a passage the teacher had just read to them. While these examples involve children in reading, they highlight a lack of understanding about effective instructional reading practice and give the children little more than an activity to fill time.

Ineffective teachers did not plan specifically for instructional teaching by matching the activities to the children’s identified needs. Planning notes usually included the names of the text for each group without outlining a specific teaching focus to target an observed reading behaviour. Teachers’ decisions about the strategies to use during the lesson were made entirely ‘on-the-run’ with no opportunities to respond to learning needs in a carefully considered manner. In some group lessons children were introduced to a considerable array of ideas but given little time to embed or practise new skills before being introduced to another focus. Follow-up tasks often bore no link to the teaching session and did not provide a chance to use the knowledge gained during the lesson.

Problems with effective classroom management limited some teachers’ ability to implement a high-quality reading programme. Teachers attempted to work with each of their six or seven reading groups every day. The small amount of time spent with each group limited children’s opportunities to discuss and understand the text or practise any new skills introduced to them. Teachers set independent activities (like colouring in worksheets or using blocks for construction) that involved no reading and were chosen to keep children busy while they endeavoured to manage all of their groups. The activities were not literacy-based and lacked sufficient challenge for the more capable children. Poor behaviour, resulting from a lack of interest or motivation, caused disruption to other children’s learning.

Examples of ineffective teaching of reading strategies

Contributing primary, urban, small, low decile:

The reading programme is based entirely on Jolly Phonics, Talk to Learn and letter-sound knowledge activities. The teacher has little knowledge of other instructional reading strategies.

Contributing primary, rural, small, medium decile:

In one class, where children achieve at a wide range of reading levels, all take part in one guided reading lesson irrespective of their abilities. They focus on the picture, sound out words, and try to work out what happens next in the story. The teacher then hears individual children read and talks to the children about any errors she notices. In the other class all children sound out vowel sounds, initial sounds and high frequency words together whether they know them or not. Then they work in small groups where they take turns to read aloud to the teacher, practise sounding out words and use pictures to help solve new words. In both classes the lesson has a narrow focus on only a small number of children’s reading levels and abilities.

The overall quality of teaching of reading in Years 1 and 2

ERO found a wide range in the quality of reading teaching across and within some schools. Many children benefited from the highest quality teaching that enabled them to achieve to the advanced reading levels shown in New Zealand’s PIRLs results. However, in some classes, poor quality teaching disadvantaged children who therefore did not develop or acquire essential early reading knowledge and skills.

Figure 1 shows that the overall quality of the teaching of reading in Years 1 and 2 was either high or good quality in 69 percent of the schools. There was a considerable difference in the quality of the teaching of reading in nearly a third of the remaining schools. In 21 percent of schools the quality of the reading programme was adequate, and in the remaining 10 percent it was limited.

Figure 1: Overall quality of teaching of reading

This is a bar graph. The y axis is called percent of school and is ranged from 0-100 at intervals of 20. The x axis has four labels they are High 26%, Good 43%, Adequate 21% and Limited 10%.

Using reading assessments in Years 1 and 2 to inform teaching

Effective reading assessment involves the process of collecting, analysing and using information about what children know and can do. Teachers with rich information about children’s reading knowledge and skills can actively involve them in their learning by helping them understand what they need to do next to progress. They can also collect or share assessment information with parents and whānau to help children’s reading at home.

Teachers collect information about how well their children are doing 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 they need, and how they can best use these to help them plan for, and monitor, children’s achievement and progress. ERO asked how well teachers used their reading assessments to help teach reading.

Figure 2: Teachers’ use of reading assessment to inform teaching

This is a bar graph. The y axis is called percent of teachers and is ranged from 0-100 at intervals of 20. The x axis has four labels they are Very good use 32%, Good use 35%, Some use 26% and Little use 7%.

Figure 2 shows that teachers in just over two-thirds of schools made good or very good use of their assessments to plan and evaluate reading programmes, and share information with parents and children. This result compares favourably with ERO’s March 2007 report The Collection and Use of Assessment Information in Schools [11] which found 52 percent of schools used assessments to guide teaching and learning. Just over a quarter of schools made some use of assessments they collected, while seven percent made little use of the reading data.

Whats working well in schools

In effective schools teachers discussed achievement data together and used it to reflect on how well children were progressing. These regular discussions, as a team or whole-school staff, helped them identify rates of progress and examine and share the teaching practices used to bring about improvements. Formal team or syndicate reflection also helped teachers focus on children needing extra support or to highlight the need to modify aspects of the teaching programme. Teachers were successfully using the ‘Teaching as Inquiry’ process [12] to discuss the effectiveness of their teaching.

Good data analysis and interpretation helped teachers decide on teaching objectives, set group and individual learning goals, and identify specific reading behaviours to focus on. Teachers used additional, or more specific, assessments to focus on children who were not making expected progress. They targeted additional instruction and monitoring for these children. Formal assessments were often accompanied by teachers’ anecdotal jottings and observations about significant needs or successes observed during a lesson.

Data was used to form instructional reading groups that were flexible enough to cater for children’s changing levels of progress and learning needs. Teachers combined data from formal assessments with judgements made during daily reading instruction to decide on, or modify, specific teaching practices.

Both teachers and school leaders had a sense of urgency about increasing children’s abilities to develop as a reader. In some schools, records from early childhood education were taken into account and additional assessments undertaken as part of the transition to school. In other cases formal assessments were collected as soon as possible after the children started school, and repeated at six months, and then a year later, to make comparisons and highlight the next development steps.

Teachers represented graphically how they chose to monitor each individual child’s mastery of reading levels. Diagnostic Observation Survey (six-year net) results were thoroughly analysed to identify the teaching practices making the most difference and, adjust programmes where necessary.

Professional development increased teachers’ assessment capability and confidence. Some schools sought help from external professional development providers. In many cases they identified a literacy leader in their school, with particular expertise and gave additional time for this lead person to work with teachers at a team or school-wide level for improvement.

In some schools, teachers learned together through sharing and reflecting on a range of professional literature including Effective Literacy Practice in Years 1 to 4. [13] Teachers’ appraisal goals were linked to agreed outcomes from professional development, or were selected to align with school targets focused on improving children’s reading achievement.

Teachers recognised the need for, and actively encouraged, learning partnerships with children and parents. They made learning explicit to both children and parents by discussing learning goals and expected outcomes and the criteria by which children could achieve success. Teachers made good use of modelling books, children’s portfolios and daily notebooks.

Parents were invited to the school to discuss and set goals based on information collected from school entry tests, the six-year net and other assessments. As part of formal reporting, parents and families were given accurate information about their child’s reading levels. This was often accompanied by an outline of what they needed to achieve next. Daily notebooks explained ideas parents could use to support their child and provided information to help them track progress. Parents were well informed about their child’s reading achievement and progress.

Examples of using reading assessment effectively

Composite school, urban, large, middle decile:

Years 1 and 2 teachers have worked together with other junior staff to develop an agreed approach to collecting and using assessments. An assessment schedule is closely followed. A new-entrant check, one month after the child starts school is used to assesses the child’s knowledge of any sight words, alphabet names and sounds, their understanding of concepts about print, and how well they listen and speak. Reading running records are analysed to show children’s progress through the book levels and the skills they are using well, or need to practise more.

Contributing primary, rural, medium size, high decile:

Teachers gather and share data with each other to increase their overall knowledge of the children. They use the information to decide which children need one-to-one teaching or extra small group teaching sessions in the classroom. These small group sessions focus on children’s development of strategies for decoding text, reading fluently, exploring meaning and increasing vocabulary. Targeted children have individual reading plans and these are shared with other teachers in the syndicate and with parents. The plans are well monitored and reviewed as children master their developing skills.

What were teachers using to assess reading?

Ninety-nine percent of the schools that completed ERO’s school questionnaire used running records to observe reading behaviours and monitor rates of progress. Ninety-two percent used the six-year-net tests to gather information about children after a year at school. Sixty-five percent were using some type of assessment procedure before the children started school or within the first month. Some designed their own literacy tests, modified parts of School Entry Assessment (SEA) or were using the Observation Survey and comparing results with the norms for five-year-old children.

Teachers used a range of other informal and formal assessments to identify children’s knowledge of letter names and sounds, decoding skills, reading comprehension and oral language.

Other assessment tools cited by schools for use with Years 1 and 2 in assessing reading included:

  • information from the child’s early childhood education portfolio;
  • high frequency word-sight word lists;
  • BURT word reading test;
  • Supplementary Test of Achievement in Reading (STAR); [14]
  • Abecedarian Reading Assessment;
  • Joy Allcock Phonological Awareness;
  • Performance Indicators in Primary School (PIPS);
  • Jolly Phonics assessments;
  • Perceptual Motor Programme (PMP) assessments;
  • Rainbow Reading assessments;
  • phonemic awareness tests;
  • ‘Chunk Check Cheer’ test;
  • New Zealand Basic Word test;
  • Korakonui Sight Words;
  • TALES (oral language test);
  • Pseudoword Test;
  • Phonological Awareness Screening test;
  • McCarthy and Kirk test;
  • Cloze tests; and
  • Junior Oral Language screening tool (JOST).

Using instructional reading strategies in the classroom

Effective teachers create a learning environment that is positive, responsive to the needs of diverse children and focused on success. They have a passion for reading that is reflected in how they teach, how they involve children in their learning and the interesting and motivating literacy activities they provide. Their interactions with children and their moment-by-moment decisions and actions are critical influences, in the quality of children’s learning.

Effective teachers know about successful methods for teaching reading and how to modify or change these when necessary. They also recognise that effective teaching requires deliberate instruction, balanced with opportunities for children to use the skills they have learnt by providing time to read for enjoyment, and to learn across the curriculum.

The amount of time spent on reading programmes varied across the schools that completed the questionnaire. Fifty-seven percent of schools allocated between three and six hours a week for Year 1 children’s reading, and 64 percent gave the same amount of time to reading for Year 2 children. In both year groups 23 percent of schools spent more than six hours a week on reading programmes. It was difficult to find out how much time was spent on instructional teaching compared to reading related activities.

In investigating the use of instructional reading strategies, ERO considered how well teachers:

  • decided on and used instructional reading strategies to meet children’s identified needs and interests; and
  • engaged their children in reading.

Children took part in regularly timetabled reading lessons in all of the schools. In most classes a structured programme included components such as guided reading lessons, shared reading opportunities and a variety of independent activities. In some classes, parent helpers and teacher aides assisted children in independent and group activities.

Figure 3: Teachers’ use of instructional reading strategies

This is a bar graph. The y axis is called percent of teachers and is ranged from 0-100 at intervals of 20. The x axis has four labels they are Very good use 33%, Good use 37%, Some use 21% and Little use 9%.Figure 3 shows that high quality teaching of reading was observed in a third of the schools. In a further 37 percent, teachers made good use of instructional reading strategies within their classrooms. Twenty-one percent made some use of instructional strategies and nine percent demonstrated little confidence with the teaching of reading. The quality and range of instructional reading strategies varied between and within schools.

What was working well in schools

Lessons and activities were based on the diagnosed needs of individuals and groups of children. Lead teachers and or school leaders shared and discussed ideas, instances and effective strategies. They read literature about best teaching practice and discussed these aspects together. Teachers with reading expertise modelled effective practice and mentored colleagues to develop their confidence in using an increasing set of teaching strategies.

Many teachers were highly enthusiastic and displayed a sense of excitement about reading. They combined approaches such as whole language, emphasising meaning and strategy instruction, and phonics-based methods of teaching to cater for their children’s diverse needs. They decided on the appropriateness of their method of teaching based on their diagnoses of children’s needs. Teachers encouraged children’s curiosity about the pictures, text, stories and ideas in their reading books.

Teachers demonstrated an extensive repertoire of reading strategies and an awareness of the knowledge and skills children need to develop as successful readers. They encouraged children’s enjoyment of, and interest in rhyme, rhythm and humour to capture their interest and help them understand word patterns. Teachers used effective questioning to help children’s oral language development. They encouraged them to share ideas, increase their understanding of what they were reading, and explore the meaning of new words. They provided children with opportunities to re read known stories independently or with their buddies.

Children knew what the lesson was about. Teachers made this clear to them and revisited the purpose and goals during the lesson or activity. Modelling books were used to highlight the learning focus and reading behaviour children would use to succeed. Teachers recognised a teachable moment and responded to learning needs as they arose. Follow-up or response activities were carefully selected to help children practise the skills focused on during the guided reading lesson.Well-paced lessons helped children to maintain enthusiasm for the learning task and successfully complete selected activities. Teachers ensured that children were reading, or using print, during every moment of the reading lesson. Children had plentiful and appropriately levelled texts in their reading boxes, big books, poetry cards, reading games and in class and school libraries. In addition children had supporting activities such as letter and word games, and used technology that involved reading, viewing and listening. Displayed reading goals, modelling books and task boards gave visual prompts encouraging children to read or use print independently while the teacher was involved with other groups of children.

Teachers communicated effectively with other adults who helped children during reading programmes. Parent helpers or teacher aides were given focused training from the class teacher or literacy leaders. Adult helpers roved among groups to take part in word games, hear individual children read and help those still developing their independence. Some teacher aides skilfully led guided reading lessons so that children had frequent opportunities to explore and discuss texts with an adult. Regular communication between teachers, parent helpers and teacher aides ensured that all parties clearly understood how they could assist children with their reading goals.

Examples of effective use of reading strategies

Contributing primary, urban, medium size, high decile:Teacher planning and programmes show teachers using deliberate acts of teaching through modelling, prompting, questioning, giving feedback, telling, explaining and directing. Teachers identify the learning focus for children to give them opportunities to read, search, make predictions, cross check or confirm their ideas, self correct and fully understand text. Learning intentions are constantly shared and discussed with children who are then given many opportunities to practise the newly introduced skills.

Contributing primary, urban, large, medium decile:

Teachers structure guided reading lessons to improve children’s decoding, reading comprehension and fluency. Teaching includes such features as poetry and rhyme concepts, reading at listening posts, reading from book boxes and texts displayed around the room, alphabet matching, and sequencing pictures from a story. Children use big books, shared books, poetry and rhymes to encourage oral language development and confidence with decoding words with similar sound patterns. Texts are appropriately levelled and selected so children’s prior knowledge and interests are used to encourage in-depth discussions about the likely content and meaning of the books they read.

What was not working well

Less effective teachers kept sporadic or incomplete reading assessments. These were often collected by someone other than the classroom teacher and not shared with or used by the teacher to assist with their day-to-day teaching. Assessments were often limited to testing children’s mastery of word lists or their ability to name the letters of the alphabet, and were unlikely to contribute to a rich reading programme. Teachers either undertook few running records of reading, or did not use them as a diagnostic tool. Where they were used, it was usually to identify the children’s reading level.

No processes were in place to highlight progress over time. Infrequent or poorly used formal assessments meant some children were given text that was too difficult or not challenging enough for them to read and understand.

Assessments were not always used to plan for differentiated learning needs or levels. Some teachers collected data about knowledge of letter sounds and names but then involved all children in ‘letter of the week’ activities, despite data indicating that some children already knew the letters well. Similarly, the practice of having every child learn the actions and sounds for letters in commercially-produced phonics programmes ignored children’s letter-sound knowledge and bored those ready to attempt more advanced reading skills. Some teachers used supplementary worksheet activities with no links to assessed or identified needs. Whole-class teaching, for the entire reading lesson, highlighted some teachers’ limited understanding of the use of assessment data and the rationale for it.

Assessment findings were not always discussed with parents or children. Children’s portfolios sometimes included reading samples, but had little or no additional information parents could use to identify their child’s progress or what they were expected to be learning.

Reports provided only general comments about children’s levels of enjoyment, attitudes or reading behaviour. Some report and interview comments were made without reference to recent assessments. Although parents had many informal opportunities to find out about their child’s reading, some did not know about their child’s achievement or progress. Children’s lack of awareness about their progress, and/or how they could improve, reduced motivation and enthusiasm for reading.

Some teachers worked in isolation without having the opportunity to share or discuss reading achievement and teaching practices with others. A lack of collaborative discussion about reading assessments resulted in variability in the quality of reading programmes evident across the junior classes.

Size made it difficult for very small schools to share assessment information. In these schools the junior teacher often worked in relative isolation. However ERO found some small schools where assessments were reflected on and used to improve teaching. These teachers found ways to discuss children’s reading assessments with a teacher in the senior school or the principal release teacher to encourage more collaborative decision making.

Examples of where reading assessments were not used well

Contributing primary, urban, small, high decile:

Reading running records are undertaken at on a termly basis and results about reading level and accuracy are recorded in class roll books. Running records are not used to identify ways that the children may have used to work out words and sentences, and make sense of the text. One of the three Years 1 and 2 teachers plots her class results on a graph to track the reading levels. At an unspecified time after school entry, children’s concepts about print (CAP) are tested, but this test is not carried out or used by the class teacher. The six-year net scores are filed in the relevant file by the Reading Recovery teacher and are only used to identify possible candidates for Reading Recovery.

Contributing primary, urban, medium size, low decile:

Staff had some external professional development in 2007 to assist them in administering and using running records. No additional running record professional development has occurred since then to help teachers develop their skills, despite new staff teaching in the junior syndicate (some without junior experience). Running records are analysed to find the suggested reading level for each child. However, variability between classes is evident in the quality of analysis of the data and the interpretation of children’s strengths and needs. Data for children in 2008 was inaccurate. Children were assessed at much lower levels than they were actually achieving. This poor assessment limited the progress children made in the following year.

Professional learning and development teachers had engaged in to support instructional reading programmes

Sixty-two percent of the schools that completed the school questionnaire had participated in some type of professional learning and development (PLD) in reading during 2007 and/or 2008. The period of time given to PLD in reading varied considerably. In some cases the PLD had been undertaken for a year or more or for a school term, while in other instances teachers may have attended one seminar, a conference or one staff meeting where reading was discussed. Table 1 shows the main types of PLD that schools reported their teachers had undertaken.

Table 1: Professional learning and development in reading

Professional learning and development activity 2008 2007
General literacy 32% 29%
Reading Recovery (targeted) 13% 5%
General reading 14% 9%
Literacy Progressions 11% 1%
Phonics 12% 15%
AToL [15] reading focus 7% 5%
Running records 6% 2%
Literacy Lead Teacher 5% 2%
Analysis of data 1% -
Dyslexia/reading disability 1% -
Early literacy 1% 2%

General literacy included Ministry of Education PLD contracts that focused on both reading and writing. Resource teachers: literacy (RT:Lit), Resource Teachers of Learning and Behaviour (RTLB), Literacy Development Officers and literacy advisors were also used to lead PLD in general reading developments. This category also included schools where teachers had worked together to become familiar with using the strategies or assessments outlined in the draft Literacy Learning Progressions [16]and Effective Literacy Practice in Years 1 to 4.General reading PLD included using assessment to plan programmes, guided or shared reading, or lead teachers participating in university study focused on the teaching of reading.