02 Responsive programmes to help readers’ engagement and success

ERO’s 2013 report, Accelerating the Progress of Priority Learners in Primary Schools emphasises the important role of leaders in accelerating learning. Leaders in the most successful schools communicated a clear vision that all students were able to succeed. They promoted an inquiry-based teaching and learning approach to focus on teaching practices that needed to improve for students not succeeding.

Leaders and teachers at BLEDISLOE SCHOOL worked together to accelerate learning. They trialled new strategies and collaboratively used data to assess the impact of their trials. They also changed from applying a remedial model, where children needing additional support were withdrawn, to one where every teacher was responsible for making sure all children could succeed.

This narrative shares some of the engaging learning activities they implemented and the ways they worked together to make sure more children enjoyed, and achieved in, reading.

Leaders at the school encouraged reflective practice by both children and staff. Teachers looked carefully at their data and sought new strategies when they saw groups of children who were not achieving well. They had also worked together to implement consistent practices across the school so children could apply the strategies they had learnt in a previous class.

Improving phonological awareness in Years 1 and 2

In the junior school, the early focus on phonological awareness (particularly letter sounds and phonemes) helped teachers achieve their aim to get children progressing through the early reading levels quickly. Leaders wanted more children to move from learning to read to reading to learn earlier. They also wanted children to have an increased ability to make spelling attempts when writing to extend the vocabulary they used in their writing. They introduced the changes as extra reading activities to complement what they were learning about comprehension and other reading strategies during their daily instructional reading programmes.

Before introducing the changes to their reading programme, teachers observed practices in another local school where improvements were already evident. They also worked with their Resource Teacher: Learning and Behaviour (RTLB) and sent three teachers to a phonics training course. Teachers then trialled the changes and completed six-weekly testing of all children to measure progress. The programme was then fully implemented in the junior school.

Four days a week children spent 20 minutes on phonics activities focused on early decoding and identifying chunks in words. ERO observed children excitedly participating in activities with actions and rhymes that challenged them. Children also explained to us how they applied their learning from the phonics activities during instructional reading and other shared reading they did each day. We observed short lessons focusing on phonemes in some classes. Part of a lesson with Year 1 children is described overleaf.

The children were asked to write the word ‘drat’ on their mini white boards. They then held up their word to see if it matched the teacher’s word. Next they were asked to change the letter ‘t’ for a ‘g’ and read the new word (drag). They practised exchanging other consonants and then the vowels in their new words. Their final challenge was to write the sentence ‘the drop went drip in the cup’. Children excitedly discussed the sentence that they described as a bit crazy before they each wrote the sentence. The fast finishers were given a related activity to work on while the teacher stayed with the slower finishers to encourage and prompt them further. Every child was expected to complete the sentence.

The five-year-old children settled to the independent activity quickly. The teacher recognised that two girls who had been away the previous day needed help to start the activity. However, the teacher clearly wanted to stay working with the slow finishers. She asked the next child that finished to teach the two girls what to do.

The child teacher took the two girls to a table alone and quickly explained the following. ‘You have to read the sound and then the words and then circle the words with the same sound.’ One girl said ‘I’ve got it’ and went away.

The child teacher then explained the activity in more depth. ‘Here is the sound at the beginning of the line. You read that and then you read all the other words in the line to check and then circle the one with that sound.’ The second girl said ‘I’ve got it’ and went away.

As soon as the teacher had finished with the slow finishers, she called out to the two girls to come to her for help. They explained that they knew what to do already.

Children’s Six-year-net results had considerably improved as shown here.

Six-year-net data comparison: Hearing and recording sounds in words.
Number and percentage of children
Stanine Pre phonics intervention Post intervention start 1 year on intervention embedded Term 1-2, 2016
Number Percent Number Percent Number Percent
1-4 14 52% 2 5% 2 9%
5 3 12% 5 12% 3 14%
6 2 8% 6 14% 3 14%
7 3 12% 8 32% 7 33%
8 1 4% 0 0% 0 0%
9 3 12% 15 37% 6 27%

Teachers had also seen an increase in writing achievement.




at or above



at or above

Year 1 children 39% 66%
Year 2 children 45% 68%

Reading engagement and comprehension in Years 5 and 6

Grouping in classrooms was flexible, depending on the learning purpose, interests and abilities of the children. The multi level group activities also helped every child to engage with texts that interested children of their age group. Teachers made sure the reading activities were interesting and complex enough for the less capable readers to fully explore text and improve their comprehension. Short, sharp and explicit teaching motivated and engaged students.

“We don’t just read the same type of books. We read classic and non fiction books as well as other interesting stuff. It’s always interesting to look at a great variety of books. At the moment we are reading a compilation of children’s writing. We are going to do an e-asTTle test in a few weeks and it is good to have really looked at others kids’ good writing.”

Year 6 child

Children enjoyed the many opportunities to choose which of the groups they would be in and which novels they would study. They took on different roles during activities like literacy circles. Video clips with reading and discussion were particularly popular. Teachers were seen as facilitators, ‘checkers’, and ‘go to people’, rather than the fixer up or the doer for students. They empowered students to help their peers with their learning.

“The best thing we have done in reading this year is the literacy circles because we all get to have different roles and work with other kids. Sometimes you might be the illustrator or the connector who makes connections from the story to our own lives. Other times you can be the ‘word master’ or the ‘passage picker’ or the ‘discussion director’. The discussion director thinks up questions that the rest

of us race to be the first to answer. The questions have to be open questions so they are hard enough to make us think.”

Year 6 child

Teachers had reviewed and reduced the number of reading assessments they used. They wanted to know what they should spend time teaching and what the children already knew. They also aimed to fully use the information gained from a small number of assessments rather than collect a lot of information that wasn’t fully used. Teachers accessed a New Zealand Council of Educational Research (NZCER) webinar to extend their data literacy and analysis from some of the standardised Progressive and Achievement Tests (PAT) they used. They looked for and noticed achievement patterns and trends and then together planned teaching to address the gaps identified. Thoroughly examining questions children struggled with helped them to decide on the deliberate teaching they should focus on.

“We think about what the children would have needed to be able to answer that question correctly. Doing this has provided us with useful insights to plan activities that will help them to do better and match with their interests.”


Teachers also selected assessment tasks to check how well children applied the strategies focused on. ERO evaluators attended a syndicate meeting where a teacher shared the results from a recent assessment. The task focused on children’s confidence answering inference questions and was selected from the Assessment Resource Banks (ARBs). The teacher acknowledged that she should still continue the focus with many of the children she was working with who needed to accelerate their progress.

ERO observed an in‑class intervention with a small group of children who needed extra support to read successfully. The new approach (described below) was trialled and implemented with small groups of children in all Years 5 and 6 classes. 

This photo is of a teacher helping four students to read successfully

This group of children were participating in the same types of activities that are described in the observation shared below. Here they are decoding complex words from their text. 

The deliberate acts of teaching lesson focused on decoding and fluency using text that would interest the children and matched their chronological age. Most of the children in the group were Māori. The story they read featured a historic event involving the Māori Battalion. The teacher aimed to increase the children’s motivation and engagement by incorporating values, perspectives and knowledge from their own culture into their learning activities.

The teacher’s deliberate modelling, prompting, questioning, explaining, directing and feedback meant the children could read the challenging text fluently by the end of the short teaching session.

First they worked on decoding

Before they began reading the first passage, the teacher and the children skim read to identify words and phrases that might be challenging. Together they identified a small list of words the teacher wrote down. The children wrote all of the words from the list they didn’t know on their mini whiteboard. One girl said she knew all but one word, and wrote the word ‘mythical’. The teacher directed the children to break their words into chunks and solve them. They then worked together to solve the word ‘mythical’. They worked out 'myth' and a child explained what a myth was. They solved the rest of the word. The teacher asked what a mythical creature would be and they shared their ideas.

They then looked at and discussed the pictures on their next page before looking at the list of possible challenging words in that passage.

Next they focused on fluency

The teacher read the story to them to model the fluency she expected. Next, the teacher prompted the children to look at the pictures and find the characters or events in the story from the picture. The children discussed them and made links to their own lives and their prior knowledge.

The children then read the story aloud with the teacher. As they had already solved most of the complex words, they were able to read fluently with the teacher. They had difficulty decoding one word that they quickly solved, and moved on.

The children then read the passage aloud without the teacher.

They read fluently and all the voices could be heard reading even the most challenging words. They then went away to read the story by themselves.


The teacher told us the deliberate teaching actions and fast-paced timing of the lesson felt contrived at the beginning, but after seeing how much the children were improving, the reasoning behind the actions became clearer.

The children said they knew they were better readers because they could read harder stories and books now.

The teacher responded to the children’s strengths, needs and interests well by:

  • carefully selecting texts that matched their interests and would engage them
  • identifying the words they would have difficulty decoding
  • enabling them to explain the strategies they successfully used
  • providing them with the strategies to successfully read texts matched to their chronological age.

The photograph below is one of a series prominently displayed at the school. It shows the whole school reading together and highlights the emphasis place on reading success.

This photo is all the students sitting outside reading on the grass