08 Ensuring more children achieve success when initially learning to read

ERO’s report, Reading and writing in Years 1 and 2 (2009) highlighted the need for teachers, schools leaders and board members to be clear about their important roles in setting achievement expectations and monitoring how their teaching practices and processes help Years 1 and 2 children to be successful young readers and writers.

Leaders at HOKOWHITU SCHOOL aimed to increase the numbers of children achieving well in reading by improving their reading programmes in Year 1. Teachers collaboratively analysed their reading data and focused their Professional Learning and Development (PLD) and changes in practice on the specific needs they identified.

They also extended intervention programmes they knew worked to make them core programmes for more children. They set clear expectations for the skills children should master as they moved through the junior readers.

This narrative shares some of their strategies, data analysis processes and teaching expectations.

During the previous five years, the school had gone through considerable leadership, teaching and environmental changes. Teaching was now more innovative, taking place in flexible learning spaces where children at most year levels worked in teaching pods with three teachers. The children had increased choice about how and what to learn. Crucially, robust systems were put in place to make sure evidence informed all initiatives and changes to practice. Leaders carefully monitored impacts, and extended successful changes across the school so they became expected practice.

Although much of the teachers’ PLD had an across-the-school focus, the key changes in reading occurred for children in Year 1. Leaders wanted all children to have early success in reading that they could then build on in future years. They were not satisfied with the reading results they were getting and believed that if more children were successful in Year 1, more children would be successful in Years 5 and 6.

Planning the developments

During 2014, teachers and leaders looked carefully at the reading data for five- and six-year-old children, and saw that teachers had to support many children to catch up in their second year at school. Less than 60 percent of children had reached the expected reading level when they turned six. By the time children turned seven, about 80 percent reached the expected reading level, but some of them weren’t able to sustain their improvements.

Leaders noticed a discrepancy between the identified reading levels of some children. The levels identified by the Reading Recovery teacher were often higher than those identified by the pod teachers. Leaders also saw that sometimes children’s progress wasn’t sustained after they were withdrawn from the Reading Recovery programme. They wanted to have more children succeed in the teaching pods with fewer requiring withdrawal from their class for intervention programmes.

In 2015, the board of trustees set an annual school improvement target to have all learners reach or exceed the reading expectations after their first 40 weeks at school. Before the start of the school year, leaders met with the teachers from the Year 1 teaching team and the Reading Recovery Teacher and decided to take the following actions to make the desired improvements:

  • Access and implement PLD to improve the links from reading to writing, and to access any other reading PLD available.
  • Introduce parent education sessions for parents of four- and five-year-old children.
  • Improve the monitoring of children’s progress and introduce portable data boards to highlight progress to discuss at team meetings.
  • Teachers were to view the practice of colleagues and/or specialists teachers of reading.

Monitoring expectations

  • All students to have a running record completed within two weeks of starting school.
  • Regular discussions at staff/team meetings about reading skills, motivational text and experience.
  • Team leaders to minute discussions/findings/results about reading from team meetings and share with senior leadership team.
  • Data analysed and reported to board in March, July and November.
  • Reflection at leadership level – how are we going, who needs more support, who is having real success we should be learning from?
  • Support for teachers who have students not making progress with the expected parameters.

Resourcing expectations

  • New reader/resources specifically targeting beginning readers.
  • Time to release staff for observations and feedback

The monitoring focused on both the children’s and teachers’ progress. Leaders were keen to not only support teachers with additional PLD, but wanted to learn from the teaching responses that had contributed to the greatest improvements.

Collaborative analysis of assessment data collected in March identified two issues. The first was that many children had difficulty with one-to-one finger pointing when they started school. They introduced more one-to-one pointing activities with colour charts and mathematics activities to help reinforce this skill.

The second issue came from an analysis of the Observation Survey (Six year-net) results. Some of the children who scored within the expected stanines, for most of the subtests, had been previously identified as reading well below the expected reading level. The teachers discussed the discrepancies and ways to resolve them.

Setting and monitoring the expectations

Teachers then attended a series of PLD workshops about reading along with other PLD provided by their regional Reading Association. The workshops provided teachers with a wide range of deliberate acts of teaching to focus on as children progressed through the junior reading levels. Leaders added these practices into the school’s curriculum guidelines that detailed teaching expectations. Below are the reading strategies emphasised in their curriculum that were relative to some of the junior reading levels.

Colour/Level Strategies Knowledge 


Level 1-2

  • Read the picture, images.
  • Think before you read, as you are reading and when you have finished.
  • Notice whether words and pictures match.
  • Practise high frequency words.
  • Attempt high frequency words.
  • Attempt words that make sense.
  • Cross checking.
  • Aware of alphabet and letter having more than one sound.
  • Understands what a picture is.
  • Knows the picture conveys a message.
  • One-to-one word finger pointing.
  • Concepts about print e.g. left to right.
  • Knows how words are organised e.g. letters go from left to right.
  • Story makes sense and sounds right.
  • Learn letters and sounds.
  • Uses a variety of strategies.


Level 3-5

  • Uses chunks at the beginning and end of a word.
  • Uses blends.
  • Beginning to use punctunation to enhance reading.
  • Re running.
  • Uses all strategies to help to read.
  • Recognise words endings.
  • Letter represent sounds in 2 letter words.
  • Knows basic punctuation e.g. quote marks and full stops.
  • Tracking.
  • Stops at the end of a sentence.
  • Scoop words and phrases.
  • Knows what a sentence is.
  • Acknowledges and practises using a variety of strategies.

Dark Blue

Level 9-11

  • Chunking.
  • Decode simple, irregular words.
  • Recognise high frequency words.
  • Check to see if a big word is a compound word.
  • Try a range of strategies. 
  • First sound chunk.
  • Endings: s, ed, ing ,ly.
  • Two consonants, chop it e.g. rab/bit. 
  • Magic “e” on the end of a word.
  • Chunks e.g. oo, un, in, it.
  • New high frequency words, along, around about.
  • “y” on the end of a word says “ee”.

Teachers also used the processing behaviours described in pages 10 and 11 of The Literacy Learning Progressions to remind them of other processes children should be becoming confident with during their first year at school.

Teachers increased their monitoring and urgency for all children to succeed. They created a data board that identified the names and reading levels of children that weren’t making the expected progress. During team meetings, teachers referred to the data board and each child’s progress was discussed. Teachers reviewed their current practices and suggested other teaching practices to support the children. Children as young as five years and two months were identified to start instructional interventions that focused on early literacy related sub-skills such as alphabet sounds and names. Collaborative analysis of data helped identify successful strategies as well as individual children’s progress and achievement.

Leaders identified one programme where considerable success was evident and extended this to more children. The programme provided groups of children with early decoding strategies through a greater emphasis on mastery of letter sounds and names, and high frequency words. Teacher aides originally took a 15 to 20 minute daily Early Words programme they had adapted from other programmes. However, once the positive results were evident, leaders changed the programme from an intervention to part of the core teaching programme so the successful strategies would benefit more children. Details of their Early Words programme are shared below.

The school’s own adapted Early words programme

The programme included children learning and practising the following:

  • letter SOUNDS (followed by letter names)
  • the correct formation of lower case letters
  • segmenting of sounds in words followed by the blending of sounds to problem solve an unknown word
  • HEART words (words that learners need to know ‘off by heart’ asou can’t use letter sounds to solve the words e.g. the, was) are learned to be recognised and written instantly and are spelled aloud using the letter names
  • other basic words are solved and remembered through the segmenting/ 

Improvements weren’t immediately evident during the trialling and introduction of many of the strategies in 2015. However, considerable progress occurred in 2016. The percentage of children achieving the expected level soon after the programme was introduced in 2015 and then by the end of 2016 are presented below.

Percentage of Year 1 children achieving the Reading National Standards
Well below Below At Above Total at or above


After 40 weeks
3% 52% 34% 11% 45%


After 40 weeks
2% 30% 44% 38% 68%

Leaders expect these improvements will positively influence the numbers of children enjoying reading and achieving successfully in Years 2 to 6.