Advocacy Literacy Research

National Strategy for Early Literacy – A Canadian Perspective

Over the past decade numerous reports and inquiries have been commissioned by Governments worldwide to investigate and report on the incidence and prevention of literacy failure. Inevitably these initiatives result in recommendations targeting the early years; a reflection of the truism that ‘prevention is better than cure’.  A common theme in the reports tabled in the USA, the UK, Australia and New Zealand is the need to provide instruction that is evidence-based. In addition, the need to improve the quality of literacy-related instruction through access to improved teaching resources, clearly articulated curricula and teacher knowledge is stressed. Central to all the reports is the need to improve pre-service and in-service training in the areas of reading development and reading instruction.

Canada is the most recent English-speaking country to develop a nation-wide response to the growing incidence of literacy failure. The report entitled National Strategy for Early Literacy was prepared by the Canadian Language and Literacy Research Network and was tabled in Parliament in October of 2009. As with earlier reports there is a strong emphasis on evidence-based practice and, in particular, the report suggests that most literacy challenges can be prevented through an appropriate mix of: 1) effective instruction; 2) early learning experience; 3) systematic assessments (to identify any children who experience difficulty at an early age); and 4) appropriate intervention.

The following is a reduced version of the Summary Report:


Literacy impacts all aspects of modern life. For individuals, it is the foundation for academic, financial, and life success; for nations, it is the key to a healthy democracy and a flourishing economy. Adults with poor literacy skills are less successful in school, work less, and are unemployed longer. They require more social assistance and are more frequently in poorer health. Moreover, it is clear that the economic and social importance of literacy skills is increasing as our nation and workforce face increased global competition.

Barriers to Literacy Improvement

Through the inquiry process, a number of systemic and individual barriers to successful literacy outcomes for Canada’s children and youth were identified. These barriers replicate the obstacles faced by children in Australia.

Important systemic barriers include:

1. The inability of many children to access high-quality early childhood education and care programs. This creates a particular challenge for those children who are most vulnerable to poor literacy outcomes because they lack adequate supports through their home and neighbourhood environments.

2. The inability of many children to access libraries, and other supporting programs and services, again with access challenges increasing for many of the most vulnerable Canadian children.

3. The inability of many schools to identify and deal effectively with children who already lag behind their peers when they first enter school.

4. The need to improve teacher preparation in the area of reading development and reading instruction, and to improve the quality of literacy-related instruction in classrooms.

One in four Canadian children who enter Grade 1 is significantly behind his or her peers and poorly prepared to learn. This statistic demonstrates the need to improve support for early learning. The language and literacy environment of the child’s home and early learning and child care (ELCC) settings are strong determinants of early language and literacy skills. Not all children receive the support they need at home in order to be successful in school. To provide an equal opportunity for all children to grow and develop appropriately, Canada needs to invest in universally available, high quality, affordable day-care/early learning centres. Attending high quality ELCC programs can improve children’s language and literacy skills, readiness for school, and early school performance. This is especially true for children from disadvantaged backgrounds for whom quality early childhood development programs can significantly improve longer-term educational and occupational outcomes.

In addition to the need for a comprehensive, universal ELCC system to address the early learning needs of Canadian children who do not receive appropriate support and stimulation within their home, there is an urgent need to improve literacy-related instruction in schools. Currently, many children who are well prepared to learn when they enter school nevertheless fail to acquire strong literacy skills alongside their peers due to the uneven quality of literacy-related instruction. Many jurisdictions have identified the need to improve literacy instruction in schools, but progress has been slow and the education system continues to fail too many children.

It is essential that changes occur in the way that reading and writing are taught in classrooms, as classroom experience is a critically important determinant of how well children learn to read. Improving the way reading and writing are taught in Canada is therefore the single most important consideration for increasing literacy outcomes for Canadian students.

Such change requires improvements in Canada’s system for preparing new teachers and in providing continuing professional education and teacher support programs. At present, many student teachers complete their university teacher preparation programs without learning the basic scientific principles behind the development of reading skill and effective reading instruction. As a result, the substantial body of knowledge on how to teach children to read, how to identify children who have failed to acquire specific reading skills, and how to intervene effectively is not being applied in many Canadian classrooms.

At present, many student teachers complete their university teacher preparation programs without learning the basic scientific principles behind the development of reading skill and effective reading instruction. As a result, the substantial body of knowledge on how to teach children to read, how to identify children who have failed to acquire specific reading skills, and how to intervene effectively is not being applied in many Canadian classrooms.

The report includes four broad recommendations encompassing a range of underlying strategies.

1. Encourage and assist initiatives that facilitate children’s language and literacy development from a very young age.


Language skills provide the foundation for literacy skills, thus the language environment to which children are exposed from an early age is very important. Experience gained within the family home from the time that children are very young has a significant impact on their language development.

While most parents wish for the best outcomes for their children, not all home environments presently support optimal language development; these children begin to fall behind their peers from the very beginning. It is therefore important to provide appropriate guidance and support for the families of all infants and young children and to assist vulnerable children through centre-based, high-quality early learning and care settings that provide the needed language-rich environment.

Because infants and young children are in contact with the health care system from the beginning, it is natural to use this system to provide early guidance and support. Recognizing the importance of literacy for better health and life outcomes, many hospitals, physicians, paediatricians, and home visiting programs by nurses have

initiated such programs. For example, the health-care based initiatives that distribute “books to babies” provide a natural, universal, and effective channel to help parents to value, and understand how they can support the language and literacy development of their young children.

Identifying and intervening at an early age with children who are at risk for poor language, literacy and learning outcomes as a result of sensory or cognitive development factors is essential for these children’s future success. Early identification and remediation of such developmental issues can significantly improve outcomes for children and can be highly cost effective.

Poor literacy development is more likely for children living in poverty, as well as for children in certain at-risk groups. Aboriginal (First Nations, Inuit, and Métis) children are especially vulnerable to poor language and literacy outcomes and must receive opportunities for participation in enriched early learning programs. Children in families where neither English nor French is spoken could also be at risk if they are not provided with supportive environments for language and literacy development. It is particularly important for agencies having responsibility for at-risk groups to provide support as a routine component of the immigrant orientation and settlement process.

Many adults have low literacy skills or are otherwise poorly equipped to assist their children to acquire the necessary language and literacy skills. Investing in improving the skills of adults can benefit children by increasing the effectiveness of parents as their child’s first teacher.

The costs of the above initiatives are modest, and the returns on such investment are high.


1. Implement initiatives that help parents to understand the importance of their child’s language and literacy development and to engage in activities that support this development.

2. Build this guidance and support system around existing community resources that support early literacy such as hospitals, health clinics, libraries, schools, and early learning centres.

3. Facilitate the development of a system of high-quality, centre-based, enriched early learning and care programs for preschool children.

4. Ensure that pre-service and in-service training programs for early learning specialists provide a strong background on early language and literacy development.

5. Implement universal screening programs to identify important sensory and cognitive challenges at an early age (e.g., vision, hearing, language development, etc.) together with the appropriate intervention programs.

6. Develop targeted, evidence-based initiatives to improve outcomes for children in families where neither English nor French is spoken and for Aboriginal Canadians.

7. Support initiatives that improve the literacy skills of adults.

Recommendation #2:

2. Ensure that appropriate teaching strategies, shown through rigorous, evidence-based research to be effective in developing strong literacy skills, are used in all Canadian classrooms.


Once children enter school, teachers play a very important role in children’s language and literacy development.

Teachers therefore require a deep understanding of how age appropriate literacy skills are acquired, and how these can be taught. They must also understand how to evaluate weaknesses in an individual child’s literacy skills and also know the range of instructional and intervention techniques that can help the child to overcome these weaknesses. It is therefore imperative that both pre-service and in-service teacher training programs provide teachers with evidence-based knowledge on how to measure and to teach fundamental literacy skills to all children.

Teacher and resource teacher education should be based on a three-tier model for teaching children to read. Through this process, all children would receive a standard baseline of core classroom instruction, sufficient for most children to learn to read. Regular assessments would quickly identify the approximately 20% of children for whom this core instruction may have been insufficient, so that supplemental instruction can be provided before they fall far behind their peers. Further assessment and intensive intervention would then be provided for the approximately 5% of children who require this level of service.


1. Enhance teacher training programs to ensure that all graduating teachers understand: a) how children learn to read; b) what instructional methods are effective for ensuring that children acquire strong reading skills; c) how to identify a child’s specific literacy weaknesses; and d) what interventions are appropriate to address each weakness.

2. Enhance in-service training programs and within-school support services to develop such understanding and skill development among current teachers.

3. Ensure that each school and school board puts in place an explicit literacy assessment, instruction, support, intervention and monitoring process, implementing the three-tier model.

4. Ensure that all children acquire fundamental literacy skills through an evidence-based instructional program that must include systematic, direct, and explicit instruction, supporting the acquisition of essential alphabetic, code-breaking skills, and the development of strong oral language, vocabulary, grammar, fluency, and reading comprehension skills.

Recommendation #3:

3. Encourage community engagement and support for ongoing literacy development throughout the year.


Communities possess physical and human resources that can be harnessed at a modest cost, to improve children’s language and literacy skills. Currently, some programs organize community volunteers to provide literacy-specific tutoring for children with reading challenges. Other programs use corporate volunteers for more general tutoring and mentoring for vulnerable students and their families. In several Canadian cities, schools are now being used to provide vulnerable, inner-city children with recreation and learning programs during the summer months, when such children are otherwise likely to lose skills and fall behind their more privileged peers. These programs make use of schools that would be vacant during the summer and hire university students as program counsellors. Such community-based programs require very modest investments while having the potential to yield very good returns.

In addition, at the community level, physicians can use their privileged advisory role to promote literacy among their young patients – with potential benefits for both the patients and the health care system in general.

At each visit, physicians can have substantial impact by informing parents of the importance of, and ways to promote, optimal language and literacy development, and by making parents aware of relevant developmental milestones and inquiring about the individual child’s language progress.


1. Develop and advance community-based family literacy programs.

2. Encourage programs that engage community volunteers to work with young students within the school.

3. Support community-based programs for students in at-risk communities. Programs that engage local sports teams and businesses can be particularly effective.

4. Develop summer learning programs for at-risk children.

5. Encourage paediatricians and family physicians to work with childcare providers and literacy specialists at the community level to promote literacy locally, as well as within their practices.

Recommendation #4:

4. Improve communication and the sharing of literacy-related knowledge and resources.


Public awareness of the status of literacy skills across the population is low, and there is very limited appreciation of the economic, social and personal impact that low literacy has. There is a special concern that businesses and the federal government are neglecting the economic and social impact of low literacy skills. The current investment in research and evaluation activities to improve literacy outcomes is vanishingly small.

At present, knowledge and experience gained from initiatives to improve literacy undertaken in one part of the country are rarely shared with other Canadians. This leads to needless duplication of effort and inefficient use of resources. Canada requires a comprehensive approach to facilitate networking and the sharing of information across regions and sectors in the early literacy area.


1. Communicate the urgency of the need to improve literacy skills.

2. Improve the sharing of knowledge about programs and resources across the country.

3. Support applied research and evaluation initiatives that address gaps in our knowledge of literacy skill development. These include:

i. Improving measurement instruments for a range of skills and populations, including non-English speaking groups.

ii. Developing and evaluating improved interventions and instructional techniques.

iii. Performing systematic evaluations of programs and initiatives.

iv. Facilitating knowledge transfer, exchange, and application, within and across the research, policy and practice sectors.

v. Promoting implementation of science research to enhance our capacity to “scale up” effective instruction techniques and interventions across whole education systems.

It will be valuable to monitor the implementation of the Canadian recommendations over the next few years and ascertain what lessons, if any, the strategies have for early literacy intervention in Australia.

The report was prepared by the Canadian Language and Literacy Research Network of which Donald G. Jamieson, Ph.D., is currently CEO and Scientific Director.

A copy of the full report is available online at


Opportunity to Improve Support for Students with Learning Disabilities

In a recent media release The Hon Peter Garrett, Minister for School Education, Early Childhood and Youth announced the formation of a working group to provide early advice on assistance for students with a disability. Minister Garrett is specifically interested in identifying strategies that could assist school students with special needs both in the classroom and at school generally. He indicated the working group will identify effective, priority approaches to improve the educational experience of students with disabilities.

At this early stage there is no specific mention of dyslexia, dysgraphia, or any particular disability type, within the working group’s terms of reference. It is, however, viewed as an important opportunity to raise the significant issue of students with dyslexia, and other learning disabilities, in schools and the current level of disadvantage they experience. In order to ensure that this issue is raised and considered by the working party, please send a submission (no matter how brief) to or write to:

The Secretariat
Review of Funding for Schooling
Location C16MT4
GPO Box 9880

Alternatively, please send your comments, thoughts and suggestions to and we will include your comments with our submission.

More information on the review of schools funding is available at

Advocacy Literacy Research

Improving Outcomes for Students with Dyslexia

In a recent report commissioned by the British Government, the need to respond more effectively to students struggling with dyslexia was identified as a priority requiring immediate and substantive attention. The report – Identifying and Teaching Children and Young People with Dyslexia and Literacy Difficulties (Rose, J) – was completed in June, 2009 and the Government have subsequently approved all 19 recommendations arising from the report.


At the heart of these recommendations are two important understandings. Firstly, dyslexia exists and is identifiable as a developmental disability of language learning and cognition. Secondly, in order to respond effectively to students with dyslexia we must ensure that all children are provided with high quality early instruction and that evidence-based intervention is offered to every child identified as at risk of literacy failure.

Pressure for the Dyslexia Report came from many sources but was driven by both parents and adult learners desperately seeking numerous changes to the education system. Of most importance was the early identification of dyslexia and an improved response once identified; two factors seen as being of paramount importance in reducing the impact of dyslexia on developing literacy skills. Many adult learners described the frustration and anxiety associated with their education, and the importance of assessment.

‘‘For years as a kid, I just knew that I couldn’t read properly. I didn’t know why I couldn’t read, but it was always like this big problem that was just sitting there at the back of my head, just waiting and it never went away, in fact it only got worse’. (pg.57)


…. and ….

‘At long last one of the teachers at my school got someone to come and assess me. They said I had dyslexia; well it was a great relief to actually know that there was a name for what I had… it was important for me to be able to say to myself, well that’s why you couldn’t read and now I have to get on and do something about it’. (pg. 42)

Many parents and teachers expressed concern about the adequacy of school provision, suggesting it was ‘too little, too late’ in terms of assisting students to overcome the impact of dyslexia. The following comment from a parent illustrates this point:

‘I gave up on her school. I was literally banging my head on a brick wall. Everyone knew she couldn’t read to save her life and that’s what was causing all her other problems, especially at home, it was a nightmare.’(pg. 2)

Early in the report it is suggested that “the long running debate about its existence should give way to building professional expertise in identifying dyslexia and developing effective ways to help learners overcome its effects.” (pg. 9) Many of the report’s 19 recommendations are in line with this objective. They are designed to improve teaching, learning and literacy outcomes for children with literacy and dyslexic difficulties and are grouped under five key headings:

  • Strengthening teaching and learning;
  • Assessing children’s progress and identifying children’s difficulties;
  • Further strengthening intervention programmes;
  • Guidance for parents and others; and,
  • Assuring the quality of provision.

Most of the recommendations have policy and practice implications for Australian educators and should be given strong consideration; particularly as dyslexia remains an area that is both poorly understood and inadequately dealt with throughout Australia. The following is a summary of the recommendations made with some changes to nomenclature; designed to suit the Australian educational landscape.

Strengthening teaching and learning


Recommendation 1

Education Departments should fund a number of teachers to undertake appropriately accredited specialist training in teaching children with dyslexia, in order to provide substantially improved access to specialist expertise in all schools and across all education districts.


Recommendation 2

Education Districts should consider with schools how they might form groups which could share the resource of a specialist dyslexia teacher.


Recommendation 3

Education Departments should commission short courses for teachers on selecting and teaching literacy intervention programmes. These courses should:

  • cover the definition and characteristics of dyslexia (see figures 3 and 4);
  • equip participants with the expertise to select, implement, monitor and evaluate literacy interventions;
  • ensure those trained are able to advise other teachers and support staff on delivering high quality interventions;
  • provide links to on-line training materials.  


Recommendation 4

Education Departments should develop, or commission the development of, dyslexia-relevant materials in light of this review. The materials should continue to be promoted for in-service and pre-service teachers, and other members of the workforce involved with teaching literacy, such as teaching assistants.


Recommendation 5

Education Departments should ask appropriate organisations (e.g. DSF) to review their accreditation criteria for training courses for specialist dyslexia teachers so that courses cover good practice in Wave 1 teaching of reading and writing, and how a child’s literacy would normally develop if s/he is not experiencing difficulties.


Recommendation 6

Education Departments should ask Universities and other organisations involved in pre-service teacher training to build on initiatives for strengthening coverage of special educational needs and disability (including dyslexia) in initial teacher training courses and through continuing professional development.





Recommendation 7

Education Districts should set out how schools can secure access to sufficient expertise to meet the needs of children with literacy and dyslexic difficulties (see figure 1 for recommended model).




Assessing children’s progress and identifying children’s difficulties


Recommendation 8

The first step in identifying that children may have dyslexia is to notice those making poor progress in comparison with their typically developing peers, despite high quality Wave 1 teaching. Therefore, Education Districts and Departments should work with schools to make sure that they have in place good monitoring arrangements to ascertain that Wave 1 teaching is of a high quality, especially in teaching word recognition and language comprehension skills in keeping with the ‘simple view of reading’ (see page 20 for a detailed description of the ‘simple view of reading’).


Recommendation 9

In a review of early childhood education, consideration should be given to how language development can be carefully monitored so that where children have emerging difficulties with aspects of language and literacy that may be obstacles to their progress, practitioners can take steps to overcome them and tailor provision more carefully to individual language needs.


Recommendation 10

The development of national assessment protocols should be linked to early years screening and assessment, thus assisting with the identification of literacy difficulties; a first step towards identifying dyslexia (see figure 2 for a model on the steps towards diagnosis of dyslexia).


Further strengthening intervention programmes


Recommendation 11

Education Departments should work with partners to develop the following:

  • Effective Wave 2 provision that is systematic in its approach to phonic work;
  • pre- and post-intervention phonemic awareness assessment that picks up the word level skills children should master (based on a thorough review of published assessment materials);
  • guidance on how class teachers, and the intervention teacher, should share information so that children’s progress through the phonic phases (as in Letters and Sounds) can be tracked, and interventions and in-class support planned as complementary responses.


Guidance for parents and others


Recommendation 12

Education departments should commission clear guidance for parents and schools on the policy and purpose of interventions. This should include explaining how effective interventions, for all school age groups, are to be made available for children with literacy and dyslexic difficulties, and how children’s progress will be monitored. The content and implementation of this guidance should be independently evaluated.


Recommendation 13

The guidance should be placed on an interactive website covering literacy and dyslexic difficulties, on which there should also be:

  • regular updates on successful ways of helping children to overcome literacy and dyslexic difficulties;
  • links to inclusive education materials, and to the short course materials which feature in the third recommendation.
  • A copy of this review and key background papers that contributed to it.
  • A copy of ‘What Works for children with literacy difficulties? (G. Brooks’ 2007) guidance, which should be regularly updated –  


Recommendation 14

All schools should:

  • keep parents informed of the plans for, and progress of, children with literacy or dyslexic difficulties;
  • publish the procedures they follow to identify and support children with such difficulties.


Recommendation 15

Education Departments should provide appropriate support for students with learning disabilities and should develop and promote guidelines for parents, so they are better placed to understand and question provision being made for their children. This should refer directly to provision for reading difficulties, including dyslexia.


Recommendation 16

Education Departments should continue to fund a helpline that provides advice to parents and people working in schools on dyslexia and literacy difficulties.


Assuring the quality of provision


Recommendation 17

Principals and School Councils should audit school provision to make sure that it complies with ‘The Disability Discrimination Act (1992)’ and the ‘Disability Standards for Education (200?) and use their best endeavours to ensure that the necessary provision is made for any student who has special educational needs. By definition, this will include identifying and making necessary provision for children with dyslexia.


Recommendation 18

With the help of Education Departments and School Districts, all primary and secondary schools should evaluate their intervention programmes, and make sure that where the expertise required for these programmes needs to be strengthened, steps are taken to do so.



Recommendation 19

Education Departments should consider commissioning an independent survey to evaluate the extent to which, and with what impact, primary and secondary schools are using interventions to advance the progress of children and young people experiencing a wide range of literacy difficulties.

In a written Ministerial Statement to the House of Commons all 19 recommendations were officially accepted and endorsed. Ed Balls, Secretary of State, described the report as “excellent” and “a well-crafted distillation of research evidence and the concerns expressed by children with dyslexia and their parents”. The Government intend to work closely with peak bodies in the UK to ensure the recommendations are translated into practice and have committed over £10 million towards improving outcomes for all students with dyslexia.

Australia is the only English-speaking country that does not have clear policy and practice guidelines on dyslexia and the current improvements taking place in the UK, the USA and New Zealand serve to leave Australian children and adults struggling with dyslexia even further behind.

Mandy Nayton

DSF Executive officer

Further Reading:


Identifying and Teaching Children and Young People with Dyslexia and Literacy Difficulties, Rose, J. (2009), pdf

An explanation of the ‘Simple View of Reading’ (see page 20 of this Bulletin)

‘What Works for children with literacy difficulties? (G. Brooks’ 2007)  –

Advocacy News

A ‘Not To Be Missed’ Opportunity for Change January 2010

During 2008 the Hon Bill Shorten, Parliamentary Secretary for Disabilities and Children’s Services, met with representatives from dyslexia interest groups who expressed concern that dyslexia is not recognized as a specific disability under the Disability Discrimination Act 1992 and that the education and employment systems do not recognize or support people with dyslexia.

Following these meetings the Parliamentary Secretary requested the FaHCSIA convene a roundtable Forum to discuss these issues.

This Dyslexia Stakeholder Forum was held at Parliament House, Canberra on 16 June 2009. The Forum consisted of 24 people, who are scientists in the areas of reading or learning disabilities, technologists, people with dyslexia, clinicians and practitioners, or representatives from DEEWR and FaHCSIA. It was decided that a representative Working Party of 8 Forum members should be formed, charged with the task of writing a report proposing a national agenda for action to assist people with dyslexia. AUSPELD was represented on the Working Party by two members of the executive, Angela Weeks, President and Mandy Nayton, Treasurer.
The Working Party consulted widely and in particular benefited from comments on a draft report that were received from the following authorities (all of whom have expressed very strong support for the recommendations we have made):

• AUSPELD (The Australian Federation of Specific Learning Difficulty Associations)
• LDA (Learning Difficulties Australia)
• ALDA (The Australian Learning Disability Association)
• Speech Pathology Australia
• The DDOLL (Developmental Disorders of Language and Literacy) network, which was established with funding from the Australian Research Council.
• Sir James Rose, author of the Rose Report on Dyslexia commissioned by the UK Government.

I am delighted to share this report with you and invite you to contact the Hon Bill Shorten directly at with your comments. I think this is a ‘not to be missed’ opportunity for the Dyslexia Community to petition for change and have their voices heard. I shall keep you posted through the website of our progress.

Angela Weeks
AUSPELD President

Advocacy Literacy

Resources Available Now!

A great range of literacy resources for all ages are available from AUSPELD.  From introductory information about learning difficulties to powerpoint presentations about dyslexia.  From Magnetic Morpheme kits to Motivational DVDs – all at affordable prices.  Wherever you are in the world these items can be yours with just a small charge for postage. Please visit our resources page to find out more!