Categories
News Research

Emily Hanford’s exploration of the science of reading

Journalist Emily Hanford (author of Hard Words: Why aren’t kids being taught to read) recently presented an online keynote presentation as part of the PaTTAN Literacy Symposium.

The presentation focuses on Emily’s exploration of the science of reading. She shares some important take-home messages about changing the way the message of effective evidence-informed instruction is delivered.

We are looking forward to hosting Emily soon as a guest on our upcoming webinar series featuring several exciting international speakers. More news coming soon!

In the meantime, please enjoy this webinar which is highly recommended for educators, parents, and anyone concerned about how children are taught to read.

 

Categories
Literacy Media Research

An Overview of Structured Synthetic Phonics Program Sequences

The Summer 2018 edition of the DSF Bulletin featured the following article on Structured Synthetic Phonics Program (SSPP) sequences. It details each the phonics sequence of a number of SSPPs, from single letter phoneme-grapheme relationships and digraphs through to the introduction of the alternative spellings in the extended code.

Find this and other articles on the AUSPELD Articles page.

Categories
Advocacy Literacy Research

DSF e-Alert – The Importance of Handwriting Instruction

Sign up for the AUSPELD/DSF e-alert parent newsletter

With the increasing use of technology in today’s society, the question arises as to whether we still need to teach handwriting to children.  Research has indicated that there are benefits from handwriting instruction that go beyond learning to write (Dinehart, 2015).  Firstly, there is a strong link between developing motor skills and developing cognitive skills. When children learn to draw letters by hand, their later recognition for those letters is better.  As a result, children not only learn to read more quickly when they first learn to write by hand, they also remain better able to generate ideas and retain information. Learning to form letters activates the neural pathways associated with successful reading, thus handwriting forms an important component of early literacy instruction.

Other research has shown that note-taking with a pen, rather than a laptop, gives students a better grasp of the subject.  While individuals who rely on word processing using a laptop or other device tend to take notes verbatim, those working with pen and paper rephrase and summarise information as they take notes. The process of note-taking with pen and paper encourages deeper processing of the information.

Dr Virginia Berninger, a prominent researcher in the area, promotes teaching children to be ‘hybrid writers’.  This means instruction in print first for reading — it transfers to better word recognition — then cursive for spelling and composing. Touch-typing should ideally be introduced in upper primary according to Dr Berninger.

It is recommended that handwriting instruction is addressed in the following ways:

  • Initially, the sequence of introduction of letter forms should follow the structured synthetic phonics (SSP) program utilised in the classroom. For example, the first eight letter-sound relationships taught in the Letters and Sounds program are s, a, t, p, i, n, m and d. Once every letter of the alphabet has been taught, appropriate letter formation should be reinforced by practising similarly shaped letters together (eg. a, c and d).
  • Handwriting instruction should be part of daily phonics instruction. Integrate handwriting instruction with instruction in letter sounds. Encourage children to say the letter name and sound as they write the letter. An effective way to do this is to follow the procedure outlined in the Letters and Sounds program: 1. Hear the sound (auditory recognition) and say the sound (articulation/pronunciation); 2. See the sound (visual recognition) and say the sound (articulation); 3. Say the sound (articulation) and write the sound (formation).
  • Children should learn a highly consistent way to form a given letter every time they write it. For example, teach children to write the letter b by starting at the top with a vertical stroke, then making the loop to the right without lifting the pencil, rather than having children form the vertical line and the loop in separate strokes.
  • Teachers should accompany handwriting instruction with a letter formation prompt for each letter. These verbal prompts support the specific shapes used in letter formation and act as memory cues. For example, when learning the letter s, move your finger slowly along the snake from its mouth while saying the letter formation prompt: “Round the snake’s head, slide down his back and round his tail.” (Phase Two, Letters and Sounds).
  • Begin by focusing on the learning of the motor pattern rather than perfect legibility or size.
  • Ensure that reversible letters such as b and d are taught separately as children appear less likely to confuse visually similar letters if they have learned one letter of a confusable pair well prior to introduction of the other letter of the pair. Evidence-based SSP programs follow a pre-planned sequence or introduction which separates the teaching of letters which are easily confused due to similarities in formation or articulation.
  • In addition, it can be helpful to teach children to form confusable letters differently; for example, b starts at the top whereas d starts with the loop.
  • Use written arrow cues to help children remember how to form letters and to prevent children from inadvertently practising incorrect letter formation repeatedly.
  • Speed should not be emphasised until children can form letters legibly and from memory.

Handwriting problems often arise from a difficulty in automatically remembering and mastering the sequence movements required in writing letters or numbers.  If left unaddressed, these difficulties can affect a student’s ability to express themselves in writing.  Ongoing difficulties with automatic letter formation often lead to avoidance of writing and therefore reduced practice, which leads to further difficulties.  Explicit handwriting instruction in the early years is therefore key to preventing later difficulties.

References
Berninger, V., Abbott, R.D., Jones, J., Wolf, B.J., Gould, L., Anderson-Youngstrom, M., Shimada, S., & Apel, K. (2006) Early development of language by hand: composing, reading, listening, and speaking connections; three letter-writing modes; and fast mapping in spelling. Developmental Neuropsychology, 29(1), 61–92.Dinehart, L. H. (2015). Handwriting in early childhood education: Current research and future implications. Journal of Early Childhood Literacy, 15(1), 97–118.Letters and Sounds: Principles and Practice of High Quality Phonics (2007). UK Primary National Strategy, Department for Education and Skills. Available from: https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/letters-and-sounds

 

Categories
Advocacy News Other Research

Two New Guides from AUSPELD: Understanding Learning Difficulties

Understanding Learning Difficulties: A practical guide

A comprehensive, evidence-based reference of strategies to assist students with learning difficulties.

This booklet, in conjunction with the enclosed CD, is designed to provide principals, teachers and school psychologists throughout Australia, with a greater awareness and understanding of the significant impact learning disabilities can have on students, and to outline the most effective remediation and accommodation strategies available to them in the classroom.
The CD contains a copy of the Guide plus a wide range of effective resources and strategies, all of which can be saved and printed for use throughout the school.

To purchase a copy of the guide please visit our resources information page.

Understanding Learning Difficulties: A guide for parents

Many parents or carers notice that their child is struggling at school but are unsure about the steps they should take. This Guide is designed to answer some of these questions. It has been developed to provide parents and carers with current information about the nature of learning disabilities and to offer practical guidance on the most appropriate identification and support.

To purchase a copy of the guide please visit our resources information page.

Categories
Advocacy News Research

SPELD(SA) Longitudinal Study of the Effects on Reading and Spelling of a Synthetic Phonics and Systematic Spelling and Grammar Program

Please see the link below to download a copy of the 2010-2011 Interim Report:
2010-2011 Interim Report

Categories
Advocacy News Research

Working Towards a Nationally Consistent Approach to the Collection of Information on Students with a Disability

A recent report produced by PricewaterhouseCoopers under contract of the Department of Education has provided some good news for those with learning disabilities.

In 2008, the Council of Australian Governments (COAG) agreed to work towards a nationally consistent approach to the collection of information on students with disability. This approach took the form of a National Model developed under the guidance of an expert advisory group which met in 2010. The National Model was developed to gather comparable information about the numbers of students with disability and most importantly, the level of adjustment provided to students with disability.

This Model consists of a process to identify:
–  school students with a diagnosed disability, or a disability ‘validated’ by an Education Authority, as defined by the Disability Discrimination Act (1992), and then
–  information on the level of adjustment provided for these students. The adjustments are classified as – extensive,
substantial, supplementary or no adjustments
– Supplementary information on the type of disability under four groupings was also collected – physical, cognitive,
sensory, and social/emotional and the extent of adjustments (measures or actions) taken by a school or provider to
assist these students to access and participate in education on the same basis as students without disability. Collecting
information on student‘s disability is not the focus of the National Model, however, it provides more context to the
students‘ needs for adjustments in schools and provides a level of detail that will be valuable to educators and policy
makers.

To view the report in full please click here.

Categories
Advocacy Literacy News Research

Study into the Early Childhood Development Workforce By the Productivity Commission

SUBMISSION

 

Those in the ECD Workforce play a critically important role in potentially influencing the development of oral language, memory, fine and gross motor skills, pre-literacy and literacy skills of the children with whom they work. High quality, extensive training – detailing the knowledge, skills and understandings relevant to children’s early childhood development is essential. ECD workers need to have a well-developed understanding of the precursors to successful social, emotional and academic development across childhood. AUSPELD provides expert advice in the areas of literacy and learning and therefore comment will be made specifically regarding these key developmental domains.

 

About AUSPELD

 

The Australian Federation of SPELD Associations (AUSPELD) represents all state and territory SPELD Associations. These organisations, in turn, represent and support the many thousands of children and adults struggling with both learning difficulties and disabilities throughout Australia. In addition to providing advocacy and support for individuals with learning difficulties and disabilities, AUSPELD also promotes evidence-based approaches to teaching and learning for all children and adults. Over the last ten years a primary focus of the state SPELDs has been to prevent literacy failure, particularly amongst our most vulnerable children.

 

AUSPELD provides services to a range of professionals including early childhood teachers, education assistants, childcare workers, occupational therapists, speech pathologists and educational psychologists, as well as families and individuals. Through its state-based members, AUSPELD responds to in excess of 1,000 calls per week from community members and to a similar number of requests for information and support via email and website contact. State SPELDs also provides training, resources and support to over 30,000 teachers, principals and allied professionals working in schools and other organisations throughout Australia each year.

 

AUSPELD contributes to state and federal inquiries, forums and government departments on a wide range of issues related to improving literacy outcomes. AUSPELD is well-positioned to comment on the role of the ECD workforce on the development of children’s literacy skills. This submission will focus on the need to improve training in pre- and early literacy acquisition for ECD workers, the importance of an integrated approach to literacy and learning across early childhood service providers, and ways to improve the efficiency, effectiveness, and quality of the ECD workforce.

RELEVANT TERMS OF REFERENCE

 

The Early Childhood Development Workforce and The Schooling Workforce

 

1. Factors affecting the current and future demand and supply for the ECD workforce, and the required mix of skills and knowledge, including:

 

(a) Delivery of fully integrated ECD services including maternal and child health, childcare, preschool, family support services and services for those with additional needs.

 

Perhaps one of the most effective ways that the poverty cycle can be broken is through education and children are most likely to achieve educational success if they become literate. The protective factors and risk factors for literacy success or failure are established in the early years and there are a range of ECD workers who, with appropriate training, could ensure that children developed the pre-literacy skills necessary for literacy success.

The Early Years Learning Framework – “Educators: Belonging, Being and Becoming” – published and distributed by DEEWR in 2010 provided a valuable framework for discussion and planning for members of the ECD workforce.  It was not (and did not pretend to be) a curriculum, syllabus or overview of the skills, knowledge and understandings that children need to acquire during the early years; or professional and strategic advice on how best these skills should be taught. In the past decade a great deal has been written, and there has been numerous international inquiries (NRP, Rose Report, Nelson, etc), clearly outlining the components of appropriate pre- and early literacy skill development and what needs to be provided to young children to ensure that their early language and literacy skills develop effectively. Unfortunately, very little of this information is ever provided directly and succinctly to members of the ECD workforce. Many ECD workers report a lack of confidence with respect to their ability to provide sound learning experiences to children to target the development of their early reading and writing skills and this is simply because they have not been provided with the appropriate skills.

 

Research suggests that children who become successful readers and writers are those who have been exposed to a language-rich environment in their early years. Children who are not provided with explicit instruction in vocabulary (building knowledge and understanding of words) and phonological awareness (the ability to distinguish and manipulate the sounds in spoken words) are at a significantly increased risk of struggling with literacy acquisition throughout their schooling. All children, but particularly, those children at greatest risk, require robust instruction in vocabulary, language comprehension and phonological awareness. They also require explicit, intentional, multi-sensory, systematic teaching of foundation-level literacy skills (such as a structured synthetic phonics program) from pre-primary (age 5 years).

 

There is strong evidence to show that there is a vast divide between the language experiences of children from different socioeconomic levels, and that these differences place children from low SES backgrounds at increased risk of academic and social difficulties. Graves and Slater (1987) found that year 1 students from high SES backgrounds had approximately double the vocabulary size of students from low SES backgrounds. Hart and Risley (1995) showed that not only do children from low SES backgrounds have reduced vocabularies; they are exposed to much fewer positive verbal interactions than children from high SES backgrounds.

 

The ECD Workforce has the opportunity to affect the volume and quality of oral language input children receive through the education of parents (by encouraging positive and appropriate parent-child interactions), and by intentional teaching of children. In order for parents to be provided with accurate and evidence-based information (including games, strategies, songs, etc) regarding language development, it is essential that the members of the ECD Workforce providing this information be well-informed.

 

Over the past thirty years the prevailing ideology in early childhood education and care has been that children learn best through play. This has therefore influenced not only policy and practice, but the development of resources, the physical layout of early childhood environments and the response to the needs of children demonstrating developmental delays. Obviously, the inclusion of play in early childhood centres is essential but for children with developmental disabilities, the lack of structure and the lack of intentional teaching have often added to their difficulties.  The fact that ECD staff have often not been trained in delivering programs that are more structured, sequential, intentional and responsive also means that when asked to do so, they feel both out of their depth and also uncomfortable from a philosophical point of view.

 

(c) The availability and quality of pre-service education programs, including through undergraduate and postgraduate education and VET, and consideration of training pathways.

 

AUSPELD is an expert provider of literacy training to educational institutions. It is our observation through providing professional learning sessions to school staff that many teachers and support staff lack confidence with respect to their ability to teach literacy skills. As indicated earlier in this submission, there remains a very strong focus on play-based learning in early childhood education and child-care facilities throughout Australia. This is promoted to the exclusion of other approaches and fails to acknowledge the wealth of research evidence that suggests that those children considered to be at greatest risk do not respond well to unstructured, open-ended tasks.  These children fall further behind their peers, become disenchanted with school and frequently display behaviour problems. Current pre-service education programs largely advocate for play-based, student-directed methods to the exclusion of any form of structured learning. As such, many teachers enter the workforce with little understanding of the science behind reading development and the strategies necessary to build strong literacy skills in their young students.

There is overwhelming support – both from current academic research and from practice – to support the view that all children benefit from teaching that is explicit, structured, sequential and multi-sensory. Pre-service training for ECD workers (especially teachers and teacher assistants) should focus on these key components in addition to the critical elements of effective reading instruction (Rose Report, 2006) which includes:

•      explicit and systematic phonemic awareness instruction

•      systematically sequenced phonics instruction

•      guided  and repeated oral reading with appropriate error correction and feedback to improve reading fluency

•      direct instruction in vocabulary and reading comprehension strategies

 

It is our hope that the inclusion of explicit skill teaching in the early years will help to prevent the high (52%) level of functional literacy problems currently experienced by Australia’s 15 to 19 year olds (ABS data, 2006).

 

 

 

We would be happy to address any of our comments in greater detail or respond to any queries from the Commissioners. Thank you.

 

Signed

 

 

 

 

Mandy Nayton

President

AUSPELD

30 January 2011

Categories
Literacy Other Research

Only NSW Makes Right Sounds on Learning to Read

FOUR years after the national inquiry into teaching reading, one Australian government has finally embraced the key recommendation that children be taught the sounds that make up words as an essential first step in learning to read.

The NSW government has released literacy teaching guides incorporating the latest research evidence on the best way to teach reading.

The guides mandate that children from the first years of school be explicitly taught the sounds of letters and how to blend and manipulate sounds to form words in daily 10 to 20-minute sessions.

The guides set out key principles for teachers to follow in reading instruction, stipulating that phonics need to be taught to a level where children can automatically recall the knowledge.

They also debunk “common myths” about phonics that “have almost become accepted as truths”, including that “phonics knowledge is caught, not taught” or that having a sound of the week is an effective way of teaching.

Devised in response to the 2005 national review on teaching reading, the NSW guidelines were yesterday lauded as the benchmark for the rest of the country.

A bitter debate has raged for the past three decades over the teaching of reading, with the proponents of phonics pitted against those favouring the “whole language” method, which emphasises other skills instead of sounding words.

Whole language advocates encourage students faced with an unfamiliar word to look at the other words in the sentence, the picture on the page or the shape of the letters rather than by “sounding out” the word. The national review, released after an inquiry led by the late educational researcher Ken Rowe, was one of three large international studies in the past decade to examine all the evidence about teaching reading, including an earlier US report and Britain’s Rose report, completed in 2006.

All three reviews concluded the same thing, that teaching children phonics and how to blend sounds to make words was a necessary first step in learning to read, but not the only skill required.

The Australian inquiry was prompted by a letter from reading researchers and cognitive psychologists, many based at Macquarie University, concerned about the state of literacy teaching in the nation.

One of the signatories to the letter, Macquarie University professor Max Coltheart, yesterday said the NSW guides were entirely consistent with the recommendations of the reading inquiry and that “Ken Rowe would have been delighted”.

Professor Coltheart called on the other states and territories to follow NSW’s lead.

Jim Rose, author of the British report and now reviewing the English primary curriculum for the British government, praised the NSW guides for “establishing the essential importance of phonics”.

“It provides some firm guidance for principals and teachers rather than leaving them to reinvent reading instruction, school by school,” Sir Jim said.

The assistant principal and kindergarten teacher at Miranda Public School in Sydney’s south, Susan Orlovich, has already started using the guides in teaching her students. “For the first time, we have really clear materials and guidelines for setting up an early literacy program that’s integrated and balanced but ensures we also teach phonics and phonemic awareness explicitly and systematically,” she said.

Ms Orlovich said the guides had struck the right balance between teaching the skills necessary to sound out words and decode the alphabet, and comprehension with students being able to write their own words.

They also gave teachers strategies for students at different stages in recognition that some already understand the phonemic basis of language.

“Some kids can learn with whole language, and make those connections and do phonemic substitution, so if they know how to write ‘look’, they can write ‘book’,” she said.

“Some kids are able to make that substitution without being taught, but for other students, you need to teach them explicitly, make it visual for them.”

In an interview with The Australian during a visit to Australia last week, Sir Jim said the simple view of reading was that it had two dimensions, comprehension and word recognition.

While teaching sounds is often denigrated by the whole language side of the reading debate as a decoding skill unnecessary to be able to read, Sir Jim said it was essential children knew how the alphabet worked and that it was a code to be understood.

“It’s not just barking at print, although that is a stage you go through,” he said.

Professor Coltheart, said he understood the new national English curriculum being written would include extensive material on the teaching of phonics in the early years of school, including phonemic awareness in the first year.

“This alignment between the national curriculum and the NSW guides for teachers is going to be of enormous benefit for the state’s young children. I hope other states will be following in NSW’s footsteps,” he said.

Sir Jim said the reading debate was a false dichotomy and the two sides had more in common than the extremists were prepared to recognise.

“A picture has emerged from the research that is overwhelmingly clear; I can’t see any conflict, they’re closer than they admit,” he said.

“I don’t understand why they can’t accept good evidence that would enrich both sides.”

The NSW Education Department has produced two guides, one focused specifically on phonics and a companion guide on phonemic awareness, or the ability to hear and manipulate the sounds that make up words.

In response to the myth that phonics knowledge is “caught, not taught”, the guide says letter-sound correspondences are arbitrary and therefore difficult to discover without explicit teaching.

“Left to chance or inference alone, many students would acquire phonics knowledge too slowly or fail to learn it at all,” itsays.

Another myth debunked is that teaching phonics impedes student comprehension by having them rely too much on “decoding” rather than “reading for meaning”, resulting in students “barking at print” without understanding what they’re reading.

“Effective phonics teaching supports students to readily recognise and produce familiar words accurately and effortlessly and to identify and produce words that are new to them. Developing automatic word recognition will support and enhance students’ comprehension skills,” the guide says.

  • Justine Ferrari, Education writer
  • From: The Australian
  • September 29, 2009
Categories
News Research

Seeking a New Deal on Dyslexia

Australia can take some tips about learning disabilities from schools in other countries, writes Elisabeth Tarica. This article was originally published in The Age on May 31st 2010 and is reprinted with permission.

A nation as self-confident as Australia doesn’t expect to receive lessons in advanced education practices from such humble places as Irvinestown, a small village two hours west of Belfast in Northern Ireland. Yet that’s what Nola Firth found this year when she visited the 250 students at the village’s St Paul’s Primary School, where sophisticated and effective strategies were being used to deal with dyslexia. St Paul’s is one of many schools in the UK that have been awarded dyslexia friendly status by the British Dyslexia Association.

Dr Firth, a research fellow at the Royal Children’s Hospital’s Centre for Adolescent Health and the Murdoch Children’s Research Institute, travelled to the UK, the US and Canada to visit dyslexia-friendly schools as part of a Churchill fellowship. She found that in these schools students spoke freely and without stigma about having the learning difficulty, the hurdles they face and what support they need to help them cope. They had easy access to text-to-speech and predictive typing software and specially trained teachers.  Each school formed its own dyslexia policy. One of these set down that students with dyslexia would not be asked to read aloud, would have access to alternative assessment methods and would receive assessment that did not include spelling accuracy. ‘‘There’s an awareness that you don’t have to be necessarily doing things that are written down to show that you have knowledge,’’ Dr Firth says. ‘‘They were still getting the best of literacy but on top of that there was this awareness that there are some people who need other ways of expressing information and getting information in. It works for everyone, not just the kids with dyslexia.’’

Since the initiative was introduced at St Paul’s in 2007, literacy results had jumped higher than the Northern Ireland average. This picture is in sharp contrast to the way dyslexia is treated in Australia — where, apart from New South Wales, it is not legally recognised as a learning disability and debate still centres on whether the condition really exists. Used to describe a range of persistent difficulties with reading, writing, spelling and sometimes mathematics that result in a child performing significantly below their chronological age, dyslexia is a lifelong genetic condition that has a neurological cause. It is often referred to as an invisible disability because it manifests differently in each person. It is estimated that one in 10 struggle with dyslexia yet few are assessed and given support.

Experts say teachers have limited training to identify dyslexia and learning difficulties, and are generally unaware of dyslexia’s genetic and permanent nature. It is why many students arrive at secondary school struggling to read or write. Research shows that, without intervention, students with dyslexia risk developing behavioural problems at school, giving up, withdrawing socially and eventually dropping out and suffering delinquency, depression and unemployment. Most Australian schools do not have a tailored program to deal with dyslexia, which falls under the general umbrella of specific learning disabilities (SLD) and does not attract separate funding.

‘‘SLD/dyslexia teacher education is compulsory for incoming teachers in the US, Canada, and the UK but this is not the case here in Australia,’’ says Dr Firth. ‘‘Many teachers do not know that SLD is a particular phenomenon that is inheritable, independent of intelligence, so that children can also be gifted, and that it is often highly resistant even to skilled teaching, including synthetic phonics teaching.’’ Because it isn’t recognised as a disability, dyslexia’s isolated symptoms — such as problems with reading — are often addressed in reading recovery programs that do little to overcome the underlying problem. Dr Firth says Australia is being left behind in its response to the condition. ‘‘What really struck me is that it is recognised and specifically stated as a disability in America, Canada and England,’’ she says. ‘‘Policy and practice have followed from this legislation, most of which either do not exist or exist in a much weaker form in Australia. These legal and practical supports indicate significant commitment to giving equal access and opportunity for success for those who have dyslexia.’’ Compared with Australia, there is far greater acceptance and awareness of dyslexia in the educational and general community in these countries. ‘‘When I told a school principal and a teacher educator at the University of Toronto that in Australia we do not recognise specific learning disabilities, including dyslexia, as a disability, the surprise on their faces was memorable,’’ she says. ‘‘They were truly astonished because they think of us as a progressive country and we are . . . but they were truly astonished that we didn’t have dyslexia categorised as a disability and that these people were not being systematically found and supported.’’ The US and Canada, for example, have schools dedicated to students with SLD. ‘‘They cater for students who cannot be adequately catered for in mainstream schools and are dedicated and set up for people who have SLD including dyslexia not intellectual disabilities,’’ says Dr Firth. One such school, the Frostig School in Pasadena, Los Angeles, catered for 120 students, each with an individual education plan. There was a ratio of 10 students to one teacher, plus a teacher aide. Five professionals including a speech therapist, educational consultant, psychologist and counsellor, were on-site. Dr Firth says recognition of the problem and extra school support are urgently needed. She was a member of the national dyslexia working party that in January presented a report on the shortfall of services for people with dyslexia to the federal parliamentary secretary for disabilities and children’s services, Bill Shorten. It calls for national recognition of dyslexia as a disability under the Disability Discrimination Act through legislation at state and federal level and for the dyslexia friendly school model to be implemented in Australia. It also recommends mandatory teacher training to help in identifying and supporting students with dyslexia. The introduction of dyslexia-friendly practices in workplaces was also flagged. ‘‘I experienced the widespread and significant positive change these initiatives can make,’’ she says. ‘‘The dyslexia friendly school model is something that could be translated here easily . . . it is about teacher training and teachers are dying to know what to do about these kids. They know about these clever kids they’ve got who have trouble with their reading and spelling.’’

LINKS

www.ldaustralia.org/359.html

www.churchilltrust.com.au/fellows/detail/3340

Categories
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:

Introduction

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.

Rationale:

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.

Actions:

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.

Rationale:

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.

Actions:

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.

Rationale:

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.

Actions:

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.

Rationale:

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.

Actions:

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 http://docs.cllrnet.ca/NSEL/finalReport.pdf