Tuesday, September 19, 2023

Christine Braid: National wants to change how NZ schools teach reading......

.......but ‘structured literacy’ must be more than just a classroom checklist

If it wins the election, the National Party has vowed to shake up how children are taught to read and write. Part of this education overhaul includes a pledge to require the teaching of “structured literacy” in all year 0-6 classrooms.

For many in education, the announcement is welcome. It signals a move to an explicit and systematic form of teaching reading that educators, researchers and parents have long been calling for.

New Zealand certainly needs to lift its literacy rates. Only 60% of 15-year-olds are achieving above the most basic level of reading, meaning 40% are struggling to read and write. Focusing on what research shows works in literacy is vital for improvement.

Some schools have already implemented a variety of structured literacy programmes, often at their own cost. The Ministry of Education has also begun to provide resources for more explicit reading instruction, and has incorporated elements of structured literacy into its education strategy.

But here is where we need to tread carefully and work collaboratively.

There is a growing body of research supporting the introduction of explicit reading instruction – what informs the label of structured literacy. But we don’t yet know exactly what it would look like and how it would be taught.

And, if we don’t remain adaptable, we could end up with a reading curriculum that fails the promise to lift literacy rates.

How has reading been taught?

For decades, New Zealand schools have followed the “balanced literacy approach”. This places value on being immersed in literature, and on the development of oral language. Students are not explicitly taught to sound out words.

By contrast, a structured approach focuses on teaching children to read words by following a progression from simple to more complex phonics – the practice of matching the sounds with individual letters or groups of letters.

A balanced literacy approach requires children to use a wide range of information to read, including illustrations and the context of the story. So children might look at the first letter of a word and then think what might fit in the sentence.

Structured approaches to reading use decodable books that are designed to help children practise a particular letter-sound pattern.

Defining and trademarking reading instruction

When we consider mandating a single approach to reading instruction, we need to develop a clear understanding of the terminology.

Structured literacy is one interpretation of the “science of reading” – a large body of research that pulls from disciplines such as education, special education, literacy, psychology, neurology and others.

The International Dyslexia Association (IDA) trademarked the term structured literacy in 2014. Their definition requires the explicit teaching of foundation skills, including phonics for word reading, in a way that is systematic and cumulative.

But as one part of the broader and evolving body of science of reading research, educators need to be careful not to ascribe too much to one definition of structured literacy. The research base is strong, but it is not entirely clear how to translate this research in the classroom.

Key questions about the structured literacy approach continue to be debated – including how best to teach based on the science of reading, and specific issues such as how many spelling patterns need to be taught explicitly, and how long we need to use decodable texts.

Policy makers also need to be wary of creating a structured literacy checklist for teachers to follow. Some programmes could end up meeting the formal criteria but have no evidence that they work in practice. Others might not meet the criteria but provide positive results for learners.

Teachers and researchers need to work together

Successful implementation of any new literacy approach is going to require teacher education to keep pace with the research.

The National Party has promised to introduce structured literacy as part of teacher training and ongoing professional development – but research to support the teachers will be key.

Teachers have the best knowledge about their classrooms, while researchers can examine and evaluate whether implementation of a new programme has worked or not.

Local research is taking place. Both Massey University and the University of Canterbury have research projects focused on understanding and improving New Zealand’s literacy education.

Connecting research to educational practice is notoriously difficult to achieve but it is vital for ensuring classroom approaches are based on evidence. Research can provide the evidence of what works, which is vital in determining which literacy practices are successful, for whom, and how to implement them.

New Zealanders may want a simple solution to the country’s declining literacy, but teaching and learning are complex.

National’s proposal to introduce structured literacy is a step in the right direction. But it is essential that curriculum guidelines provide a clear framework for teachers, while allowing educators to adapt their teaching practices to ongoing research.

Christine Braid, Professional Learning and Development Facilitator in Literacy Education, Massey University.  This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article


Mark Hanley said...

The solution is dead simple.

Disband the ministry of education,

set education targets,

Appoint an education commissioner whose renumeration is linked to achieving targets,

reset the curriculum and teaching methods back to those used when our education system was world leading.

Confine the TOW to 1 history lessons a year.

Reintroduce national standards to chart progress.

Allow the private sector to compete for education contracts, particularly in remedial work to find and educate the children (mainly poor and brown) whose futures have been ruined by Labour and the MOE screwing up their education for the last 6 years.

Then watch the gangs campaign for Labour again as their torrent of recruits dries up.

Anonymous said...

Mark should be Minister of Education. Excellent plan.

Now - to see what National actually proposes to do . If Ms Stanford says " Iwi is our main partner and consulted on everything" - then go figure. Listen to the howls when the Te Ao vision of the world is sidelined.... or cancelled !

Robert Arthur said...

Is it so difficult? Cannot we just do whatever they did on the past? Is there no clear record covering the 1920s to 60s? What do the Asians do? With modern books instead of the irrelevant farm yard and later incredibly dull Janet and John of the times, the traditional methods should work better than ever. So much time is spent getting qualifications, surely all that is covered.

Anonymous said...

Yes, Erica Stanford will be a concern if she is going to consult her purported "Treaty partners" who will almost certainly seek a continuation of their Te Ao Maori input (and gravy train), yet which patently hasn't done them any great good throughout history.

We need to revert to what has a proven record of success, not adopt woke 'progressive' affirmative critical race ideologies that have indisputably failed our young.

Gaynor said...

Academia destroyed NZ's world class traditional education. Teacher training was originally largely done by apprenticeship but when university education became psych-socio centers new fangled ineffectual and impractical nonsense was foisted on teachers.

It is pleasing cognitive and neuro -science reinforces what was done pedagogically in the past.

Adding in just structured literacy without purging the theoretical junk won't be enough to cause change. This junk includes 'play-way' as opposed to hard work, the interminable experimentation, multi- intelligences, aspects of the child-centered ideology and schools as a mechanism for promoting socialism hence Maorification.

According to Tim Shanahan, phonic readers used solely initially is not part of the science of reading (SoR) nor does he support predictable texts. See Shanahan on Literacy blog.

While the SoR research is prolific, SoR instruction research is not. Who can definitively say what is the best? Yet in the past international tests recorded we did have the best.

To me academia are still well bound up with progressivism, in reaching for the latest shiny bauble as they lurch forward reinventing the wheel. Nothing traditional is ever worth considering.