The lighter side of the Oxford Children’s Word of the Year

The word ‘equality’ might have been the Oxford Word of the Year, but not all entries tackled the big issues of our time.

Many of the entries from primary school students across Australia were funny and imaginative, bringing a smile to our faces as we read through the stories to put together our shortlist of words for the judges.

‘Slime’ featured in more than one entry (“it was brown and ugly. It felt watery and sticky.”), while alongside ‘freedom’, ‘refugee’, ‘loyalty’ and ‘bullying’, there were stories about ‘sausages’, a ‘rooster’ and a talking ant.

Unsurprisingly, fidget spinners were mentioned, but more unexpected was the fact that they were the theme of just one story.

In the spirit of Roald Dahl, made-up words included ‘mungry’, defined as ‘more than hungry’ and ‘hoodash’, which was a collection of letters two boys found in their adventures around Australia.

Here are excerpts from some of the entries that tickled our fancy, including a story about an ant who talked too much:

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Food was also a hot topic, from macaroni to chicken nuggets:

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We loved reading the quirky rhyme submitted by one of the students:

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Thank you to all of the schools who entered the Oxford Children’s Word of the Year competition. We look forward to hearing from you in 2018!

Find out more about the winners of the Oxford University Press Children’s Word of the Year primary school writing competition.

 

‘Equality’ named the Oxford Children’s Word of the Year

After countless hours reviewing hundreds of entries, Oxford University Press Australia and New Zealand has announced its 2017 Children’s Word of the Year: equality.

The word is a result of an Australia-wide writing competition in which students from Grade Prep to Grade 6 submitted a piece of free writing up to 500 words based on a chosen word. The writing could be creative or factual, funny or serious.

A judging panel, consisting of academics and experts in children’s English language, evaluated competition entries based on a word’s popularity, use of the word in context, and frequency, to determine the Australian Children’s Word of the Year.

Equality was used in the entries to refer to a wide range of issues, including racial, gender, marriage, sporting, pay, disability rights and even sibling equality. It was included in both fictional and non-fiction writing.

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OUP ANZ director of Schools Publishing, Lee Walker, saysequality’ is a topical example of how Australian primary school children are tuned in to the social conversations happening today.

“The prevalence of the word ‘equality’ seems a fitting reflection of the current social landscape, with children incorporating the word in their stories across topics of gender, pay, culture, marriage, disability, religion, race and sport.

“It warmed our hearts to see the diverse range of issues that were top-of-mind amongst Australian children, and further confirmed how observant children are of the conversations that make up the daily news and social discussions around them,” Walker said.

Other words to appear in the children’s entries were traditional favourites including family, friends and sport, alongside words that previously have not been as prevalent, including soccer (as well as AFL football), bullying and war.

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OUP ANZ managing director Peter van Noorden said the competition provided valuable insights into what Australian primary school students are thinking and talking about.

“The competition was important in furthering our understanding of the language used in the modern Australian school yard. We also wanted to see how we differed from our global counterparts.

“In the UK, the 2016 Children’s Word of the Year was ‘refugee’, and this year was ‘trump’, so it was fascinating to see how Australian primary school students absorb similar social and political news that make up the daily news cycle.”

To read some of the winning entries and for more information about the competition visit the Children’s Word of the Year website, or join the conversation on social media with #cwoty.

Celebrating World Teachers’ Day with the best and worst teachers in literature

More than a few famous writers started their professional lives as teachers, or taught at schools or universities between books.

Before Dan Brown wrote his bestseller, The Da Vinci Code, he taught English and Spanish, while William Golding’s The Lord of the Flies might have been inspired by his experience teaching high school English and philosophy. Frank McCourt, Joanne Harris and Philip Pullman were among the other best-selling writers to have spent some time as teachers.

So, there is little wonder that teachers have frequently appeared in books, often inspiring or protecting their young students. But, not all fictional teachers are presented in such a favourable light.

To mark World Teachers’ Day, here are some of the most memorable teachers in literature.

Miss Honey (Matilda by Roald Dahl)

Matilda was surrounded by horrible adults, from her self-absorbed parents to her terrifying headmaster, Agatha Trunchbull. But Miss Honey provided a ray of light for Matilda, protecting her from the worst of her parents and the cruel headmaster. Every child dreams of a kind and gentle teacher like Miss Honey taking them under their wing.

Miss Temple (Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte)

What is it about teachers standing in for absent or neglectful parents? In Jane Eyre, Miss Temple gives Jane one of her first tastes of kindness and love, doing her best to shield her from the cruelty of the headmaster and showing her small kindnesses that Jane has rarely experienced before.

Miss Harris (The Great Gilly Hopkins by Katherine Paterson)

Like the best teachers in real life, Miss Harris is kind and patient, and identifies Gilly’s intelligence. While Gilly, like Matilda, had few solid and reliable sources of support at home, Miss Harris provided a sense of benevolent stability.

 

These teachers were respected and adored by their students. However, not all depictions of teachers in literature are quite so positive.

Sheba and Barbara (Notes on a Scandal by Zoe Heller)

Both Sheba and Barbara have their own flaws in Notes on a Scandal. While Sheba embarks on an affair with her student, Barbara also displays worrying behaviours, from her obsession with her colleague to her vindictiveness on finding out about the affair and satisfaction on reporting it. Sheba might be unstable, but Barbara is cruel. They are two teachers that most parents would prefer not to have in front of their children’s classroom.

Julian Marrow (The Secret History by Donna Tartt)

In some ways the perfect teacher – passionate, inventive and knowledgeable, in other ways, Julian Marrow is one of the worst. He draws his students in, ultimately betraying them. Was he the mastermind behind the book’s central crime? Or was he merely a narcissist? Either way, he is far from the ideal teacher he might seem to be.

Agatha Trunchbull (Matilda by Roald Dahl)

Matilda might have eventually come under the protection of the lovely Miss Honey, but before that, she fell victim to Agatha Trunchbull. With her heaving chest and her huge presence, she despises children and dolls out cruel punishments including making a student eat an entire birthday cake on his own, in front of the class, and spinning a girl around by her pigtails. Miss Trunchbull is the stuff of children’s nightmares.

Who do you think are the best and worst teachers in fiction?

How schools can prepare for the Phonics Screening Check – a practical guide

Oxford University Press White Paper: Phonics is Knowledge by Ruth Miskin Training consultant Hayley Goldsworthy

The Federal Government last week announced its commitment to introducing literacy and numeracy checks for Year 1 students. The literacy component would include a Phonics Screening Check.

Oxford University Press has developed a white paper titled ‘Phonics is Knowledge’ to help guide schools as they prepare for the checks. The white paper is available on the Oxford University Press Australia’s phonics information page, but below is a summary of the key points.

What is the Phonics Screening Check?

The Phonics Screening Check is a five to seven minute reading check for Year 1 students. The purpose of the check is to provide early identification of students who are struggling with the essential foundation reading skill and require appropriate intervention. The check will provide feedback for teachers and schools about their instructional approaches and supply impetus to make improvements.

In the UK, the check was introduced in 2012. A report published in 2015 found that since its introduction, schools have made improvements to the teaching of phonics, with the proportion of students achieving the expected standard on the Phonics Screening Check in Year 1 increasing each year.

How can your school prepare for the Phonics Screening Check?

Using the check alone won’t improve reading in your school – it’s what you do with the information that matters. The following questions provide a starting point that school leaders can use to review how they teach reading and monitor reading progress and whether you are teaching phonics effectively.

  • What is your understanding of ‘phonics instruction’?
  • If you asked your teaching staff: ‘How do you teach phonics?’ would there be consistency in responses?
  • Do you have a shared understanding of the different types of phonics instruction, such as synthetic, analytic, embedded and incidental? See the phonics white paper for details of each.
  • Which approach do you employ? Is it consistent, or is it a mixture of more than one approach?
  • How do you know if your current reading instruction is effective?

How you can improve your school’s phonic teaching

The white paper suggests a range of ways in which you can ensure your school is teaching phonics effectively, including:

Teach phonics regularly – It is not an uncommon practice for some schools to focus on teaching a ‘letter of the week’, but schools that have achieved the best reading results teach a sound a day. Every day a new sound is explicitly taught, and previously taught sounds are reviewed and consolidated.

Use decodable texts that match the students’ phonic knowledge – Lessons should provide frequent and regular opportunities for children to apply their phonic skills by reading carefully matched, phonically regular texts. Children should only be presented with texts that are entirely decodable for them, so they experience success and learn to rely on phonemic strategies. As their knowledge of grapheme-phoneme correspondences increases, so do the texts to practise reading.

Teach children to decode high-frequency words – Send home lists of sight words that can easily be decoded once a child knows a few sounds and can blend. Almost every word in the English language can be decoded; some are just trickier than others. Take the word ‘said’, for example, Children should be taught to identify the ‘tricky’ bit in the word – ai. The grapheme ‘ai’ in ‘said’ represents the /e/ sound. This way of representing the sound is irregular and is therefore the ‘tricky’ bit of the word. Understanding this will not only help a child to read the word ‘said’, but also to spell it accurately.

Carry out regular assessments – Ensure your assessments are used to inform teaching and learning. Assess children’s knowledge of grapheme-phoneme correspondences, their enunciation of sounds, their blending ability, and their reading of words and non-words. Identify children with additional needs to address this and close the gap early.

Ensure teachers have the required level of knowledge and understanding to teach phonics effectively – The teaching of reading is complex and requires specialised knowledge and skills. Adequate preparation needs to be given to teachers, not only through their pre-service teacher education, but also through ongoing professional development.

Adopt a whole-school approach – A high-quality phonics program should be grounded in findings from rigorous, evidence-based research and a consistent, comprehensive whole-school approach should be adopted. All teaching staff should acknowledge that the teaching of reading is the shared responsibility of the whole school, under the direction of the principal and senior staff.

More detailed advice, including details of analytic, incidental/embedded and synthetic phonics, are available in the phonics white paper.

 

 

Helping teachers make sense of the Year 1 phonics screening check

The Australian Government today announced its commitment to implementing a nationally consistent literacy and numeracy check for all Year 1 students across Australia.

At Oxford University Press we believe effective literacy teaching, and specifically the teaching of reading, should be grounded in findings from rigorous, evidence-based research.

In order to provide teachers with the tools to effectively teach phonics, we have developed a phonics webpage introducing teachers to the phonics test and information on why phonics teaching is so important.

Here is a short video introduction to phonics, featured on the webpage.

According to Dr Jennifer Buckingham, phonics plays an important role in teaching reading.

“There is an abundance of extensive and rigorous evidence-based research from all over the world about how children learn to read and the most effective ways to teach them.  Since 2000, there have been major national inquiries into the teaching of reading in the United States, United Kingdom and Australia. These reviews, along with copious amounts of other research, all agree and identify five essential skills for reading competency:

Phonemic awareness: The ability to identify and manipulate phonemes, the smallest units of sound, in spoken words.
Phonics: The ability to decode words using knowledge of the relationship between sounds (phonemes) of spoken language and the letters (graphemes) that represent those sounds in written language.
Fluency: The ability to read effortlessly with speed and accuracy.
Vocabulary: Knowing the meaning of a wide variety of words and the structure of written language.
Comprehension: Understanding the meaning and purpose of the text.”

The phonics webpage provides details about the phonics check and what it means for schools and teachers, and offers teachers assistance in choosing the right program for their school and details of phonics-based professional development events across Australia.

OUP’s phonics test information page aims to provide teachers with an understanding of the newly announced test, the role of phonics, and the implementation of phonics education to help them provide the best possible learning outcomes for their students.

For more on phonics and literacy, visit:

The Importance of Comprehension

Literacy tools to help parents ensure their children are school-ready

Phonics is Not a Dirty Word

 

 

 

From cooking to a trip to the zoo – fun ways parents can build children’s early literacy skills

Many parents are looking for ways to help ensure their children are school-ready. One way of doing this is by helping children to develop early literacy skills that will set them on the path towards learning to read.

The Australian Literacy Educators’ Association (ALEA) has developed the Little People’s Literacy Learning Modules to provide parents and carers with guidance on introducing early literacy to their children.

The modules developed by authors Anita Ayre and Professor Trevor Cairney  started life as a book created for Anita’s first grandchild to assist his parents in engaging him in talk and text.

Anita and Trevor’s advice for parents covers reading to children, speaking, rhythm and gross motor development, including:

  • Help your child clap the syllables in words, beginning with your child’s name, then familiar words. The slash is used to separate syllables, for example, Ja/son; Ste/pha/nie; Mum/my; Nan/na; Grand/dad; ba/by; toy/box; shop/ping/cen/tre; pen/ cil; man/da/rine; pi/an/o; as well as any words your child uses. Clapping the syllables in words helps to decode unknown words by breaking up the words into sections.
  • Ask your child to close his or her eyes and listen to sounds in different environments. Discuss the sounds that your child hears, for example, at home, at the zoo, on the train, in the park or a walk through a natural environment. Can you hear a rhythm in the sounds, such as rhythm in a bird’s call? Allow your child to use an electronic device to record the different sounds in different environments. Store the recordings in a ‘sound library’ so your child can revisit the experience of different sorts of sounds.
  • Look at a picture and encourage your child to tell you what the picture or story may be about. For example, look at the front cover and ask: ‘What do you think this story/book might be about?’. Looking into the book you can ask questions such as ‘What’s this?’, ‘What type of animal is that?’, ‘Is it a windy day?’ or ‘How can you tell?’.
  • If you cook with your child, it can become a reading and learning activity. When following a written recipe, you and your child can try to read the instructions. Safety permitting and with your adult supervision, your child may be able to carry out some steps of the procedure. Some examples of conversation throughout the preparation process include: ‘Look at the picture of the eggs. How many eggs does it say to use?’, ‘Let’s read the first step.’, ‘What do we have to do next?’ and ‘What happened when we poured the flour into the egg mixture?’.

ALEA National President Beryl Exley said parents could play an important role in helping their children develop early literacy skills, with the ALEA Literacy Declaration stating:

“Parents and caregivers play a critical role in fostering children’s engagement in and enjoyment of a wide range of experiences that enhance literacy development. They need to understand that children benefit from rich oral language experiences and opportunities to interact with high quality literature representing diverse cultures, experiences and perspectives.”

Parents and carers can use games, song, reading and conversation to foster a love of words and language in their children, laying the groundwork for their future literacy education.

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Oxford University Press is dedicated to improving childhood literacy, through projects including the Oxford Wordlist and the Children’s Word of the Year writing competition.

 

Consistency and community key in Indigenous literacy: Q&A with Shirley Davey

Literacy is a community affair in the Top End, according to Literacy and Numeracy Trainer Shirley Davey.  In the remote areas where Shirley works, students, families, teachers and trainers are working together to bring the benefits of literacy and numeracy.

We asked Shirley about her experience working in Indigenous literacy.

Where do you work? Northern Territory Department of Education.

 What is your role?

Literacy and Numeracy Trainer, focusing on the implementation of the LANE (Literacy and Numeracy Essentials) project in rural and remote schools in the Northern Territory.

I currently support 11 remote schools across the Top End region with six schools focusing on numeracy and five focusing on literacy and numeracy.

What is the best part about working in Indigenous literacy?

The five schools that I am supporting with literacy are implementing Read Write Inc in their schools, as well as using an explicit teaching model.

Seeing the progress that a large number of students are making with Read Write Inc in 2017 has been amazing.  Seeing the excitement on the faces of the students, especially when they have the opportunity to share their successes with other students in their class or in the school is a great reward for me as a trainer. It is equally as exciting to see how proud families are of their children.

Some of the schools have involved their Assistant Teachers in the training of Read Write Inc, which has meant that they are building capacity in their own work. The Assistant Teachers are having conversations with the communities about what the children are learning and how, which has created an increased sense of pride within communities.

Overall, the level of dedication and standard that the teachers are working to is the best part of working in this area. Teachers expect that their Aboriginal students, particularly remote students, can learn and work to a high level, so it’s rewarding to see the positive improvements and sense of pride it ensues.

What are the main challenges you face in Indigenous literacy?

In the Northern Territory, education operates in a unique context given the vastness in location of our communities and the mobility of students between communities.

The benefit of schools implementing an explicit teaching and learning program such as LANE, is that the impact of mobility and their location is minimised. If a student moves between communities throughout a school year, teachers who are trained in the delivery of LANE can easily identify where a student is up to in their learning and can deliver a tailored program to suit. Most importantly, students benefits from this type of program, as they have familiarity in their learning which often results in achieving greater outcomes.

Over 40% of Territory school students identify as Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander, which means that for many students, English is an additional language. This can present a challenge in the delivery of a literacy program.

In the Northern Territory, we have a targeted focus on early years education to ensure that students have access to learning literacy and numeracy essentials from the youngest possible age. This learning is extended past the students and to the families, through other programs such as Families as First Teachers which includes mothers, fathers, aunties and grandmothers in the learning journey, so children are learning together with their family.

By focusing on working with children and families from the youngest possible age, we are seeing an impact on school attendance and engagement. This is a result of students and families developing a habitual routine to attend school every day as well as allowing them to develop a deeper understanding of the value of education and the positive impact it has on their future.

What improvements could be made in the way we approach Indigenous literacy?

A consistent approach across schools in terms of literacy is needed. LANE and the Explicit Teaching Model is one way of ensuring this, particularly in rural and remote schools.

Early feedback has shown that this has been an effective and successful model to ensure consistency, not only for our students but also for our teachers who are new to an Indigenous context.

Continuing the focus on early years education will also ensure that students have access to learning literacy and numeracy essentials from the youngest possible age.

Do you have any anecdotes about your experiences?

One remote school I support for literacy, Woolianna School has seen dramatic improvements in student literacy this year. They have seen five-year-old Aboriginal students who couldn’t read, now reading after six months at school.

It is even the little things, like feedback I receive from Assistant Teachers and parents about how their children are using the skills they’ve learnt to sound out words in the local community or even at the supermarket.

What is the future in Indigenous literacy?

The future of Aboriginal literacy, particularly in regards to remote schools in the Northern Territory, is very positive.

We are currently seeing students at Transition and Year 1 levels working at the appropriate levels in regards to the Australian Curriculum and this can only benefit them for the rest of their primary school education and into the high school experience.

 

Q&A: Indigenous literacy trainer Emily Davies

Working in Indigenous literacy can be ‘pure magic’ according to NT Government Literacy and Numeracy Projects Training Officer Emily Davies.

To celebrate Indigenous Literacy Day, we spoke to Emily about her role visiting schools in the Katherine region, the challenges she faces and the joy of helping Indigenous students to read.

Where do you work?

I work for the Department of Education NT as part of the Literacy and Numeracy Project team which is part of the Indigenous Education Review.

What is your role?

I am a Literacy and Numeracy Essentials Trainer. I go out to all the remote Indigenous schools in the Katherine region, which includes 26 schools with the furthest school being 773km away from Katherine. My role is to support teachers and principals to improve the literacy and numeracy of their students. This may include support in planning and assessment, modelling, team teaching and observations. It also includes supporting the Read Write INC phonics program.

What is the best part about working in Indigenous literacy?

“Working in indigenous literacy is the most rewarding job I have had.”

I work with students and teachers that have struggled to make progress in the past or have come to a road block. I love working with classrooms to overcome challenges and help students to succeed and make continual progress. This progress can become more rapid and exciting for these students when they don’t see it too often.

What are the main challenges you face in Indigenous literacy?

There are countless challenges. The language barrier can be a big and frustrating one. Teacher turnover makes it very difficult to make continue progress when we are constantly starting again. In my job, location is a challenge so it’s lucky I love driving!

What improvements could be made in the way we approach Indigenous literacy?

We need to be putting students in the centre. There is so much policy and red tape that is stopping teachers do what is best for their students.

“These students are so unique and have unique needs that should never be compared to the rest of Australia.”

This is why I love Read Write INC phonics. It doesn’t look at how old you are or what you can’t do. It works for all students, even older teenagers that are struggling to learn, and it doesn’t compare them to early years students. It just helps teachers to do their job and teach.

Do you have any anecdotes about your experiences?

I am often told that once students get older, ‘it’s too late’ and programs are introduced to teach them how to function with low literacy in society. With a hard working school and teacher, I have seen huge progress in literacy using early years strategies, with a high level of trust established.

“I now see older students excited to read fairy tales to me and to read to each other. This is pure magic.”

What is the future in Indigenous literacy?

This will depend a lot on what the future policies will look like. I am seeing very small progress, but in a lot of places the overall progress is often going backwards because of the students’ difficult lives going on around them. So much needs to be done to see a change.

 

Primary students show age is no barrier to creativity

There was a stubborn dog and a deadly beast, a new student in the class and a sleepy language-lover – the entries in the 2016 Wordlist Writing Competition for primary school students showed some wonderful creativity and originality.

In the lead up to National Literacy and Numeracy Week between September 4 and 10, we’re looking back some of the winning entries in last year’s Wordlist competition.

In an entry titled ‘Narrative Jam’, Agna from Grade 4 presented an original and surprising interpretation of the traditional fairy tale. She wove her love of writing into the storyline, using phrasing in unexpected ways.

“10 cent coins, 20 cent coins. Maths. I prefer writing. Writing narratives. Of course, lots of people like Maths better. Then there’s Dance, Drama, Geography and History and Music. I’m going in alphabetical order, if that helps, but let’s not get too carried away.”

Later, she became part of the fairy tale as a somewhat reluctant participant. Agna challenged fairy tale norms, writing about a ‘not-so-brave knight’ and expressing dismay at the ‘pink dress with puffy sleeves’ that she was wearing.

Another impressive entry came from Alessandra from Grade 2/3, who wrote a suspenseful story that included a description of being chased by fierce animals. Alessandra described the ‘vicious fangs’ and ‘razor sharp claws’ of the animal that pursued her.

“You’re running, running to be free of the chase. You hear the roaring right behind you so you go faster but you know you can’t outrun a deadly beast like this!”

It was not action, but emotion, that was at the heart of the story by Eva from Grade 5. In ‘Notebook’ Eva wrote about her character’s first day at a new school, and a poignant and insightful speech she made to her peers, despite believing that she looked like a “shaky blob of jellyfish”.

“A new beginning at a new school – again. Another teacher calling another roll.”

Other winners took a more light-hearted approach, with Pippa from Grade 5 writing about Rex the Stubborn Dog who wore “puffy floaties and a yellow sun cap” to the beach and was “as silly as a goose”. Splashing in the waves, chasing pelicans and singing a funny song, Pippa’s story was written with humour and a sense of fun.

“Suddenly, Rex saw a dark shadow in the ocean. He dodged, dove, ducked and dipped under the cold water. I wonder … am I tough enough to catch this creature?”

Grade Prep student, Tanvi, wrote about a rabbit called ‘Alasco’, who enjoyed going on adventures with his dad. However, when he discovered his father was missing one morning, he found his own adventure involving a treasure map and pirates.

“When he work up his dad was gone. Then he looked under his bed and he found a map. It was no ordinary map. It was a treasure map.”

Finally, Archie brought a creative approach to current affairs and politics, with his story involving a president who forced ‘Mexi Bunnies’ to build a wall.

“Mr Bunny was the president of the Bunny States. He was a mean president, he shouted, “Mexi Bunny shouldn’t be able to cross to Bunny States because they are the silliest of Bunnies!”

One of the most exciting elements of the stories from the 2016 competition was their diversity – funny, heartfelt, controversial and suspenseful – they revealed the wonderful depths of young people’s creativity.

We’re looking forward to reading this year’s entries in the Children’s Word of the Year competition!


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This year, teachers and guardians can enter primary school students’ writing samples in the Children’s Word of the Year writing competition. Through the competition, Oxford University Press aims to find out more about the language of Australian children, and the way they use that language in their storytelling.

A lesson plan is available to help inspire students in their writing, and some great class and individual prizes are up for grabs.

 

 

Comprehension is an essential part of the literacy equation

By Annie Facchinetti

Imagine that you were lost in Turkey and the only directions you had were written in Turkish. You could probably read them out loud with reasonable accuracy, even though your phonological awareness of the language may not be perfect, but unless you can speak Turkish, your understanding would be limited. Reading the directions is therefore unlikely to be a valuable activity for you. So, while phonics and decoding are critical skills, without comprehension, the whole point of reading is lost.

Seminal research by Gough and Tunmer (1986) proposed the Simple View of Reading, which places equal value on decoding and comprehension using a mathematical equation: Reading = Decoding x Comprehension or R = D x C. In this equation, if there is no comprehension, and therefore the C has a value of 0, the R will also equal 0. In other words, if comprehension is not happening, reading is not happening.

A more recent comprehensive study by the US National Reading Panel (NRP & NICHD, 2000) identified five areas as being critical to reading instruction: phonemic awareness; phonics; fluency; vocabulary; and text instruction.  Often referred to as the “big five”, the NRP concluded that each component is necessary for successful reading from the earliest stages of school. This represents a shift from traditional thinking, whereby phonics was the main focus for early years students and comprehension was introduced later.

The view that comprehension should be an integral part of reading instruction has garnered much support in the research literature. Cunningham and Shagoury (2005, p.4), for example, contend that emphasising decoding too heavily in lower grades can lead to a lack of understanding when reading by the time students reach the middle years. They advocate explicit instruction in a range of comprehension strategies, including visualising, inference and synthesising skills.  Reed (2016) takes this one step further, asserting that:

Teaching comprehension while students are still mastering foundational reading skills will not only allow for students to demonstrate age-appropriate skills, but it also will help reinforce the reasons we read in the first place: to derive meaning, understanding, and enjoyment from a book or other text.

This suggests that not only are students capable of text comprehension as soon as they begin reading (Gregory & Cahill, 2010), ensuring that they have the skills to access meaning as they read is vital to help students become successful and willing readers.

While instruction in some of the foundational skills of reading, such as phonological awareness, will gradually become less necessary as students’ reading proficiency increases (Reed, 2016), comprehension remains important right through the primary years and beyond. A lack of comprehension skills will affect not only a student’s academic results, but also a whole host of areas in their adult lives, including opportunities for future study and employment prospects (Marshall, n.d.). Consequently, it is necessary to provide continued support for students to develop and refine strategies to understand and critically analyse what they read throughout their school lives.

There is general agreement that while decoding is necessary for successful reading, by itself it is not sufficient (Gough & Tunmer, 1986; Van Kleeck, 2008). Incorporating targeted and explicit comprehension instruction into daily literacy programs is therefore essential to support students as readers and learners.

Annie Facchinetti is a leading educator and author of OZBOX: Learning through Literacy and Oxford Literacy teaching notes.

Learn about building comprehension skills in your classroom 

Further reading

Cunningham, A., & Shagoury, R. (2005). Starting with comprehension. Portland, Me.: Stenhouse Publishers.

Gough, P., & Tunmer, W. (1986). Decoding, Reading, and Reading Disability. Remedial And Special Education7(1), 6-10.

Gregory, A., & Cahill, M. (2010). Kindergartners Can Do It, Too! Comprehension Strategies for Early Readers. The Reading Teacher63(6), 515-520.

Marshall, P. The Importance of Reading ComprehensionK12 Reader. Retrieved 15 July 2017.

National Reading Panel (U.S.), & National Institute of Child Health and Human Development (U.S.). (2000). Report of the National Reading Panel. Teaching children to read: An evidence-based assessment of scientific research literature on reading and its implications for reading instruction. (NIH Publication No. 00-4769). Washington, DC: US Government Printing Office.

Reed, D. (2016). Comprehension Skills Are Important for Readers of All AgesIowa Reading Research Centre.

Van Kleeck, A. (2008). Providing preschool foundations for later reading comprehension: The importance of and ideas for targeting inferencing in storybook-sharing interventions. Psychology In The Schools45(7), 627-643.