Phonics is not a dirty word

By Kate Gurjian, Director, Time to Shine Australia

Phonics is a word that is often misused, misunderstood and abused. Despite what some might argue, it is a method of learning that has much to offer Australian children.

I am often asked why it is so important to teach children phonics, as opposed to learning words through prediction or as a whole word.

Sound is critical in the process of learning to read. Children need to hear, distinguish, isolate, rhyme and articulate sounds and words. Once they are aware of these sounds, they can ready the neural pathways in their brain for learning the connection between letters and sounds. This is the single most critical factor in learning to read.


When a child can hear a sound, repeat that sound, recognise a sound in a word, and repeat a sound in a rhyme, they are on their way to learning to read. Although over-simplifying the very complex teaching of the alphabetic code, it is a starting point that offers more than what is currently being taught in our early years education.

The approach we are currently taking is a flawed one, and we have to ask ourselves the questions, ‘Why do we feel a three or four-year-old needs to be given flashcards of whole words?’ and ‘Why are we ‘hothousing’ children to read before they can sound?’ If we are really honest with ourselves, and have read the research, we would know the answer to the above questions.

In their first formal year of school, children should be immersed in phonemic awareness (understanding sounds), phonics, vocabulary, fluency and comprehension. These five critical components are intertwined. But, they each must be taught explicitly and directly in a systematic order for children to have any chance of success in reading, spelling and writing.

So, why do I pull out one single word, ‘phonics’? I do this because it is the one piece of the puzzle of childhood literacy that is so often under debate, and so poorly understood.

Perhaps the reason for this difference of opinion is due to the fact that some children appear to progress with little support, when in reality more than 20% of children will become at risk in their learning due to ignorance by the ‘system’. Learning to read is not an area that we learn by osmosis. Children need to be taught which sounds correspond with which letters. English is a phonetic language; there are 26 letters, but over 44 sounds! Understanding this complexity will enable all children to be given thorough phonics instruction.

I assess more than 200 children every year in my private practice, and every year I see the same result: children from their first year of school, through to the end of primary, who have not been given an ordered approach to the learning of letter-sound correspondence – that being explicit phonics. Some children are therefore years behind in their reading, spelling and writing. They are ‘instructional casualties’. This is our fault.

English will not be learnt by chance. We must teach the alphabetic code well and directly. We need to recognise that phonics is not a dirty word, but a critical one.

About Kate – An individual approach that is helping students to shine


In the world of literacy, Kate Gurjian describes herself as a disruptor. It was her unwillingness to sit by and watch children fail, and to challenge the status quo, that motivated her to establish Time to Shine, carving out a niche in the education of children.

Instead of tolerating poor teaching based on lack of empirical evidence and research, and management directives she disagreed with, Kate drew on her extensive experience as an educator to build a new education business.

“I will not stand idly by and wait for a child to fail, nor will I tolerate teaching practices that fly in face of proven science. So I decided not to move the behemoth that is the ‘system’ – instead I chose to do it myself,” she said.

Previously, Kate had worked as a primary teacher, early childhood educator, special needs practitioner, author, head of department and principal. This broad experience provided her with an understanding of what children need in effective literacy and numeracy learning for future success.

Time to Shine offers students, from the age of four to 14, direct and explicit instruction in reading, writing, spelling and mathematics, supporting children for whom learning is difficult. The approach emphasises individual attention, research-proven methods, and only utilises the programs that are based on scientific evidence.

“Knowing precisely where a child is in terms of weakness, matched with their strengths and interests, ensures we accurately develop an individual program tailored specifically to the child. The work I do is grounded in the children and their individuality. Henceforth, Time to Shine’s philosophy stands by what I value most: every child, no matter their background or ability, being given every opportunity to shine.”

Equality is also important to Kate, and she aims to ensure all children have access to high quality education.

“I ultimately advocate for the rights of the child and the education that must be made available to them,” she said.

Using humour to inspire young writers

Hey, want to hear a joke?
Novice pirates make terrible singers because they can’t hit the high seas. 
(Cue collective groan)

Sometimes humour can be in-your-face and silly (like the joke above), and other times it can be more subtle. Whether it’s a pun, a child’s knock-knock joke, a funny movie, or situation comedy on television, we all enjoy a good laugh. Given this natural human tendency to appreciate humour, how might we, as educators, leverage humour in our teaching?  This idea deserves further attention.

Consider how social humour is. Think about the last time you watched a funny movie or television show with someone. When something funny happens on screen we turn to the person beside us as if to say ‘did you get it?’ It’s almost as if sharing the joke or funny situation enhances its humour.  The same is true with children, especially with their reading. Think about when you were a child, and saw a group of other children huddled together around a book, laughing.  How did you respond to that situation? You probably wanted to know what was so funny!  We all want to know what’s so funny. We all want to be part of the joke. Humour is a social phenomenon.

I observed this firsthand when I researched how humorous children’s literature engages young readers.  My research revealed that humorous literature is a huge motivator for children to read. When they read humorous books, they want to read more in general, and more specifically they want to read books by that author or other funny authors.  Also, when they do read something funny, they want to share it with someone immediately, whether they are a friend, family member, or teacher. This has classroom implications for teachers around the globe, because humorous literature can reach both struggling and reluctant readers.

In a related research project, I found that humorous children’s literature also motivates young readers to become writers of humour.  This was more than just wanting to copy their favourite author’s style of writing, but a need to be creative and write funny stories as well.  That is why in my latest book there is an entire chapter discussing humorous texts and their value in the classroom, and what teachers can do to harness these texts in developing young writers.

Some tips to help promote writing using humorous texts:

  • Expand your definition of ‘genre’ to include humorous texts (comics, joke books, etc.).
  • Value and include comics in your classroom activities.
  • Read and learn about blended narratives (Zbaracki & Geringer 2014) such as the 13-Storey Treehouse.
  • Allow students to write their own comics, perhaps using technology, websites or apps, and read each other’s creations.
  • Use technology (such as the ‘Pun of the Day’ app) to encourage students to explore the multiple meanings of words.
  • Explore parodies of well-known fairy tales and nursery rhymes to inspire students to create their own parodies.

So, it’s important to remember that humour, in addition to being fun, has great benefits helping students in both reading and writing.   ‘Sigmund’, a grade five student in my research study summed it up best:

… all books kind of have some humour, and if you don’t, I’m not saying that you should put like all humour in the book, it’s just if you don’t it’ll be kind of dull, and it won’t … well, it’ll be like the cake without the icing.

He’s so right! Keep eating that cake with icing, and reading and writing those funny texts!

Matthew Zbaracki is a Senior Lecturer in the School of Education at Australia Catholic University (Melbourne) and the author of Writing Right with Text Types (2015).


Featured image credits:  [1] OUP 9780195519068; [2]Shutterstock ID 144699151


Oxford is joint winner at the 2015 Environment Award for Children’s Literature

Each year, the Wilderness Society awards outstanding children’s books that promote a love of nature, and a sense of caring and responsibility for the environment. This year, Our Class Tiger, one of our Oxford Literacy Independent titles, was joint winner in the non-fiction category for the 2015 Environment Award for Children’s Literature. In celebration, we chat to author Aleesha Darlison about her inspiration and key messages behind the book.

9780195589726Non-fiction category
Our Class Tiger
Aleesah Darlison

What was the inspiration for Our Class Tiger, why feature a tiger?

I adore tigers. They’re beautiful, powerful, spell-binding creatures – and unfortunately they’re becoming increasingly rare. Although children and adults alike are fascinated by them, most people probably don’t know a lot about them. So when the publisher at Oxford University Press asked me to write a story that featured a tiger, I was very excited. Writing this book was the perfect way to teach children important facts about tigers and also to highlight ways we can help save them. Our Class Tiger is a narrative non-fiction story so it engages young readers with an entertaining story while at the same time imparting key information, making the book perfect for use in the classroom.

Do you work with endangered animals, why choose a topic like this?
I have a great interest in and passion for animals, their welfare and protection. And I love books and writing. Being an author, I get to combine these two great loves to create stories about all sorts of animals. Many of my books feature endangered animals and while I haven’t been lucky enough to work with them on a daily basis, I have presented educational sessions at zoos and wildlife parks to help highlight the plight of those animals in danger and what we can do to save them. Books like Our Class Tiger are important so young children can learn to understand, appreciate, love and protect endangered animals. They need our help to survive.

What was the key message you wanted to share with the children reading Our Class Tiger?
An important part of the book is trying to impress upon children how crucial it is to help save tigers and how small things they do can help these beautiful creatures in big ways. No matter how old you are or where you live, you can make a difference.

What is your favourite spread in the book?
That’s a very difficult question to answer! The designer and illustrator have done a superb job bringing the story of Our Class Tiger to life. Every spread is interesting and eye-catching and, of course, Berhaga, the tiger cub in the story, looks magnificent in the photos. If I had to choose one, it’s at the start (Page 4 and 5) where Rose Carter, the little girl from class 3M, introduces the story and tells everyone that her class is adopting a tiger. The picture of Rose is accompanied by a gorgeous photo of a tiger cub with his pink, curly tongue sticking out – that photo is used on the front cover too. It’s irresistible.

Do you have any more fun facts to share about our endangered friends?
A group of tigers is called a ‘streak’ or an ‘ambush’. Oh, and tigers can jump over five metres in length and swim up to six kilometres. That sure beats me hands – or should I say, paws – down.

Aleesah Darlison is a multi-published, award-winning Australian children’s author. She has written over twenty books for children including picture books, chapter books and novels/series. Aleesah has won numerous awards for her writing including an Australian Society of Authors (ASA) mentorship. Aleesah travels throughout Australia and overseas delivering talks and workshops to children and adults at preschools, schools, libraries, literary festivals and writers’ centres.

Creating inclusive literacy learning experiences

Rudyard Kipling famously said that, “Words are, of course, the most powerful drug used by mankind”. Words can heal, hurt, excite, sadden – or just help with basic, everyday tasks and communications. So much human interaction is based on words; written, spoken, signed, or even tweeted! It is little wonder then that literacy learning is of such great importance.

Being literate leads to so many experiences, not least to so many aspects of education. Think about how many times today you will read something, write or type something or communicate with others in some way using language – just in one day!

Given how strongly literacy is valued and privileged in our society, it is unsurprising that there is such an emphasis on literacy experiences from the very earliest years onwards. Unfortunately though, many people do not receive the literacy learning opportunities that they need. There are various reasons for this, based on location, time and individual situations. However, regardless of context, people who experience disability are particularly at risk of being excluded from literacy learning opportunities.

9780195524123As I have written in my new book, there are many unnecessary barriers to literacy development for children who experience disability. These barriers include a paucity of literacy learning opportunities (often direct exclusion from literacy experiences, particularly in segregated educational settings), the promotion of narrow concepts of literacy for children who experience disability, a lack of accessible or appropriate literacy materials and experiences, and low expectations.

However, literacy is for everyone. No one, regardless of impairment or (dis)ability, should be excluded from literacy learning opportunities. While the lack of literacy learning opportunities, historical misunderstandings, and low expectations have formed significant barriers to literacy learning for many people who experience disability, people who experience disability have shown time and time again the capacity for literacy learning. But we all need the opportunities to make this learning possible!

There are many ways to increase inclusivity and accessibility of literacy experiences. Principles of universal design for learning are essential to inclusive literacy practice. This involves providing multiple forms for responding, engaging and participating within literacy experiences.

Storybooks are important for all children in their literacy learning. Reading to children regularly is highly beneficial, and is thus strongly recommended. Making storybook reading, amongst other literacy experiences, accessible for all children is essential. As researcher and children’s book author Amanda Niland writes, “Picture books enable children to experience the worlds of others, through engaging with fictional characters and narratives. These vicarious imaginary experiences play a part in forming children’s understandings of social values”.

Building on a range of literature in this area (see: chapter 18), the following are some ideas for making storybook reading more accessible:

  • Combining auditory, visual and kinaesthetic materials to enable children to engage variously through sight, sound and touch;
  • Incorporating signs, gestures, movements and facial expressions to increase participation and understanding;
  • Adding Braille and using sign language to enhance inclusivity;
  • Within group literacy experiences, considering the positioning of children in relation to each other, teachers, and materials to maximise engagement;
  • Building in fun and naturalistic repetition; for example, engaging in stories with repeating patterns;
  • Engaging in literacy materials within small groups, retelling and recreating stories in multiple forms. This enables each child to take on a role that builds on their strengths and enables them to contribute to the experience while learning and further developing their confidence;
  • Enhancing illustrations by adding texture or creating tactile books. This can facilitate engagement and access for many children;
  • Making quick and easy adaptations to books. For example, craft sticks, elastic bands or Velcro dots can be added to the corner of each page to provide separators that make turning pages easier.
  • Where needed for independent engagement with books, taping pages together to form an ‘accordion’ shape. This allows the book to stand alone without the need for page turning;
  • Creating options for adaptation by providing access to e-books and electronic tablets (such as iPads), as well as to other supports for augmentative and alternative communication;
  • Providing supports for sitting or standing or adjustable chairs and tables;
  • Using Velcro strips, nonslip placemats or clamps to stabilise books or other materials;
  • Holding a book, or other materials, at an appropriate height to increase visibility;
  • Placing books and other materials on slanted surfaces or easels to facilitate independent reading;
  • Using or recording audio books;
  • Using large print.

Sometimes it takes a little creativity to be inclusive, but it is always possible. The most critical thing is to remember that literacy learning experiences are for everyone!

Dr Kathy CologanDr Kathy Cologon is a Senior Lecturer and researcher at the Institute of Early Childhood, Macquarie University.

Using design to engage readers of different ages

Book design is more than just putting text and image together on a page. Many people don’t realise it, but HOW text and images are put together are just as important as the content of the text and image by itself. A reader engages with content that is presented through a combination of fonts, colour palettes, visual balance and spatial balance. When designed with careful consideration these elements facilitate ease in reading and generate the desired emotional response. If not, the content becomes dry and tedious to its audience.

A designer therefore has to think about how each spread works as a whole — are all the elements (photographs, illustrations, text, page numbers), visually balanced? Are the colours appropriate for the content? Are the font sizes and text layout appropriate for the age group the book is aimed at?

OUPANZ designers follow a set of design ‘rules’ and approaches when designing for a specific audience to ensure that they achieve an engaging design that accurately conveys the information in a reading level appropriate context. The following examples, taken from Oxford books, are all literacy texts which helps to demonstrate how one topic is conveyed differently to engage readers of different ages.

Designing for primary education students

Oxford Literacy - page sample

Designing for Primary school students – spread from Who Eats Who, Oxford Literacy Independent

  1. The overall design is visually rich to encourage learning. Specially commissioned illustrations are often in full colour and take up most of space on the spreads. Coloured photographs may also be used in conjunction with illustrations.
  2. The images tell the story as much as the words so have to be not just engaging but relevant. Word count is set according to the level of the reader.
  3. Images appear close to the text it refers to as early readers often need visual context cues if they are learning a new word.
  4. Fonts contain “infant characters”. This makes words more legible and readable.

 Designing for secondary education students


Designing for Year 10 VCE students – spread from Oxford Year 10 English

  1. The overall design is still visually rich but images are more conceptual and less literal. In the example above, a full-colour collage of type and photographs have been used to convey a literary feel.
  2. In terms of typography, the font choices for the headings are playful but highly legible at the same time. Font sizes vary according to the hierarchy of information — more important pieces of information are set in larger text.
  3. Some pieces of text are also set in different colours to call more attention to them.
  4. Colours are well-considered, not only to engage the reader but to aid navigation — chapter 1 is predominantly set in purple with other chapters set in different, but similar, cool hues (blues, greens, etc.). Definition boxes are set in orange throughout the book to complement the cool palette and to make the information contained in the definition boxes stand out.

 Designing for higher education students

HIgher ed_sample_call-outs

Designing for first year university students studying primary teaching – spread from Literacy, 5th edition

  1. The design has minimal embellishments and a restricted colour palette to accommodate the large amounts of text. The orange scribbles/doodles reflect elements from the front cover.
  2. The text is set in three colours — orange, blue and black — to be visually engaging and act as a ‘key’ to the differing hierarchy of information.
  3. Fonts with softer corners and strokes are used to reference the elements of literacy — reading, writing, speaking.
  4. Wide margins are used throughout the text to give the reader’s eyes enough rest between pages and to balance out the dense text.

As you can see, there is a lot to think about when creating book designs!

Is there a book that has engaged you through its design elements? We would love to hear about it.

 Regine Abos works as a Senior Concept Designer at Oxford University Press Australia and New Zealand.

Yarning Strong: stories about family for young readers

anita-heissDr Anita Heiss is the author of non-fiction, historical fiction, commercial women’s fiction, poetry, social commentary and travel articles. She is a regular guest at writers’ festivals and travels internationally performing her work and lecturing on Indigenous literature. She is an Indigenous Literacy Day Ambassador and a proud member of the Wiradjuri nation of central NSW.

In this post, Anita reviews four of Oxford’s Yarning Strong titles.

super-nature-starsSuper-Nature Stars
Written by Tania Crampton-Larking
Illustrated by Dub Leffler
Super-Nature Stars is Tania Crampton-Larking’s first published work. It’s a gorgeous story of ten year old Denny, who has a creative mind which he sometimes uses to mess with his five year old nephew, Jarrah. But it’s mostly in a good-hearted, playful way; it’s just not always so funny to the little fella.

Denny is a helpful, respectful young lad who jumps in his Great Aunty Yanyi’s teensy weensy purple car with her and spends the day cleaning her rather dusty old house. During the day he comes across a spider called Hoggy Huntsman in his aunt’s bathroom and a sundial in the overgrown garden. The sundial inspires Denny’s storytelling but not necessarily in a positive way. What lessons will his respected elders teach him about his gift for storytelling and how best to use it?

I think kids and adults alike will appreciate the tale of young Denny!

Written by Tammy Anderson
Tammy Anderson is a Palawa woman. She’s an award-winning artist, playwright and stand-up comedian. You may recognise her from the film The Sapphires or her one-woman show, I Don’t Wanna Play House that toured both nationally and internationally.

Tammy’s novel is about 10-year-old Sam, a ‘latchkey’ kid with a fabulous family tree that includes pets Mud Guts, Stink Bomb and Eddie.

Sam loves lots of things; her Nan’s tea parties, going to the river after school and collecting shells. But Sam is often expected to take on an adult role, and is told to ignore her hurt when she’s called ‘coon’, ‘boong’ and ‘dog poo’ by some kids at school. The old mantra of ‘Sticks and stones may break your bones…’ does not help.

S.A.M. is a book about a young girl with too many adult responsibilities. It presents a clear message that sometimes grown-ups forget that kids just want to be kids and should be allowed to be so.

The book includes a glossary for Palawa, Aboriginal English and other words used throughout. I must also say that I don’t recall ever reading the word ‘Sheila’ in a kid’s book before.

odd-one-outOdd One Out
Written by Cathy Craigie
Illustrated by Leah Brown
In the acknowledgments for this novel, Cathy Craigie writes ‘My grandmother told me that the first thing she noticed about my grandfather when he arrived at the mission was his pretty green eyes. Most people hadn’t seen one of their own with green eyes against dark skin.’

It is this ‘difference’ to the norm that is central to the story of young Buddy in Odd One Out, although in Buddy’s case he’s a Koori with red hair. It’s never bothered him before, but once Beau the Bully questions how he can be Aboriginal with red hair, Buddy stops to think about it. He asks himself ‘Who am I?’ questioning if in fact he might be adopted.

This novel touches on the issue of not conforming to fixed stereotypes. It is also full of fabulous information, such as what makes a monkey different to an ape and how/why apes are so like humans. Kids love this stuff (as do we adults).

Gamilaroi, Murri and Sydney Language words are used throughout with a useful glossary included, enabling young readers to also appreciate language maintenance.

rusty-brownRusty Brown
Written by Marie Munkara
Rusty (Russell) Brown lives on Bathurst Island – what his mum calls a ‘one-horse town’. He lives with his parents, grandparents, brother Darth and dog Ringo. Rusty’s mum has a sister named Poppy who was one of the Stolen Generation. Taken from her family when she was a small child, Poppy was disconnected from her family, language and her identity.

Rusty Brown is about Aunty Poppy’s reunion with her family. Poppy lives on the outskirts of Melbourne, so Rusty’s family sets out to teach her all about community life on Bathurst Island.

There’s an adventure at sea featuring a huge tiger shark, plus a trip for Rusty down south to Melbourne Zoo. This book is full of experiences of both remote and urban life, or as Rusty describes it, ‘The best of both worlds’.

Included is a glossary of Tiwi words used throughout the story.

To read more of Anita’s articles, click here.

Taming the roly-poly boys

Julie Baillie, Primary Education and Professional Development Manager, reminisces about her first day of teaching and the lesson she learnt about the power of story time.

I remember being a young, fresh-faced teacher (with L-plates still firmly attached) sitting nervously in front of my class of 26 brand new Reception students. It was the very first day of school – for both me and them – and I was about to impart some wisdom (or so I hoped). Had my teacher training given me the knowledge and skills to turn this sea of raw talent into budding authors, artists, farmers and scientists?

The little pig-tailed girls wearing pink ribbons and lace-topped socks (it was the eighties after all) were all sitting up straight, hands in laps as I had instructed, waiting for me to ‘teach’ them. They nodded their heads solemnly as I went through our class rules about putting our hands up to speak, taking turns and sitting still with our bottoms on the mat. Learning was a serious business!

As I looked out over my charges, I could sense that not all was as I had hoped. Out of the corner of my eye, I detected constant, restless movement. What was going on? The culprits were like those toys with weighted bottoms – one minute they were upright, next they had over-balanced, and then quick-as-a-flash, they were upright again. But wait, they were all boys. Surely their bottoms were not more uneven than the girls’?

Exhausted from the effort of trying to stay calm and positive, I opened the door for playtime and the boys literally rolled their way out of the classroom.

After playtime, the students re-entered the classroom and took their places, the boys all red-faced and sweaty-haired. I really thought I was witnessing perpetual motion! Anxiously, I viewed my meticulous, to-the-minute plan for the day. Oh no, it was storytime! How would I be able to read with all this commotion? I bravely took my seat in front of the students and opened to the first page of my book, a brand new copy of Maurice Sendak’s Where the Wild Things Are.

‘The night Max wore his wolf suit …’ I started to read. Astonishingly, one of the roly-poly boys popped upright, his eyes on the book. I kept reading.

‘I’ll eat you up!’ I bellowed in my best ‘Max’ voice. And another of the roly-poly boys stopped mid-roll and leant forward.

By the time Max came to the place where the wild things are, the rolling had almost stopped. And when the wild things roared their terrible roars and gnashed their terrible teeth and rolled their terrible eyes and showed their terrible claws, the students were all still.

Like Max, I had tamed the wild things with magic – not magic tricks, but the magic of words! Their ability to engage, excite and still the moving masses as we read our way through the library was nothing short of a miracle. We had our favourite books, authors and characters. We decorated our classroom as a pirate ship when we read Peter Pan, as the Australian bush for Possum Magic, and yes, as a forest when we read Where the Wild Things Are.

I survived my first day (and many hundreds after that), confident that every time I sat in front of a new class of students at the beginning of the year, the taming of the roly-poly boys would only be a matter of time – story time!

Julie-Baillie-Oxford-University-PressJulie is the Education and Professional Development Manager for the Primary Division of Oxford University Press. Julie led and conducted both stages of the Oxford Wordlist research and continues to work in classrooms, trialling literacy and numeracy resources with students and educators. Prior to joining Oxford University Press, Julie was an early years educator with the South Australian Department of Education and Children’s Services. With over 20 years’ experience in education, Julie has worked at school, district and state levels. She has written curriculum support documents and lead curriculum projects with schools and leaders implementing strategies to support literacy and numeracy improvement.

What is Shared Reading?

shared-readingShared reading is an important part of the reading cycle for building independent and successful readers. By definition, shared reading is an instructional approach in which the teacher explicitly models the strategies and skills of proficient readers.

It is usual for educators to undertake part of their reading strategy instruction through a combination of whole-class teaching, guided reading groups and one-on-one instruction. Whatever the approach selected, educators need to prioritise which reading strategies will be taught so that the instruction is focused on the essential skills needed to progress students’ independence.

What sorts of books are good to use during shared reading?

digital-bookSelect books with plenty of discussion points. Shared reading is an ideal time to use non-fiction texts. Books that feature a variety of concepts, text types, visual literacy and language features are also great to use and will spark conversation amongst the children. Digital literacy texts encourage students to use their visual literacy skills and engage with extras like videos and audio.

Should you use read-alouds as part of your literacy instruction?

Read-alouds should be part of every school day and not just in English or literacy lessons. It is essential that students hear fluent and expressive reading of quality fiction and non-fiction texts and that educators use read-alouds to build vocabulary and comprehension. (Teale & Yokota, 2000).

Reading to and with the whole class affords students an opportunity to engage with texts that may be beyond their reading level but at their cognitive level. Some students have a higher level of listening comprehension than reading comprehension and the opportunity to absorb an author’s message without being limited by single-word reading difficulties may encourage fuller engagement.

Excerpts taken from Bayetto, A. (2012). Read Record Respond. South Melbourne, Vic.: Oxford University Press.

The importance of reading choices

Students' interests inspire their reading choices

Students’ interests inspire their reading choices

Choice in reading materials builds engagement and assists students to have a voice in what they want to learn. To ensure choice, teachers need to have a well-organised classroom library of cognitively appropriate print and digital books including many different topics, genres and text types. Book choice must be at each student’s independent reading level or easier, so students can read successfully using the strategies they have learned and don’t require teacher or parent intervention.

Richer reading experiences for school or at home.

Richer reading experiences for school or at home.

Ebooks can provide rich reading experiences at school and at home. Studies report that ‘reading in a digital learning environment is an incentive in younger and lower performing students and that feedback in ebooks and apps plays a powerful role for staying engaged and motivated. Digital features like animation, hotspots, and audio facilitate comprehension and aid recall of story plots and content information.’ (Kathleen Roskos & Susan B. Neuman, Best Practices in Reading, The Reading Teacher, April 2014, p. 509.)

To help students build reading fluency and encourage them to read for pleasure, ensure books are at the appropriate level to build students’ confidence and help them make progress. Access to up-to-date assessment results will help inform students’ independent reading choices – educators can recommend the right selection of books so students can read independently and successfully.

Independent and successful readers:

  • Approach reading with interest
  • Presume they will understand what they read
  • Have a broad reading vocabulary and know the meanings of many words
  • Have a range of strategies for working out the meanings of words
  • Can effortlessly decode many words
  • Recognise there are different text types and that they will need to draw on diverse strategies to read them
  • Realise when they don’t understand an author’s message and have a range of strategies to help them understand it
  • Know they will make errors, but are optimistic they will understand the text
  • Have a fluent reading rate and capably use prosody (expression to aid meaning)
  • Talk about texts and authors.

Ask the Expert: Anne Bayetto

Anne BayettoAnne lectures in Special Education at Flinders University, South Australia, and focuses on literacy and numeracy students with learning difficulties. Anne brings her knowledge of assessment, planning and the instruction of reading and written language to classroom practitioners.

As the author of the Oxford Wordlist Stage 2 Research Study Summary Report, Read Record Respond and Spell Record, Respond: Moving from Assessment to Instruction, Anne provides professional development to school leaders and educators.

Why do we need a range of strategies to teach reading?

Read Record Respond, Oxford, OUPANZ‘There is no ‘one way’ to teach reading because students in a class have diverse understandings, knowledge and skills. No single approach will suit all learners at the same point in time and your decisions will be informed by the careful selection and use of assessment processes undertaken prior, during and following instruction that guide what needs to be learned next. In my book Read Record Respond, I provide more than 500 reading strategies to help move educators from assessment to instruction, and to help develop students into independent and successful readers.’

To hear more from Anne, CLICK HERE to view a range of videos she has filmed with the Australian Primary Principals Association.