A call for clarity and consistency in reading instruction across the years and tiers

The recent airing of Paddy's Got Issues highlighted high-level findings that confirm the resolution of the reading wars, reinforced by Laura Tupou's journalistic work.  

We were thrilled to hear the Minister of Education, Jan Tinetti, commit to the fact change is needed, stating that if she were back in the classroom a Structured Literacy Approach would be her preference in the early years. She declares, “It is starting to become questionable that we do have two different approaches out there.”   

Finally, change is in the air! However, caution is needed.  

Literacy instruction in New Zealand is taking a similar course to what is happening in the USA where Emily Hanford and Mark Seidenberg have warned careful consideration is needed of programs that suddenly claim to align with the Science of Reading and caution against hastily aligning or modifying materials.  

Structured Literacy is based on findings from the Science of Reading and is distinct; its principles and elements are well-defined. It is diagnostic, systematic, cumulative, and explicit. "Some elements of" Structured Literacy do not equate to true Structured Literacy. It is important to include all principles, in particular, explicit instruction and HOW we teach. Delivery MATTERS. The integrity of our education system is at stake, and we must be unequivocal about what constitutes best practice and let go of past ideological practices.    

The term Structured Literacy™ has been trademarked by the International Dyslexia Association to ensure those that use the words follow the guidance of an evidence-based approach based on a vast interdisciplinary body of scientifically-based research known as the Science of Reading. While it is encouraging to hear the term Structured Literacy as the Minister’s proposed solution, the Ministry of Education describe this as a structured approach to literacy and not Structured Literacy.   

Is this just semantics? Are we being pedantic?   

If the Government is investing in teacher professional development and resources, should it not be a fully evidence-based approach that has the Science of Reading at its core? Not one that is based on an isolated body of research from New Zealand.  

We now have knowledge about how the brain learns to read, guiding us on which practices to incorporate and discard. Both the Common Practice Model and the draft curriculum seem to lack specific guidance and commitment to the implementation of a Structured Literacy approach as best practice. On the contrary they continue to hold true to teaching approaches that do not align with the most current research findings, nationally and internationally.   

We must remove ineffective practices. 

We also question, where does this leave our tamariki with dyslexia or other reading difficulties? The Ministry is rolling out a structured approach to literacy that caters to years 1 and 2 in a classroom setting. This solution continues to neglect the needs of those requiring additional intervention support. As mentioned by Minister Tinetti, if “having two different approaches is questionable”, why is the only funded intervention for 6-year-olds the Balanced Literacy Approach of Reading Recovery? Furthermore, what support is available after year 2? Are the Ministry not completely prepared to get rid of Balanced Literacy?  

Clarity and clear direction are needed.  

It’s teachers that teach our tamariki, not the curriculum. When teachers are going through their initial training, how are they prepared to teach reading, writing and spelling when there are currently no definitive measures around how this should be taught? Our teachers deserve support, knowledge, resources and clear guidance to enable a consistent educational pathway to be built for all students throughout all year levels, both in classrooms and during interventions.  

It’s already happening from the bottom up.  

We witness every day that Structured Literacy has been successfully implemented across all years from 1 through to 8 (and some secondary years) in schools throughout New Zealand. The majority of these schools have independently funded and established a consistent and cohesive literacy instruction approach based on the Science of Reading. This is particularly crucial for neurodiverse students, such as those with dyslexia. 

We have hope for the potential improvement rates in literacy. We urge the Minister to shift her attention to developing an increased understanding of what a consistent Structured Literacy approach (aligned with the Science of Reading findings) looks like and the outcomes of this across all tiers and year levels. No more inequitable moves – enough is enough.  

If you are wanting to find out more about evidence-based reading instruction and support, join us for an inaugural  Literacy Symposium - Cultivating the Literacy Landscape


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