A Whanganui school has seen a 37 percent increase in student achievement in the half-year since adopting an inclusive and planned approach to literacy, proving there’s no one-size-fits-all solution to teaching children how to read and write.
Castlecliff School has adopted a literacy strategy, where kaiako collaborate as a team to deliver a range of approaches - including structured literacy, Reading Recovery and Early Literacy Support - to ensure no child is left behind.
“Our team approach to literacy gives all tamariki daily exposure through a combination of big book, phonics, familiar and guided reading, structured literacy, written work, oral language, and reading to, with and by kaiako,” says Reading Recovery teacher Carol Loader.
The school devised the strategy after mid-year data last year showed gaps in the school’s literacy learning. A hui with all syndicate staff, including Carol, allowed the school to discuss ways to streamline the programmes on offer.
“We all have valuable skills and attributes to offer, so we created a literacy plan that empowers all staff to work together and bring their skills and expertise to the table to find solutions,” says Carol.
Reading Recovery tutor Sandra Walkley says the literacy strategy has streamlined the programmes Castlecliff School offers with an overarching focus on meeting the needs of learners as individuals.
“It’s been a team effort, building on the strengths of the teaching already taking place,” she says,
“There is no one size fits all with literacy,” says Carol. “We bring individualised instruction that meets individual students’ needs in a timely manner.”
Principal Moana Twomey agrees that the plan has been ‘extremely’ successful.
“We immediately saw the enthusiasm from teachers and the accelerated learning from our tamariki,” she says.
With the needs of the child at the heart of the plan, the school is able to flex and change its approach based on the strengths of the child and what needs to happen next to shift literacy learning.
“There is no correct way to teach literacy. Reading Recovery and structured literacy should and can coexist but play in different parts of the literacy landscape,” says Sandra.
Guided by Sandra, Castlecliff School adopted Early Literacy Support to further accelerate learning.
“This allows the Reading Recovery teacher to work with small groups and teachers in classrooms to offer a double dip leading to accelerated gains over eight weeks. It incorporates pedagogy from Reading Recovery, structured literacy and guided reading.”
Classroom teachers are exposed to specialist literacy teaching methods but it is a team approach. The team meets regularly to discuss student progress, assessment and literacy activities, and there is a professional development aspect too.
“We study and discuss the science of reading and Reading Recovery approaches, as well as read and discuss the longitudinal studies that underpin Reading Recovery, phonics, and Structured Literacy research,” says Carol.
“We discuss the features or components of our Early Literacy Support lessons that contribute to the acceleration of learning that we see. Essentially we discuss the reasons why we’re doing what we do.”
The teachers then incorporate the methods that contribute to this small group acceleration into their classroom teaching.
Mid-year data in 2022 showed the number of students at or above expectations in reading was 22 percent. After adopting the literacy strategy, their end-of-year data saw that figure increase to 60 percent.
Now into their second year of using the literacy plan, Carol says the school has “hit the ground running” and the proof really is in the pudding.
She says they’ve seen a particular leap in reading levels (by 4-5 levels) over a term, and an increase in known writing vocabulary (average of a 28-word increase in eight weeks).
Moana says there’s been a positive shift in children’s overall confidence in their reading.
“We can see this coming through in the reduced number of absences, and in feedback from our whanau, who have reported seeing more reading taking place at home.”
Castlecliff’s success is proof that there is no correct way to teach literacy, says Sandra.
“It’s not an and/or discussion, it’s and+and.”
Reading Recovery and BSLA are not oppositional approaches but complementary interventions with differing purposes, both with supporting researched evidence of effectiveness on different measures.