Literacy is an essential life skill, not only for accessing education but for participation in society more broadly.
The purpose of literacy is to share meaning between an author and a reader – to understand what others have written, and to share your own ideas with others. Literacy depends upon a wide range of language and cognitive skills. Most children begin to learn to read and write following many years of experience understanding and speaking spoken English. While spoken language usually develops spontaneously given sufficient exposure to speech, literacy normally depends upon explicit instruction.
Children who struggle to read and write will find it difficult to access all areas of the curriculum. Adults with low literacy not only have limited employment opportunities but also worse health outcomes. It is crucial that we support learners to attain good literacy skills.
Literacy is one of the areas of education in which there is a good deal of high-quality research. For example, evidence over the last twenty years has clearly demonstrated that providing systematic, explicit teaching in phonics (which can include either analytic or synthetic phonics) is more effective than whole language or embedded phonics approaches. There is also extensive evidence that learners show better reading comprehension when they have relevant background knowledge about a topic. However, some care is needed when making research-informed decisions on how to teach. While there is ample research on what to teach, there is relatively little research on how to teach.
It is important to pay attention to non-cognitive factors such as motivation and reading self-concept in literacy teaching. Literacy is an area of learning in which motivation is particularly important, because evidence shows that learners who read for pleasure outside of school can substantially improve their vocabulary and reading skills. The role of background knowledge, both in terms of a broad base of general knowledge as well as more specific domain knowledge, is also critical in literacy teaching.
- How have you designed your literacy programme and what evidence have you drawn on it inform its design?
- How do you embed literacy across the curriculum?
- How do you support students who exhibit less well-developed literacy?
Schools webinar: Increasing akonga oral language confidence and competence – a whole school professional learning approach
"I have greatly appreciated the research that I have read and used to support my work."