Behind the enhanced Ready to Read series – Assoc. Professor Alison Arrow

Issue: Volume 100, Number 2

Posted: 25 February 2021
Reference #: 1HAHHx

The Ministry of Education continually revises its literacy resources to ensure they are effective and reflect current research and the Ready to Read series is the latest to be updated.
The enhanced series, Ready to Read Phonics Plus, is part of the early literacy approach.
The new series was developed by a team of researchers at the University of Canterbury’s Child and Wellbeing Research Institute and School of Teacher Education, Associate Prof Alison Arrow, Prof Gail Gillon, Prof Brigid McNeill and Dr Amy Scott. Here, Alison explains some of the research and thinking that underpins the enhanced resource.

Early literacy

In New Zealand, learning to read has long focused on the idea that children learning to read make use of meaning which includes context and syntax to ‘work out’ what an unknown word might be. However, the results of research into literacy over the past 30-40 years tell us more about what children do when they are learning to read, and what skilled reading involves.

The underpinning research

One of the most well-regarded models of reading comes from Distinguished Professor William (Bill) Tunmer of Massey University. He and his colleagues developed what is known as the Simple View of Reading (SVR).

This model has been tested in a variety of ways across the world and is one that has consistently continued to explain reading. Essentially, it tells us that independent reading comprehension requires two bodies of knowledge – word reading ability and language comprehension. The research on this has converged to show that being able to read words is much more important for early reading comprehension than language comprehension.

However, word recognition doesn’t just happen; considerable foundational learning must take place before children can learn to read and spell in English.

Children need to be exposed to the letters of the alphabet and have their attention drawn to sounds in words, known as phonological awareness. Although oral language is necessary for language comprehension, it is also important in the foundational skills for word recognition.

Most children who have this exposure will start to use what they have learned quickly. Children who begin school without that knowledge take much longer to learn to read, and often continue to be struggling readers. Professors Tunmer and Chapman found this in their research in the 1990s, and we also found that in our recent Early Literacy Project study (2015-17).

Enhancing the Ready to Read series

What does this all mean? It means that although our existing reading series has been able to meet the needs of learners who already have the knowledge to learn to read quickly, the emphasis on the use of meaning and context to read unfamiliar words has disadvantaged the learners who do not already have this knowledge. They need more intense instruction in how to read the words on the page prior to applying meaning and context.

Explicit instruction using a scope and sequence of the phonic patterns (letter-sound correspondences, blends, and digraphs) can help children to learn to read words efficiently. We are using the Scope and Sequence developed for the Early Literacy Project as the basis of the Ready to Read Phonics Plus series.

There are four phases that represent the body of knowledge needed for learning to read and to spell words. Each phase has a scope, or the set of knowledge that can be taught, and a sequence to teach that.

For example, the first phase is known as Kākano, or Seeds, and the scope is: single consonant sounds, short vowels, vowel-consonant (VC) and consonant-vowel-consonant (CVC) words for decoding, and frequently used consonant digraphs.

The sequence is the order in which they can be systematically taught. The Ready to Read Phonics Plus books are developed to have focus patterns that follow the sequence. We’ve developed a new levelling approach that connects to the original Ready to Read series where the levelling is based on the challenges in meaning and context use.

Reflecting diversity

The books that are currently in development cross two genres: realistic fiction and nature-based fantasy.

We surveyed a sample of teachers to find out what topics and themes they would like to see included in the new texts. As a result, the realistic genre books include children from a variety of cultures with the main characters currently having Pākeha, Māori and Samoan backgrounds. The stories follow this group of friends engaged in activities at home, at school and out in the community and their environments.

As the Ministry of Education continues to develop the series, a variety of diverse cultural and societal families will be included. The nature-based fantasy books have New Zealand native animals living in bushland.

We have worked hard to ensure that, although these are fantasy books, they are based on the actual behaviours and characteristics of those animals. These books, therefore, do not just provide a tool for applying carefully sequenced phonic patterns but are vehicles for storytelling, meaning making and critical thinking.

Supporting teachers

To support these goals, we have developed teaching notes at the back of each book, providing guidance on ways to reinforce the decoding knowledge applied in the book, vocabulary words to teach, and a discussion guide to support children’s comprehension and extend their oral language.

Each book also has a more comprehensive guide for teachers, which includes sample lesson plans that highlight the focus words and sounds on each page of each book.

We will provide further support and guidance for both teachers and whānau on Literacy Online. The support materials will enable teachers to use different assessment tools to identify learners’ needs and begin their instruction at the appropriate place in the scope and sequence. This recognises that some children learn much faster than others. 

Furthermore, the Ministry of Education has contracted the University of Canterbury to provide micro-credential online courses (Better Start Literacy Approach) to support teachers in ensuring all children have the necessary foundational skills to succeed in their early literacy attempts.

Support for teachers to implement this new explicit instruction within the Ready to Read Phonics Plus series for small group reading instruction is embedded within the Better Start Literacy approach micro-credentials.

BY Education Gazette editors
Education Gazette | Tukutuku Kōrero, reporter@edgazette.govt.nz

Posted: 9:25 AM, 25 February 2021

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