Building confidence through structured literacy approaches

Issue: Volume 103, Number 7

Posted: 6 June 2024
Reference #: 1HAgsd

Tauraroa Area School’s commitment to a structured literacy approach is transforming reading outcomes for students, fostering confidence and enthusiasm.

Kenzie (Year 1) making, breaking and reading words.

Kenzie (Year 1) making, breaking and reading words.

Tauraroa Area School is embarking on a transformational journey centred on structured literacy approaches that benefit all ākonga, including those with dyslexia.

Drawing from early learning experiences, Waka Teina (Year 0/1) teacher Christine Alford noted the discrepancies in reading pedagogy upon entering the school system.

The observation of students struggling to progress beyond initial reading levels spurred research into the science of reading, setting the stage for a schoolwide literacy evolution.

“Within two weeks, we saw children who were unmotivated and disengaged with learning regain their confidence in their abilities and enthusiasm for learning return. We were converted,” says Christine.

Evolution of the approach

Since the introduction of a structured literacy approach at Tauraroa Area School, Christine and fellow Waka Teina teacher Meaghan Deeming have seen a big shift in ākonga attitudes towards literacy.

Particularly impactful in Years 0–2, they follow a strategic commitment to resources supporting decodable texts and comprehensive professional learning and development.

“Within a very short period of moving to a structured literacy approach, students who had become stagnant in their reading progress and disengaged from learning, were suddenly motivated and confident. These students are now in Year 6 and their interest in words is still evident,” says Meaghan.

Resource investments and collaborative efforts have enriched classroom experiences, and the adoption of a programme spanning up to Year 8 has been instrumental.

In addition to this, they continue to work through a scope and sequence lesson format, supported by decodable texts before students move to authentic texts.

“This year we have introduced assessment practices which specifically screen for areas of need. This allows us to plan our whole-class programmes, and further support individual-specific needs.

Charlie (Year 1) reading a decodable text.

Charlie (Year 1) reading a decodable text.

“For example, this year, our data showed a need to support oral reading fluency. In response to this, we have introduced whole-class reading of authentic texts from Year 0–6.”

Impact on ākonga attitudes

The attitude shift in ākonga speaks volumes about the efficacy of structured literacy approaches. Mick, a Year 4 student, enjoys the structured progression through reading stages.

“We play some games and learn in a fun way. When we do structured  literacy, we have these stages of reading. When you get good, you get a book to read at home. So, every stage gets harder, and you learn new concepts like split digraphs.”

Mick’s enthusiasm continues to shine through as he talks about structured literacy approaches, adding, “I like structured literacy very much because the teachers support you with your learning. If I come across a new word when I’m reading, I try to sound it out, and I do the same when I’m trying to write new words.”

Samuel’s journey also reflects this shift from frustration and stagnation to confidence and enthusiasm.

“The words are easy to read because I’ve been taught the code. It’s fun to read.”

Samuel moved to Tauraroa Area School in Year 2 from a school that wasn’t using structured literacy. He explains how much he is enjoying the structured approach.

“At my old school, I just got given a book and they just told me to read it and I couldn’t even read the first word. I just struggled. I didn’t even want to get my book out of my bag. I didn’t feel good at doing anything. It put me down a lot and it made me feel like I couldn’t do anything, even the things I was good at.

“Structured literacy makes me feel good and like I can do anything. I have to work hard but reading gets easier and easier every day.”

Amber, who has two children aged five and 12 at Tauraroa Area School, also shares praise for the approach.

“I noticed immediately when my five-year-old started reading this year the difference in technique and effectiveness with structured literacy. Instead of ‘exposing’ him to books with words he can’t read, he gets to learn all the sounds and strategies first, then take a book home able to read it.

“Each stage is celebrated too, which gives him confidence and a new sense of pride in himself and what he has achieved. I honestly think if my 12-year-old had the same opportunity, he would not continue to struggle with reading.”

Future of literacy

Looking ahead, Tauraroa Area School remains committed to refining its structured literacy approach spanning all year levels.

As an area school, they have a long-term, 13-year commitment to student learning and achievement right through to senior secondary years. Principal Grant Burns states, “We have students entering the school at all year levels and literacy abilities. In addition, we have a hard-working learning support coordinator who is involved in getting all students ‘up to speed’ with their reading and writing.

“We will continue to build on the very successful foundations laid in the junior primary classes further up the school.”

Piece of the puzzle

Structured literacy is just one piece of the puzzle for Tauraroa Area School. Grant shares other ways they encourage good literacy practice and reading habits.

“Our library is a very important facility in the school, with a team of committed staff and student librarians who actively promote reading through creative displays, newsletters, book character days and more.

“The other side of the ‘literacy coin’ is writing. Tauraroa Area School is committed to effectively using The Writers’ Toolbox, throughout primary and secondary year levels, having started this journey more than
10 years ago.” 

Bentley and Bodhi (Year 1) enjoying an explicit lesson on handwriting.

Bentley and Bodhi (Year 1) enjoying an explicit lesson on handwriting.

Evidence-based principles

Tauraroa Area School teachers Christine Alford and Meaghan Deeming elaborate on the evidence-based principles that underpin the structured literacy approach at their school.

The ‘big five’ are: phonemic awareness, phonics instruction, fluency, vocabulary development and reading comprehension.

A standard specific scope and sequence lesson format includes:

  • oral reading fluency
  • handwriting
  • sound pack review: decode, encode, decode
  • review sound-word level: decode, encode, decode
  • explicit teaching of new sound/skill-word level: decode, encode, decode
  • irregular words
  • dictation including new sound/skill.

Learn more about structured literacy on the Tāhūrangi website.

Ready to Read Phonics Plus – Tāhūrangi(external link)

BY Education Gazette editors
Education Gazette | Tukutuku Kōrero,

Posted: 10:19 am, 6 June 2024

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