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Reading is a complex skill and it is a relatively recent invention, as far as human timelines go. Unlike speaking and listening, humans  aren’t predisposed to develop reading skills naturally. 

Learning to read is the single most vital skill that students need to acquire during their years in primary school. Without the ability to read proficiently, much of the curriculum content remains out of reach and school a daily struggle. Reading capabilities also impacts on students’ lives outside of school in terms of engagement with society and future employment prospects (OECD, 2017).

Approaches to Reading Instruction: LDA’s Position

LDA supports approaches to reading instruction that adopt an explicit structured approach to the teaching of reading and are consistent with the scientific evidence as to how children learn to read and how best to teach them. This approach is important for all children, but it is particularly important for children who have difficulty in learning to read.

Programs that follow an explicit structured approach to the teaching of reading include as an integral part of the teaching program specific instruction in phonological and phonemic awareness, letter-sound correspondences, and the structure, use and meaning of words. Emphasis is placed on the importance of learning the alphabetic code and the twin processes of blending and segmenting as the basis for developing accurate and fluent reading and reading comprehension, and also for spelling and writing. They do not include programs that follow a whole language or ‘balanced literacy’ approach, which place emphasis on the three cueing system and guessing from context as acceptable strategies for identifying words.

Examples of programs that follow an explicit structured approach to the teaching of reading include but are not limited to programs such as those outlined in the Primary Reading Pledge. Examples of programs that follow a whole language or ‘balanced literacy’ approach include but are not limited to programs such as Reading Recovery and the literacy approaches developed by Fountas and Pinnell, including Levelled Literacy Intervention and Guided Reading. LDA does not support or endorse programs that place emphasis on the exercise or training of underlying brain processes including working memory as the basis for improving reading or other academic skills. Such programs include Brain Gym, Fast ForWord, CogMed and the Arrowsmith program.

The Science of Reading

The Science of Reading is a term that has been used to describe clear guidance as to the best way to teach reading based on empirical evidence. This guidance culminates from major research conducted across a variety of discipline areas over the last half century. This research emphasises five key components for effective reading instruction: phonemic awareness, phonics, fluency, vocabulary and comprehension.

Phonemic AwarenessPhonicsFluencyVocabularyComprehension
The ability to identify the smallest sounds in words.Phonics is the relationships between the letters of written language and the sounds of spoken language.Fluent reading is the ability to read accurately at an appropriate rate and with proper expression.Reading vocabulary refers to the words that a student can read and understand. Comprehension is the understanding and interpretation of what is read. It is the main goal of reading.

The Primary Reading Pledge

Learning Difficulties Australia have collaborated with Five from Five and AUSPELD on an evidence-based framework for schools to dramatically reduce the number of children who finish primary school unable to read proficiently.

As stated in the Primary Reading Pledge, almost 17,000 Year 7 students achieved below the National Minimum Standard in Reading in NAPLAN 2019. This is in spite of researchers estimating that 95 percent of all children can be taught to read by the end of first grade, with future achievement constrained only by students’ reasoning and listening comprehension abilities.

Key Readings: Reading Instruction

Teacher Knowledge of the Science of Reading 

Despite the volume of supporting evidence on the best way to teach reading, Initial Teacher Education (ITE) providers, on the whole, have been reluctant to acknowledge or incorporate the evidence base into ITE programs for teachers. For further information see the papers below.  

Changes to Initial Teacher Education 

On December 11, 2019 the then Federal Minister for Education, the Hon Dan Tehan announced a plan to improve student outcomes. This outlined that the teaching of phonics and reading instruction will be mandatory for initial teacher education (ITE) courses. This means that all undergraduate teaching degrees will have to double the minimum number of literacy subjects from 2 to 4, and there will have to be one subject dedicated to early reading instruction. This subject must include evidence-based practices in the Big Five (phoneme awareness, phonics, fluency, vocabulary and comprehension) plus oral language.

Dr Lorraine Hammond, President of LDA, was one of three expert panelists to recommend changes to AITSL. See an article from The Australian outlining the panels work – Teaching taskforce recommends doubling literacy training time.

The Accreditation Standards and Procedures set out the requirements that an ITE program must meet to be nationally accredited.  It outlines that:

  • Discipline-specific curriculum and pedagogical studies contribute to the requirement for at least two years of equivalent full-time student load (EFTSL) in professional studies outlined in Program Standard 4.1. 
  • Early reading instruction should address evidence-based practice across the following elements: phonemic awareness, phonics, fluency, vocabulary, comprehension and oral language.

Key Readings: Teacher Education