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Curriculum & Leadership Journal
An electronic journal for leaders in education
ISSN: 1448-0743
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Expert literacy teaching

Oanh Vindurampulle
Education Policy and Research Division, DEECD Victoria

This week Curriculum Leadership publishes an article provided by the Education Policy and Research Division, Department of Education and Early Childhood Development (DEECD), Victoria, prepared by Oanh Vindurampulle. The article summarises the new DEECD report, Evidence-based research for expert literacy teaching, and is an abridged version of the lead article in DEECD’s Research eLert Newsletter, Issue No 13.

The new report, Evidence-based research for expert literacy teaching, provides the education community with current research-based knowledge on improving literacy skills to maximise student achievement. It draws on earlier findings from DEECD’s Literacy teaching and learning in Victorian schools summarised in its Research eLert Newsletter, Issue No 9, as well as other national and international literacy studies, meta-analyses and debates.

The report recognises that there has been an increasing polarisation of views of literacy and that the theoretical context underpinning literacy teaching and learning is complex.  The report therefore aims to provide research-based information of literacy processes and theory to ensure the best literacy outcomes for all students.

The report is structured around the complex debates and opposing views of literacy teaching, specifically in relation to the 'skill-based versus whole-language' debate, the exclusively print-based versus multiliteracies approach, and the tension between cultural heritage and critical literacy theoretical models.

The report suggests that the challenge for the expert literacy teacher is not simply about choice of one approach over others in all pedagogical contexts. Instead, it is to design literacy learning opportunities that deliberately draw on elements of each approach, separately and in combination, taking account of the needs of individual students.

The report suggests that quality literacy education involves teachers knowing that they are drawing on these particular combinations, and knowing how these approaches in combination open up (or close down) learning opportunities for students. The report also calls for monitoring of the impact of these approaches. Monitoring involves systematic collection of varied forms of evidence of student learning over time, as well as judgements about the effectiveness of particular programs or interventions used within a school.

To assist educators to coordinate the varying views of literacy teaching, the report provides frameworks that attempt to capture the multiple perspectives and dimensions of literacy. These frameworks are not intended to advocate a particular order for teaching, but rather are presented as useful templates for working with different dimensions and perspectives of literacy.

Key messages from the research

The report was developed on the premise that a substantial proportion of school effectiveness can be attributed to school leadership, teachers and learning support personnel. A related view is that expert literacy teachers require deep understanding and knowledge of literacy processes and theory, including competing theoretical positions. It is within this context that the authors documented a number of key messages from major studies and meta-analysis drawn from a range of different methodological and disciplinary perspectives on literacy education. The key messages are:

  • Literacy is multidimensional
  • Instructional approaches need to be systematically organised in response to diagnosed student need
  • All teachers are teachers of literacy and need to teach explicitly the literacy demands of curriculum learning in all stages of schooling
  • Effective, supportive leadership is a critical factor in providing a systematic, whole-school approach to literacy education
  • Student motivation and engagement are critical determinants of quality literacy outcomes
  • Monitoring and assessment are essential elements in literacy provision at both an individual and program level
  • Classroom talk is a key medium for learning: clear classroom discussion is essential for effective literacy education
  • The emergence of new technologies requires a rethinking of literacy pedagogy
  • Productive home-school partnerships are a contributing factor for effective literacy provision
  • It is important to acknowledge and respond to student diversity
  • Building teacher capacity is vital with a substantial proportion of school effectiveness attributed to teachers.

Guidelines for action

The report includes a set of guidelines for action to assist teachers and school leaders make the best use the available research-based evidence. Additionally, useful resources, including those which were developed by the DEECD, are provided to further assist teachers and school leaders translate the identified key messages into action.  

For further information contact:

Research Manager
Research Branch
Office for Education Policy and Innovation
Department of Education and Early Childhood Development
GPO Box 4367
Melbourne. VIC. 3001

Email: research@edumail.vic.gov.au


Subject Headings

Multimedia systems
Educational planning
Educational evaluation
Education research