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New checklist aims to improve reading skills in Australia’s schools


New checklist aims to improve reading skills in Australia’s schools

A new checklist aims to help Australian families know whether their child’s school is using the most effective methods for teaching reading.

Developed by leading education researcher and program developer MultiLit in conjunction with its community education initiative Five from Five, the checklist highlights key literacy teaching methods including systematic phonics programs, decodable books, phonics-based reading guidance, and evidence-based screening tools like the Year 1 Phonics Check.  

Read more: Tackling the writing slump in Australia’s schools

“Navigating the start of school can be challenging for parents, who most likely won’t be aware of the empirical evidence around the teaching of reading or know how to identify high-quality, effective instruction,” MultiLit senior research fellow Dr Jennifer Buckingham said.

“Unfortunately, we still have too many schools claiming to use multiple strategies to teach reading, which often indicates they are relying on whole language or balanced literacy approaches that are inferior to explicit and systematic phonics teaching and leave too many children struggling, or worse, falling through the cracks.”

Noting that not all literacy teaching strategies are created equal, Buckingham said many “detract from the development of essential reading knowledge and skills, such as decoding, which needs to be practiced regularly to embed those letter-sound relationships into a child’s long-term memory.”

“Relying on predictable readers and promoting characters such as ‘Skippy Frog’ or ‘Eagle Eye’ might seem fun and harmless but all it does is instil unhelpful reading habits,” she said.

“As students progress through school and are required to read books without pictures and containing increasingly complex words, they often struggle unless they have honed their decoding skills.”

According to the 2023 NAPLAN result, more than 30% of Year 3 students nationwide are not proficient in reading. Dr Buckingham says this should serve as “a wakeup call” and demonstrate the highlight the need for evidence-based practice across all schools in all school systems.

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