Reading Instruction in the Spotlight

By Kimberley Versteden, St Leonard’s College Junior School Learning Enhancement Teacher and Charles Neave, St Leonard’s College Director of Pedagogy.

Reading instruction in schools has garnered considerable media attention this year, largely propelled by the release of an exhaustive report by the Grattan Institute. This comprehensive document has pivotal recommendations aimed at elevating reading proficiency levels nationwide, notably advocating a departure from the longstanding dominance of the “whole language” approach.

St Leonard’s Junior School has already introduced proactive measures by implementing evidence-based structured literacy programs, including whole-class explicit instruction with supplementary interventions tailored for students facing challenges. Guided by initiatives from the Multilit Research Unit, affiliated with Macquarie University, our approach encompasses all facets of reading, integrating universal screening and regular progress monitoring. Substantial resources have been allocated to teacher training, complemented by the update of take-home books and readers to align seamlessly with phonics instruction at school. These “decodable” texts serve as invaluable teaching aids, facilitating controlled-paced practice of the alphabetic code. Parents can rest assured that while emphasising phonics, our curriculum continues to embrace rich and diverse literacy experiences both within the school environment and by encouraging enrichment activities at home.

When students move into Years 5 and 6, we have a secondary approach to English teaching which stretches and challenges our students. English components are taught in units, but reading remains at the core of everything we do, with regular reading time in classrooms and in the library programmed into lessons. Teachers balance their teaching of concepts with a skills-based approach to ensure that students experience a diverse and inspiring curriculum. In Years 7 to 9 this approach continues, with the focus gradually becoming more conceptual and a sustained focus on whole-text writing. But we’re proud to encourage wider reading with students going to the library for a reading lesson at least once a fortnight all the way until Year 10. We also recognise students who may need some extra assistance and repetition of the direct instruction approach, and we continue to provide small group and individual assistance in literacy to students in our Middle School based on the Multilit program mentioned above.