The 8 What works best themes below offer helpful ways of thinking about aspects of teaching practice. They are not discrete but overlap and connect with one another in complex ways. Use the guided journey to see what the 8 themes look like for reading instruction K–6.
What works best: Reading K–6
How do teachers’ expectations of students affect teaching practice?
Teachers’ beliefs about their students influence how they teach and interact with them. High expectations are linked with higher performance for all students. The reverse can also be true. Students may achieve less than their full potential if expectations of their ability are low.
The NSW syllabuses set the expectation for student learning at a point in time. They are the focus for planning, programming, teaching, learning and assessment. The National Literacy and Numeracy Progressions describe common literacy and numeracy learning pathways. The learning progressions allow teachers to more accurately locate a student's current literacy and numeracy knowledge, understanding and skills to support planning for teaching and learning.
To ensure high expectations for all students when learning to read in the early years, reading guides have been developed to support conversations about reading and numeracy improvement in the context of school strategic planning. The Effective reading Kindergarten to Year 2: A guide to support conversations about evidence-based practice in reading, informs conversations about evidence-based reading instruction in all key learning areas across the K–2 school context. It is critical in the first 3 years of schooling that students develop the foundational skills in reading. The Improving reading comprehension Years 3 to 8: A guide to support conversations about evidence-based practice in reading, informs conversations about evidence-based reading instruction in all key learning areas across both primary and secondary school contexts.
Principals and leadership teams have a pivotal role in driving, reading, and numeracy improvement in schools.
Reading and numeracy guides have been developed to support conversations about reading and numeracy improvement in the context of school, strategic planning. They support the Department’s School Success Model to help us to ensure that every student, teacher, leader and school improves every year. The guides support the Director, Educational Leadership, principals, school leadership teams, and teachers to have informed conversations about evidence-based reading and numeracy instruction in all key learning areas, across the school context. The guides can assist with an analysis of current practices, help to inform planning for school improvement in reading and numeracy, and suggest ways to build capacity and understanding of effective reading and numeracy with explicit classroom practices and professional learning resources. There are 2 guides for reading. Effective reading Kindergarten to Year 2 and Improving reading comprehension Years 3 to 8. There are also 2 guides for numeracy, a K to 2 numeracy guide and a numeracy guide for Years 3 to 8. All of the guides support conversations about evidence-based practice.
The reading and numeracy guides provide an outline of responsibilities of the principal and leadership teams in driving, reading, and numeracy improvement throughout the school. Both reading and numeracy are foundational for success in everyday life. Reading is a complex cognitive process. It requires our brains to make new connections and requires explicit teaching in order for our brains to make those new connections. All teachers need a thorough understanding of how the complex cognitive process of reading develops and how the many components work together as students read increasingly complex texts, skilfully, strategically, and critically.
Numeracy is also complex and multifaceted. Numeracy is considered the confident application of mathematical skills, understanding and dispositions across areas of learning and within our daily lives. While the evidence-base for understanding and teaching numeracy is largely shared with mathematics, some researchers have attempted to define numeracy and describe its components. To support and build capacity and understanding the guides are organised into the components of numeracy and of reading. The components of reading in the reading guide are Phonological awareness, Phonics, Fluency, Vocabulary, and Reading comprehension.
Looking closer at the numeracy guides, we see that these resources highlight evidence-based practices to inform teaching and learning in the components of Number and place value, Patterns and algebra, Additive thinking, Multiplicative thinking and Proportional thinking.
Each component is defined with links to New South Wales syllabus documents and the Literacy and Numeracy Learning Progressions, as well as an outline of what this learning looks like in the classroom. Advice is offered on where to find further support, including professional learning, podcasts, resources, and assessments.
The reading and numeracy guides are available on the Literacy and numeracy website and on the Digital Learning Resources Hub.
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High expectations resources:
- NSW syllabuses
- National Literacy and Numeracy Progressions
- Reading guides:
- Effective reading Kindergarten to Year 2: A guide to support conversations about evidence-based practice in reading
- Improving reading comprehension Years 3 to 8: A guide to support conversations about evidence-based practice in reading.
What learning gains can be made through explicit teaching?
Explicit teaching practices involve teachers clearly showing students what to do and how to do it, rather than having students discover that information themselves. Students who experience explicit teaching practices make greater learning gains than students who do not experience these practices.
Classroom resources are available to support the explicit teaching of reading K–6.
The Effective reading in the early years suite includes resources that highlight the role of phonics, phonological awareness, fluency and vocabulary in effective reading instruction as well as classroom-ready teaching strategies.
Explicit teaching strategies are available for teaching reading in Stages 2–5. They target specific skills and suggest a learning sequence for skill development.
Listen to this conversation with Professor Anne Castles about the systematic and explicit teaching of phonics. Anne explains how explicit phonics instruction can support early reading acquisition, as an essential skill that helps students learn to read.
The Universal Resources Hub (staff only) contains a suite of evidence-based reading resources for Stage 1–Stage 5 teachers across all key learning areas. The comprehensive reading strategies are easily adapted and contextualised to classroom needs and include suggestions for tailored and differentiated learning to build and extend reading skills.
How does effective feedback support student learning?
Effective feedback provides students with relevant, explicit, ongoing, constructive and actionable information about their performance against learning outcomes from the syllabus.
The National Literacy and Numeracy Learning Progressions support teachers to provide feedback to students on their literacy and numeracy development.
Assessment analysis available for literacy and numeracy assessments support feedback to students and parents as well as advice for teachers on next steps for learning.
The student assessment analysis provided to teachers as part of the Phonological awareness diagnostic assessment and the Year 1 Phonics Screening Check gives detailed feedback to teachers on what the student knows and can do, and also provides lesson ideas and advice on the explicit teaching that may be required to support the student’s learning.
The analysis includes an observation summary and diagnosis indicating what skills have been observed, which align with Literacy Learning Progression indicators. It also includes information about why these skills are important for reading and some teaching strategies that could be used in the classroom for targeted teaching.
The Best Start Kindergarten Assessment includes a Parent Feedback Summary, which schools can choose to share with families to provide feedback specific to this assessments and the skills observed. Resources have been created for parents, carers and families of children in the early years of school with activities to support the important learning that happens at home. They are designed for families to help young learners have a great start at school.
Narrator: Literacy. Literacy is the ability to listen, speak, read, write and spell.
Speaking and listening. Speaking and listening skills build the foundation for your child’s learning at school.
These skills help a child to be able to talk with others, create friendships, and actively participate in all activities at school.
Reading with your child. Children learn from being read to, reading with others and reading to themselves. Have fun reading together every day. Talk about stories, the language used, words in the story as well as the sounds of letters in words. Read books in your home language.
Parent: Do you know what we could make it big to if we change the Pp for the Gg.
Narrator: Drawing and writing with your child. Encourage your child to draw and write about interesting things. Make it fun, ask your child to talk about their drawings and writing. Be interested in their stories and how they have chosen to draw or write them.
Child: Turned greener and greener and greener.
Narrator: For further information, visit education.nsw.gov.au/parents-and-carers
How can teachers use data to understand and monitor student progress?
Use of data to inform practice
Teachers use data to check and understand where their students are in their learning and to plan what to do next. Effective analysis of student data helps teachers identify areas where students’ learning needs may require additional attention and development.
PLAN2 is designed to help record observations of students’ literacy capabilities. It can be used to analyse student needs and teaching priorities by using progression information to identify where to target the teaching to support student’s reading development. It allows teachers to monitor student growth and to help identify patterns to evaluate what works best and strengthen practice in response.
Planning for Literacy and Numeracy (PLAN2) is an online application designed by the NSW Department of Education (DoE).
PLAN2 supports teaching and learning in literacy and numeracy across the curriculum using the National Literacy and Numeracy Learning Progressions.
PLAN2 allows teachers to analyse observations of student learning made by teachers or DoE online assessments, plan for explicit teaching and learning beginning with NSW syllabus outcomes and to observe and maintain evidence of student learning against the specific literacy and or numeracy observable behaviours represented by the literacy and numeracy learning progressions.
In addition, PLAN2 supports whole and cross school collaboration by allowing teachers to see observations from multiple sources, including those from other teachers in other contexts and from Department of Education assessments which are mapped to PLAN2.
PLAN2 allows teachers to see the mapping of NSW K–10 English and mathematics syllabus outcomes and content points, where available, to the literacy and numeracy progression sub-element levels.
This supports teachers in establishing individual students’ starting points in relation to the syllabus outcomes, identifying the priority skills for explicit teaching and learning, and monitoring every students’ progress towards their achievement of learning outcomes.
To begin using PLAN2, identify your focus in the teaching and learning cycle, select from the available features and enter the required information.
PLAN2 allows teachers to be in control of their analysis, planning or observation focus.
Teachers specify the students or cohorts of students and the specific literacy or numeracy progression indicators which they would like to focus on.
By default, PLAN2 generates the last observations which have been received against the selected indicators, but the observation sources filter allows teachers to take full control and to specify the precise source of observations, as well as the date of observations which they would like to analyse.
They can select from observations made by themselves, by other teachers, or observations made by any of the online assessments mapped to PLAN2.
The PLAN2 observation scale allows teachers to enter observation statuses against progression indicators representing the literacy and numeracy learning being demonstrated by students.
PLAN2 screens are embedded with learning assets to support the use of features and to provide advice on best practice and additional understanding.
PLAN2 is an iterative tool and continues to undergo enhancements.
For latest up to date, step-by-step guides on use of individual features, to find out more about PLAN2 or to request support, visit the ALAN help desk by selecting ‘Help' from the PLAN2 menu.
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Scout is the department’s data and analysis platform, developed to provide better information about our schools, easily accessed in one central place. It brings vast amounts of data into one location, allowing users to view all information that is relevant to them at one time. It gathers data for faster answers, simplifying data analysis.
The Student assessment analysis information provided in the Phonological awareness diagnostic assessment and the Year 1 Phonics Screening Check help teachers to use data to inform teaching by identifying where a student is at in their reading development and providing advice on where to next.
Feedback from the following literacy and numeracy assessments is available in PLAN2 and Scout:
- Best Start Kindergarten Assessment
- Phonological awareness diagnostic assessment
- Phonics diagnostic assessment
- Year 1 Phonics Screening Check
- Check-in assessment.
Teachers can use this data to make decisions about next steps in learning for their class, a group or individual students. They can also use the feedback to create an Area of focus in PLAN2 to support monitoring of reading development in the context of NSW syllabus outcomes.
How can assessment be used to know that learning is taking place and inform next steps?
High quality student assessment helps us know that learning is taking place. Assessment is most effective when it is an integral part of teaching and learning programs.
Literacy assessments are available for students K–6. These assessments are aligned with the National Literacy Learning Progression and NSW syllabus outcomes. Feedback is available in PLAN2 and can be used to create Areas of focus for monitoring of student reading development.
The Phonological awareness diagnostic assessment is a short on-demand assessment that tells teachers how students are progressing in phonological awareness.
The Phonological awareness diagnostic assessment is a short assessment that tells teachers how students are progressing in phonological awareness.
The short assessment, available to all NSW public Schools, allows primary and secondary teachers to individually assess and clarify a students’ skill level for Phonological awareness. It will help teachers to diagnose how students are progressing, determine the focus for explicit teaching and learning, and monitor learning progress.
Phonological awareness is a critical skill for all students’ literacy development and a predictor of later reading and spelling success.
Teachers will be able to use the assessment flexibly to suit the needs of individual students by choosing which subskills they will assess.
The assessment consists of five subskills beginning with word, syllable, onset and rime awareness, moving to the more complex subskills of basic and advanced phonemic awareness.
The assessment will support teachers to target all areas of phonological awareness.
The assessment can be used for any student from Kindergarten onwards.
Listen to this kindergarten teacher talk about how she would use the diagnostic assessment.
I have completed some explicit teaching around segmenting and blending syllables.
I’m unsure about the learning of one of my students in this subskill.
I will use the diagnostic assessment to assess their learning in syllable awareness to determine what explicit teaching and practise is required.
A Year 4 teacher is concerned about one of their students who is experiencing difficulties in reading.
Year 4 teacher:
I have a student who demonstrates strong oral language comprehension.
However, when they are reading a book to me they struggle to decode the words on the page and their reading is very slow.
I know a deficit in phonological awareness, particularly phonemic awareness, could be the reason for this.
I will use the assessment to diagnose if this could be the possible cause for their word reading difficulties.
Feedback is provided which informs teachers about next steps in learning and how they can plan additional support that students may need.
Teachers will be able to access the assessment tool via the ALAN portal.
For more information visit the Literacy and Numeracy website.
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The Phonics diagnostic assessment is an on-demand assessment for all students that can support teachers in knowing how students are progressing in phonics.
The Phonics diagnostic assessment is an online, on-demand diagnostic tool that informs teachers of student progress in phonics. The tool assesses how students blend sounds together to read words.
The assessment tool is available to all NSW public schools and is different from the Year 1 Phonics Screening Check, as this assessment can be used as needed by teachers, year round, to assess the phonic knowledge and skills of any student; from kindergarten onwards. It can also be used to re-assess students at any time.
We know that phonic knowledge and skills are essential for learning to read and write.
The assessment tool supports teachers to plan for future teaching and learning, by helping them to: diagnose how students are progressing in phonics, determine areas for future explicit teaching, and monitor student learning progress over time.
Teachers will be able to use the assessment flexibly to suit the needs of individual students, by choosing which phonic knowledge skill set and word list to use when assessing a student.
The assessment is organised into four phonic knowledge skill sets.
These are sequenced and start with beginning phonics skills and move to more complex skills. To support ongoing assessment and monitoring of student progress, each set has two lists of words to choose from, a List A and a List B.
Listen to this teacher share their experience using the Phonics diagnostic assessment.
After an initial assessment I completed earlier in the term, followed by explicit teaching after analysing my students results, I was unsure about the learning progress of one student. So I decided to use the Phonics diagnostic assessment to inform me of their progress.
I found using the assessment quite easy. I had initially used List A in the second word set, Consonant digraphs and one syllable words, to assess the student and so decided to use List B of the same word set to inform me of their progress. The assessment didn’t take long at all and the student enjoyed having the opportunity to demonstrate their new learning.
The student’s responses and analysis of assessment feedback showed me that student’s phonic knowledge had improved as they could blend and read words containing consonant digraphs.
The assessment also identified the next area to focus future teaching and learning on; reading CVCC and CCVC words with consonant blends.
Teachers can access the assessment tool via the ALAN portal, in the on-demand assessments section.
For more information visit the Literacy and Numeracy website.
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The Year 1 Phonics Screening Check is a short, assessment that tells teachers how Year 1 students are progressing in phonics. This assessment is mandatory for all Year 1 students in NSW schools from 2021.
The Phonics Screening Check is an opportunity for students to demonstrate what they know and can do when reading. It can support teachers to plan for student’s learning by providing them with information to target their teaching.
The Phonics Screening Check is a short online assessment that individually assesses a student’s phonic knowledge and skills. The check assesses how students blend sounds together to read a word.
I was quite surprised with some of the results in the assessment. I had some students who already knew all the individual sounds but in the assessment I found that they couldn’t blend them together.
In the check I observed the way that students were articulating their sounds and that quite often students if they weren’t sure of a sound, they may mumble it, and then which impacted the full reading of the word.
I also noticed that a lot of students were able to self-correct on the word which I was not aware that they were doing in the classroom so that was really great in the check for me to see that and it was also good to see students be able to break up the sounds and then put them back together.
I found the check very easy to administer. It was a lot quicker than I imagined it to be and the students seemed really at ease when doing it.
The check’s really going to impact on my teaching because it’s really given me some insight into certain vowel diagraphs that a lot of my students didn’t know that I thought they had learnt from prior phonics lessons, but unfortunately weren’t able to blend them together during the assessment.
With the information I gathered from the check, I’m now going to take it into my classroom and see if the gaps that I found in the check with the student’s sounds, whether those are the same gaps in their writing.
And some of the things that I saw the students were capable of I can now build on those within my classroom.
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The Check-in assessment is an online reading and numeracy assessment for students in Years 3–9. The Check-in assessment can supplement existing school practices to identify how students are performing in literacy and numeracy and to help teachers tailor their teaching more specifically to student needs.
How can the right conditions for learning set students up for success?
Classroom management is important for creating the conditions for learning. Effective classroom management minimises and addresses all levels of disengagement and disruptive behaviours.
Effective classroom management is important for student’s achievement in reading because it creates an environment that minimises disruptions, maximises instruction time, and encourages students to engage in their learning.
The CESE literature review, Classroom management: Creating and maintaining positive learning environments defines classroom management and provides a brief overview of classroom management research. It also describes the characteristics of effective classroom management strategies and how schools can best support teachers when implementing them.
Listen to Eddie Woo discuss the importance of student engagement, and define what this means, explaining the research and giving some practical advice.
How can we create a safe environment for students?
At school, the practices that support student wellbeing involve creating a safe environment; ensuring connectedness; engaging students in their learning; and promoting social and emotional skills.
Tell Them From Me is a suite of surveys for measuring student engagement and wellbeing. The surveys can be used to capture student, parent and teacher voices, providing reliable evidence for schools to use in identifying strengths and areas for improvement.
The CESE publication Cognitive load theory: Research teachers really need to understand is a publication which supports teachers to understand the science behind learning and intellectual engagement, and why it matters.
Teachers can listen to Eddie Woo discuss the importance of student engagement to gain more insight about the connection between student interest, educational outcomes and wellbeing.
Reading creates opportunities for students to develop key skills and engage with information about their world. Teachers should consider opportunities where students can explore ideas related to social and emotional wellbeing through texts.
Supporting teaching practice through professional collaboration and further learning.
Professional collaboration allows best practice to be identified and shared across classrooms. Effective collaboration explicitly aims to improve teacher practices and student outcomes.
A range of professional learning is available that focuses on evidence-based approaches to explicit teaching and effective assessment of literacy and numeracy. These opportunities encourage professional collaboration within schools and with other schools.
The Effective reading in the early years suite comprising professional learning in phonics, phonological awareness, vocabulary and fluency explore the practical application of evidence-based teaching of reading.
Focus on vocabulary is available for teachers of Years 3–8 and is the first of the Focus of Understanding Texts suite to be released.
Professional learning is supported by classroom resources that assist teachers to translate their learning into action.
CESE’s publication How schools can improve literacy and numeracy performance and why it (still) matters provides an evaluation of evidence-based practices that can improve student literacy outcomes. It supports a whole school collaborative approach to literacy, with a focus on early intervention and targeted teaching of foundational skills such as reading.
Statewide staffrooms provide an opportunity to connect with colleagues across the state, share resources, and get the latest news and advice on supporting students with their reading development. There are a range of staffrooms to join including Literacy NSW.
The School Support Contacts (staff only) page allows teachers to search for a school to find contact information for non-school based staff. Additional support can also be found in the Literacy and numeracy support (staff only) section of the department's service navigator.
- Literacy and numeracy professional learning
- Effective reading in the early years of school
- Effective reading: phonics (MyPL online course)
- Fluency on Teams blended learning
- Focus on vocabulary – Blended learning
- Literacy and numeracy classroom resources
- How schools can improve literacy and numeracy performance and why it (still) matters
- Statewide staffrooms
- School Support Contacts (staff only)
- Service navigator – Literacy and numeracy support (staff only).