Developing Literacy in the Primary Classroom


Gary Woolley

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    This book acknowledges the support that I received from my wife, Helen Woolley, Griffith University and the University of the Sunshine Coast. I would also like to thank Independent Schools Queensland, particularly Dr Janelle Wills; and I would like to thank Faith Lutheran College, Eloise Beveridge (Junior School Principal), Glenda des David, Tracey Underhill, Caroline Hay and Rachael Nociforo for actively supporting my research.

    Publisher's Acknowledgements

    SAGE and the author would like to thank the following reviewers whose comments on the proposal helped shape this book:

    Christine Allan, Leeds Metropolitan University

    Howard Cotton, Plymouth University

    Susan Feez, University of New England

    Eileen Hyder, University of Reading

    Lesley Lancaster, Marchester Metropolitan University

    Noella McKenzie, Charles Sturt University

    About the Author

    Dr Gary Woolley is a senior lecturer in Inclusion and Diversity at the University of the Sunshine Coast. Gary's particular professional interests include reading comprehension difficulties, memory, cognition, learning engagement and English as a second language. He has had a broad primary school teaching experience in public and private school systems for over 30 years. He has published widely and taken part in several national research projects in literacy and inclusive education. In recognition of a significant contribution in the field of literacy and learning difficulties, Gary was awarded the Tertiary Student Award for 2007 by Learning Difficulties Australia (LDA). In 2008, he developed the COR Literacy Framework as a professional development programme for primary school teachers and has an ongoing involvement in its implementation. In 2010 and 2011, he was awarded the Outstanding Early Career Researcher Award for his contribution to the research activities of Griffith University.

    Author's Blog:

    List of Figures and Tables

    • 1.1 Factors that impact on literacy 4
    • 1.2 Jessica multi-tasking while doing her homework 12
    • 3.1 Levels of text processing 32
    • 3.2 Three cueing systems 39
    • 4.1 A podcast flow chart 56
    • 5.1 Stages of writing 74
    • 5.2 Model for embedding open-ended writing tasks 76
    • 7.1 Online thesaurus ‘Visuwords’ 113
    • 7.2 Graphic organiser for the narrative genre 125
    • 8.1 Variables that affect reading performance 133
    • 8.2 Summary cue card 143
    • 8.3 An example of a cue card to help children develop peer support 147
    • 8.4 Question stem cue card 148
    • 9.1 Cycle of failure 163
    • 10.1 Organisation 183
    • 10.2 Group work rotation 194
    • 11.1 Levels of feedback 207
    • 12.1 The ecological model 220
    • 1.1 Examples of pedagogical practice and the factors that impact on literacy 5
    • 1.2 Literacy practices 6
    • 1.3 Dimensions of literate practice 11
    • 2.1 Cambourne's conditions of learning 26
    • 4.1 Comparison of the KWL and KWHHL procedural frameworks 52
    • 5.1 The dimensions of text processing 69
    • 6.1 Visual elements 91
    • 6.2 Framework for analysis of annotated responses 93
    • 6.3 Forms of graphica 95
    • 6.4 Graphic elements 96
    • 6.5 KWL strategy 98
    • 7.1 Word feature analysis 115
    • 7.2 Oral reading rates related to grade levels 118
    • 8.1 Genre structures and signalling words 137
    • 9.1 Making adaptations in the classroom 172
    • 10.1 Three COR framework meaning levels 190
    • 10.2 Pedagogical treatments 192
    • 11.1 Factors that influence text readability 209
    • 11.2 Ease of reading chart 210
    • 11.3 Teacher self-assessment rubric 211


    Literacy is not only important for the prosperity and development of individuals but also for the cultural, social and economic health of nations. It is fundamental to a basic education for all, and as such is essential for the eradication of poverty and in addressing many other social problems such as the reduction of child mortality, reduction in population growth, achieving gender equality and fostering sustainable development, peace and democracy. Thus, literacy is a tool of personal empowerment and also a means for social and human development (UNGA, 2002).

    Literacy is not something confined to classrooms during school time but continues throughout the individual's life span in a range of social contexts. As a teacher, you will be the crucial factor for effective literacy learning and student literacy engagement. While there is no single instructional method that has been found to be the most effective, it is generally recognised that a balanced approach to teaching literacy using evidence-based practices that draw on a number of theoretical perspectives is often the most desirable (Gambrell et al., 2007). Your relationship with your students can have a powerful influence on them. You will be able to engage them more effectively if you seek to know your students by smiling and talking to them face-to-face in class and on a casual basis outside the classroom. Whenever possible, take the opportunity to ask them about their interests and experiences and also share aspects of your own life experience.

    Emphasise collaboration and cooperation with others in the knowledge that literacy is a social enterprise. Offer support where needed but in such a way that it develops student autonomy. Differentiate instruction to support diverse learners by using appropriate adjustments and adaptations to the curriculum. The support provided for your students should provide realistic challenges and focus on authentic learning tasks. You should integrate new technologies wherever possible into classroom activities and regard everyone as a learner and teacher. Finally you should develop key competences, and your teaching emphasis should promote critical thinking, creativity, initiative, problem solving, risk taking, decision making and the constructive management of feelings and attitudes (Rose, 2009).

    There are, however, considerable challenges for literacy teachers in contemporary classrooms. These challenges can be met effectively by building the children's capacity to use a range of literacy practices in authentic environments (Walsh, 2011). As teachers, you will constantly need to bring together your understandings about literacy, pedagogy and curriculum, your subject area, and what you intend for your students to achieve within the learning community (Beavis, 2007). Effective teachers of literacy are teachers who possess the following types of knowledge:

    • declarative knowledge – knowing effective, evidence-based best practices for effective literacy instruction
    • procedural knowledge – knowing best practices and how they are implemented
    • conditional knowledge – knowing when a particular practice is preferable to another
    • reflective knowledge – knowing whether or not a particular teaching practice is working effectively
    • adaptive knowledge – knowing how to combine or adapt practices or techniques to meet the diverse needs of students.
    (Source: Brown, 1978; see also Paris et al., 1984)

    Social networking has the potential not only to enhance your own knowledge but also to connect you to a community of teacher-researchers from different parts of the world. Social networking sites, such as Twitter, Facebook and Pinterest, are examples of these. There are a plethora of other Web 2.0 networking sites that are also specifically designed to inform the teaching community.

    Teachers as Researchers

    You should also consider yourself as a teacher-researcher. Teacher research is about empowering you as a teacher, and has the power to enrich your professional life as it involves selecting areas of interest and participating in research activities that will enhance your professional development and teaching practice. It is essentially about inquiry and asking questions such as:

    • What are the essential things to be learned?
    • When and where is literacy learning taking place?
    • How supportive is the specific learning context?
    • What social factors will influence the students’ approach to learning?
    • What research-based best teaching practices will enhance learning?
    • What are the outcomes and how will you know when your students have achieved them?
    • How will you know when your literacy teaching has been effective?

    Action research is an example of research in an educational context. It is an example of reflective, evidence-based inquiry that requires teachers to identify a problem, collect appropriate information about that problem, and design a solution and collect data to support the effectiveness of the solution. The benefits of doing action research in the classroom are that you will be able to tell your own stories and share your findings with other practitioners (Honan, 2012). One possibility is to identify a problem or issue and to partner with another teacher, mentor or academic to provide appropriate support for investigation and research. The important thing is that you become a reflective teacher-researcher or co-researcher and think of yourself as a knowledge builder.

    You should also view learning theory as playing an important role in how your literacy curriculum is delivered to the children in your care. This type of knowledge will empower you as a teacher because it will give you more options and a framework in which to build a greater repertoire of appropriate evidence-based strategies (Grant and Walsh, 2003).

    There will be many other ways for you to update your theoretical and practical knowledge in teaching. One of the most useful ways is through professional development where, for example, academics or expert teachers are invited to a school to share their research with you and your colleagues. Another option is to network with like-minded educators and form a collaborative network. For example, you may be able to join a literacy network of teachers from different schools in a particular domain of interest so that you can share ideas and practices and discuss issues.

    Staff meetings and informal sharing sessions can also be opportunities to create a community of literacy educators. Another important way to keep abreast of trends in education is to join a university library. Professional associations also provide information on their websites, in their journals and newsletters and at conferences. These professional activities not only have the potential to empower you as a teacher and enrich your professional life but will flow on to enhance the literacy enjoyment and learning of your students (Gambrell et al., 2007).

    Beavis, C. (2007). Critical engagement: ICTs, literacy and curriculum. In Australian Literacy Educators Association: The Best of Practically Primary (pp. 17–21). Norwood, SA: ALEA.
    Brown, A. L. (1978). Knowing when, where, and how to remember: A problem of metacognition. In R.Glaser (ed.), Advances in Educational Psychology. Hillsdale, NJ: Erlbaum.
    Gambrell, L. B., Malloy, J. A. and Mazzoni, S. A. (2007). Evidence-based best practice for comprehensive literacy instruction. In L. B.Gambrell, L. M.Morrow and M.Pressley (eds), Best Practices in Literacy Instruction (
    3rd edn
    ) (pp. 11–29). New York: The Guilford Press.
    Grant, H. and Walsh, C. (2003). Teacher research: What's it all about?Practically Primary, 8(2), 4–7.
    Honan, E. (2012). Teachers as Researchers. PETAA paper 187. Newtown, NSW: Primary English Teaching Association Australia.
    Paris, S. G., Cross, D. R. and Lipson, M. Y. (1984). Informed strategies for learning: A program to improve children's reading awareness and comprehension. Journal of Educational Psychology, 76(6), 1239–1252.
    Rose, J. (2009). Independent Review of the Primary Curriculum: Final Report. Nottingham: DCSF Publications.
    United Nations General Assembly (UNGA) (2002). United Nations literacy decade: Education for all; International plan of action; Implementation of the General Assembly Resolution 56/116. Available at:
    Walsh, M. (2011). Multimodal Literacy: Researching Classroom Practice. Primary Newtown, NSW: English Teaching Association Australia.

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