An evaluation of the use and integration of readymade commercial literacy packages into classroom programmes

Publication Details

This research identifies effective teacher practice for integrating commercially-produced readymade learning materials into classrooms to meet student learning needs. The research focused on practice with respect to literacy packages but the findings have resonance for other curriculum areas. The project investigated how low decile schools integrated five selected reading packages into their classroom reading programmes over two years, and identified effective practice around identifying and diagnosing student needs, selecting appropriate packages based on these needs, implementing the package and ongoing monitoring and evaluation. Sustainability was also considered.

Author(s): Judy Parr, Margaret Aikman, Earl Irving and Kathryn Glasswell. Report prepared for the Ministry of Education.

Date Published: February 2004


This project involved five different examples of resource materials for reading in primary school (namely, Jolly Phonics, PM (Price Milburn) Plus Readers, Rainbow Reading, The Sunshine Video Collection and Tatari, Tautoko, Tauawhi (TTT)). Schools (deciles 1 to 4) that did not already possess one of these packages and thought that it would assist in their reading programme were invited to apply. Resources were subsequently placed in 69 school sites and the implementation was tracked over a two-year period through questionnaires, site visits, interviews and observations. Research with respect to the use of the materials was designed to answer questions about how the materials fitted the existing classroom programme; how the needs of Māori, Pacific and NESB children were met by both the existing programme and the new materials; the strategies teachers had for evaluating the materials; how the use of the materials changed over time, and what were examples of `best practice' in terms of introducing and sustaining the use of such materials in literacy instruction programmes.

The major findings as they relate to these questions are summarised below.

  • There was a lack of evidence of an ability of respondents to articulate the specific needs of learners and how features of a programme (the existing or the new resources) might meet particular needs.
  • New resources tended to be added to existing resources and classroom practice, forming a permeable layer whereby it was difficult for outcomes to be differentiated due to possible interactive effects.
  • There was a strong tendency amongst respondents to see additional resources (materials and ancillary personnel) as a way to cater for learning needs (even given the biases that may have resulted from the fact this study provided and focussed on material resources). Against this trend around a quarter of respondents saw improved teaching as a way of better catering to needs.
  • Readymade resources are not stand-alone, according to the respondents. In many instances they require additional resources, or incur additional costs and these need to be recognised and planned for. The materials supplied were seen by schools as least able to be accommodated in terms of logistics and other practical matters.
  • The readymade resources were reported to fit fairly well into the existing literacy programme, particularly in terms of ideas and beliefs about literacy and in terms of either providing additional strength to, or adding a new element to, the existing programme.
  • There was widespread adaptation of resources to the context in which they were employed. Teachers made professional judgements and adapted materials in order to better fit their classroom context. Changes included: (i) altering the target group of children working with the materials, (ii) making changes in the extent of use (frequency or intensity) of the package, and (iii) altering the actual content of the package.
  • Schools provided little evidence of the systematic use of achievement data to inform decisions about the resource or to monitor changes made in the use of it. Respondents readily rated the influence on learning outcomes of the resource and the largest category of response to explain the rating was progress of the children, mostly unspecified. Although the majority of schools expressed the intention of gathering achievement data in reading, judgements concerning the resource did not, in reality, appear to be based on such.
  • The majority of schools cited consultation of staff and professional judgements as the main basis for decisions. Teacher-collected data about progress and standardised measures were rated lowest in terms of the weight given as a source of evidence for continuing, discontinuing or modifying the use of the resource.
  • Respondents were aware of a range of sources of evidence and were able to rate the importance of each particular source of evidence to their judgements about the resource. However, in half of the cases, they unable to specify what, precisely, the source of evidence told them.
  • There was a lack of evidence of sufficient skill located within schools to undertake evaluation of the effectiveness of the resource within their context.
  • Likewise, schools, while providing excellent critiques of specific features of particular resources, were, in general, unwilling or unable to evaluate the resources, including the way in which they were designed to be used, critically at a fundamental level (e.g. where resources seemed to be designed for independent use or use by a relatively unskilled teacher aide, schools largely did not question whether this was desirable for the most needy children).
  • While there was evidence of well-developed informal systems of feedback and of letting others know about the resource, there was also evidence that such systems were insufficient for sustainability.

These findings are seen as having particular implications in terms of developing expertise of teachers in evaluating needs and outcomes and relating such to the aspects of their practice.

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