He Whakaaro: How can teachers and whanau effectively teach and support reading?

Publication Details

This report is mainly based on major meta-analyses that have been conducted on how to teach reading, as well as some literature reviews and individual studies. Meta-analyses and literature reviews both aim to summarise the research literature on a topic, but meta-analyses differ in that they include a quantitative component. By taking the numerical results from dozens or hundreds of studies and combining them, they come to one overall average ‘effect size’ that is a more reliable estimate of an impact than any individual study.

Author(s): Emma Medina and Andrew Webber, Ministry of Education.

Date Published: December 2019


Reading is one of the most fundamental skills taught in school.

Without strong foundational skills in reading, students are unable to fully engage with the curriculum, particularly at secondary school as text gets more complex. Reading literacy is also critical for later life, including for personal goals, progressing in the labour market or participating more widely in society.

However, not all New Zealand students are gaining the literacy skills required to maximise their potential in school. According to the National Monitoring Study of Student Achievement, about two in five students in English medium schooling were not meeting curriculum expectations for reading in either Year 4 or Year 8 (EARU & NZCER, 2016). Of the 10 majority English-language countries taking part in the comparative PIRLS assessment of Year 5 students, New Zealand scored lower than all but two: Malta and Trinidad and Tobago (Chamberlain & Forkert, 2019). New Zealand’s average performance in the PISA study of 15-year-old students has been declining, particularly since 2009 (May, Flockton & Kirkham, 2016). These comparative studies also show a persistent equity problem in New Zealand, with some of the widest gaps from lowest to highest reading performers in the world (Tunmer, Chapman, Greaney, Prochnow & Arrow, 2013). The Growing Up in New Zealand study similarly shows wide variability in early literacy ability even in early childhood (Thomas, Meissel & McNaughton, 2019).

Both the teachings of reading, and the learning of reading, are complex tasks for teachers and students. Since 2000, the US (National Reading Panel [NRP], 2000), UK (Rose, 2006) and Australia (Rowe, 2005) undergone extensive reviews using high quality quantitative evidence of how to teach children to read in an English-language context. These and similar quantitative meta-analyses have produced a set of strong and consistent findings about effective methods to teach reading, whether at school or home. This report aims to provide a summary of the findings of these meta-analyses. Note that this does not preclude other methods of instruction also being effective: our aim here is to describe the methods that are supported by the most evidence of impact.

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