Reading literacy instruction in English-language countries: similarities and differences

Publication Details

Using data from PIRLS 2016, this paper presents a comparison of the instructional practices used by teachers in English-language countries and jurisdictions when teaching reading comprehension, drawing attention to the similarities and differences across them.

Author(s): Megan Chamberlain with Jessica Forkert [Evidence, Data and Knowledge: Ministry of Education]

Date Published: August 2019


This paper extrapolates on recent evidence reported by researchers at Liège University (Belgium), who found that overall, the English-speaking systems were well-placed with implementing known effective literacy practices compared with German-speaking and French-speaking education systems. The English-language countries, are representative of both Northern and Southern hemisphere countries; low and high-performing systems, and have relatively diverse student populations. Of the 10 countries/jurisdictions considered here, students in seven of them achieved, on average, significantly higher reading scores than New Zealand Year 5 students.

Key Findings

Overall, there are more similarities than differences in the instructional practices used by teachers in English-language countries. However, there were some practices and approaches where New Zealand stands out quite markedly — by either carrying out or using a particular approach or not using an approach. Compared with their peers in most of the other English-language countries,

New Zealand teachers were more likely to…
  • teach reading to children in same ability groups
  • ask their students to read silently on their own.

New Zealand teachers were less likely to…

  • teach reading to the whole class
  • ask their students to read aloud
  • teach new vocabulary systematically
  • use longer fiction chapter books as part of their reading instruction.

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