In recent years there has been a worrying slump in students’ reading and writing outcomes. The latest PISA results show that since 2000, Australia’s mean score has declined by the equivalent of around three-quarters of a year of schooling.
To arrest this decline, the Federal Government has rolled out a Year 1 phonics check to ensure that children can properly understand how to read and write from the onset of their school education, negating the need for them to catch up in the later years.
However, many schools continue to face challenges in teaching students who have a diverse range of literacy skills, which can be a difficult, time-consuming task for teachers when using traditional methods.
Across Australia, many educators and service providers are addressing this challenge through gamification – a tried and tested way of engaging young people in literacy education.
One service provider, LiteracyPlanet, has just relaunched Word Mania – a fun word-building competition open for free to all Australia and New Zealand schools and participants in years 1-9. So far: 1,800 schools participating, 20 million words built and 1 million games played.
The program, which works alongside traditional teaching methods, gives teachers the ability to easily differentiate between students, see their results and put in place remediation or intervention programs.
Students are seen to build confidence in their literacy skills after using the program, particularly when they’ve started below their grade standard.
Word Mania has students racing against the clock to build as many words as they can from a set of 15 randomly generated letters. By dragging and rearranging letter tiles into the word panel players have 3 minutes to make, extend and rebuild words to help their school climb a national leaderboard.
LiteracyPlanet CEO, Tom Richardson, said the company’s customers love the competition and are always asking when it’s coming back.
“It’s a great way for children to improve their spelling, word recognition, and word knowledge while having fun and sharing this experience with their teachers and classmates,” Richardson told The Educator.
“Plus, it’s a prudent way in which other schools can trial LiteracyPlanet and really see how the program supports and delivers improved literacy outcomes for their students.”
Other literacy-building programs are seeing impressive results in schools across Australia.
THRASS – an acronym for Teaching Handwriting, Reading And Spelling Skills – is a system for helping learners understand the building blocks of the English language and read with meaning. The program is also helpful for children with dyslexia and other speech disabilities.
Denyse Ritchie, honorary chair of literacy at Murdoch University and the principal of the THRASS Institute, says the earlier that educators can analyse children's reading and how they’re writing in the early years, the sooner they can intervene at the point of need.
“That is really important. If these children start enjoying literacy, sharing books, having fun looking at phonic patterns around the room, and so forth, we’ll start improving early literacy skills,” Ritchie told The Educator.
“But the way we intervene in children’s learning is really important, and that comes down to analysing what our children are actually doing.”
Supporting new teachers
Last month, the Primary English Teaching Association Australia (PETAA) launched a new resource literacy resource to support early career teachers.
The resource brings together information, articles, instructional video examples, and classroom teaching and learning materials for each content area.
“Now more than ever, it is important that teachers who are new to the profession receive meaningful support as they begin their career in the classroom,” PETAA President and Associate Professor at the University of Wollongong, Pauline Jones, said.
“The PETAA Literacy Resources Portal for Early Career Teachers draws on PETAA’s rich 50-year history of creating resources and reference materials for teachers by transforming research, advice, and instructional materials created by education experts into accessible, easy to digest, highly practical guides for new teachers.”
Jones said it is vital that teachers across Australia have continued access to quality professional resources and development that provide them with the tools they need to adapt and deepen their understanding of English and literacy in order to provide every young Australian with a powerful literacy education.
“If teachers are feeling overwhelmed at the prospect of a deeper focus on phonics in their classroom, we ask them to reach out PETAA for support, training, and access to expert strategies and advice.”