I have been clearing out many of my old and well used resources. The Graded Reading Vocabulary Test, was the ‘go to’ guide for many years. It was designed to ‘calculate a reading age’, and consisted of a list of words to be read to the teacher.
The test began with:
and ended with:
A test of vocabulary and of reading experience (as well as indicative of the times and the British heritage, with the ‘bun’) as much as a test of word reading. When administered, the test provided a neatly and unarguable ‘reading age’. But insights into other significant aspects of learning that impact on literacy development were also apparent – literacy practices in the home, education level of parents, world experiences and activities outside of school, engagement with different types of texts etc., for teachers to notice and work with.
Although variations of this type of test are still being actively promoted and used in schools today, ongoing research means we have come a long way in our understandings about reading, learning, and about literacy in general.
In the Australian Curriculum, … students become literate as they develop the knowledge, skills and dispositions to interpret and use language confidently for learning and communicating in and out of school and for participating effectively in society. (ACARA, 2016).
The National Literacy Learning Progression V.3.0 2020 p.5
Our current view about the complexity of the acquisition of literacy – skills, knowledge and understandings of language – are informed by the functional view of language.
[Michael Halliday] argues that language is a semiotic system, from which writers and speakers use words and language as resources for making meaning (Halliday & Hasan, 1985, in Callow, 2013, p.10)
We teach our students about the tools of the English language for making meaning. We are able to observe some of the demonstrated literacy behaviours of our students.
The Literacy Progression itemises some of these.
The National Literacy Learning Progression V.3.0
The National Literacy Learning Progression describes the observable indicators of increasing complexity in the use of Standard Australian English language. The literacy progression includes the modes of listening, speaking, reading, viewing and writing.
This progression, together with its equivalent in Numeracy, has been developed and refined as a description of the progress which students may follow in aspects of the curriculum, not taking into consideration age or year level.
The new version of the Progression consists of the same three elements as in V.2.0 – Reading and Viewing, Speaking and Listening, and Writing. These frame the 12 ‘sub-elements’ (National Literacy Learning Progression Version 3 p.7). Alterations and inclusions have been made to some of the sub-elements, terminology has been adjusted for consistency, and a new level has been added to ‘Text complexity’. You will be able to examine changes as you and your school use the Progression to inform your teaching.
The current version, made available in April 2020, has had content compared with other existing progressions and assessments in literacy and numeracy, and includes some refinements ‘to improve the content of Version 2’ (Version 3 of National Literacy and Numeracy Learning Progression).
What the National Literacy Learning Progression isn’t
There is acknowledgement that students do not necessarily fit perfectly into the levels, that students may not necessarily follow the developmental progression perfectly, and that every class can have students demonstrating observable skills at different levels.
While the progression provides a logical sequence, not all students will progress through every level in a uniform manner.
As well, there is nothing in the Progression to advise teachers about planning, programming, teaching or assessment. (p.6)
The progression has not been designed as a checklist and does not replace the Australian Curriculum: English.
Assessment has remained an integral component of our planning and teaching:
In most classrooms, assessment is part of a teaching/learning cycle, where teachers plan in light of syllabus outcomes, observe and evaluate as they teach, assessing student learning formatively and modifying lessons as appropriate.
Callow, 2011, p. 111
For EAL/D students, the Australian Curriculum: English includes advice on student diversity, and the Progression refers teachers to the English as an Additional Language or Dialect (EAL/D) Learning Progression: Foundation to Year 10.
The Progression is a means for developing awareness of what students do, according to a list of observable behaviours that may or may not represent their progress in literacy development.
We must never forget that these tools are for making meaning – we have to ensure our students learn about the elements of literacy in all subjects, what it is, and what students can achieve with these skills.
Writing in the Literacy Progression
The element of Writing provides opportunity to show how we need to be careful to not use the Progression in a way that is inappropriate for its purpose.
There are five sub-elements in the element of Writing. The Creating texts sub-element is where students demonstrate their skills with whole text, the emphasis of the Australian Curriculum: English.
At the early levels, students experiment with the use of letters and words to convey meaning. The focus moves to the control of the basic conventions of writing, as students begin to explore the features of texts for a range of purposes. At the higher levels, writing becomes a key tool for learning and develops for a broader range of purposes in the context of the different Australian Curriculum learning areas.
Current research indicates that a narrow, lock-step progression from one observable skill to the next does not indicate the complexity of the development of learning to write. It is not a linear progression.
… writing actually develops at many levels simultaneously (Tochinsky 2006) as children develop a ‘symbolic repertoire’ of which print is only one element
Genishi & Dyson 2009 p.83 in Mackenzie 2011 p.323
We need to apply our knowledge and understandings of curriculum outcomes as a priority over a focus on descriptions of behaviour. We can also be aware that any line drawn between such descriptors is a guide only.
Fragmenting these complex literacy processes [of reading and writing] interferes with the greatest goal of literacy education – the construction of meaning from and through text.
Fountas & Pinnell, 2001, p.vi
It is important that we ensure our students understand that the message is what is of paramount importance. They are developing the tools to help to make that message as clear as possible to the reader, and we are advised to not focus our teaching on the ‘secretarial’ elements of writing. Mackenzie (2011) warns that Prioritising letters and word, print conventions and accuracy can actually make the writing process more difficult for some children (p.324). The observable behaviours may not be an accurate description of how the child is creating text in their thinking.
[Children] need an understanding of writing as a social construct and practice in using language so they can express themselves with confidence.
Ljungdahl & March 2014 p.267
The Online Formative Assessment Initiative
The Online Formative Assessment Initiative is designed to lift educational outcomes across Australia. It will provide resources and professional learning for teachers and students.
… When bundled together on the new national ecosystem, all elements of the Online Formative Assessment Initiative will create an empirical evidence base of effective practices available to teachers across Australia.
In 2019, the Education Council determined that Version 3 of both the National Literacy and Numeracy Learning Progressions will play a role in what is described as the ‘alpha phase’ of the initiative in 2020.
In the ecosystem, assessments that are aligned to the NLNLPs will be available to assist teachers to identify where students are in their learning and provide insights to help plan for the next steps.
The initiative is directed at teachers, at providing feedback to students, at generating data, and as information for parents. Description, this information sheet and the April 2020 newsletter are available at https://www.lpofai.edu.au/. Clearly, there will be a greater emphasis on both Progressions, and on assessment, in the future.
It will be interesting to see how much further we have come from that word reading test, in the ways that both the Progressions and the data will be used, and in the ways teachers are able to use and interpret both in their classrooms.
Teaching and learning
In the detail of monitoring our students’ observable indicators of developing literacy practice, whether through an online structure or to inform our planning, we can keep the main goals for ourselves as teachers, and for our students, at the forefront of our work.
Engaging learning activities provide assessment opportunities, where more teacher-scaffolded tasks give way to student control, as they practise new skills and develop ideas.
Callow, 2011, p. 111
David de Carvalho, CEO of ACARA, has clear understandings about some of the qualities that make great teachers, and so inform great teaching. The role of trusting relationships is critical in David’s thinking about teaching and learning.
Listen to his ideas YouTube.
ACARA (2020) The National Literacy and Numeracy Learning Progression V.3.0 at https://www.australiancurriculum.edu.au/resources/national-literacy-and-numeracy-learning-progressions/version-3-of-national-literacy-and-numeracy-learning-progressions/
ACARA, ESA & AITSL (2020) Online Formative Assessment Initiative at https://www.lpofai.edu.au/ (accessed 18/06/2020)
Callow J. (2013) The shape of text to come Newtown: PETAA
Fountas, I.C. & Pinnell, G.S. (2001) Guiding Readers and Writers Grades 3-6, Portsmouth NH: Heinemann
Ljungdahl, L. & March, P. (2014) The Role of Writing, Chapter 13 in Literacy: Reading, Writing and Children’s Literature, 5th Edition, OUP
Mackenzie, N. (2011) From drawing to writing: What happens when you shift teaching priorities in the first six months of school? in Australian Journal of Language and Literacy Vol 34, No.3, 2011 pp. 322-340