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Literacy Online. Every child literate - a shared responsibility.
Ministry of Education.

Literacy and students with special education needs


Responding to the needs and strengths of all students is one of the foundations of an inclusive classroom. The successful participation of neurodiverse learners in literacy tasks across the curriculum involves a team response to individual needs – and participating at a suitable level often means academic success.

What is important
The most effective support programmes have a strong focus on raising student achievement. Teachers help students recognise the progress they are making through well-defined goals and making explicit what they need to do to succeed. The active involvement of students in monitoring their own progress and in getting appropriate feedback about their learning is strongly motivational for students at risk of not progressing or achieving.

In addition, the teacher responsible for a student or group of students, structures programmes that are responsive to assessed learning needs. Students are not conveniently fitted into an existing programme. Instead, the programme is discussed, tailored and resourced to meet students’ learning needs. Responsive teaching is important for all learners and particularly critical for neurodiverse learners. 

Teachers are knowledgeable about their students and ensure that, where learning programmes are devolved to teacher aides or voluntary adults, these people are fully conversant with the programme expectations and resources, are trained in the teaching strategies to be used and contribute to student feedback and monitoring processes. In the best instances, those responsible for teaching have management practices that focus on and sustain active learning rather than emphasise compliant behaviour.

from Schools' Provision for Students at Risk of Not AchievingERO 2008

Assistive technology for literacy

Captioning to Support Literacy
One motivating, engaging, and inexpensive way to help build learners’ early reading skills is through the use of closed-captioned and subtitled television shows and films. These supports can help boost foundational reading skills, such as phonics, word recognition, and fluency.

Using Storybird to improve literacy skills
Susan Lee, teacher at Te Kura o Kutarere shares how using  Storybird, a free digital story writing tool, with learners has made a significant impact on the literacy development of her students. She describes how students have become self-motivated and proud of their work. Using Storybird has meant reluctant writers are now, "constantly reading their own work and reading other students stories and the writing is just flowing because it's not pen to paper it's keyboard, choose a picture and tap away." 

Working together: writing with iPads
Avondale School teacher Rae Marsh talks about how using iPad writing app Screen Chomp has made a difference for one of her Year 5 students in learning how to form letters correctly. With a combination of Google Docs and Screen Chomp, her student is able to participate in class activities and express his creativity.

1:1 Netbooks - Allowing excellence in the classroom
Tyler is a Year 6 student at Parkvale School. He has dyspraxia. Using a netbook gives him the freedom to write creatively instead of being inhibited by the speed of his handwriting or his ability to form letters. Tyler comments, "It is the best thing that ever happened to me at school. It’s just completely changed everything. It’s been much easier. I’ve been able to actually complete my work and generally just have a good time."  

Using an iPad to support independent writing for a student with ADHD
Daniel, a student with ADHD, and his teacher, Kate Friedwald, explain how he uses apps on his iPad to support his reading and comprehension. He can now structure his own learning because he can see and hear what it is he needs to be doing.

Literacy support for students with complex communication and learning needs
In this EDtalk, Sally Clendon discusses technology support for literacy learning in students with complex communication and learning needs.


Literacy frameworks
These frameworks expand and enhance Level One of The New Zealand Curriculum in literacy. Holistic learning progressions are set on a continuum, identifying the fine-grained progressions that some students make. The matrices were developed to help teachers identify the key features of learning, achievement, and quality in relation to each achievement objective. Teachers are able to use the matrices to place each student on an individual starting point, identify next step planning and teaching and hold suitably high and realistic expectations for achievement. Accompanying the matrices are exemplars, which make explicit the critical features of a student’s work, the important things to watch for, to collect information about and act upon.

NZC Update 2 – Supporting literacy learning
This update is addressed to the school leadership team and describes a range of literacy interventions in New Zealand schools.

Self-review tool for schools: Focus on students achieving below curriculum expectations in literacy (years 1–8)
Rubrics for evaluating school management of literacy interventions, including examining the school literacy learning culture, consultation and involvement with parents, caregivers, families and whānau, and the effectiveness of classroom teaching practices for students achieving below curriculum expectations in literacy. 

Using digital tools to build literacy skills across the curriculum
Access to tools that can support literacy across the curriculum are increasingly at student’s fingertips. As part of a Universal Design for Learning approach, choices and supports for all students are built into the learning design at the outset. Consequently, students should have access to tools that personalise learning and match their needs and preferences across the curriculum. 

Writers' Lab – a writing strategy to support students with disabilities 
A process to support students with additional needs to write accounts and narrative.

The electronic story books 
The Ministry of Education’s Electronic Storybook is a targeted instructional series designed for teachers to accelerate the literacy achievement of students in years 5–8 who are 2–3 years below expectations and requiring language and literacy support.

The School Journal Story Library
School Journal Story Library is a targeted instructional series that supplements other instructional series. It provides additional scaffolds and supports for teachers to use to accelerate literacy learning for students in years 5-8 who are reading 1-2 years below expectation. The series includes books, teacher support materials, and audio.


Dyslexia is a specific learning difference which is constitutional in origin and which, for a given level of ability, may cause unexpected difficulties in the acquisition of certain literacy and numeracy skills. Dyslexia is not an intellectual impairment. (Dyslexia Foundation NZ)

“Constitutional in origin” refers to the fact that dyslexia has a substantive neurobiological basis.

Structured literacy teaching is essential and can impact positively on the progress and achievement of students with dyslexia.

Neuroscience – Research that informs practice

Cognitive neuroscience provides significant insight into what happens in the brain during learning.

We all learn differently

All students learn differently and require a range of supports and flexible options to engage with learning, rather than a one-size-fits-all approach.

Findings from neuroscience indicate that the human brain learns using three primary networks.

  • Affective networks influence our emotions and motivations.
  • Recognition networks influence what we perceive and understand through our senses.
  • Strategic networks influence how we organise and communicate our thinking.

Use a range of multisensory approaches that align with these three learning networks when working with learners who have dyslexia by:

  • presenting material in multiple ways 
  • enabling students to express learned content in different ways 
  • providing increased opportunities for students to engage in learning. 

(Meyer, Rose & Gordon, 2014)

The reading brain

Reading involves multiple sites and systems in the brain for processing letters into sounds. Systems for phonological processing are affected in learners with dyslexia (Birsh, 2019, Kearns, Hancock, Hoeft, Pugh, & Frost, 2019). Providing a multisensory approach, within a structured phonics-based programme, strengthens the neural pathways needed for reading (Shaywitz & Shaywitz, 2004, Birsh, 2019). 

Video: Dyslexia and the brain, on the Understood website



About Dyslexia: Supporting literacy in the classroom.

Dyslexia resource kete
The Ministry of Education has developed a kete of resources for educators in schools and kura to support learners living with dyslexia, with more to come later in 2020. The resources promote a range of options for helping students living with dyslexia to learn in ways that work best for them.

The release of this kete of resources is another step towards strengthening resources and approaches in this critical area of learning support. The kete promotes a tiered approach to universal support for learners living with dyslexia that reflects the principles and practices of Universal Design for Learning.

The full dyslexia resource kete includes:

  • About Dyslexia: Supporting Literacy in the Classroom
  • Dyslexia and Learning Guide: provides information about dyslexia and classroom strategies to support students’ learning and wellbeing across the curriculum. This guide also includes a range of additional resources and links (available from mid-2020)
  • Parent pamphlets on Dyslexia: one pamphlet for all parents and one with a Te Ao Māori perspective. The Māori pamphlet is available now and the English-medium pamphlet (available from mid-2020)
  • Māori-medium videos: to support effective literacy teaching and an introductory booklet to dyslexia in Maori-medium settings
  • A bank of non-Ministry of Education resources that either support students with dyslexia or have a New Zealand phonics focus
  • The New Zealand Dyslexia Handbook: available now from NZCER Press

The Inclusive Education guide to dyslexia and learning has a range of helpful resources and videos.

Gifted students

Worldwide, it seems that classroom teachers are facing the same problems and asking similar questions about how to cater for gifted children in the literacy classroom: Who are gifted children? Who are gifted readers? Are all gifted children gifted readers? How can I cater for these children in my classroom? (Vosslamber 2002). It is important that teachers are able to find some answers to these questions because, without them, school is not always the inspiring and challenging experience it could be for gifted children.


Gifted children are not necessarily "successful readers and writers", and this is one of the reasons that they are not always identified as gifted. Although many gifted children do indeed achieve excellent results in literacy and a range of other academic areas, others underachieve, and some even experience great difficulties in reading and writing.

from  Catering for gifted students in the literacy classroomTaylor, Tand Oakley, G, 2007


Catering for the learning needs of gifted and talented students in a New Zealand context
A qualitative research project conducted by Adrian Smith ASB/APPA travelling fellowship 2013.

Self Review
Self review tools, strategies and questions to use when reviewing GATE programmes in schools.

Literacy Strategies for Gifted Learners
A series of slides describing the characteristics of gifted readers and writers, and some strategies for creating effective teaching and learning programmes.

Competitions for students
Links to a selection of (non sporting) competitions gifted and talented learners might be interested in.

Gifted students with special learning needs (twice exceptional)

Twice exceptional (or 2E students) are sometimes also referred to as double labelled,or having dual exceptionality. These are gifted students whose performance is impaired, or high potential is masked, by a specific learning disability, physical impairment, disorder or condition. They may experience extreme difficulty in developing their giftedness into talent.

Gifted students with disabilities are at-risk as their educational and social/emotional needs often go undetected. Educators often incorrectly believe twice-exceptional students are not putting in adequate effort within the classroom. They are often described as "lazy" and "unmotivated". Hidden disabilities may prevent students with advanced cognitive abilities from achieving high academic results. 2E students perform inconsistently across the curriculum. The frustrations related to unidentified strengths and disabilities can result in behavioural and social/emotional issues.

Twice-multi exceptional learners helps you to understand the particular strengths and needs of twice/multi exceptional learners.

Updated on: 25 Feb 2020