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

Developing awareness as a reader and a writer

Understanding the concept of awareness is central to understanding the nature of literacy learning. Students are not always aware of how to use the knowledge and strategies they have acquired. When they adapt their literacy learning to new contexts, they become more aware of that learning and its potential uses. Students become more independent learners when they know how to articulate and demonstrate what they are aware of and what they need to work on further.

Students in years 5 to 8 need to develop social understandings as part of their critical awareness and to think about the ways in which texts shape values and position audiences. They can be helped, through deliberate acts of teaching, to think about what they are reading and writing. For example, they can consider how an author’s choice of language is intended to affect the reader or work out how they, as writers, could persuade their readers to think in a particular way.

All readers and writers need to have phonemic awareness (awareness of the separate sounds within words), phonological awareness (awareness of the sound system of language), an understanding of phonics (the correspondence between spoken sounds and the letters that represent them), and print awareness (awareness of the basic conventions of print). Refer to pages 32–37 of Effective Literacy Practice in Years 1 to 4 for information about these concepts.
In order to be able to read and write fluently and independently, students need to develop many kinds of literacy-related awareness. They need to be aware, for example:

  • that reading and writing are closely related and that both are based on oral language;
  • that texts reflect the social and cultural perspectives of their writers;
  • that written language can be used for many purposes, for example, to express emotion, to inform, to persuade, to entertain, to reflect, or simply for pleasure;
  • that there are established text forms, which have different structures and features according to their purposes and intended audiences;
  • that texts in various forms can be read and written in different media;
  • that making meaning and thinking critically about texts involves receiving and communicating messages at both literal and inferential levels;
  • that readers and writers use their prior knowledge, sources of information in texts, and a range of processes and strategies to make and create meaning;
  • that written texts can have a powerful influence on the reader.

More proficient readers and writers demonstrate their awareness of:

  • the social and cultural perspectives of texts, when they articulate the author’s perspective or point of view;
  • text forms, when they justify their choice of a particular form to meet a writing purpose;
  • text structure and features, when they identify components of structure and specific features, such as descriptive language, in texts that they are reading;
  • how texts are sequenced, when they identify the links between sections or paragraphs;
  • sources of information in texts, when they select the most appropriate words for conveying a message (semantics), when they apply grammatical rules to order
  • words in sentences correctly (syntax), and when they attend closely to parts of an unfamiliar word (grapho-phonic information);
  • inferred messages in texts, when they provide evidence from the text to support their inferences;
  • the ways in which texts can affect readers, when they demonstrate that they can harness the power of language, for example, by careful selection of words or language features for a particular audience;
  • the ways in which readers can evaluate texts, when they respond critically and thoughtfully to a text from their personal viewpoint.

Students develop their literacy awareness through many activities and interactions with the teacher and their peers. Teachers can deliberately build students’ awareness by noticing what a student is attending to and entering into a discussion about it. This means challenging students, for example, by asking them to explain how they reached a conclusion about a character’s personality and what textual evidence they used to inform this conclusion.

Students who know how to identify the knowledge and strategies they use are better able to deliberately control their use of them. However, they do not always develop this kind of metacognitive awareness automatically. For example, the teacher may need to prompt students to cross-check when they are reading or writing more complex texts. Students often ask the teacher what to do when they are “stuck”. Handing the responsibility back to the student, by responding with a question or prompt rather than an “answer”, obliges them to think about what they know and can use and helps them to take increasing responsibility for their own learning.

Making learning intentions more explicit has resulted in a greater transfer of skills and knowledge. Students who are able to apply a skill across different text forms generally progress more quickly. For example, when we moved from a focus on arguments to looking at explanations and I asked one group what the main point of the first paragraph was, I was thrilled when a student responded, “We know the main point will probably be at the start and the other points will support it – that’s what paragraphs DO. This is just like before, when we were writing arguments!”

Teacher, year 7 and 8 class

Published on: 22 Apr 2016