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

Knowledge of the learner

Teachers gather and analyse information about a student to inform the next teaching and learning steps. A combination of general day-to-day observations, talking with students about their learning, focused monitoring, and sharing information with partners, such as families and whānau, builds a picture of each learner. This includes finding out about the language and literacy practices of their homes and communities.

There is a wide range of assessment tools and processes that are particularly useful for gathering information about year 1–3 students.

The Literacy Learning Progressions and the Reading and Writing Standards for Years 1–8 describe the expectations for students’ literacy learning after one, two, and three years of school. With any group of students, there will be wide variations in their learning pathways and rates of progress – students take multiple paths to literacy.

Teachers use their knowledge of their students, together with their knowledge of literacy learning and expected patterns of progress, to ensure that students are working at the cutting edge of their learning (their zone of proximal development).

Gathering information when students begin school

Many schools have information-gathering practices that help teachers to gain an overview of a child’s literacy knowledge during the enrolment process and the first few weeks of school. This information may come from conversations, formal assessment tools, informal observation, and the child’s family and whānau.

Families and whānau are rich sources of information. They are a child’s first teachers and a great deal of a child’s literacy learning occurs outside the classroom. Understanding of a child’s early childhood education experience and knowledge is another source of valuable information.

School Entry Assessment is a formal assessment tool designed for use with children starting school and includes three tasks. The child is assessed on their retelling of a story, their understanding of concepts about print, and their skills in numeracy.

It is important to gather information about an English language learner’s proficiency in both their home language and English. School enrolment forms to gather this information are available in a range of languages.

Multiple pathways to learning

Children vary in their existing expertise and in their routes and rates of progress. They make meaning and use written language in many ways.

A class in the first year of school may initially include:

  • high-progress readers, who rapidly gain control of reading in a phrased and fluent way and who demonstrate signs of independence
  • students who make steady and regular progress
  • slow starters, for example, those who are not secure with directionality, have difficulty with language structures, or are easily distracted from text
  • non-risk-takers, who feel intimidated by the challenge of reading by themselves and who want to “get it right” the first time
  • ELL students who may be reading at expected levels in their first language, but are not making expected progress in reading in English.

Students may move from one kind of reading behaviour to another. For example, a student who has at first been consistent in using some visual information to cross-check with attempts to use meaning and structure may cease this behaviour when presented with material involving unfamiliar language. Sometimes students temporarily become non-risk-takers and need careful teacher support to regain confidence with new material.

Old Tuatara 

Old Tuatara book cover.

I have a group of students who have started school with limited experiences of print. They’ve been at school for around 3 weeks.  We’ve been doing lots of shared reading and language experience writing (and reading) and the students are rapidly learning about books and how they work and are also acquiring a few words. They seem ready for guided reading.

I chose Old Tuatara (Magenta) because although it’s quite short, it’s a real story with a beginning, middle, and end. The text layout (one line of text with wide spaces between words) supports one to one matching and the very close match between the text and the illustration means that that the students can achieve a high level of success as they read the story for themselves.  Students always love the ending of this story!

I wanted to provide a strong introduction that would support them through the reading.  We looked through the book before reading to talk about what was happening in the illustrations (with a lot of focus on the tuatara looking like he was asleep) and so I could introduce the names of the characters into the discussion. I also used questions to draw out language structures that might have been unfamiliar to them, such as “He sat and sat …” and “Asleep,” said … They were keen to predict what might happen to the fly! I also drew attention to the speech marks so that they knew that there was going to be talking within the story.

As they read the story quietly to themselves, I watched and listened, only intervening if they clearly needed help. I was delighted to see them checking the illustrations before they attempted each page. One or two needed a bit of support with the names of the creatures, especially “gull”, and the word “Asleep” the first time it occurred but they latched onto the language pattern (“Asleep,” said …) and all managed the change to “Not asleep” on the last page. Their one-to-one matching seemed fairly secure so my next step will be to try them out on a slightly longer Magenta text, possibly one that has some pages with two lines of text so they can practise return sweep.

Teacher, new entrants/year 1 class

Year 2 and 3 classes may include:

  • high-progress readers, who may be reading two or more years above their chronological age, who devour the books that are part of the classroom programme and who are already choosing a wide range of independent recreational reading
  • students who are progressing steadily and putting an effective reading processing system in place
  • students who still need careful monitoring to ensure they are developing appropriate behaviours, for example, noticing when they have lost meaning and being able to use several ways of solving the problem, or thinking more deeply about what they have read.

Students may display a different range of competencies when reading different kinds of texts. For example, a student who enjoys stories and is familiar with the structure of traditional tales may read Two Tiger Tales fluently and expressively but may need greater support in integrating visual, semantic, and syntactic information to become confident in reading realistic fiction.

Background information

  • For more information about knowledge of the learner, see chapter 3 of Effective Literacy Practice in Years 1–4.

Updated on: 20 Nov 2014