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

Literacy leadership

This site has been developed to provide you with tools, resources, and ideas to support you in your role as Literacy leader.

Use the diagram below to navigate to each phase of the teacher inquiry cycle.

  1. Phase 1: What are our students' literacy learning needs?

    Phase 1
  2. Phase 2: What are my learning needs as a leader?

    Phase 2
  3. Phase 4: What has been the impact of our changed actions?

    Phase 4
  4. Phase 3: How do I design tasks, experiences, and actions (for leaders, teachers, and students)

    Phase 3

The role of the literacy leader

A key function of literacy leadership is leading pedagogical change through the teaching as an inquiry tool. This is clearly explained in Leading from the middle: educational leadership for middle and senior leaders

The following are your cornerstone resources that you will need to have extensive knowledge of and refer to almost daily. Ensure that you and your teachers have copies of each and bring them to all meetings for ready reference.

Instructional leadership

Leading inquiry

The  New Zealand Curriculum provides a succinct rationale for teachers to inquire into the effectiveness of their teaching: “Since any teaching strategy works differently in different contexts for different students, effective pedagogy requires that teachers inquire into the impact of their teaching on their students” p. 35.

Read a  case study about a teacher using an inquiry approach to improve the narrative writing of her mainly Pasifika learners.


This section will develop your understanding of inquiry in a literacy context. It has been divided into the following parts:

  • Part A: Understanding why inquiry is vital
  • Part B: Inquiry about the teaching–learning relationship
  • Part C: Student-focused inquiry

Teaching as inquiry

The New Zealand Curriculum provides a succinct rationale for teachers to inquire into the effectiveness of their teaching: “Since any teaching strategy works differently in different contexts for different students, effective pedagogy requires that teachers inquire into the impact of their teaching on their students”  (Ministry of Education, 2007, p. 35)

Understanding the literacy teaching/learning relationship

Inquiry into the literacy teaching – literacy learning relationship is a cyclical process in which the teacher asks:

What is important (and therefore worth spending time on), given where my students are at?
This focusing inquiry establishes a baseline and a direction. The teacher uses all available information to determine what students have already learned about literacy and what they need to learn next.

What literacy teaching strategies (evidence-based) are most likely to help my students learn this?
In this teaching inquiry, the teacher uses evidence from research and from their own past practice and that of colleagues to plan teaching and learning opportunities aimed at achieving the outcomes prioritised in the focusing inquiry.

What happened as a result of the teaching, and what are the implications for future teaching?
In this learning inquiry, the teacher investigates the success of the teaching in terms of the prioritised outcomes, using a range of assessment approaches. They do this both while learning activities are in progress and also as longer-term sequences or units of work come to an end. They then analyse and interpret the information to consider what they should do next.

Professional development inquiry

Effective professional development employs a similar inquiry cycle as effective teaching, and for a similar reason:

Since any professional development strategy works differently in different contexts for different teachers, effective professional developers require inquiry into the impact of their facilitation on their teacher-learners.

As a Literacy Leader responsible for teacher professional development you need to:

  • identify students’ literacy learning strengths and needs
  • identify what new knowledge and skills your teachers will need to address these students’ needs
  • engage your teachers in tailored professional development
  • ensure with your Principal’s support that you are creating a professional learning community that openly engages in dialogue about students literacy learning and where teachers share the successes they have had with meeting the needs of students who are below the expected level of the curriculum.
  • support and challenge teachers to implement new approaches in their classrooms
  • evaluate the impact of teachers’ changed actions

Student-focused inquiry

The first step in any literacy teaching or professional development cycle is to identify your students’ learning strengths and needs in relation to the literacy demands of the New Zealand Curriculum (NZC). For example, in a unit on Planet Earth and Beyond in Science, students will likely be required to understand and use technical vocabulary, read scientific texts that present unfamiliar and sometimes complex information, and write an explanation (for example, about an aspect of science such as erosion or the water cycle), and so on as determined by the curriculum concept being taught. Teachers need to know what the literacy demands are before they can plan deliberate student-focused inquiry, and teaching actions.

Using the Literacy Learning Progressions and National standards to frame your inquiry

It is important that teachers find out about more than just their students’ literacy achievement – they also need to know about literacy-related knowledge, skills, strategy use, and attitudes. Much of this information will not be provided by any single, standardised assessment.

The Literacy Learning Progressions (LLP) and National standards are a valuable tool for framing teachers’ student-focused inquiry as they describe the literacy-related knowledge, skills and attitudes students are expected to have at different levels of the curriculum.

For some English language Learners it will be more appropriate to use the English Language Learning Progressions.

A practical outline of how teachers can use student-focused inquiry to inform their planning, teaching and evaluation:

  • Identify student needs to determine how to extend and support literacy development.
  • Plan activities and approaches that will best extend and support their literacy development.
  • Make informed choices of books and other resource materials.
  • Make the best use of all support time available - teacher’s aides, volunteers, buddies, peers.
  • Reflect on your own teaching practice and classroom organisation - are you only teaching what the child needs to learn? Is every minute spent doing activities that will improve or consolidate current learning?
  • Review your literacy programme, is it working well, achieving what you intended it to? Modify if it isn’t.

 ‘The focus should be on the effectiveness of day to day teaching activities, not additional programmes’ P104 Timperley and Parr

Making Overall Teacher Judgements using multiple sources of information

It is important to base your inquiry on a wide range of formal and informal sources of information. Many important aspects of the literacy knowledge, skills, and attitudes described in the Literacy Learning Progressions and English Language Learning Progressions are not assessed by tools such as e-asTTle or PAT. For example, consider different ways you might find out how well your students are doing in relation to this expectation:

“...increasingly control a repertoire of comprehension strategies that they can use flexibly and draw on when they know they are not comprehending fully, including such strategies as:

  • using their prior knowledge, along with information in the text, to interpret abstract ideas, complex plots, and sophisticated themes
  • identifying and resolving issues arising from competing information in texts
  • gathering, evaluating, and synthesising information across a small range of texts
  • identifying and evaluating writers’ purposes and the ways in which writers use language and ideas to suit their purposes…”

(LLP, Ministry of Education, 2010)

Sources of information that will help teachers’ student-focused inquiry

Formal literacy tools such as:

  • e-asTTle reading and writing
  • PAT comprehension and vocabulary
  • STAR reading (up to end of Year 9 only)
  • Observation Survey
  • English Language Learning Progressions

Informal classroom-based evidence such as:

  • student work in books
  • running records
  • curriculum-based reading and writing tasks (including  Assessment Resource Bank tasks)
  • observations of students
  • student voice.

Student voice 

Your students are an important source of information about teaching and learning in your school as they experience it first-hand every day.

Student voice can include:

  • formal interviews with individual or focus group students
  • informal classroom conversations
  • surveys

One approach that some schools have found manageable and effective is for teachers to select four to six target students. Decisions about what students to include will depend on the professional learning focus. For example, if a teacher who identified that some groups (such as Māori boys) were making lower than expected progress, some of these boys could be included in a target group.

Talking with students

Discussions with students could be used to identify their perceptions of:

  • what they know about their own literacy strengths and learning needs
  • texts and tasks they find more and less engaging
  • their aspirations and their perceptions of the relevance of literacy to these.

The teacher can then closely monitor the impact of changed teaching practices on students in this group. This monitoring might include the teacher:

  • jotting down notes about these students as they take part in new literacy learning activities
  • asking the students to reflect on their learning at the end of each lesson
  • analysing these students’ work to see if the lesson achieved intended learning outcomes
  • regularly asking these students to articulate literacy strategies they are using to complete reading and writing tasks.
  • Taking note of changes in what is being learned over time as demonstrated in modelling books

Inquiry about the teaching-learning relationship

After you have identified specific student literacy learning needs, the next step is to find out what the school can do differently to address these.

A useful process for teacher-focused inquiry is to:

  • identify specific student literacy learning strengths and needs
  • generate possible explanations or hypotheses for why this is occurring (these should include any ideas put forward by the group)
  • test each hypothesis systematically, and eliminate those for which there is no evidence.

Focus on those remaining hypotheses that teachers and leaders can influence and which are likely to create the most change.

Professional development inquiry

Effective professional development employs a similar inquiry cycle as effective teaching, and for a similar reason:

Since any professional development strategy works differently in different contexts for different teachers, effective professional developers require inquiry into the impact of their facilitation on their teacher-learners.

As a Literacy Leader responsible for teacher professional development you need to:

  • identify students’ literacy learning strengths and needs
  • identify what new knowledge and skills your teachers will need to address these students’ needs
  • engage your teachers in tailored professional development
  • ensure with your Principal’s support that you are creating a professional learning community that openly engages in dialogue about students literacy learning and where teachers share the successes they have had with meeting the needs of students who are below the expected level of the curriculum.
  • support and challenge teachers to implement new approaches in their classrooms
  • evaluate the impact of teachers’ changed actions

Managing change

Busy teachers are more likely to engage in professional learning about literacy when they see how it complements - rather than competes with- student’s learning in other areas of the curriculum. It is important that teachers can see links between literacy PD and other professional learning they have been involved in. Otherwise teachers may feel overloaded.

All teachers are required to give effect to The New Zealand Curriculum (NZC). The NZC delivers very clear messages about literacy teaching. These messages are implicit in the vision, principles, values, key competencies, and learning areas sections of the curriculum.

Literacy in the New Zealand Curriculum

The following extract, from the introduction to the Learning Areas section of NZC, makes it clear that teachers are responsible for teaching literacy in all learning areas:

The  Literacy Learning Progressions support the NZC by describing the literacy related knowledge, skills and attitudes that students need at different levels.

Engaging teachers in professional learning about literacy 

It is very important that you engage with teachers’ existing beliefs about literacy learning and teaching:

Factors that influence engagement

Teachers’ willingness to engage deeply in professional learning will be affected by how much they believe that improving students’ literacy:

  • is an important goal for the students they teach
  • will help students achieve better across the curriculum
  • is something they can positively influence (that is, teacher self efficacy).

The following sections describe different ways you can help teachers see the benefits of professional learning about literacy.

Teachers and schools can make a difference

There is overwhelming evidence that “Notwithstanding the influence of factors such as socio-economic status, home and community, student learning is strongly influenced by what and how teachers teach” (Timperley, 2008, p. 6).

Everything in this website is informed by evidence that:

  1. individual teachers can make a difference
  2. teachers and leaders working together can make even more of a difference.

The belief that teachers can make a difference is called teacher efficacy. The belief that teachers and leaders working together can make more of a difference is known as collective efficacy. An important part of the

Literacy Leader role is to consistently promote individual teacher and collective efficacy.

Building efficacy

Some ways to build individual teacher and collective efficacy:

  • Accentuating the positive by showing evidence of teachers and groups of teachers making a difference. For example, some teachers will be more effective than others in raising student achievement in literacy. There may be a class in which Maori and Pasifika students made higher progress than others. Identify, promote, and celebrate together what these teachers did to make a difference.
  • Challenging explanations for low student achievement that ignore the role of teachers and schools. For example, if a teacher says, “I can’t make much of a difference when their own parents have such low expectations”, you might say: 
    • “Who exactly are you referring to?”
    • “What evidence do you have that parents have low expectations?”
    • “This does not mean that we also have to have low expectations for them.”
    • “What have you done to promote high expectations in your classroom?”
    • “What have you done to support the family to address this issue?”

Changing teacher practices before changing teacher beliefs?

Sometimes, teachers’ beliefs about value of new literacy practices do not change until after they try them for themselves. Seeing new approaches work for their students is very motivating for teachers. The Literacy Leader can then build on this interest and help the teacher understand in a deeper way why this approach was effective.

Using student voice

Student perceptions are valuable because students personally experience our classrooms at first hand. Student voice can be a powerful way of giving teachers a reason to engage in literacy learning opportunities.

Student voice can be collected in a variety of ways, such as through:

  • questionnaires
  • group brainstorms
  • interviews with individual or small groups of students.

At the beginning of a literacy intervention, student voice can be used to find out their knowledge and beliefs about:

  • what types of texts they prefer to read and write
  • what kinds of teaching they think are most effective
  • their home literacy practices such as oral traditions (story telling, chants) worldviews
  • their background: cultural capital, worldviews, prior learning and the knowledge and experiences they bring into the classroom
  • how challenging/interesting they find literacy tasks
  • why literacy is important in different learning areas
  • their aspirations at and beyond schooling, and what role they think literacy has in realising these.

Case study: using student voice to engage teachers in Te Kotahitanga

While this example is from a secondary school setting, the messages and principles are worth considering for all teachers.

In order to engage teachers in rethinking their theories, Te Kotahitanga employed a Kaupapa Maori strategy of ‘collaborative storying’. Early in the professional development experience, teachers were presented with stories that had been compiled during an earlier phase of the project. These stories came from students (both engaged and non-engaged), their parents/whnau, principals, and teachers and concerned the influences on students’ educational engagement and achievement. There were marked differences between the descriptions of daily realities provided by the students themselves, those parenting them, principals, and teachers. The extremes were represented by the teachers and the students.

Knowing the learner

Culture counts

“Culture counts - knowing, respecting and valuing who students are, where they come from, and building on what they bring with them makes a difference to both teaching and learning”

(Ka Hikitia: Managing for Success. Maori Education Strategy 2008-2010, Ministry of Education, 2008, p. 20)

One way for teachers to make ‘culture count’ is to include a balance of ‘mirror’ and ‘window’ texts in their programmes. Mirror texts reflect students’ own culture and experience while window texts give insight into unfamiliar ideas, perspectives, and experiences (Gangi, 2008).

Another way is to always encourage students to make connections to their own prior learning and experience. One further way is to treat students’ linguistic knowledge (such as knowledge of their first language) as a valued resource.

Helping Māori students achieve their potential

An important challenge for all New Zealand schools is to address current disparities in outcomes for Māori students.

These Māori concepts or principles are vitally important:

  • ako – effective and reciprocal teaching and learning relationships where everyone is a learner and a teacher
  • manaakitanga – the care for students as culturally located people above all else
  • mana motuhake – the care by teachers for the academic success and performance of their students
  • whakawhanaungatanga – the nurturing of mutually respectful and collaborative relationships between all parties around student learning.

Attending to these principles is essential if Māori students are to feel truly valued and therefore become meaningfully engaged in classroom learning activities.

Using assessment information

Assessment information is valuable at all levels of our education system. Your role as a literacy leader requires you to ensure that data is aggregated at different levels across the school ensuring that the first response is as a classroom teacher and analysing what it is saying about each student.

  • Individual student level
  • Classroom level (students and teachers)
  • School level

For students who are not making sufficient progress to reach expected levels of literacy achievement the following should be in place:

  • a system of early identification
  • a process for determining a clear understanding of the student’s strengths and needs
  • additional and appropriate supports and resources
  • regular and frequent monitoring of students progress
  • and an expectation that these students will be making accelerated progress to catch up with their peers in the shortest time possible

An inquiry tool has been developed to support your school’s self review of effectiveness in meeting the needs of these students.

At classroom level assessment information is used to decide on the most appropriate learning opportunities for students, to provide feedback and identify their next learning steps. It should be used to design and adapt teaching programmes and to ensure continuous progressions toward learning goals in manageable learning steps. It can also be shared with parents as part of learning partnerships.

At the school level it can identify areas of greatest need for resourcing purposes and inform strategic planning and development. By disaggregating data to identify sub-groups of students such as Māori, Pasifika or boys; and individual student with special education needs it is possible to track their progress and to ensure that those groups that are not achieving at the levels they should be are making accelerated gains. Assessment data is also used to evaluate the effectiveness of the school’s curriculum and teaching programmes.

Gathering assessment data

When gathering information it is important that teachers are clear about what information is to be gathered and why. To do this they will also need to be clear about what they are planning to teach and the learning goals (intended outcomes for the students) so that they can select and administer appropriate assessments.

The  Assessment Tool Selector provides useful information that schools can use to select assessment tools to suit particular purposes. It provides information about the tools most frequently used in New Zealand schools, in every curriculum area up to and including Year 10. It outlines strengths and limitations of each tool and allows you to compare tools to decide which one is the most suitable.

Analysing data

As a Literacy Leader you will need to ensure that information is gathered from many sources as no single assessment tool or observation will give a complete picture of a student’s capabilities. Information from various sources (classroom literacy activities, conversations, guided reading lessons), settings (intervention programmes, homes, communities) and from across the curriculum should be analysed to develop a full picture of each learner.

Teachers should be provided with opportunities to work together to analyse assessment information through activities such as moderation. The process of talking through the implications of the evidence helps to clarify what should be looked for and to establish a sound basis for overall judgements.

The following are general principles for analysing data and reflecting on it from Effective Literacy Practice in Years 1 – 4 (Ministry of Education, 2003 p.64)

  • The analysis is based on the teacher’s current knowledge of the learners.
  • The reliability and validity of the data have been established.
  • The teacher understands the strengths and limitations of the procedure and of the data.
  • The analysis takes account of qualitative influences on the student’s performance, such as the effect of people’s expectations.
  • The teacher recognises that the information to be analysed is dynamic in nature (because students and their learning constantly change and move on).
  • Judgements can be checked and confirmed because they are based on the analysis of information from many sources, not one isolated source.
  • The students own assessment of their learning is considered and valued.

It can be helpful to consider the questions that you wish to answer through your analysis of assessment information. These will determine what data you need to collect how you collate and analyse it. The following questions are worth considering.

How much information will you need? Insufficient information will not give you a clear and balanced picture of a child’s overall achievement, too much data (in particular too many assessment tools used) will take up valuable teaching time and possible lead to duplication of information.

Can you collate data in such as way that you can use it for multiple purposes and to answer a range of questions? By entering sufficient information into your School Management System (SMS) or an Excel spreadsheet you will be able to select what you need quickly and easily. Key things to include are:

  • Students name, enrolment number, date of birth, ethnicity, gender and admission date
  • Current class level and room number
  • Whether the child has ESOL funding or speaks a language other than English at home (LotE@H)
  • Results of assessments

Other things that may be useful are:

  • Additional programmes that the child is involved in, for example, Reading Recovery, small group teaching
  • Early childhood attendance
  • A comment column
  • Parental or caregiver attendance at reporting meeting or parent focused programmes such as Reading Together, Home School Partnerships

You will identify other areas that are useful to your school and can simply add more columns to your database as the need arises.

Learning focused conversations with students

A key principle of formative assessment practice is that student should be engaged meaningfully in the learning process and that they should share the responsibility for setting their learning goals These conversations can also allow teachers and literacy leaders to discover what is working for whom, where changes need to be made to teaching approaches and how the child’s language, identity and culture will need to be taken account of when designing or co-constructing learning experiences for and with them. Aspects to consider include:

  • Students knowing what they need to learn next
  • Setting relevant, but challenging learning goals
  • An explicit plan for how the goal will be achieved and criteria for what this will look like
  • Support for students to be able to articulate what they are learning
  • Opportunities and supports in place so that students can evaluate their own learning
  • Opportunities for peer evaluation of learning

Encourage teachers to ensure that learning conversations are both nurturing and specific by:

  • Students should be involved in determining the content and contexts for learning and in co-constructing these with teachers wherever possible
  • Focusing feedback on the child’s learning goals.
  • Use a ‘success and improve’ model – identify what is going well and help the child to identify those things that might improve their performance to work on next
  • Avoid ‘test’ conditions e.g. “What should you have put there?” As an alternative- “I wonder what could have made that a proper sentence.”
  • Use open ended questions encourage children to construe improvement and pause to encourage children to make suggestions
  • Face -to –face teacher-child feedback where the teacher offers prompts is a powerful way to get children to make changes
  • Tell the child why the suggestion will lead to improvement e.g. “What did he look like? It would make your story more interesting… “

Formal and informal interviews with students about their learning can help to establish what is working well and where improvements in teaching approaches might be made. Often the literacy leader is well placed to have these discussions with students as they are familiar, but not directly involved in the child’s teaching. Open questions that can be helpful include:

  • What have you been learning to do?
  • Why are you learning this?
  • How will you know when you have learnt it?
  • What is helping you to learn?

Observations of students ongoing literacy learning across the curriculum

Reading and writing are integral to the English learning area of NZC and the key competency Using language, symbols, and texts. However, there are literacy demands implicit in all curriculum areas and teachers will need to make these explicit for learners. Teachers need to be clear about these reading and writing demands as well as student’s lived experiences in relation to culture, language, and identity so that they can deliberately integrate the teaching and assessment of literacy with curriculum content.

As literacy is a socio-cultural practice, students bring their culture, language and identity with them to the classroom. The strategy of ako emphasises that teachers should learn from their students and that teaching practice should be deliberate, reflective and informed by current research. Students are more likely to achieve when they see themselves and their culture reflected in curriculum subject matter and learning contexts.

When making overall judgements about progress and achievement in literacy, teachers will need to consider specifically how well each student is using reading and writing as interactive tools to enable them to learn in all curriculum areas.

Knowledge of literacy learning pathways and how these relate to the developing skills of individual learners

Learning to read and write is a complex, cumulative process. The ELP handbooks note that:

  • The pathway to literacy is developmental
  • Social and cultural practices shape literacy learning
  • Students take individual and multiple pathways in their learning

Each student will arrive at school with different skills, knowledge and attitudes to literacy which can be built on as they gain literacy proficiency.

While there are essential skills and items of knowledge that all students will need to master at an early stage, students will learn different items at different points in time and do not need to have identical banks of knowledge to be operating on texts at a similar level. Neither do students needs to master large item knowledge sets prior to starting to read or write. Instead, most students will develop item knowledge and processing skills simultaneously while reading and writing.

Expectations that all students are able to achieve desired outcomes

The expectations that teachers hold about the potential of individuals and groups of students have been demonstrated to impact directly on the outcomes that these students experience. Teacher’s expectations should be informed by evidence rather than assumption and all students should have challenging but achievable goals that are reviewed often.

If a student is not making sufficient progress to meet age-related goals, then is the responsibility of the teacher and the school management to work with that student and their parents, family and whānau to make changes to their learning programmes and opportunities. All students should have access to a combination of teaching approaches that ensure they are making the best possible progress and achieving to the highest standard possible.

One of the challenges you may experience as a literacy leader in your school is supporting teachers to move away from associating ‘difference’ with deficit. This can affect teacher’s ability to motivate and engage with their students and therefore can affect outcomes for those students. This is of particular concern for Māori, Pasifika, ESOL and student with special education needs as they are the groups that research evidence shows us teachers often have low expectations of.

The section on building efficacy – link to section on managing change - deals specifically with challenging teacher’s deficit theorising.