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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 special needs 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 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 their learning needs. Responsive teaching is important for all learners and particularly critical for students with special learning needs. 

Teachers are knowledgeable about their students and ensure that, where learning programmes are devolved to teachers 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

Literacy in the classroom

Captioning to Support Literacy
One motivating, engaging, and inexpensive way to help build the foundational reading skills of students is through the use of closed-captioned and subtitled television shows and movies. 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, in her classroom 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 affects people in different ways and differently depending on contexts. Most students with dyslexia have difficulty with literacy and/or numeracy and many may also need support to process thinking or with self-organisation.

Difficulties may include:

  • remembering instructions
  • forgetting or not understanding homework
  • forgetting equipment/not having the appropriate material for a specific class
  • spelling erratically
  • words seeming to move on the page when reading
  • not completing work within a given time
  • frustration and lack of motivation.

Adapted from: Beyond Words, a school pack from the British Dyslexia Association, on Inclusive Education.

Defining dyslexia

Defining dyslexia is a complex and contested process and there are no agreed definitions internationally. The Ministry of Education has drafted this definition as a starting point for our work and, as such, it is as a working definition with further refinement expected:

Dyslexia is a spectrum of specific learning difficulties and is evident when accurate and/or fluent reading and writing skills, particularly phonological awareness, develop incompletely or with great difficulty. This may include difficulties with one or more of reading, writing, spelling, numeracy, or musical notation. These difficulties are persistent despite access to learning opportunities that are effective and appropriate for most other children.

People with dyslexia can be found across the achievement spectrum and sometimes have a number of associated secondary characteristics which may also need to be addressed, such as difficulties with auditory and/or visual perception; planning and organising; short-term memory; motor skills or social interaction.

People with dyslexia often develop compensatory strategies and these can disguise their difficulties. People with dyslexia can also develop compensatory strengths which can provide an opportunity to further advance their learning.

Early identification followed by a systematic and sustained process of highly individualised, skilled teaching primarily focused on written language, with specialist support, is critical to enable learners to participate in the full range of social, academic, and other learning opportunities across all areas of the curriculum.


These resources and videos are sourced from the Inclusive Education guide to dyslexia and learning.

Classroom approaches – dyslexia

Listening and speaking are powerful learning modes for students with dyslexia. This video emphasises the need to provide plenty of discussion opportunities for your classroom.

Use recommended approaches to support literacy learning, years 1–8
Resources and examples of targeted support that builds reading, writing, and spelling skills.

Resource teachers of literacy conference 2013: Phonological and morphological awareness workshop handout 
A paper by Gail Gillon of the University of Canterbury for the Resource Teachers of Literacy Conference, 2013. It explores linguistic awareness intervention activities for older children struggling with reading and spelling.

About dyslexia
A Ministry of Education handbook that provides specific strategies for supporting students in phonological awareness, reading, and writing.

Classroom approaches – dyslexia


Primary teacher Linda Ojala describes how she talks with students with dyslexia in her class to find out what most effectively supports their learning.

Classroom approach – supporting writing in students with dyslexia


Sandra Gillies of Onslow College explains how she poses questions for students to support them with expanding and organising their writing.

Writing hub
These resources will help strengthen your knowledge and skills for teaching writing across the curriculum and increasing students’ rate of progress.

Improving teaching, improving learning
Sounds and Words is a Literacy Online resource to support teachers and students to learn about phonological awareness and spelling.

Having dyslexia – how teachers can help

Once identified, it is important that dyslexia is not regarded as a label, but rather as a call for action. Modifying the learning environment will benefit all students. 

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, T and 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.

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.

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.

Published on: 05 Jan 2018