Creating a literacy profile

This page takes you through the process of collecting different types of data to construct a literacy profile for a student.

What is a literacy profile?

A literacy profile describes a student’s existing literacy knowledge and skills, their areas of need and identifies factors or obstacles to their learning.

Generally, a literacy profile collects information about a student’s:

  • phonemic awareness skills
  • word level reading accuracy
  • reading fluency, including:
    • automaticity
    • use of intonation/prosody
    • attention to punctuation markers.
  • reading comprehension
  • spelling
    • accuracy
    • automaticity
    • words of increasing length and complexity
  • writing
    • sentence, paragraph and extended writing for various purposes
    • use of orthographic conventions for writing
  • oral language skills including:
    • vocabulary
    • grammatical knowledge
      • sentence construction
      • morphological awareness.
  • knowledge of essential terms and concepts including:
    • vowel and consonant
    • grapheme (including digraph, tri graph, etc.)
    • syllable
    • morpheme
    • sentence.

In addition, you may wish to assess a student's rapid automatised naming ability, if their word reading fluency and automaticity is below expected levels.

The Victorian Curriculum F–10: English provides a useful starting point for organising a student’s existing knowledge and skills and will assist you in planning teaching and learning programs to meet the diverse needs of students. A student’s progress can be mapped along a curriculum continuum that provides the first achievement standard at Foundation and then at Levels 1–10.

The National Literacy Learning Progressions align with the Victorian Curriculum F–10: English and will assist you to use achievement standards and content descriptions for planning, teaching, learning and assessment. The progressions can be used to create an accurate picture of a student’s developmental level. This is especially useful for students with learning difficulties and/or a learning disability, such as dyslexia, whose abilities may not be described precisely enough when only using content descriptors.

For some students, their learning will be below Foundation standards. The Towards Foundation Level Victorian Curriculum provides this cohort of students with access to curriculum content and standards that enable them to move toward the learning described at Foundation level.

Towards Foundation Level Victorian Curriculum is integrated directly into the curriculum and is referred to as Levels A to D. These levels focus on progressing students from a pre-intentional to intentional engagement in learning. As students progress through these levels, the amount of support decreases as they proceed toward becoming independent learners.

Phonemic skills

There are many literacy tests and assessments  that can be used to measure a student's phonemic knowledge and skills. Include this information in a student's literacy profile to help you plan an appropriate program of learning to target these perquisite skills and identify relevant interventions.

Word level reading accuracy and fluency

A literacy profile for students of any age should contain information about the:

  • phonemic awareness and phonemic manipulation
  • accuracy of word decoding
  • accuracy of non-word decoding
  • reading fluency and speed (measured by reading out loud).

Word reading measures, particularly in the early years of school, must be considered in the context of what has been taught in phonics instruction. Systematic phonics programs should have a set scope and sequence. It is important to be familiar with these when making judgments about a student's word reading skills.

In Foundation to Level 1, students learn the grapheme (letter/s) and phoneme (speech sound) correspondences of the English writing system. For example, students will start learning simple grapheme-phoneme correspondences such the grapheme 's' makes the 's' sound as in 'sip' and 'bus' and the grapheme 'r' makes the 'r' sound as in 'rip' and 'very'. 

Over time, students will be taught the more complex code (as English has a semi-transparent orthography) such that there is not a consistent one-to-one correspondence between all graphemes (letters) and phonemes (sounds). Examples include:

  • the grapheme 'c' makes the 's' sound, in 'kiss', 'busses'
  • the grapheme string 'rh' makes the 'r' sound in 'rhyme'.

Working through a scope and sequence, students will progress to being able to read words of increasing length (polysyllabic words) and complexity (words that have consonant blends, digraphs, trigraphs and quadgraphs).

Literacy assessment tools are available for different age ranges and aspects of literacy and will help you to determine a student’s literacy learning difficulties.

The Literacy Teaching Toolkit features high impact teaching practices that improve outcomes in reading, writing and speaking and listening.

Word decoding and orthographic mapping

When students are first learning to decode and read words, they will do so in a rather deliberate manner as they go through the process of segmenting the graphemes out and then blending them back together to read the word.

As they become more proficient at decoding, graphemes and grapheme strings (including morphemes) are processed more quickly so that word reading becomes faster and less effortful. This is known as orthographic mapping. All successful readers use this process to become fluent readers, and it requires a lot of practise to develop this automaticity.

Reading fluency

Reading fluency provides important insights into a student's overall reading skills. Reading fluency can be considered a 'bridge' between a student's word-level reading ability and their comprehension of text. When a student reads text fluently, with automaticity, appropriate intonation and paying attention to punctuation markers, it demonstrates that they are decoding accurately and efficiently as well as understanding the text contents.

A student with weak word-level reading skills will not be able to read with the automaticity that is associated with fluent reading. When reading out aloud, their reading will sound laboured and words will not be as well connected as they should in terms of phrasing.

A student with weak language comprehension will not be able to apply intonation (for example, marking questions with a raised voice, pausing at full stops) because they are not fully able to appreciate the contents of the text.

Measures of oral reading fluency can be used to determine a student's fluency. Similarly, listening to a student read out loud will also provide you with important information about their overall literacy profile.

Reading comprehension

Reading comprehension is a complex area to assess because it relies on a multitude of sub-skills.

The Simple View of Reading (Gough and Tunmer, 1986) explains that reading comprehension is a product of word decoding skills and language comprehension:

Decoding (D) x Language Comprehension (LC) = Reading Comprehension (RC).

Students who struggle with one or both components (word decoding and/or oral language comprehension) will have compromised reading comprehension skills.

A student's ability to comprehend a particular text is dependent on other cognitive and linguistic factors including:

  • attention to the task
  • automaticity and accuracy of word decoding
  • background knowledge about the contents of the text
  • vocabulary knowledge required to read the text
  • verbal reasoning (ability to infer from text)
  • grammatical comprehension
  • genre.

Reading comprehension comprises the ability to understand text at the literal level as well as an inferential or evaluative level.

For example, a student may:

  • comprehend a text well on a familiar topic but less well on a text if they have limited background knowledge and/or required vocabulary to fully understand the text.
  • have difficulty understanding the grammatical structures such as passive or complex sentence forms and this may interfere with reading comprehension.
  • 'Their lateness was caused by traffic' is an example of a passive sentence.
  • 'Their lateness was caused by traffic even though they had left home on time' is an example of a complex sentence because it contains a main clause, at least one dependent clause and a subordinate conjunction.

Spelling ability

Spelling must be taught explicitly as strong spellers have a deep knowledge about how the English writing system works. Spelling relies on:

  • phonemic awareness
  • alphabetic awareness
  • grapheme-phoneme correspondence knowledge
  • knowledge of orthographic conventions in English writing such as:
    • words in English never start with 'ng'
    • when adding 'ing' to a word, double the preceding consonant if the vowel is short but not if the vowel is long. For example:
  • 'tap' – 'tapping'
  • 'tape' – 'taping'.
  • etymological knowledge (the origins of words), for example:
    • the Greek word, graph (write) is the stem of the family of words such as graphics, autograph and photography
    • words that are produced in speech with a 'sh' sound but originate from French are spelt with a 'ch'. Examples include chef, champagne, brochure.

For more information, refer to Literacy Teaching Toolkit - Spelling.

Writing ability

Writing encompasses many skills and competencies. A literacy profile should include information about a student’s ability to:

  • and avoid sentence fragments
  • construct paragraphs and use paragraphing for longer written text
  • use orthographic conventions including:
    • punctuation markers (for example, full stop, hyphen, quotation marks)
    • accurate spelling
    • capitalisation.
  • use referents and cohesive devices
  • plan out a writing task
  • write for the required purpose and/or audience
  • draft and revise written work (including word count, word choice, use of orthographic conventions)
  • fine motor coordination.

Oral language skills

Oral language comprehension refers to the ability to take in and process spoken information to make meaning.

Knowledge of language conventions and their use and using language for social purposes and communication are all necessary for oral language comprehension.

Oral language typically develops naturally over time; however, some students may have fewer opportunities to learn and practise these skills for different reasons.

Knowledge of essential terms and concepts

It is important to ensure that your students learn key terms associated with aspects of literacy that you will be teaching them. This shared language will make instruction easier for both students and teachers and will be enable you to provide more explanations of how the English writing system works. This also safeguards against students perceiving the English writing system as rather random, which it is not.

For more information, refer to Literacy profile examples.