Monitoring students' literacy progress

This page describes different ways to monitor the effectiveness of your teaching and how to make adjustments when necessary.

Frameworks of academic support (such as Response to Intervention or Multi-Tiered Systems of Support) require continuous monitoring of student progress as well as ongoing adjustments based on these observations, to be effective. It is not only the interventions that teachers employ, but students' responses to these interventions that are important.

An intervention shown to be ineffective should be abandoned, while a strategy that accelerates a student's learning should be incorporated into your everyday teaching. These decisions can only be made through the ongoing collection of data.

Data collection

It is essential that you plan the types of data you intend to gather and for what purpose. Your plan should clearly indicate your purposes for monitoring students and the types of questions you want to answer about their learning and your teaching, along with how you will gather this data and what form it will take (formative, summative, both).

For example:

  • is the student making progress and is it sustained?
  • how many repetitions and practice opportunities were needed for the student to learn a skill?
  • what steps are needed to assist the student to use the skill independently?

How do you intend to modify your teaching and how do you expect these changes to influence literacy outcomes? For example:

  • does the student benefit from hearing the instruction more often than their peers?
  • does a mind map or infographic provide sufficient scaffolding for the student to achieve success?

What assessments will you use to monitor a range of literacy-related skills such as:

  • phonemic awareness
  • grapheme-phoneme correspondence knowledge
  • word reading accuracy
  • word-level reading
  • reading fluency
  • spelling
  • sentence writing
  • extended writing; including for different purposes, audiences and genres.

How will you monitor students' attitudes toward these activities in class?

Will you set some short-term expectations (week to week) as well as long-term (month to month) goals?

Student observation

You have likely already created a literacy profile for students you suspect may have learning difficulties. It is important to remember that this is an evolving document as the rates of change are unlikely to be linear for any student.

Monitoring and documenting behavioural difficulties or incidents is also important. As students feel increasingly supported and grow more positive and independent in their learning, challenging behaviours will often become less frequent and less acute.

Monitoring a student's progress through regular observation will help keep their literacy profile current and provide you with moment-to-moment information about what they have mastered, what they are on the way to mastering and the particular prompts and scaffolds that best suit the student. 

Aim to monitor students for a short period (for example, one month) before trialling adjustments. This will help you to identify when and why they improve.

Begin by making only two or three changes. Too many changes at once can be overwhelming for you and for your students and will make it difficult to isolate what led to improvement and what didn't. 

Observing literacy learning

As well as providing you with data about your teaching, your observations should also add additional information to your students’ literacy profiles.   

For a student in the ages 5–8 range, you can observe if they have:

  • Normal vision acuity. Does the student's posture during reading suggest they find the text difficult to keep in focus? Does the student try to move forward or leave their chair to read posters and signs?
  • Normal hearing acuity. Hearing difficulties may be short-term due to frequent ear infections, which can lead to blocked ear canals. Hearing difficulties may otherwise be more permanent due to nerve damage and can range from mild to profound. It's likely that you would know about a student with a severe to profound hearing loss, but milder hearing loss can sometimes be less apparent.
  • Adequate oral language and communication strategies. Does the student struggle to think of words or have a limited vocabulary? Is their speech intelligible? Is the student able to wait their turn to speak? Do they raise their hand? Do they interrupt others regularly? Do they appear to interact reciprocally with peers and with you?
  • Working memory difficulties. Can the student follow multi-stage instructions like their peers? If not, they may have difficulty retaining and processing the amount of information that you typically provide to the class.
  • Typical cognitive ability. Can the student plan and organise themselves? Do they exhibit impulse control? Can they see reason if it is explained to them in age-appropriate language?
  • Attention. Is the student able to maintain focus during the class or small group instruction? Are they displaying disruptive behaviour or lack of engagement (such as zoning out)?
  • Background knowledge. Is the student's reading ability enhanced or diminished by the background experiences that they have had? For example, students who have frequently visited the zoo will bring a broader knowledge of wild animals.
  • Positive attitudes toward reading and writing, and about themselves as users of literacy.
  • Learning difficulties in other areas, such as numeracy or social-emotional difficulties.

Decide on indicators for student growth

While planning what adjustments you will make in your teaching, it is also necessary to select tasks and measures to help assess the effectiveness of instruction, as well as clear criteria for mastery. This will help you to better judge not only if students are making progress, but also the rate at which students make progress.    

Depending on what outcomes you are targeting, you may have indicators or tasks for measuring:    

  • Reading comprehension. These might be texts at the appropriate level and complexity that the student can read independently or demonstrate comprehension strategies.
  • Word reading accuracy and fluency. These could be word lists of suitable complexity that the student reads out loud and could include unfamiliar words.
  • Oral language. This might be listening comprehension tasks or texts that the student retells, showing their understanding of narrative or factual or persuasive genres.
  • Phonological and phonemic skills. These could include tasks that require the student to segment and blend sound patterns of increasing complexities.

It is important to keep consistent records of a student's performance on these measures and refer to them when updating their literacy profile.   


Making adjustments in your teaching

You can adjust your teaching in several ways to ensure that you can reach the students with learning difficulties. Ironically, what is good for this group of students is often beneficial for all students. Adjustments may include:   

  • monitoring the amount of 'talk' you do and attempting to reduce it. This technique reduces cognitive demands for students and makes your messages become the central focus.
  • breaking down tasks into smaller steps.
  • having students sitting facing you (perhaps in rows) to harness the attention of all students rather than some students having their back or side to you.
  • using mind maps and other organisers to cut down on the amount of text or talk you expect students to process.
  • monitoring the clarity of your language when providing instruction to ensure that you are not using terms that may be too sophisticated for your students.
  • allowing more time for responses and aiming to feel more comfortable with short silences.
  • using multi-modal methods to convey your content. Some students may benefit from reading information and listening to the same information.
  • exploring technological options, such as text to speech.
  • introducing more explicit teaching into key lessons.

Monitor the effects of these changes on a student's reading ability and the extent to which these changes lead to improved outcomes. Specifying progress indicators at the start of the intervention will help you more accurately measure improvement.    

It is important when making new adjustments to trial and monitor them separately. This is essential to measure their effects and determine which adjustment has led to improvement. 

Review and evaluate

Following a set period (for example, four to six weeks), evaluate a student's progress using your chosen indicators. Make a judgement about the modified teaching and whether the student has improved due to these changes. If it has helped, identify which changes led to the improvement and continue with these adjustments for another four to six weeks.    

If these adjustments do not appear to be helping a student to improve, and all other factors that could impede learning are being managed, do not feel obligated to persist with them. The strength of approaches like Response to Intervention lie in their flexibility (Hattie 2015).    

Return to a student's literacy profile to see if there are any clues that might help direct future instruction to better support the way the student learns. 

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