Designing Foundation to Year 2 literacy lessons


Introduction

Developing the essential building blocks of literacy, necessary for every child, is core work for Foundation to Year Two teachers (Hill, 2021; Snow et al., 1998). This advice has been devised to assist teaching and planning by proposing structures for daily literacy lessons for Foundation to Level Two students.  This acknowledges the multitude of competing factors that impact curriculum planning, choice of pedagogy and teaching practice.

Early literacy teaching is challenging and complex in nature, requiring focus on building a strong foundation for each of the English language modes:

This advice sets out to provide:

  • examples of literacy lesson structures which can be adapted or modified to address the learning needs of students, with specific reference to the English language modes,
  • links to DET documents which complement and support the daily teaching of literacy, and
  • suggestions on how to differentiate and engage students with their literacy learning.

Suggested F-2 lesson structures for the teaching of literacy

Teachers need to have the flexibility to draw on a range of literacy lesson structures to deliver their teaching, feeling confident that the structure will enhance and support the learning needs of their students.

This flexibility acknowledges that the literacy learning needs of students across Victoria are not all the same (Fisher, Frey & Hattie, 2016). The literacy skills of students can vary significantly based on family demographic, student attitudes and dispositions towards literacy learning, their cognitive development, and their social environment (Hattie & Anderson, 2020). These variations in students’ literacy needs also include their English language development (Cummins, 2008; Gee, 2004).

Workshop Approach

A workshop model lesson structure (see among others, Hill & Crevola, 1999) may be selected when teachers plan to teach speaking and listening, reading /viewing and writing concepts and skills within a supportive framework.

Language experience

A Language Experience lesson structure (Wilson, 1979, see also Hill, 2021) may be selected when teachers plan a shared experience: rich, exploratory activities that provide students with opportunities to learn and use familiar and new vocabulary in context, to produce a written text for an audience and to share their writing with others, including reading to another person.

Teaching and Learning Cycle integrating literacy and subject knowledge

A Teaching and Learning Cycle lesson structure integrating literacy and subject knowledge (Derewianka & Jones, 2016) may be selected when linking an inquiry unit of work with literacy, or when teaching a specific text type. Teachers may select this structure to move students through targeted and explicit phases of support to listen, speak, read and write, whilst simultaneously building deep content knowledge.

Teachers can select a literacy lesson structure based on

  • what knowledge and skills are to be taught, in conjunction with 
  • the learning needs of a particular cohort of students at a given point in time.

Over a school year, it is anticipated that teachers may use all structures, depending on the learning focus and student needs.

All approaches are underpinned by a gradual release of responsibility from the teacher to the student (Vygotsky, 1986).

This advice also recognises that these lesson structures can be adapted to suit the needs of students across Years Three to Six.

Each lesson structure is organised differently, although common elements are essential for early literacy learning. These elements, across the three lesson structures, include the importance of:

  • speaking and listening as foundational to all learning, including students who bring plurilingualism to their learning in the form of languages or dialects additional to standard English.
  • extended and accountable talk, facilitated through a dialogic classroom.
  • understanding language at word, sentence and text level.
  • moving students along the mode continuum from the most spoken-like language to the most written-like language.
  • a comprehensive approach to teaching reading.
  • phonological awareness and phonics for decoding and encoding.
  • handwriting for phoneme/grapheme knowledge.
  • vocabulary, fluency and comprehension for reading for understanding.
  • spelling knowledge such as phonology, morphology, orthography and etymology (where appropriate).
  • writing for a range of purposes in a range of text types.
  • using reciprocity, to build connections between the modes.
  • integrating literacy learning across the curriculum.
  • developing a deep engagement with texts, both as a reader and writer, including literary and multimodal contexts. 
  • The inclusion of this range of elements for any one literacy lesson is challenging. As a consequence, this advice argues for planning across a week or two-week block to ensure all elements are covered, rather than suggest all elements are included in all literacy lessons. For example, teachers may need to focus or ‘dig deeper’ on certain elements during the year and make choices about the time they devote to these elements, and with reference to their school Scope and Sequence and the Literacy Learning Progressions(VCAA, 2020).

    Time allocation for the teaching of literacy

    There is a significant gap in the research which argues for optimum times for literacy learning in the foundational years of schooling (Rasinski et al., 2020). However, what is very clear from Australian research is that the effectiveness of literacy teaching does impact student outcomes and that what teachers do with the learning time set aside for the teaching of literacy is crucial to achieving increased student outcomes (Louden et al., 2005). Foundation to Year Two teachers need to maximise student learning and engagement in every literacy lesson to ensure systematic, explicit and targeted teaching for all students. Therefore, this advice suggests two to three hours per day as an optimal time allocation, made up of dedicated blocks of time or the integration of  literacy learning across the curriculum

    The role of assessment data in determining a supportive lesson structure

    Ongoing assessment of student learning is key to effective literacy teaching in Foundation to Year Two. Through a range of data sets, a clear picture of the learning needs of each student is established. From an analysis of these data, in conjunction with reference to evidence-based theory and teacher practice, a lesson structure can be selected to support the identified learning focus and literacy needs of a student cohort.

    Data should be:

    1. Quantitative. Drawing on:

    2. Qualitative. Drawing on:

    • teacher observations of what students say, do, read or write,
    • teacher judgements,
    • anecdotal records,
    • analysis of writing samples,
    • moderation of student work samples in reading, writing, speaking and listening,
    • rubrics,
    • running records,
    • conferencing, including feedback,
    • student goal setting and
    • peer and student self-evaluation.

    Differentiation

    Differentiation is a high impact teaching strategy (HITS). In a differentiated literacy classroom, the teacher works with rich and authentic content and texts to engage all students in the learning process. Differentiated literacy teaching is intentional in that it is informed by assessment and data, and the teacher aims to extend the knowledge and skills of all students, irrespective of their current levels of learning achievement (Hattie, 2012; Marzano, 2007). Thus, a differentiated classroom meets the learners at the point of need on a continuum of literacy learning and provides developmentally appropriate learning activities based on ongoing assessment and an understanding of how students learn.

    In explaining the importance of differentiation to literacy instruction, Tomlinson (2009) outlines shared principles for differentiated teaching:

    • Students differ as learners. The differences students bring to the classroom have a strong bearing on their learning.
    • Teachers must study their students well to teach them well. In acknowledging the impact of student differences on literacy learning, teachers must systematically assess students to understand their learning needs and adapt instructional approaches to address these needs.
    • Effective teachers teach up. It is important that teachers develop a rich, authentic curriculum that is often targeted to the most able learners in the classroom, and then differentiate instruction to lift the majority of students to achieve success.
    • Responding to student readiness, interest, and learning profile enhances student success. Readiness has to do with a student’s proximity to specific learning goals; attending to student interest entails providing multiple and varied opportunities for students to access and explore content and language and express what they have learned. A student’s learning profile refers to an individual student’s learning needs, and how this might intersect with gender, culture, or aspects of personality and personal preference.

    Working from these shared principles, teachers can differentiate for four classroom elements to ensure that all students have the best possible learning experience:

    Content

    What the student needs to learn or how the student will get access to the information. Examples of this include:

    • providing students opportunities to talk with peers and share their thinking.
    • giving students access to reading materials at varying levels of complexity.
    • using a variety of texts as models for reading and writing.
    • presenting information using print, visual, multimodal, and auditory texts.
    • providing students with access to resources (for example, vocabulary walls/lists and anchor charts).

    Process

    • Lessons and tasks in which the student engages in order to make sense of or master the content and/or skills. Examples of this include:
    • making strategic choices of pedagogical contexts for learning – individual, small group or whole class
    • making strategic choices about instructional practices. For example
    • providing students with the same content and/or skills through tasks that require different entry points of support and challenge.
    • varying instructional strategies.
    • varying the length of time students may need to complete a task.
    • leveraging student talk as a rehearsal for writing.
    • teaching grammar in context.
    • enabling collaborative discussion after reading a text.
    • supporting students to draw on shared languages or dialects to negotiate meaning and clarify information.

    Products

    Culminating projects that ask the individual student to rehearse, apply, transfer and extend what has been learned in a unit.

    Examples of this include:

    • enabling students to work on producing a written text in pairs or small groups, or individually.
    • leveraging student agency through choice about how to present learning (for example, a print-based or digital poster, a role play, an oral presentation).
    • establishing high expectations for the finished product.
    • making clear the range of skills to be demonstrated.

    Learning environment

    The way the classroom works and feels; the physical space and emotional ‘feel’ of a classroom.

    Examples of this include:

    • engaging students in learning routines.
    • creating a well-organised classroom library that includes texts that reflect home cultures and languages, gender and interests, including bilingual texts.
    • developing spaces in the classroom for ‘quiet’ independent learning and collaboration.
    • deconstructing learning intentions.
    • creating authentic and relevant classroom resources constructed with students with appropriate language and visual support.
    • labels, signage and reflective prompts to support students to regularly navigate the classroom and develop independence as learners.
    • developing a sense of student agency.

    Engagement

    Engagement is essential to an effective learning culture. Hattie (2009) sees engagement as a key characteristic of effective teachers. Effective teachers develop high expectations of students, they motivate students using a variety of teaching strategies, help students to see the relevance in what they are learning, keep students on task, and aim for students to become deeply absorbed in what they are learning.

    In terms of student engagement in literacy, Ng and Graham (2018, p. 615) define this as relating to “students’ involvement in activities and processes that develop their knowledge, skills and attitudes for comprehending and composing a variety of texts in oral, print, visual and digital formats”. They argue that students who are engaged in reading and writing are motivated, strategic in how they create meaning, and knowledgeable. This view is shared by Alexander (2018, p. 773-775), who has devised guiding principles for literacy engagement:

    • There are behavioural, cognitive, motivational, emotional and social dimensions to literacy engagement (Fredericks et al., 2004).
    • To be engaged in reading and writing means to actively participate in one’s own learning.
    • Engaged readers and writers manifest many positive academic, motivational and social attributes.
    • Engagement may be challenging for many who are academically or economically disadvantaged.

    Research into effective literacy teaching in Australia found that student engagement was a key dimension of early literacy learning (Louden et al., 2005). Findings showed that engagement in literacy occurs when:

    • The teacher motivates interest in the literacy task, concepts and learning.
    • The teacher creates an enthusiastic and energetic literacy classroom.
    • The teacher uses a variety of teaching strategies.
    • The teacher encourages goal setting and student self-regulation.
    • The lesson/task leads to substantial literacy engagement, focused on skill development and mastery, not busy-work.
    • Students are deeply absorbed in the literacy lesson.
    • Students actively participate in learning.
    • Students create meaning from any literacy-related task.

    Engagement is also closely associated with student voice and agency (pdf - 2.52mb). By empowering students, teachers enhance student engagement and enrich participation in literacy learning. Within a positive learning climate, teachers enable students to take ownership of their learning and development.

    References

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