Literacy teaching toolkit: levels 7-10 explained

Each subject or discipline, such as Mathematics or Visual Arts, has its own distinctive language and literacy demands (Christie & Derewianka, 2008).

Teachers who can incorporate the literacy of their subject areas into their day-to-day teaching enable students to become independent and successful learners (Plaut, 2009) and improve student knowledge and learning outcomes across discipline areas.

The Literacy Teaching Toolkit for Levels 7-10 provides teachers with strategies to support the development of literate practices within 7 learning areas of the Victorian Curriculum:

  • The Arts
  • English
  • Health and Physical Education
  • The Humanities
  • Mathematics
  • Science
  • Technologies.

Literacy is the:

“ability to interpret and create texts with appropriateness, accuracy, confidence, fluency and efficacy for learning in and out of school, and for participating in Australian life more generally” (VCAA, 2016).

Much more than being able to read and write, being literate also means:

  • having the ability to develop knowledge and understanding
  • being able to participate actively in the workplace, community and society (UNESCO, 2004).

Literate practices are:

  • the knowledge, skills and strategies people use to understand, create, respond to, and manipulate texts.

The literate practices we use vary depending on the type of text being read or produced; for example, print, digital, oral, or multimodal.

Expert video

In this video, Prof Joe Lo Bianco challenges us to reappraise our understanding of literate practices in an increasingly digital society.

He argues that teachers should regularly discuss the literacy challenges their students must meet. Prof Lo Bianco refers to semiotic systems, which is another way of saying meaning-making systems.

Teacher prompts:

  • What do you consider to be a “good text” in your subject?
  • What literacy challenges do your students have to meet in your subject? What texts do they have to understand and produce? What strategies do you use to support your students meet these challenges?
  • Does your school provide opportunities for you and your colleagues to develop a shared understanding of literacy and discuss the literacy challenges within your subject area?

The strategies outlined in the toolkit:

  • incorporate all language modes – Reading, Writing and Speaking and Listening
  • build students’ literacy in order for them to communicate their understanding
  • incorporate ways teachers can differentiate tasks to cater for a diversity of learners
  • may be modified and used from one learning area to other learning areas
  • align to one or more of the teaching and learning cycle stages (see diagram below) and are designed to support teachers to explicitly teach and speak about literacy.

Using the Teaching and Learning Cycle to Support Student Writing (Love, Baker & Quinn, 2009). This image was created through online software.

The strategies should be used in a recurring way to support students to develop, enact and test their growing content knowledge. As students progress within a discipline area, they will continually use different literate practices to move between the stages of the Learning and Teaching cycle.

Expert video

In this video, Professor John Hattie talks about teaching literacy as fundamentally important to learning in all secondary school subjects.

Teacher prompts

  • How do you support your students to read, write, listen and talk to develop knowledge building and understanding in your classroom?
  • How do you plan and prepare your lessons to ensure diverse learners can meet the complex literate demands of your subject?

Six principles of the literacy teaching toolkit for levels 7-10

  1. Language is foundational to all learning experiences (Vygotsky, 1962), and literacy ability has been directly linked to academic outcomes (Thomson et al., 2017).

    Supporting students to develop their literate abilities within one discipline will positively impact on their learning outcomes in others.

  2. Development of a shared language for talking about literacy empowers student learning and establishes a consistent metalanguage for teachers to explain and unpack literate strategies to their students (Rose & Martin, 2012).

    Teachers and students equipped with a grammatically informed metalanguage are more able to engage in meaningful discussions about language and texts. Glossaries are available:

  3. Literate practices need to be explicitly taught and scaffolded.

    In order to progress learning, students need to receive high quality feedback aligned to specific goals and criteria (Hattie 2008). Explicit teaching, scaffolding and feedback are integral components of the teaching and learning cycle

  4. The language modes (Reading and Viewing, Writing, and Speaking and Listening) are interrelated. A student’s development in one mode supports and extends a student’s understanding of the other modes (VCAA, 2016). That said, academic writing is the most complex, requiring extensive linguistic, cognitive and cultural resources (Myhill, Jones, Lines & Watson, 2012; Graham & Harris, 2016).

  5. The literate practices valued and required by students differ across the discipline areas (Fang, 2012; Shanahan & Shanahan, 2008). For example, the ways students read a text in English differs from how text is read in Mathematics or History.

  6. Differentiated and targeted learning activities are required to support and value diverse student needs and abilities. Differentiation recognises the abilities, cultures, languages, motivations and interests of students.

Expert video

Prof Lorraine Graham discusses some of the literacy challenges in the secondary school and the interrelationship between the language modes (speaking and listening, reading and viewing, and writing).
Teacher prompts:

  • What do you understand to be the link between reading, viewing, writing, speaking and listening?


The structure of the toolkit

Within each of the seven learning areas, literacy strategies are grouped based on their primary purpose:

  • Developing understanding: to engage and build discipline-specific understandings
  • Communicating understanding: to transform and present discipline-specific understandings.

Each strategy combines the language modes to promote student learning. Where appropriate, the modes being used are indicated.

The final section of each learning area is 'putting it together'. This section includes:

  • suggestions on how teachers can support students to create an extended piece of writing relevant to the curriculum area
  • a learning sequence that demonstrates how teachers can structure strategies using a learning and teaching cycle.

Expert video

In this video, Professor John Hattie talks about integrating the literacy modes of reading, writing, speaking and listening and the importance of using exemplars to develop literacy skills for all secondary students.

Teacher prompts

  • In what ways do you integrate reading, writing, speaking and listening into your lesson planning?
  • Have you considered using exemplars to model written responses for your students?

Disciplinary literacy

Disciplinary literacy refers to the learner’s ability to read, write and speak in ways that are valued and used by people in a given discipline (Moje, 2007). That is, to “think like mathematicians, read like historians and write like scientists” (Lee, 2004, p. 61).

Disciplinary literacy:

  • recognises that literate strategies differ across the disciplines (Fang, 2012; Shanahan & Shanahan, 2008)
  • means that literate strategies and discipline-specific content are intertwined (Fang & Coatoam, 2013, p. 628)
  • enables students to develop their content knowledge, skills and understanding to become experts within a discipline (Billman & Pearson, 2013; Johnson et al., 2011; Shanahan & Shanahan, 2012).

The toolkit embraces a disciplinary literacy approach to simultaneously engage with:

  • subject-specific content—core concepts, big ideas, key relationships
  • disciplinary habits of mind—reading and viewing, writing, speaking and listening, thinking and reasoning, and problem solving.

What about languages?

Across government primary and secondary schools, Victorian students are learning 24 languages, with the Victorian School of Languages provides out-of-school-hours and distance education programs in fifty-two languages.

The Literacy Teaching Toolkit provides strategies and resources for English literacy across the Victorian curriculum. While students develop literacy skills in the language/s they are studying, these are commonly at a different level to the Curriculum areas using English as the medium of instruction.

Languages are a key learning area. Languages teachers are highly proficient in devising teaching and learning programs, which expertly support students in not only accumulating knowledge, but also developing literacy skills and reading and writing practices specific to the language.

Rather than providing teachers with resources for their core curriculum expertise, the Toolkit’s purpose is to demonstrate that literacy is core to Curriculum knowledge for Australian students.

You are encouraged to visit the Language teaching resources page to explore an in-depth range of resources. 

Further information and is available through the Languages landing page.

Supporting diversity and differentiation

Students come from diverse backgrounds and have a range of learning needs, requiring differentiated and targeted learning activities, to support their diversity within the classroom.

Some of the student groups teachers need to consider include:

The evidence-based teaching strategies contained in the toolkit support teachers to scaffold and differentiate to meet the skills and capabilities of all students in their classroom.

Expert video

Prof Lorraine Graham discusses some the practical strategies teachers can use to support diversity and differentiation in the classroom.

Teacher prompts:

  • How can you differentiate for your whole-class?
  • How could you use literacy to engage your students?

Multimodality and 21st century learning

Multimodal texts take a range of forms such as posters, infographics, picture books, textbooks, video, animation, interviews, oral presentations and diagrams (Anstey & Bull, 2006; Bull & Anstey, 2010; Kress, 2010; Zammit & Downes, 2002).

Digital texts may include:

  • moving image
  • sound
  • hyperlinks.

Live texts, such as dance, performance and oral storytelling convey meaning through various combinations of semiotic systems including gestural, spatial, audio, and spoken language.

In all disciplines, students need to compose and make sense of multimodal texts—texts which use two or more semiotic (meaning-making) systems to convey meaning. These include written language, still image, and spatial design in paper-based forms.

Teaching students to effectively read and compose forms of multimodal texts used in each discipline is essential to develop their understanding. For example:

  • to read a graphic novel in English, students need to be able to make sense of the written text and the images, and how they work together to create meaning
  • to read a diagram about the impact of erosion in Geography or Science requires students to be able to ‘read’ the written and visual elements in relation to one another
  • when viewing a documentary in History or Visual Arts, students need to understand how the combination of the verbal commentary, the selection of images, music and written text work both independently and together to present the account.

Teaching multimodal texts for 21st century learning should also prepare students for their future careers.

Prof Lesley Farrell discusses how our understanding of literacy has changed with the development of new technology.

Expert video

She relates this to the importance of literacy for students once they enter the workplace. Prof Farrell refers to semiotic systems which is another way of saying meaning-making systems.
Teacher prompts:

  • How do you develop your students’ literate practices for post-secondary life?
  • Does your school provide opportunities for you and your colleagues to reflect on workplace literate demands that relate to your student cohort?
  • How do you develop students’ literacy for future technological advances and changing workplaces?

Genres in secondary school

Genres are the types of texts we create to achieve particular purposes (Derewianka & Jones, 2016, p. 7). Texts of similar genre tend to follow similar structural patterns or generic structures (Butt, Fahey, Feez & Spinks, 2012, p. 251).

In addition to understanding the structure and features of various genres, secondary students need to be familiar with the language features of the texts. For example, arguments typically use a range of connectives and/or conjunctions to organise the text and connect ideas, such as ‘to begin with’, ‘in conclusion’ and ‘however’.

Students will read and write texts with one genre, as well as texts with multiple genres. For example:


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