Effective reading instruction

To be an effective reader requires skills and understandings in decoding, text use and text analysis. Each of these skills and understandings is crucial in its own right, but they all take place within an overall focus on meaning making, which is the central purpose of all literate behaviour.  Meaning making must be central to the teaching of reading.  All teachers are expected to teach phonics explicitly, alongside supporting students’ literal, inferential and evaluative comprehension and to support students’ interest, engagement and enjoyment with books and other texts that they read and view. 

This section of the Literacy Teaching Toolkit is focussed on Reading Instruction. You will find information about Teaching Practices (Shared Reading, Guided Reading), the Literacy Focus (phonics, vocabulary, comprehension), and In-Practice Examples which reflect lessons that make connections between a practice and a literacy focus.

Effective reading instruction:

  • encompasses a range of teaching practices that provide varying levels of support at different points of need – these practices include modelled reading (including thinking aloud), shared reading, guided reading and independent reading
  • uses these teaching practices to provide explicit instruction in comprehension
  • provides opportunities to maximise engaged reading and deep thinking about texts through practices such as literature circles and reciprocal teaching, or through providing prompts to promote extended talk about texts
  • includes explicit instruction about foundational early literacy skills, such as phonics, as well as knowledge about language and all textual codes for example, visual literacy
  • uses a range of genres and modes of texts
  • features models of rich, authentic texts
  • takes place in English and across the curriculum
  • allows for substantial time in the classroom
  • includes whole group, small group and individual instruction.

Effective reading and the curriculum

The Victorian Curriculum, F-10, provides the following account of reading and viewing:

Reading and Viewing involves students understanding, interpreting, critically analysing, reflecting upon, and enjoying written and visual, print and non-print texts. It encompasses reading and viewing a wide range of texts and media, including literary texts. Reading involves active engagement with texts and the development of knowledge about the relationship between them and the contexts in which they are created. It also involves the development of knowledge about a range of strategies for reading. (VCAA, English Curriculum)

Reading and viewing, as a mode of English, is an integral part of learning in all disciplines in the primary school. As such, students need to not only become proficient in foundational capabilities such as phonemic awareness or alphabetic knowledge, they also need to understand the literacy demands specific to the various curriculum or discipline areas across a range of texts (Freebody, Barton & Chan, 2014).  At all year levels, opportunities to read need to be built into classroom schedules, in line with Marie Clay’s definition of reading as “a message-getting, problem-solving activity which increases in power and flexibility the more it is practised” (Clay, 1991, p. 6).

Literacy foci in the toolkit

The National Inquiry into the Teaching of Reading (Rowe, 2005) concluded that "all students learn best when teachers adopt an integrated approach to reading that explicitly teaches phonemic awareness, phonics, fluency, vocabulary knowledge and comprehension" (p. 11). As such these five key skills plus literature, multimodal literacy, visual literacy and literacy across the curriculum form the foci of literacy within the toolkit.

For more information, see Literacy focus.

Teaching practices in the toolkit

Following an extensive review of research into early reading in the US, Snow, Burns and Griffin (1998) noted:

...no single reading instruction method works best for all children. lf we have learned anything from this effort, it is that effective teachers are able to craft a special mix of instructional ingredients for every child they work with. But...there is a common menu of materials, strategies, and environments from which effective teachers make choices.

Based on this research which highlighted the impact of literacy programs and packages used in school literacy programs, Freebody (2000) suggests that “the need to deal the ‘effective teacher’ back into the game” is warranted, an imperative still relevant today. To do so, Freebody suggests that teachers should ‘craft a mix’ based on professionally informed principles.  Consequently the teaching practices included in the toolkit are modelled reading, shared reading, guided reading, independent reading, guided reading-reciprocal teaching, literature circles, close reading, and the teaching-learning cycle.

For more information, see Teaching practices.

Effective reading instruction:

  • encompasses a range of teaching practices such as modelled reading, shared reading, guided reading and independent reading to provide varying levels of support at different points of need
  • provides opportunities to maximise engaged reading and deep thinking about texts through practices such as literature circles, reciprocal teaching or through the provision of prompts to promote extended talk about texts
  • includes explicit instruction about foundational early literacy skills, such as phonics, as well as knowledge about language and all textual codes for example, visual literacy (Luke, 2014)
  • uses a range of genres and modes of texts
  • features models of rich, authentic texts
  • takes place in subject English and across the curriculum
  • allows for substantial time in the classroom
  • includes whole group, small group and individual instruction.