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Literacy skills seem to fuel literacy enjoyment – not vice-versa

It would seem intuitive that children who like to read and write tend to be better at it. We usually interpret this link as enjoyment creating engagement in literacy activities – boosting literacy skills in turn.

However, new research has emerged with ground-breaking findings that challenges this perspective. Let’s take a closer look at this together…

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What does new research say?

In this new study, 3,690 Finnish twins were asked to rate their level of enjoyment for reading and writing (i.e., literacy enjoyment). The participants’ teachers were also asked to provide evaluations of their literacy skill in terms of oral reading fluency, reading comprehension, spelling and writing.

The findings revealed an intriguing relationship: skills had a direct impact on enjoyment, whereas the influence in the opposite direction was negligible. The researchers further discovered that while genetics played a significant role, the environment (I.e., family and school effects) also had a noteworthy impact on shaping children’s skills and, consequently, their enjoyment of literacy.

Taken all together, the results underline the importance of nurturing children’s literacy skills, as they not only lay the foundation for academic achievement (particularly in subjects such as Science, Art, and History), but also boost their enjoyment in reading and writing.

The 7 recommendations for improving literacy skills

As mentioned, literacy skills are an important skill for students to possess. But how can teachers implement it in the classroom? The good news is that the Education Endowment Foundation has identified seven recommendations to help educators foster this essential skill in the classroom…

  1. Prioritise “disciplinary literacy” across the curriculum

Disciplinary literacy is an approach to improving literacy across the curriculum that emphasises the importance of subject-specific support. Prioritising this will allow students to understand the subtle yet crucial distinction in reading approaches tailored to specific subjects.

It is therefore crucial to provide comprehensive support for teachers in their pursuit of effectively teaching students to read, write and communicate within their respective subjects. School leaders can help teachers by ensuring training related to literacy prioritises subject specificity over general approaches.

  1. Provide targeted vocabulary instruction in every subject

Teachers in every subject can aim to provide explicit vocabulary instruction to help students access and use academic language better. For example, one way to do this is by asking students to explore common word roots that are often used in your subject.

  1. Develop students’ ability to read complex academic texts

Teachers can develop reading strategies in students to support their active engagement with complex texts. The following strategies can improve students’ comprehension:

  • Prediction – Students predict what might happen as they read a text. This causes them to pay close attention to the content, which means they can closely monitor their own comprehension.
  • Questioning – Students generate their own questions about a target text to check their comprehension and monitor their subject knowledge.
  • Summarising – Students summarise the meaning of the target text to consolidate and elaborate upon their understanding.

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  1. Break down complex writing tasks

Writing is challenging, so it is important to break it down into easier steps to support students in developing fluency across the many processes in writing. Teachers can help students break down a writing task by:

  • Explicitly teaching students planning strategies For example, how to use graphic organisers. Over time, they should develop proficiency using a range of strategies and have the ability to choose between them depending on task and audience.
  • Helping students monitor and review their writing – For example by providing a checklist of features included in high-quality answers or using it as a self- or peer-assessment tool.
  1. Combine writing instruction with reading in every subject

Combining reading activities and writing instruction is likely to improve students’ skills in both. You can do this by promoting writing before reading. Try asking students to bullet what they currently know about a topic or generate questions they will later try to answer through reading.

  1. Provide opportunities for structured talk

Talk has been found to effectively improve reading and writing outcomes. It is therefore essential for teachers to find ways to promote high-quality talk in the classroom. One way to do this is by deliberately sequencing talk activities alongside reading and writing tasks to give students opportunities to practise using new vocabulary, develop ideas before writing, or discuss ways to overcome common challenges with their partners.

  1. Provide high-quality literacy interventions for struggling students

Even though high-quality teaching across the curriculum will reduce the need for extra literacy support, there will likely still be a small number of students who will require additional help. Effective target intervention for struggling students tend to share the following features:

  • Regular sessions – These should be maintained over a sustained period and carefully timetabled to enable consistent delivery.
  • Training – It should come from experienced teachers.
  • Structured supporting resources – This can take the form of lesson plans with clear objectives.
  • Assessments – These should be standardised to identify appropriate students, guide areas for focus, and track student progress.

Final thoughts

The latest research has revealed that literacy skills themselves play a significant role in fuelling literacy enjoyment, in contrast with the traditional belief that it is the other way around.

By adopting the above recommendations in the classroom, you’ll be setting your students up for academic success and, crucially, adding to their overall enjoyment of reading and writing.

Rosenshine's Principles of Instruction teacher CPD workshop

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