Defining the Goal
The Literacy Taskforce agreed that defining the goal, that “By 2005, every child turning nine will be able to read, write, and do maths for success” provided an opportunity for everyone – schools, parents, the community, and the child – to share an understanding of what it means to read, write, and do maths for success.
The taskforce considered the tension between stating minimum standards that all children should be expected to reach and providing indicators of success that motivate students to “soar”. The Literacy Experts Group’s advice was that care needs to be taken not to set minimal competency levels. These have been abandoned by most states in the United States because they were found to have lowered standards. The taskforce is aware that the literacy strategy is about both raising achievement for all students, including the gifted and talented, and closing the gap between the lowest and highest achievers.
The taskforce was adamant that the expectations of the achievement of all children should be the same, regardless of the language of instruction or their ethnicity. However, it is clear that some children, for example, immigrant children who at nine years old might have had only one year’s instruction in English, will need more assistance than others. The taskforce also agreed that although the goal is relevant and appropriate to children in Māori-medium education, the procedures and approaches for achieving the goal may well be different from those in English-medium education.
For students with special education needs, the idea of learning to read and write for success is individual to them and should be expressed through their individual education plans.
The Literacy Taskforce was strongly of the view that defining a goal for reading and writing should not result in the production of an alternative national curriculum. The taskforce considers that it is the proper purpose of the national curriculum to set out the levels of expected achievement and that the literacy goal should reflect those objectives. The members agreed that most nine-year-olds will be achieving at level 2 in English in the New Zealand Curriculum, some will be achieving at level 3, and some will be working at between levels 1 and 2. Children in Māori-medium education will be working to the appropriate levels specified in Te Reo Māori i roto i Te Marautanga o Aotearoa.
In providing advice on defining the goal, the taskforce therefore prefers the development of a description of the knowledge, understandings, strategies, and attitudes that nine-year-olds should demonstrate when reading and writing for success. The taskforce considered that developing such a set of descriptors alongside some examples of text that children are reading and of children’s writing will serve to set national expectations for teachers and parents.
There are many general features of learning to read and write that apply across countries, but others are specific to New Zealand; for example, our cultural context includes recognition of the educational and language needs of both Māori and non-Māori deriving from obligations under the Treaty of Waitangi and such official policies as the recognition of both English and te reo Māori as official languages.
Reading and writing
Reading and writing are complex activities. The Literacy Experts Group’s approach to providing advice on defining the goal was to use oral language as a basis.
“In general, successful reading for children at age nine means comprehending in print much of what they are expected to comprehend when listening to spoken language. Successful writing means expressing in print much of what they are expected to express when speaking.
These statements refer to the child’s language of instruction, for example, they refer to the Māori language for children who are developing bilingually in the Māori medium.
The goal to read and write for success should provide an effective platform for the subsequent development of biliteracy."
—Literacy Experts Group’s advice to the Literacy Taskforce
Successful reading and writing have several features that a child is able to demonstrate across multiple text types. The primary features are text comprehension (for reading) and text construction (for writing), with further features of accuracy, fluency, and the self-motivation to read and write.
The Literacy Taskforce agreed that the School Journals (Parts 1 and 2) provide the only existing national examples of reading material most likely to be used by teachers in their day-to-day teaching practice with nine-year-olds. There are no national indicators for children’s writing.
The junior Māori readers used in Māori-medium education have been organised into levels of difficulty (Ngā Kete Kōrero framework). All remaining Māori readers have yet to be fitted into this framework. When this work is completed, it should provide national indicators for reading in Māori-medium education.
The Literacy Taskforce recommends that a description of the knowledge, skills, and attitudes that nine-year-olds demonstrate when they are reading and writing for success, together with a description of the features of appropriate texts, be developed and promulgated to teachers and parents. (A possible model of the descriptors is provided in Appendix B.)
The taskforce agreed that reading and writing for success at nine is essential for further progress both in and out of school. However, further progress is dependent on continuing effective education as well as on-going practice beyond formal schooling.