1. Introduction to the Study of Effective Literacy Teaching Practices in the Early School Years

Article excerpt

When we began the national study that is presented in this monograph, some of us had recently completed another Australia-wide research project that examined provision in Australian primary schools for students with learning difficulties in literacy and numeracy (Louden et al., 2000). In the guest editorial for a special edition of the Australian Journal of Learning Disabilities that was devoted to the project findings we called for

   An end to the phonics versus whole language debate, in view of
   agreement between many researchers about the important elements of
   effective early literacy programs that transcends this issue.
   (Rohl, 2000, p. 3)

Since that time there has been continuing media comment on the teaching of early literacy and proposed causes of literacy learning difficulties, with headlines such as 'Phonics at core of new literacy war' (The Australian, 21 April 2004) and 'No wonder this kid is in trouble ... literacy is plummeting, teachers are floundering and parents are fast losing patience' (The Bulletin, 1 March 2005). Some of this interest has been based on publication of the findings of the National Reading Panel (2000) in the United States that examined a small range of reading-related variables, including phonics, using what it called an 'evidence-based assessment of the scientific research literature on reading and its implications for reading instruction' of the type normally used in research studies on the efficacy of interventions in the psychological and medical fields.

Recently, within Australia, a National Inquiry into the Teaching of Literacy has undertaken 'a broad, independent examination of reading research, teacher preparation and practices for the teaching of literacy, particularly reading' with a particular focus on approaches for helping students with learning difficulties (www.dest.gov.au/sectors/school _education/policy_initiatives_reviews/key_issues/literacy_numeracy/ national_inquiry/default.htm).

This is the political context for our description of a national study (1) in which effective teachers of early literacy in Australian primary schools were identified, observed and their teaching practices compared to those of less effective teachers. We focus in this monograph on what the effective teachers did in their classrooms. More detail of the literature review, methodology and findings of the study can be found in the final project report (see Louden, Rohl, Barratt-Pugh, Brown, Cairney, Elderfield, House, Meiers, Rivalland & Rowe, 2005). …