Academic journal article Australian Journal of Language and Literacy

7. Literacy Teaching Practice: Support

Academic journal article Australian Journal of Language and Literacy

7. Literacy Teaching Practice: Support

Article excerpt

The dimension that we have called 'support' refers to the ways in which effective teachers structure children's literacy learning so that they are expertly assisted in their acquisition of appropriate knowledge and skills. This dimension is therefore closely related to the 'knowledge' dimension as the effectiveness of support depends to a great extent upon teachers' knowledge of literacy and literacy learning. The seven specific teaching practices of the support dimension: 'assessment', 'scaffolding', 'feedback', 'responsiveness', 'explicitness word', 'explicitness text', and 'persistence' are described in Table 7.

In the research literature much attention has been paid to support for learning in terms of these identified teaching practices. What effective teachers do in terms of support for literacy is to use detailed knowledge of the children's learning, gained from formal and informal assessment and monitoring, in order to tailor planning and teaching to class and individual levels (Hill & Crevola, 1999; Wray et al., 2000). Since effective literacy teachers use detailed assessment information in planning and teaching they are able to expertly scaffold and extend children's literacy learning as they model, modify and correct responses (Bloom, 1976; Brophy & Good, 1986; Strickland, 2002). Intimately related to scaffolding is the timely, focused and explicit feedback provided by effective teachers, that indicates to children exactly where their learning is appropriate and where they need to re-think specific concepts and skills. Feedback has been included in this dimension as a practice in its own right as it has been identified in many studies as a most important teaching practice (Bloom, 1976; Hattie, 2003; Strickland, 2002).

In addition to the explicitness of feedback, effective early years literacy teachers provide highly explicit instruction in word and text level strategies and knowledge (Mazzoli & Gambrell, 2003; National Reading Panel, 2000; Snow et al., 1998; Taylor et al., 1999). Their instruction takes into account children's contributions as they share and build on these (Brophy & Good, 1986; Hattie, 2003) and they are persistent in their provision of many opportunities to practise and master new literacy learning (Brophy & Good, 1986; Snow et al., 1998).

Quantitative analyses undertaken on the CLOS data provided further strategies for understanding the support dimension in these classrooms. A simple descriptive analysis, by frequency, of each of the support dimension teaching practices in the classrooms videotaped provides a summary of the proportion of episodes that the researchers coded for assessment, scaffolding, feedback, responsiveness, explicitness word, explicitness text and persistence and shows the variation across the classrooms (see Figure 6). The less effective teachers were amongst those with the lowest number of episodes characterised by support. For example, in two of the less effective teachers' classrooms no episodes were characterised by persistence or assessment and in another less effective teacher's classroom, there were no observations of scaffolding or responsiveness. In contrast to this, in the classrooms of the more effective teachers all episodes were characterised by scaffolding, feedback, responsiveness, explicitness word, explicitness text and persistence.


The importance of teaching based on detailed knowledge of children's literacy needs, that is, practice based on informed decision making, has been seen as a principle of 'best practice' for literacy teaching (Mazzoli & Gambrell, 2003). In order for teachers to address effectively the diverse range of literacy needs within a classroom it is most important that they find out what children know and what they need to learn so that instruction can be targeted at individual points of need. In other words, fine-grained knowledge of children's performance used by the teacher in planning and teaching has the potential to produce effective outcomes for children. …

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