New Zealand Early Literacy Research Project

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The purpose of this longitudinal research project was to improve the literacy outcomes of students by providing professional development workshops and associated material to New Zealand teachers working with New Entrant and Year 1 students. The professional development focused on providing teachers with the knowledge and skills required to explicitly and systematically teach word-decoding strategies to their students, which current research indicates leads to better literacy outcomes for many students, especially those from low socio-economic and diverse backgrounds.

The project involved two cohorts of teachers and students and a number of control schools who continued with their normal literacy instruction. Students’ literacy skills were assessed on entry and again when in either Year 2 or Year 3. The first cohort involved teachers from 24 schools and the second cohort involved teachers from 13 schools.

Participants & Research Design

Teachers in the first cohort attended 5 workshops during which they were provided with research-based strategies designed to supplement instruction in their existing literacy program. The workshops covered five modules and included letter knowledge and phonological awareness, sounding out and blending, comprehension, differentiated instruction, analysing assessment data and planning lessons with a focus on direct, explicit instruction. Between the workshop teachers could participate in an online interactive forum to share ideas and strategies. The underlying premise was that teachers would prefer to work in a co-constructivist framework, with minimal direct, explicit guidance.

Results for Cohort 1 showed that there was no evidence of significant changes to teacher knowledge or teaching practice and unsurprisingly their students’ literacy skills were no different to the comparison group of students in the control schools. Consequently, a decision was made to change the structure of the training provided to teachers.

In contrast with the first cohort, teachers in the second cohort were provided with direct explicit instruction and guidance on how to implement and explicitly teach a phonic based program. This included the provision of a ‘how to’ guide, a scope-and-sequence framework, instructional strategies included with content to be taught (including engaging the whole class and differential instruction), lists of resources, programs and texts and a lesson plan template. However, the underlying content of the workshops remained the same. In addition, since there had been very little engagement with the online forum, a coach (an experienced literacy teacher and teacher educator) provided face-to-face support, visiting most teachers in the second cohort on at least four occasions.


The following information is taken directly from the report.

  1. Did students in the intervention groups show improved literacy learning outcomes compared with students in the comparison groups?

Cohort 1: No.

Cohort 2: Yes. The Intervention group significantly outperformed the Comparison group at the end of Year 1, and in the middle of Year 2.

  1. Did students in the intervention groups show improved motivation in reading compared to those in the comparison group?

Cohort 1: No

Cohort 2: No. Reading self-efficacy, as a proxy for reading motivation, was similar across all groups in both cohorts. Scores were generally positive. Self-efficacy scores were somewhat independent of actual reading-related achievement, suggesting that the scale we used was inadequate.

  1. Did the intervention reduce the literacy achievement gap?

Cohort 1: No

Cohort 2: Yes. Low decile Intervention students achieved results that were markedly better than those of students in the Comparison group. In many cases, low decile students performed at levels that approached or were close to students in higher decile schools.

  1. Did the intervention result in increased teacher confidence in teaching word-level skills?

Cohort 1: No

Cohort 2: Yes. Results indicated improved levels of teacher knowledge as well as more positive self-perceptions of ability to teach phonic-related knowledge and strategies.


Teachers and students benefit from direct, explicit instruction. More importantly, this study demonstrated that changing to literacy instruction focused on teaching explicit word-level decoding strategies had a major and positive impact on children’s literacy learning outcomes, particularly for those children from low socio-economic and diverse backgrounds.

Reference (Click on image to see full report)

Chapman, J., Arrow, A., Braid, C., Greaney, K., & Tunmer, W. (2018). Final Report to the New Zealand Ministry of Education. Massey University: New Zealand.