Structured literacy approach support

Structured literacy is an effective teaching approach for all readers, particularly those needing additional support.

Why focus on structured literacy as part of your in-depth PLD plan  

The science of learning helps you understand what and how to teach your students.

Understanding the cognitive requirements of reading and writing helps you bring an evidence-based approach to literacy instruction in your classroom. 

Teaching the components of literacy explicitly, sequentially, and cumulatively means nothing is left to chance for your learners.

What is a structured approach to literacy 

Structured literacy is a research evidence-based approach to literacy learning that informs effective teaching to meet the specific needs of your learners. It is not an off-the-shelf scripted reading programme, or a fixed, one-size-fits-all approach. 

Structured literacy is characterised by the provision of systematic, explicit instruction that integrates listening, speaking, reading, and writing. It emphasises the structure of language across all of these areas:  

  • the speech sound system (phonology) 

  • the system of writing/spelling words (orthography) 

  • the meaningful parts of words (morphology) 

  • the structure of sentences (syntax) 

  • the meanings of words, phrases, and sentences (semantics) 

  • the organisation of spoken and written language (text structure) 
    (IDA, 2019). 

A structured literacy approach combines these evidence-based teaching principles and teaching components, to support successful literacy learning.

Teaching principles and components, the how and what

The three evidence-based teaching principles, that are proven to work for struggling learners, inform how we teach.    

  • Explicit – teachers clearly explain and model concepts and provide targeted specific feedback; they do not assume students just “pick up” concepts. 

  • Systematic and cumulative – teachers plan a well-organised sequence of instruction that builds sequentially on previously learned knowledge and skills 

  • Diagnostic – teaching is based on careful and continuous assessment. Content must be mastered to the degree of automaticity needed to free attention and cognitive resources for comprehension and oral/written expression

These components inform what we teach. 

  1. Phonemic awareness – identifying and manipulating individual sounds in spoken words 

  2. Phonics – making letter-sound correspondences and using them to read and spell words 

  3. Fluency – reading text with speed, accuracy, and proper expression 

  4. Vocabulary – knowing the meanings of words and using them in oral and written language 

  5. Comprehension – intentionally thinking to construct meaning from text 

  6. Syntax – understanding the structure of sentences, word order, and punctuation 

  7. Text structure – understanding how a text is organised to make meaning. 

These components need to be explicitly taught in a systematic and cumulative fashion using a gradual release model (I do, We do, You do) to reduce cognitive load and support knowledge building and understanding. 

Cognitive load theory and structured literacy 

Cognitive load theory explains how we learn new information. It is centred around an understanding of how information is processed and stored. 

When students are presented with new information, they use their working memory to process it. Because working memory can only hold a small amount of new information at any one time, students learn best when taught small chunks of new information. If they are given too much at one time, students become overloaded and cannot learn. 

When students apply knowledge and practise skills, this new information becomes stored in their long-term memory, which has an unlimited capacity. Once information in the long-term memory, working memory is freed up to process the next chunk of new information. 

A structured literacy approach is mindful of students’ cognitive load. Teaching sequentially, explicitly, and cumulatively enables students to build a framework to store information. Using a gradual release model students learn the strategies, thinking, and processes needed to be readers and writers. 

How we work with you 

Whether you're looking for one-to-one support, work with a teaching team, support for your leaders or whole school PLD, we can help. Our facilitators can work with you to meet your needs - online, onsite, or as part of clusters of schools. 

We can support you to unpack the components of structured literacy, how to use tools for diagnostic testing and monitoring progress, so you can build a coherent structured programme that follows a systematic scope and sequence. 

The Minister of Education revealed a $67 million boost in funding for professional learning and development (PLD) focusing on structured teaching methods over the upcoming four years. Initially, this PLD will cater to teachers in years 0–3, prioritising those who haven't undergone any structured approaches to literacy training. Subsequently, it will include teachers in years 4–6 once the initial cohort of year 0–3 teachers have been covered. 

Ministry information on PLD for structured literacy & te reo matatini approaches

Ministry information on PLD for principals How to access PLD: info for tumuaki 

For more information