School and system improvement

Publication Date



Educational practices, Literacy, Literacy education, Phonics, Reading teaching, Student assessment, Teacher education, Teacher effectiveness, Teaching effectiveness, Teaching methods, Whole language approach


Underlying a key purpose of the present review is the conviction that claims about what constitute effective literacy teaching, and of reading in particular, should be grounded in findings from rigorous evidence-based research. To this end, the present review of the research literature on teaching practices for students, with and without reading difficulties, relies largely, though not exclusively, on well-designed meta analytic syntheses that: (a) partial out methodological artefacts from the effect sizes; and (b) base their analyses on the actual procedures and components of instruction used in the studies reviewed. Following a brief outline of the background and purposes related to the National Inquiry into the Teaching of Literacy, attention is given to the prevailing contexts of: the importance of literacy in schooling; the overlap between students' under-achievement in literacy (especially in reading) and their poor behavioural health and wellbeing; the complexities entailed in literacy teaching and learning; and contemporary understandings of effective teaching practice. Despite a lack of supporting evidence for its effectiveness, the prevailing educational philosophy of constructivism (as a theory of knowing) has had marked influences on pre-service teacher education, and subsequent professional practice, by shaping teachers' interpretations of how they should teach. However, there is a strong body of evidence that constructivist approaches to teaching, including whole-language, are not in the best interests of students with learning difficulties and especially for those with reading difficulties. For beginning reading during the early years of schooling, findings from meta analytic syntheses of a large volume of local and international evidence-based research consistently indicate that direct, systematic instruction in phonics makes significantly greater contributions to children's initial and subsequent growth in reading, writing, spelling and comprehension, than do alternative approaches involving unsystematic or no phonics instruction.

Place of Publication

Canberra, Australia


Department of Education, Science and Training