Applying Our Understanding to Real-World Case Studies

It is with the greatest of pleasures that we share our latest presentation - Applying Our Understanding to Real-World Case Studies.

This presentation is the culmination of recent work, and it is an important next step in putting one’s growing knowledge of literacy development to use. We may know certain things intellectually - such as the stages of literacy development or the components of literacy - but the true test lies in putting this knowledge into practice.

For the purposes of this presentation, viewers will be asked to reflect upon the needs and circumstances of individual learners, and to use this information as the basis of instructional planning.

We all know that literacy instruction cannot be a one-size-fits-all solution. For best practice, we need to know where a learner is placed along the literacy journey, so we can provide those experiences that will help the learner continue along in his or her journey.

We must see the enormous potential for profound growth in each learner, and we must commit ourselves to providing learners with the right type and amount of sustained practice to make literacy acquisition a reality.

Ultimately, what is it that we want? We want learners to be able explore, learn and express - fluently and intelligently. We want learners to be able to take control of the script, so they are able use literacy actively and critically for a range of purposes.

Without further ado, we invite you to explore the presentation above. Within the presentation, you will meet Maria, Jonathan, Dakota and David. In the future, we plan to introduce you to a whole cast of others with a focus on providing further opportunities for you to critically reflect and respond to the needs and circumstances of a diverse range of learners.

Please explore the video and download the related slides, which can be found above and on YouTube at The presentation slides can be downloaded at We highly recommend that you download the slides, since they contain the case studies as well as suggested activities.

I wish I could be delivering this presentation in a face-to-face seminar to The Literacy Bug audience. I’d be very curious to know the personal perspectives that you’d bring to the content and the case studies. In the abscence of this opportunity, I encourage you to email your ideas to us at, or leave a comment below or on YouTube. Please explore and enjoy!

To recap, the following are links to the other presentations in the series:

An Overview of Literacy Development
YouTube Video:

Planning and Monitoring for Effective Instruction
YouTube Video:

Teaching According to the Stages of Development
YouTube Video:

Additional Resources for the Planning and Monitoring for Effective Instruction
YouTube Video:

Mastering the Alphabetic Principle
YouTube Video:

Analysing Spoken Words
YouTube Video:
Blog Entry

Words Sorts
YouTube Video:
Blog Entry

Sentence: Types, Features and Structures

Mastering the Alphabetic Code

Today, we share "Mastering the Alphabetic Code" which is available below as well as on YouTube at

This video is a presentation that outlines the key elements involved in learning to “master the alphabetic code”, such as phonemic awareness, phonemic knowledge, letter-sound correspondence, orthographic patterns, morphological patterns and automatic word recognition and construction skills.

It emphasises the need for teachers to develop scaffolded activities that provide learners with the skills to succeed.

The presentation slides can be downloaded at We highly recommend that you download the slides, since they contain many resources mentioned in the video. Please be patient during download. It's a large file, at least in PDF terms (20MB).

Please explore and enjoy! And send us a message if you have any questions, comments or suggestions.

Resources for Planning and Monitoring for Effective Literacy Teaching and Learning

After the previous update, you'd be correct to believe that the last video presentation was the final in a series. Even I was convinced of this. Alas, there is one more ... I swear ... or believe.

Today, we share "Resources for Planning and Monitoring for Effective Literacy Teaching and Learning" which is available below as well as on YouTube at

The video is a presentation that summarises a range of resources that can help teachers better plan and monitor for effective literacy teaching and learning. In many ways, it's simply an extension of the previous presentations (listed below).

The presentation slides can be downloaded at We highly recommend that you download the slides, since they contain many resources mentioned in the video. Please be patient during download. It's a large file, at least in PDF terms (20MB).

To recap, the following are links to the other presentations in the series:

An Overview of Literacy Development

Planning and Monitoring for Effective Instruction

Teaching According to the Stages of Development

Last but not least, below is the podcast episode in which we talk about the latest presentation.

Please explore and enjoy! And send us a message if you have any questions, comments or suggestions.

Podcast #5: A Response to "Encoding, Decoding and Understanding (Print) Language"

Welcome to another episode of The Literacy Bug Podcast! This week I respond to the recent blog entry called “Encoding, Decoding and Understanding (Print) Language”. In the mentioned blog entry, I casually glossed over the importance of oral language comprehension in the role of literacy development. In glossing over oral comprehension, I did not neglect or undermine its significance. In fact, I acknowledge the complexity and significance of language comprehension in propelling the need to encode and decode anything in the first place. In this podcast, I explore that which was left unexplored: the intricate relationship between print processing, language development and cognitive processing. Please listen, explore and enjoy! We aim to bring many more episodes in the coming weeks. (

New Reading Lists Added to The Literacy Bug: Stages of Literacy Development

It is with great pleasure that we make this small - yet important - update. We would like to announce that we have categorised some of our recommended references according to Jeanne Chall’s Stages of Reading Development. Regular visitors would be well aware that Chall’s model plays an important role in The Literacy Bug’s approach to literacy teaching and learning. If you are not familiar with Chall’s model, we encourage you to read the linked essay on the Stages of Literacy Development and/or visit the notes on the Five Stage of Reading Development.

Otherwise, proceed straight to the newly added reading lists. Each list begins with a brief description of the stage.


Stage 0: Pre-Reading: Birth to 6 Years Old

In Stage 0, the child pretends to read, gradually develops the skills to retells stories when looking at pages of books previously read to him/her. The child gains the ability to name letters of the alphabet, prints own name and plays with books, pencils and paper. By six years old, the child can understand thousands of words but can read few (if any). In this stage, adults are encouraged to scaffold child’s language attempts through parallel talk, expanding on verbalisations and recasting child’s verbalisations. Adults are encouraging children to use of two to three word combinations within social contexts, and adults should implement dialogic reading or effective shared reading for young children ages 2 to 5 years. Any instruction (phonics, vocabulary) should be linked to the book reading, and such books should include rhyme, alliteration, and repetitive phrases. In one’s environment, adults should verbally label objects with which children are involved and encourage children to ask questions and elaborate on observations (Westberg, et al., 2006). Click here to explore recommending readings for Stage 0.


Stage 1: Initial Reading & Decoding: 6 to 7 Years Old

In Stage 1, the child is learning the relation between letters and sounds and between print and spoken words. The child is able to read simple texts containing high frequency words and phonically regular words, and uses skills and insight to “sound out” new words. In relation to writing, the child is moving from scribbling to controlled scribbling to nonphonemic letter strings. Adults are encouraging the child to write about known words and use invented spellings to encourage beginning writing, which can be extended through assisted performance. In this stage, the main aims are to further develop children’s phonological awareness, letter-sound knowledge, and ability to manipulate phonemes and syllables (segmentation and blending). (Westberg, et al., 2006) Click here to explore recommending readings for Stage 1.


Stage 2: Confirmation & Fluency: 7 to 9 Years Old

In Stage 2, the child can read simple, familiar stories and selections with increasing fluency. This is done by consolidating the basic decoding elements, sight vocabulary and meaning context in the reading of common topics. The learner’s skills are extended through guided read-aloud of more complex texts. By this stage, adults should be providing instruction that includes repeated and monitored oral reading. Teachers and parents must model fluent reading for students by reading aloud to them daily and ask students to read text aloud. It is important to start with texts that are relatively short and contain words the students can successfully decode. This practice should include a variety of texts such as stories, nonfiction and poetry, and it should use a variety of ways to practice oral reading, such as student-adult reading, choral (or unison) reading, tape-assisted reading, partner (or buddy) reading and reader’s theatre. (Westberg, et al., 2006) Click here to explore recommending readings for Stage 2.


Stage 3: Reading for Learning the New: 9 to 13 Years Old

In Stage 3, reading is used to learn new ideas, to gain new knowledge, to experience new feelings, to learn new attitudes, generally from one or two points of view. There is a significant emphasis placed on reading to learn, and writing for diverse purposes. There is time spent balancing the consolidating of constrained skills (spelling, grammar, fluency) whilst providing ample opportunities to explore topics through reading, writing, speaking, listening & viewing. By this time, the learner has transitioned to a stage where he or she is expected to learn from their reading. Adults should teach  specific comprehension strategies, such as comprehension monitoring, using graphic and semantic organisers, answering questions, generating questions, recognising textual structures, summarising, and identifying main ideas and important details. (Westberg, et al., 2006) Click here to explore recommending readings for Stage 3.


Stage 4: Synthesising, Critiquing & Applying Perspective: 13 to 17 Years Old

In Stage 4, learners are reading widely from a broad range of complex materials, both expository and narrative, and are asked to apply a variety of viewpoints. Learners are required to access, retain, critique and apply knowledge and concepts. Learners are consolidating general reading, writing and learning strategies whilst being required to develop more sophisticated disciplinary knowledge and perspectives. These adolescent learners deserve content area teachers who provide instruction in the multiple literacy strategies needed to meet the demands of the specific discipline. In these areas, adolescents deserve access to and instruction with multimodal as well as traditional print sources. (International Reading Association, 2012). Click here to explore recommending readings for Stage 4.

We hope the newly added lists are helpful. If you would like to provide any recommendations or send us a comment, please do not hesitate to contact us at or use the comment box/link below.

References in this blog entry
International Reading Association. (2012). Adolescent Literacy: a position statement of the International Reading Association. Newark, DE.

Westberg, L., McShane, S., & Smith, L. (2006). Verizon Life Span Literacy Matrix: Relevant Outcomes , Measures and Research-based Practices and Strategies. Washington D.C.

A story that cuts right to the heart of the Opportunity to Learn issue

I have mentioned it before and it is a concept that I will return to again and again; the issue of equality in opportunity to learn. Today, I thought I’d spend some time reflecting on a short story I once wrote that relates directly to the main topic: considering whether all learners have equal opportunity to learn and succeed.

Photo by Ahlapot/iStock / Getty Images
Photo by Ahlapot/iStock / Getty Images

You won’t have a chance to read the actual story. It is stored somewhere so safe that the best minds are yet to uncover it. You must instead rely upon my synopsis. As far as the setting, the story takes place in inner city San Diego in the late 1990s. It is a low socio-economic community with issues common to the time: drugs, gangs, racial tensions and the working poor. I was teaching at a high school in the community when I wrote the story.

The story itself is an appropriation of “Eveline” by James Joyce. In Joyce’s tale, the main character - Eveline - is a young woman who is sitting forlornly in front of a dilapidated house in a crowded street in Dublin. Her mother has passed away, and she left behind a baby girl, Eveline’s sister. Eveline’s brothers have moved out of home, her father is a drunkard, and she is now responsible for raising her baby sister whilst working part-time and avoiding her father’s abuse. Her opportunities are fairly limited by poverty, circumstance and the expectations placed on a woman of the times (early 1900s).

In the story, Eveline is approached by a “fellow” who confesses his love for her, and promises to take her away from this misery and start a new life overseas. We might expect her to rush towards this door of apparent freedom, but she doesn’t. At the critical moment where she is to board a ship bound for the New World, she stands frozen on the docks and she watches the fellow leave her behind. We don’t know if she stays due to a promise she made to her mother - "to hold the house together" - or her fear that she would face another type of servitude as a wife in a foreign land. Eveline’s opportunities are severely limited by complex factors, which serve to paralyse her. 

In my appropriation - “Jinicia Sings the Blues” - my main character - Jinicia - is a young African American women - aged 18 or so - leaning on a railing outside her house, watching her younger brother deftly navigate a local game of street soccer. Inside the house, Jinicia’s baby sister is asleep. Her dedicated father is at work, and he works three jobs just to pay the bills. Her mother left the family with another man. And her older brother was shot dead in a gangland dispute a couple years ago. Meanwhile, Jinicia watches her younger, talented brother with a mixture of pride, envy and pity. He is good at school, good at sport and is a born leader. She wants him to dribble the ball down the block and out of the neighbourhood and never look back. She is afraid that the community will eventually swallow him up in some minimum wage job or worse, and that the dream of a scholarship to college will be left unrealised. Jinicia is a clever young woman who wavers between hope and fear, and can’t help battle a deep cynicism. The story ends as she walks back into the house to cradle her waking sister, who she also looks upon with both love and trepidation.

At one stage, I entertained the thought of extending the story. I thought of introducing a character from the other side of the tracks, or across the bridge in the wealthy peninsular community of Coronado. I imagined Jinicia reflecting on the differences in the two worlds. She wouldn’t be able to stop herself from thinking, “would my older brother still be alive if we could have bailed him out of his trouble? would I even worry about my younger brother if our circumstances were different?”

I think the story cuts right to the heart of the Opportunity to Learn issue. Whilst the story might not be about literacy, it engages with an issue raised by Donaldo Macedo, “reading specialists … who have made technical advancement in the field of reading … [must] make linkages between their self-contained technical reading methods and the social and political realities that generate unacceptably high failure reading rates among certain groups of students.” (Macedo, 2001, pg xiii) 

If the components of reading development are known (National Reading Panel and others), why is it that success rates are directly linked to differences in socio-economic factors and not to differences in cognitive functioning or personal motivation? (Chiu, McBride-Chang & Lin, 2012) We need to know, “the sociological processes which control the way the developing child relates himself to his environment. It requires an understanding of how certain areas of experience are differentiated, made specific and stabilised … What seems to be needed is the development of a theory of social learning which would indicate what in the environment is available for learning, the conditions of learning, the constraints on subsequent learning, and the major reinforcing process.” (Bernstein, 1964, pg. 55)

As stated by James Paul Gee, “caring about [students’] rights means caring … about the trajectories of learners as they develop … as part of communities of practice, engaged in mind, body, and culture, and not just as repositories of skills, facts, and information.” (2008, pg 105) We must be ever diligent on issues of equity, both in enhancing opportunities and respecting diversity. We must be conscious of the socioeconomic, motivational and neurocognitive factors that are brought to bear on learning. We must be mindful of the impacts of poverty, discrimination and instability. The conditions for success are multifaceted, long and intricate.



Bernstein, B. (1964). Elaborated and Restricted Codes: Their Social Origins and Some Consequences. American Anthropologist, 66(6_PART2), 55–69.

Chiu, M. M., McBride-Chang, C., & Lin, D. (2012). Ecological, psychological, and cognitive components of reading difficulties: testing the component model of reading in fourth graders across 38 countries. Journal of Learning Disabilities, 45(5), 391–405.

Gee, J. P. (2008). A sociocultural perspective on opportunity to learn. In P. Moss, D. Pullin, J. P. Gee, E. Haertel, & L. Young (Eds.), Assessment, equity, and opportunity to learn (pp. 76 – 108). Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Macedo, D. (2001). Foreword. In P. Freire (Ed.), Pedagogy of freedom: ethics, democracy and civic courage (pp. xi – xxxii). Maryland: Rowman & Littlefield Publishers.

Teaching Practice Must Progress in Keeping with the Stages of Reading Development

Chall, J. S. (1996). Stages of reading development (2nd ed.). Fort Worth: Harcourt Brace Jovanovic College Publishers.

Over the past couple months, we have made regular reference to Chall's six stages of reading development, which accounts for reading development from birth to adulthood. For that reason, we have added a specific section on the stages of literacy development to the Teaching Folder of the site. Therefore, it provides us with a platform to explore the way in which pedagogy changes as learners develop throughout the developmental sequence. 

If we borrow Wittgenstein’s concepts here, a developmental account of a language/literacy learning progression is sensitive to the way perception (aspect seeing) changes, practices form, attitudes develop, knowledge takes shape and (literate) forms of life take root (or fail to do so). We need to marvel at how learning transpires and how each new act of learning builds from that which came before. We need to be amazed at the small steps and giant leaps that occur. We need to be cautious of stagnation and entropy.

In time, we will address the following sequence of questions for each of the six levels.

1. What does instruction look like at this stage?

  • activities, routines, etc;
  • books and other texts;
  • writing tasks;
  • formal and informal activities; 
  • independent activity.

2. What should learners be able to accomplish/engage in?

  • independently;
  • with guidance;
  • jointly;
  • if/when modelled.

3. What would gradual release of control (or apprenticeship) look like at this stage?

4. At the end of the stage,  how is the learner prepared for the subsequent stage?

Chiu, M. M., McBride-Chang, C., & Lin, D. (2012). Ecological, psychological, and cognitive components of reading difficulties: Journal of Learning Disabilities, 45(5), 391–405.

5. What would be characteristic age range be for this stage? What support/intervention should be provided if a learner is failing behind? 

6. How does one coordinate learning/support if there is a substantial difference between the learner's age and developmental stage? How does one choose content that is both linguistically and age appropriate?

7 How can we use the component model of reading development (depicted to the right)  to (a) identify potential assets/deficits exhibited by the learners and (b) to strategise with a multi-dimensional approach to building capacity in each area?

The sequence of images below demonstrates how the balance of instruction and approach alters across a learner’s lifespan. I invite you to explore the Stages of Literacy page. Explore and enjoy!

p.s. Even though one may be tempted to see skills progressing in a purely sequential manner, I would like to emphasise that each skill domain should be practiced/experienced to some extent at each stage of a reader/writer's development. The following table illustrates a significant point: at any given stage there should be literacy elements that we expect the individual to be able to practice explicitly (e.g. spelling) as well as other elements that individual can participate in with guidance (e.g. prompting or scaffolding a story) or jointly with a peer or adult.



Chall, J. S. (1996). Stages of reading development (2nd ed.). Fort Worth: Harcourt Brace Jovanovic College Publishers.

Chiu, M. M., McBride-Chang, C., & Lin, D. (2012). Ecological, psychological, and cognitive components of reading difficulties: testing the component model of reading in fourth graders across 38 countries. Journal of Learning Disabilities, 45(5), 391–405. doi:10.1177/0022219411431241

A Teacher For All Seasons in All Places

I have recently finished a convincing argument that alleviates - if only temporarily - my attempts to seek to identify a singular literacy pedagogy. Visitors to this site will be well aware of my struggle to resolve two images of literacy pedagogy, a conflict which is also apparent in the tension between Wittgenstein's early and later conceptualisations of language. These two images are commonly represented by such dichotomies as practice in print-based skills vs (oral) language development (Aaron et al, 2008); word recognition vs (word) meaning (Chall, Jacobs & Baldwin, 1990); formal practices vs informal practices (Senechal, 2006); or constrained skills vs unconstrained skills (Paris, 2005; Stahl, 2011).

In short, fostering literacy requires that one is adept at systematically reinforcing the core, constrained skills of literacy (to the point of mastery) so that fluency is attained and higher order thinking can be facilitated, whilst providing rich opportunities for students to gain and express meaning in multiple knowledge domains and modes through scaffolded speaking, listening, reading and writing. In my earlier writing, I suggested that such a teacher must be both systematic and expansive, that the literacy pedagogy must be both intensive and extensive, that a teacher must be both precise and discursive, and that a teacher must keep a keen ear our for cognitive development whilst building sociocultural capacities and knowledge. To say the least, a teacher must be organised with an awareness of selecting suitable content, with a clear conception of learning intentions, and with the ability to determine if intentions are being met and whether such learning is fostering all the attributes that will equip the learner for future learning.

A literacy teacher must be "a teacher for all seasons" - so to speak - which is clearly on display in the chapter, "Classroom environments and literacy instruction" that appears in Chall, Jacobs and Baldwin's (1990) book The Reading Crisis: why poor children fall behind. Even though contemporary standards may take exception to the bluntness of the title, the author's observations about the challenges of coordinating a balanced pedagogy are pertinent today.

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Practical Advice for Assisting Children With Reading

Reading is a practice. Every occasion takes the child one step forward in the imaginative and critical journey. We should embrace every chance we have to make those encounters engaging, satisfying, and vivid.

For today's entry I would like to share two recent and two not-so-recent blog entries from Dr Trevor Cairney.

Dr Cariney's blog - - is an excellent and practical resources for parent, teachers and the community.

Literacy is a complex and multifaceted skill which changes enormously as it is acquired

The following is a paragraph from a chapter written by Catherine Snow that I am keen to share. Why? The paragraph (and the chapter) engages with the changing nature of literacy as the child (or individual) develop, which requires teachers to be vigilant in providing the right instruction, opportunities and extension at the right time. Please enjoy ... and also seek out the chapter.

From Snow, C. (2004) What counts as literacy in early childhood? In K. McCartney & D. Phillips (Eds.), Handbook of early child development. Oxford: Blackwell.

"Everyone agrees that literacy is a complex and multifaceted skill which changes enormously as it is acquired ... [For instance], the typical three-year-old can recognize some books by their covers, knows how to hold books upright and turn pages, listens when read to, expects to be able to understand pictures in books, may distinguish pictures from print, may recognize some letters, and produces purposeful-looking scribbles.

"The typical four year old has learned to recite the alphabet and to recognize several letters, connects events in stories to ‘real life,’ understands that stories are different from notes or lists, may produce rhymes or alliterations, and may scribble, pretend-write, or draw with a communicative purpose.

"The typical kindergartner knows about titles and authors of books, may track the print when being read to from familiar simple books, can name all and write most of the letters, can recognize and spell some simple words, spontaneously questions events in stories and information books, and uses mostly invented spelling in writing.

"The typical first grader is starting to get a serious handle on the system of writing, is able to read accurately and fluently texts that include previously taught spelling patterns, uses letter-sound correspondence to sound out new words, spells with a combination of conventional and invented spelling, monitors her own writing and reading for correctness, and understands the differences among a wide variety of texts (informal notes, informative texts, stories, poems, slogans, lists, and so forth).

"In 2nd and 3rd grade, the typically developing child becomes increasingly accurate and fluent with an ever wider variety of spelling patterns, becomes able to tackle more complex texts independently, knows how to seek help from a dictionary or an adult with difficult words or ideas, writes a wide array of text-types increasingly conventionally and with ever greater capacity to revise independently, and infers the meanings of unfamiliar words encountered in otherwise comprehensible text.

"Of course, literacy growth continues after grade 3—the capacity to read with different purposes, to learn from reading, to critique the text, to compare and contrast points of view when reading, and in other ways to produce and process complex tests may continue to develop through adulthood. But the skills acquired by 3rd grade (acquired only, of course, if children enjoy home, preschool, and primary grade environments that support these learnings) constitute the firm foundation on which those more complex skills depend."