Curriculum refresh

6th Jun 2021

There has been a call from the Ministry of Education for input on the following questions:

  • What literacy means for your child?
  • What literacy approaches, resources, tools and frameworks are required for our diverse learners?
  • What big transformational shifts need to occur in order to ensure literacy and numeracy are accessible for all akonga?
  • This is to help inform Literacy Strategy and how it is linked with the other workstreams and curriculum refresh work that is happening with feedback request to be sent to

Here is a link to the slides from the Ministry of Education: Literacy Strategy Engagement Workshops - for web.pdf And more information on the Curriculum refresh can be found here

Here is my open letter in response to the above questions

Tēnā koutou,

Thank you for all the collective work going into the curriculum refresh and updating the way we approach literacy in Aotearoa New Zealand

Here are a couple general points:

The history curriculum should include the history of disability rights

  • Students with disabilities need to have their needs considered at every stage of this refresh (not as an add-on once the plans are nearly finalised)
  • Evidenced-based approaches for literacy are essential moving forward
  • Oral language is a key foundation for literacy -- thus every student needs to be supported to develop their language(s) and all 3 official languages should be well supported.
  • AAC (augmentative and alternative communication) is a 4th key form of spoken language that needs to be better catered for - both in terms of provision of the equipment and in how to teach and support the development of language for students with complex communication needs
  • Speech-language therapists need to be part of the specialist mix - both informing this transformation and also in its implementation (along side psychologists, occupational therapists, specialists teachers etc). Literacy is a key part of our scope of practice.
  • Planning for PLD that includes supporting teachers to work with students with learning support needs and shift our literacy practices to be more effective and less stressful for all.
  • Please consider the learning support needs of ALL ages. Our current system tends to focus on early support in the life of the child, and is less well-designed to support needs that emerge later in one's school career

Key approaches and concepts

I saw a recent call for those of use working closely with students to share our insights on the following questions.

What literacy means for your child?

  • That all children are on a journey towards reading and writing. That parents can trust that schools are using the most current, evidenced based approaches. That children will learn the phonological, phonemic, and phonics behind the spelling systems of both English and Te Reo Māori
  • That both emergent and conventional literacy stages are well supported in our instructional practices
  • That all children will be on a pathway towards SILENT reading for meaning and will understand that anything they can think or say (including say with AAC or sign language), can be written using the alphabet.
  • It does not mean copying, tracing, running records, reading without meaning, etc.
  • That every school is prepared to teach structured literacy, including to student with complex communication needs. In other words, when I pick up a student with limited speech, I would be expect the new system to be well prepared to provide the need assistive technology and have staff using well established best-practice to assess and teach reading and writing.
  • Families shouldn't have to pay privately or tutor their students at home in order for students to have access to the literacy instruction the need.
  • Psuedo science should not be promoted at schools.
  • Intermediate and secondary schools need to be prepared to teach literacy in an effective method. There are student who will not master basic literacy by the age of 8 (or due to injury or medical conditions will loss previously acquired skills)
  • All 5 key areas needs to be appropriate taught -

What literacy approaches, resources, tools and frameworks are required for our diverse learners?

A balance of explicit instruction (when teaching fundamental skills) and inquiry-based learning (when learning to apply these skills. The concept of gradual release of responsibility needs to be woven into everything we do at all ages and stages.

  • This is one key way to start to address the anxiety many students are experiencing at school. Once explicit instruction is introduced, I have seen many students start to overcome their school anxiety and start to attend school after being away for months.
    • Anita Archer - Explicit instruction
  • A deeper understanding by all teachers (and the NCEA system) of when assessments are primarily assessing the content (e.g., in maths, science, etc) versus are primarily testing literacy and language skills.
  • A clear scope and sequence that makes linguistic sense for NZ English when teachers teach the alphabet code
  • Explicit instruction in morphology, grammar, and the process of writing
  • De-emphasising handwriting (important but overly emphasised currently) and increased emphasis on the message formulation of writing. I meet too many students who are putting most of their energy into writing neatly and not into learning how to get complex ideas down on to paper (or the screen).
  • Understanding of Nancy Young's Reading Ladder and ensuring that all students get what they need to learn -
  • Timely access to accommodations and explicit instruction (both of these, one to get around gaps and one to fill gaps) for all students who are struggling to develop their reading and writing skills
  • A never too late approach: We also need to ensure that student who are still unable to read and write in high school (be it due to dyslexia, lack of access to appropriate instruction when they are younger, or outside factors such as refuge experiences or trauma that made it hard to learn previously), can still access appropriate instruction to give them the option to catch up, even in the final years of school.
  • For students with more complex needs, the work of Sally Clendon (NZ), Karen Erickson (USA), Jane Farral (Australia), and David A. Koppenhaver (USA) need to be well considered. Whatever we shift to, needs to also cater to the learning needs of the students who are most at risk at being left behind
    • NB - the "balanced literacy" discussed by Erickson et al is not synonmous with the balanced literacy that is associated with whole language. They have switched to discussing these approaches with the term comprehensive literacy.
  • The Better Start Literacy project -
  • The work of the following dedicated people and groups
  • Liz Kane's consultancy
  • The Manifesto over at
  • Literacy needs to be viewed as a key life skill. We need to invest more in teaching these skills. We can't simply increase the pressure and demands on students to demonstrate these skills without effective instruction, resources, and time to practice.
  • As one of my high school student shared "Maths is English, Science is English, Social Studies is English, even my food tech and PE classes are English. Everything is English EXCEPT English. When are they going to teach me to write?! instead of just telling me I need to do well on these assessments I can't do because I can't write."

There are also related projects and research that I trust you are considering:

  • Beasley Lit Review conversation with the NZ Speech-language therapy association
  • Communication Descriptors project via NZCER (related to the PACT tool) - with Sally Clendon and Liz Doell
  • Neurodisability Forum reports -
  • Prof Ian Lambie’s (Chief Science Advisor to the Justice sector) series of reports including “What were they thinking?”
  • Building on Success for All Consultations in 2019

What big transformational shifts need to occur in order to ensure literacy and numeracy are accessible for all akonga?

  • A shift from having to apply to individual funding streams (and the evitable delays each application process takes and the gaps when students shift between funding streams) towards ensuring that the system is well-resourced so that a reasonable expectation that ALL students can receive an appropriate education
  • Having sufficient workforce planned so that schools can start each school year with the staffing needed to effectively teach all learners - This likely means a guarantee of X teaching assistants per 30-60 students, accessing to specialists (SLT, OT, ed pyschs, RTLB) on a weekly basis. Spaces for small group instruction and staffing to do so. There needs to be a baseline level of provision that matches what we already know about the needs of our students. Just as we don't wait until students arrive to start applying to buy chairs and toilet paper, we should have to wait for students to arrive to apply for the workforce and resources they need to learn.
  • Ensuring that all teachers are being prepared to teach diverse learners - and this needs to start in pre-service education and training
  • Ensuring that our learning spaces are conducive from learning - many of the modern learning environments are not accessible to the needs of neurodivergent students. The acoustics and visual noise from student movement can make learning very difficult.
  • A shift from out-of-date practices to more effective methods - specifically away from programmes like Reading recover and whole language towards a systematic approaches that follow the science of reading
  • We need to make tier 1 instruction (whole class, universal) as effective, appropriate, and strong as possible. We also need to have sufficient tier 2 (smaller group, more targeted approaches) and tier 1 ( intensive, sometimes 1:1 and specialised support). Access to specialists who can guide and demonstrate how to teach students with unique language profiles.
  • All students need access to appropriate assistive technology within a term of need being noticed. This needs to be much more streamlined and effective than current systems
  • We need our maths curriculum to be adaptable to the needs of students with language disorders (Developmental Language Disorder is suspected to be present for 7% of all learners, plus all the students with Autism, Intellectual Disability, etc). For some students, the math instruction is so language intensive that maths becomes linguistically inaccessible.

I hope you are able to work closing with the talented and knowledgeable specialists within the Ministry of Education as well. There is a lot of valuable and relevant knowledge held by the frontline speech-language therapists and people like Jeanette Brown ( Specialist Service Lead) and the Ministry's Practice and Implementation Advisors.

Ngā mihi nui Shannon Hennig

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