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New approach to literacy improving outcomes

05 July 2024

A new approach is accelerating early literacy skills for New Zealand children. 


Photo caption: From left: University of Canterbury Child Well-being Research Institute and co-developer of BSLA Professor Gail Gillon, Programme Co-ordinator Dr Amy Scott and Associate Dean of Post Graduate Research Professor Brigid McNeill

The Better Start Literacy Approach (BSLA), developed by researchers at Te Whare Wānanga o Waitaha | University of Canterbury (UC) is delivering substantial benefits in early literacy achievements for children across the country. 

Designed for the early primary school years in New Zealand, this future-focused approach uses research-backed methods to improve children’s reading, writing, and oral language in children. It is a structured approach to early literacy teaching and includes systematic teaching of phonics, reading, spelling, vocabulary listening comprehension and storytelling skills.

Professor Gail Gillon, Founding Director of the UC’s Child Well-being Research Institute and co-developer of BSLA says the Approach is now being implemented in over half of all the primary schools in New Zealand. “By the end of this year over 6,000 teachers and literacy specialists will have engaged in our BSLA micro-credential which provides them with the necessary training and resources to successfully implement BSLA in their classes.” 

UC's Professor Gillon and Associate Dean of Post Graduate Research Professor Brigid McNeill led the team involved in the development and research.  Their latest findings highlight that children who have received BSLA in their first year at primary school are significantly stronger in their reading, spelling, and oral language skills going into Year 2 than children who received other types of literacy instruction in their first year at school.   

Professor Gillon emphasised the importance of structured literacy approaches tailored to the New Zealand context, especially considering the Government's mandate that all state schools adopt a structured literacy approach by term one, 2025. 

“We want our young children to learn to read in ways that reflect our New Zealand culture context, where they see themselves in the stories they learn to read and where teachers support, respect and nurture children’s cultural identity.  

“We know this is particularly important in supporting our Māori and Pacific learners but also supports the engagement of whānau in their children’s learning,” Professor Gillon says.  

BSLA was specifically designed for large-scale application with provision of online learning and innovative online assessments to monitor children’s early literacy growth that incorporate latest digital technologies in children’s speech recognition. The teacher’s online learning is supported with in-class coaching from literacy specialists, making it an ideal model to fit New Zealand’s nationwide literacy requirements. 

“Ensuring large-scale implementation of structured literacy approaches, such as BSLA, is crucial for developing strong foundational literacy skills and reducing current educational inequities,” Professor Gillon says.  

Funding is provided to teachers and literacy specialists in all state English medium schools by the Ministry of Education.   

UC Child Wellbeing Research Institute BSLA programme co-ordinator Dr Amy Scott says she loves working with teachers across the country and hearing their stories about the difference BSLA is making to children’s learning.    

“Our data shows that the micro-credential model is an effective way to enhance teachers' knowledge about structured literacy teaching. Teacher feedback through our BSLA workshop and micro credential course evaluations is incredibly positive.”  

The Better Start Literacy Approach Micro-credential 

UC offers the BSLA as a 15-point postgraduate level micro-credential for teachers, providing professional development and certification to ensure effective implementation, supported by ongoing coaching and resources. This structured support system empowers teachers nationwide to enhance their literacy instruction. 

Find out more about the Better Start Literacy Approach micro-credential here>

sdg 4 Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) 4 - Quality Education.

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