Literacy: Strengthening reading and comprehension in Junior Secondary

Junior secondary students experience a significant increase in the literacy demands of the complex, multimodal and online texts they encounter. They are required to think critically about, make meaning and apply new vocabulary from subject-specific texts. The development of these literacy skills is the responsibility of all teachers.

The Australian Curriculum states that success depends on being able to use the distinctive literacies of each learning area. Research shows a significant dip in student performance in literacy on entry to secondary school, which is reflected in NAPLAN data.

This course provides opportunities to explore reading and comprehension skills and the literacy demands of texts in learning areas, and identify teaching strategies to strengthen students’ skills.

Module 1: Why is literacy a focus?

An overview of research

Literacy – why is it critical?

In 2013, an international assessment of adult literacy in 24 countries was conducted. 

The findings from Australia indicate that almost 45% of Australians have what is considered to be low levels of literacy. 

Australians aged 15-74 years:

  • 3.7% (620,000) could not read simple texts 
  • 10% (1.7 million) could only read short texts with literal questions 
  • 30% (5.0 million) could only read some complex texts with low level inference.

(Australia Bureau of Statistics, 2013)

Literacy for life

Literacy for life

Low levels of literacy have a direct relationship to social disadvantage including: 

  • low median hourly wage 
  • high unemployment 
  • poor health 
  • belief that they have little impact on political processes 
  • less participation in associative or volunteer activities 
  • less ability to trust others.

(OECD, 2013)


Literacy for life: Video

Video excerpt - from "Reading between the lines" (Insight) - allowed to use? 

Current literacy issues in Junior Secondary

Current literacy issues in Junior Secondary

40,000 Australian 15-year-olds (14% of students) lack the reading skills required to participate adequately in the workforce and to contribute as productive future citizens.

(Masters, 2016)

By the time they reach Year 9, the top 10 per cent of students in Australia are around eight years ahead of the bottom 10 per cent. In a typical school, the spread in Year 9 is around seven years.A study by the ABS shows that NAPLAN scores in Year 9 are a strong predictor of high school completion as well as success after school in study and work.

(Goss & Sonnemann, 2016)

What is literacy?

Literacy is the flexible and sustainable mastery of a repertoire of practices with the texts of traditional and new communications technologies via spoken language, print, and multimedia.

 (Luke, Freebody & Land, 2001)


To be literate varies with history and culture; it is to be literate in a given time and place, to be literate here and now. 

(Freebody, 2007).

In the Australian Curriculum, students become literate as they develop the knowledge, skills and dispositions to interpret and use language confidently for learning and communicating in and out of school and for participating effectively in society. Literacy involves students listening to, reading, viewing, speaking, writing and creating oral, print, visual and digital texts, and using and modifying language for different purposes in a range of contexts.Literacy encompasses the knowledge and skills students need to access, understand, analyse and evaluate information, make meaning, express thoughts and emotions, present ideas and opinions, interact with others and participate in activities at school and in their lives beyond school. Success in any learning area depends on being able to use the significant, identifiable and distinctive literacy that is important for learning and representative of the content of that learning area.Becoming literate is not simply about knowledge and skills. Certain behaviours and dispositions assist students to become effective learners who are confident and motivated to use their literacy skills broadly. Many of these behaviours and dispositions are also identified and supported in other general capabilities. They include students managing their own learning to be self-sufficient; working harmoniously with others; being open to ideas, opinions and texts from and about diverse cultures; returning to tasks to improve and enhance their work; and being prepared to question the meanings and assumptions in texts.

(ACARA, 2017)

Review: True or False?

  • Literacy is a fixed set of knowledge and skills that apply in any context.
  • Literacy is flexible and changing, requiring different knowledge and skills according to context.
  • Literacy allows individuals to interpret and use language confidently for learning and communicating in and out of school and participate effectively in society.

Reflection: What are the current literacy problems for your students?

Key ideas for literacy

Organising elements for Literacy

The key ideas for Literacy are organised into six interrelated elements in the learning continuum, as shown in the figure above.

The Literacy continuum incorporates two overarching processes: 

  • Comprehending texts through listening, reading and viewing
  • Composing texts through speaking, writing and creating.

The following areas of knowledge apply to both processes: 

  • Text knowledge
  • Grammar knowledge
  • Word knowledge
  • Visual knowledge.

(ACARA, 2017)

Activity: Key ideas for literacy

  • Texts
    The means for communication; can be written, spoken, visual, multimodal, and in print or digital/online forms.
  • Comprehending
    This element is about receptive language and involves students using skills and strategies to access and interpret spoken, written, visual and multimodal texts.
  • Composing
    This element is about expressive language and involves students composing different types of texts for a range of purposes as an integral part of learning in all curriculum areas.
  • Text knowledge
    This element involves students understanding how the spoken, written, visual and multimodal texts they compose and comprehend are structured to meet the range of purposes needed in the learning areas.
  • Grammar knowledge
    This element involves students understanding the role of grammatical features in the construction of meaning in the texts they compose and comprehend.
  • Word knowledge
    This element involves students understanding the increasingly specialised vocabulary and spelling needed to compose and comprehend learning area texts.
  • Visual knowledge
    This element involves students understanding how visual information contributes to the meanings created in learning area texts.

Literacy in the learning areas

While much of the explicit teaching of literacy occurs in the English learning area, literacy is strengthened, made specific and extended in other learning areas as students engage in a range of learning activities with significant literacy demands. 
Paying attention to the literacy demands of each learning area ensures that students’ literacy development is strengthened so that it supports subject-based learning.
All teachers need a clear understanding of the literacy demands and opportunities of their learning area/sAll teachers are responsible for teaching the subject-specific literacy of their learning area/s.

(ACARA, 2017)

Review: True or False?

  • Literacy is not a separate component of the Australian Curriculum and does not contain new content.
  • The explicit teaching of literacy only occurs in the English learning area.
  • Literacy is strengthened, made specific and extended in all the learning areas, as students engage in a range of learning activities.
  • All teachers need to understand the literacy demands and opportunities in their learning area/s.

Reflection: What subject-specific literacy demands and opportunities can you think of, in your learning area/s?

Module 2: Literacy issues in Junior Secondary

Factors that affect literacy instruction in Junior Secondary

(Faulkner et al, 2012)

Research identifies that there are influences and 'dilemmas' that impact on pedagogic choices and teachers'attempts to increase the learning area literacy in secondary classrooms.

What are the influences that impact on literacy instruction?

  • The sociocultural context of the school
    the challenges presented at the school and classroom level that impact on instructional approaches
  • Teacher belief systems
    do teachers see literacy as important, or something they need to be responsible for?
  • Teacher decision making processes
    what teachers espouse as good teaching may not be reflected in their classroom instruction

What are the 'dilemmas' that impact on literacy instruction?

Reflection: Consider the influences and 'dilemmas' that can impact on literacy instruction in Junior Secondary. Which of these affect your own context?

Literacy changes from primary to secondary

Literacy changes from primary to secondary

Learning areas put literacy in their own image and likeness and that process starts in upper primary.

Years 7 and 8 can be difficult for students because secondary teachers expect some literacy development that is curriculum specific.

The literacy expectations across Years 5-8 are dramatic and between upper primary and junior secondary large numbers of kids fall of the radar.

(Christie & Derewianka, 2008; Freebody, 2015)


Literacy lessons in the primary years often focus on the mechanics of reading for accuracy and literal, and technical features of textual meaning. Secondary curricula, assessments and teaching practices assume specific curriculum-literacy capabilities among the learners, and thus often focus on content.

(Freebody, 2007)

Check in: True or False?

  • The transition from primary to secondary schooling presents challenges for students because literacy demands become subject-specific.
  • Teachers can assume that Junior Secondary students will have the subject-specific literacies needed to successfully read and comprehend learning area texts.

The Australian Curriculum: Learning Continuum of Literacy

Comprehending texts through listening, reading and viewing

This element is about receptive language and involves students using skills and strategies to access and interpret spoken, written, visual and multimodal texts.

Students navigate, read and view texts using applied topic knowledge, vocabulary, word and visual knowledge. They listen and respond to spoken audio and multimodal texts, including listening for information, listening to carry out tasks and listening as part of participating in classroom activities and discussions. Students use a range of strategies to comprehend, interpret and analyse these texts, including retrieving and organising literal information, making and supporting inferences and evaluating information and points of view. In developing and acting with literacy, students:

  • navigate, read and view learning area texts
  • listen and respond to learning area texts
  • interpret and analyse learning area texts.

The element of Comprehending texts can apply to students at any point in their schooling. 

(ACARA, 2017)

Progression of comprehension skills across Years 6 to 10


(ACARA, 2017)

Review: Navigate read and view learning area texts

Navigate, read and view learning area texts:

a) Typically, by the end of Year 6, students navigate, read and view and  

 

b) Typically, by the end of Year 8, students navigate, read and view and  

 

c) Typically, by the end of Year 10, students navigate, read and view and  

Review: Listen and respond to learning area texts

 Listen and respond to learning area texts

a) By the end of Year 6, students typically listen to , including audio-visual texts, responding to and interpreting  

 

b) By the end of Year 8, students typically listen to , including audio-visual texts, responding to and interpreting  

 

c) By the end of Year 10, students typically listen to , including audio-visual texts, responding to, interpreting  

Review: Interpret and analyse learning area texts:

Interpret and analyse learning area texts:

a) Also by the end of Year 6, students typically use comprehension strategies to  and  

 

b) Also by the end of Year 8, students typically use comprehension strategies to  and  

 

c) Also by the end of Year 10, students typically use comprehension strategies to  and  

A model of literacy progression

A model of literacy progression

Research indicates that, as students move through their school years, there is an increasing specialisation in the area of literacy development. The literacies become far more discipline specific as students progress through secondary school. The pyramid structure below illustrates the increasing specialisation of literacy skills, and could also accurately illustrate the declining amount of instructional support for literacy offered as students move through these years of schooling.

(Shanahan and Shanahan, 2008)

...when students enter the secondary classroom it is not too late to support spelling, vocabulary development and comprehension through carefully planned teaching and learning, and that all of these dimensions of literacy are developmental. Indeed, it should not and cannot be expected that students entering secondary school have sufficient knowledge and mastery of literacy to support their learning across the curriculum for the rest of their time at school; literacy is developmental and literacy learning should continue throughout adolescence and into adulthood.

(Faulkner et. al., 2012)

Check in: Learning area literacy, or understanding the languages, texts, and literacy practices of a learning area means developing the capacity to:

  • read and understand learning area texts
  • construct texts appropriate to that area
  • think about, discuss, interact with, and use these texts in subject-specific ways.

Achievement Standards: Vocabulary

Achievement Standards in Years 7-10

An analysis of the Achievement Standards from the Australian Curriculum, for all learning areas, across 7-10 illustrates the most common cognitions expected from students at that year level. 

Students are expected to demonstrate their comprehension of learning area texts in a subject through a range of cognitions: explain, analyse, evaluate, identify, describe, apply and so on… all of which involve high-level literacy skills.

Examine the word clouds above showing the vocabulary of the Achievement Standards across years 7-10. Remember that the words that are the biggest in the word cloud are the ones that appear most often in the Achievement Standards.

Activity: Achievement Standards vocabulary

  • explain
    Provide additional information that demonstrates understanding of reasoning and/or application
  • analyse
    Consider in detail for the purpose of finding  meaning or relationships, and identifying patterns, similarities and differences
  • evaluate
    Examine and judge the merit or significance of  something
  • identify
    Establish who or what or indicate someone or something
  • describe
    Give an account of characteristics or features
  • apply
    Use, utilise or employ in a particular situation
  • interpret
    Explaining the meaning of information or actions
  • justify
    Show how an argument or conclusion is right or reasonable

Vocabulary in the learning areas

Vocabulary in the learning areas

On average only 1.4% of social studies, mathematics, science, and arts instructional time is devoted to vocabulary development.

Research indicates teachers are effectively teaching students the specialised and technical vocabulary that is domain or subject-specific  but less  effectively teaching:

  • the general academic vocabulary that is consistent across learning areas (such as the cognitive verbs examined from the Achievement Standards)
  • the specialised vocabulary that changes meaning in different learning area contexts. For example: prime  and proof have different meaning in mathematics than in other contexts

(Shanahan, Fisher & Frey, 2012)

Reflection: What words can you think of that have different meanings in different learning areas?

Review: True or false?

  • Literacy requirements are the same across learning areas.
  • Students require explicit teaching of subject-specific vocabulary to develop learning area literacy.
  • The literacy required in Maths is different to the literacy of Science or HPE.
  • General literacy knowledge and skills, such as grammar and punctuation, are only taught in primary school.
  • All teachers are responsible for teaching the subject-specific literacy of their learning area/s.

Module 3: Reading in Junior Secondary

Core beliefs about reading as learning

Core beliefs about reading as learning

  • Learning is social.
  • Conversations are critical for learning. 
  • Reading, writing and oral language instruction must be integrated. 
  • Learners require a gradual release of responsibility.

(Fisher & Frey, 2007)

Activity: Core beliefs about reading as learning

  • Learning is social.
    Students benefit from opportunities to work together, learning with and from each other.
  • Conversations are critical for learning.
    Students and teachers should talk about texts including how and why they use different skills and strategies for reading comprehension.
  • Reading, writing and oral language instruction must be integrated.
    Teaching students to read and comprehend should be explicitly linked to writing for a purpose and audience as well as listening and speaking.
  • Learners require a gradual release of responsibility.
    Reading and comprehension skills can be scaffolded using an instructional model that moves the responsibility of the learning process from the teacher to the eventual independence of the learner.

Activity: Gradual release of responsibility

  • "I do it"
  • "We do it"
  • "You do it together"
  • "You do it alone"

The reading-writing connection

The reading-writing connection

The reading and writing connection that we are after is an actual connection that happens inside the student’s head. It’s what happens when students begin to look at a piece of literature with the eyes of a writer or when they are drafting and composing their own writing with the sense that there will be a reader on the other side.

(Stenhouse Publishers, 2014)

Texts in Junior Secondary

The major difference between reading in primary and reading in secondary is the transition from learning to read to reading to learn.

(Lee & Spratley, 2010)

Reading is not separate from content learning, but is intimately connected. Texts are used to provide the material that students can explore, debate, analyse, and evaluate as they construct an understanding of the big ideas of history, science, mathematics and the arts.

(Lattimer, 2010)

Reading in Junior Secondary

Reading in Junior Secondary

Reading is not separate from content learning, but is intimately connected.Texts are used to provide the material that students can explore, debate, analyse, and evaluate as they construct an understanding of the big ideas of history, science, mathematics and the arts.

(Lattimer, 2010)

True or False: In the Australian Curriculum, a text:

  • is a means for communication
  • can be written, spoken or multimodal
  • has formulaic and sharply defined distinctions and features
  • includes print and digital/online forms
  • include all forms of Augmentative and Alternative Communication (AAC), for example gesture, signing, real objects, photographs, pictographs and braille.

Reflection: Brainstorm the text types that students might read, view or listen to in your learning area/s?

A day in the life of an adolescent reader

As well as myriad everyday texts...

from text messages through to social media applications, television and movies, websites and even road signs.


QCAA NAPLAN analyses - need to add text here - web link? Insert document? Not sure?

Heading 1 text goes here

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Reading challenges for students

NAPLAN Reading results indicate six 'struggles' in reading comprehension


Six 'struggles' in reading comprehension

  • Figurative language: how it encapsulates meaning or a writer’s intent 
  • Terminology: eg. tone, imagery, theme, metaphor
  • Abstract vocabulary: eg. representation, injustice 
  • Nominalised words

  • identify main idea in whole text, paragraph, or sentence 
  • requires analysis and synthesis 
  • describes how a text’s purpose influences its language features 
  • reveals writer’s (and character’s) intent, attitude, motivation, tone 
  • links to higher order inference


  • real world links and associations 
  • scope, reliability and accuracy of information
  • read to make decisions, solve problems and predict outcomes


  • generic features of different text types 
  • hybrid texts drawing from different genres
  • grammatical choices shape the form of a text 
  • reading whole text not just individual parts 
  • interrelationship of elements


  • grammatical and lexical resources that make texts cohesive
  • connecting whole texts 
  • word relationships 
  • understanding meaning of conjunctions and connectives


  • 600 word texts 
  • questions that require multiple steps through the text 
  • engaging boys in reading complex and longer texts

Reading texts across the curriculum

Reading in the learning areas

Regardless of the subject, reading must be seen as a process that involves students in:

  • predicting 
  • activating background knowledge 
  • clarifying vocabulary
  • asking questions and adjusting understandings 
  • making connections and using new information in different ways. 

Research shows that these target skills are seen to be essential for students' effective engagement with the body of knowledge that defines a learning area.

(Faulkner et.al., 2012)

Individual teachers can begin a process of pointing out to students the different ways in which different texts build knowledge; how language and visual information work together in different ways in different curriculum areas.

(Freebody, n.d.)

Example: There were 22 people at a party. The cost was $24 per person, plus $40 extra for the cake. Which of these shows how to calculate the total cost of the party in dollars?

  • A. (40 + 24) x 22
  • B. (22 x 24) + 40
  • C. 22 + 24 + 40
  • D. 22 x 24

Activity: Analysing texts - waiting on word from Sharon Chapman team re: allowed to use texts?

Waiting for answer/advice from Sharon Chapman re: texts we can use here - these wilkl form basis for rest of this module.

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Module 4: Reading comprehension strategies

Reading comprehension strategies

Reading comprehension strategies

These strategies are all 'during reading' strategies that can assist students to overcome the six 'struggles' in reading comprehension identified in the previous module.

Activity: Reading comprehension strategies

  • 1. Text organisation
    The patterns, conventions or structures authors use to communicate complex information in particular text types.
  • 2. Cohesion
    The links made between various items in the text so the reader is able to track how the meaning is being developed. For example text connectives, reference, synonyms.
  • 3. Visuals in texts
    How the features in visual aspects of texts are combined to create meaning and to achieve the intended purpose.

1. Text organisation: Patterns in texts

Patterns in texts

Students who are aware of the patterns authors use to communicate complex information have an advantage in making sense of texts. 

(Shanahan, Fisher & Frey, 2012)

Some of the most common patterns seen in texts in Junior Secondary are:

  • Description 
  • Compare/Contrast 
  • Cause and Effect 
  • Problem and Solution 
  • Time Sequence 
  • Classification 
  • Symbolic

A shared understanding and language around these patterns enable teachers to apply a consistent approach across learning areas.

Activity: Patterns in texts

  • A text that describes something by using detailed information and usually includes a definition.
  • Two things are examined for their similarities, definitions or both. The supporting details explain how these things are alike and/or different.
  • Information is given to explain why something has happened or the results of an action. Supporting details explain why.
  • Information is expressed as a dilemma or concerning issue and something that was, can be, or should be done to remedy this issue.
  • Information is organised by the order in which it occurs.
  • Information is structured by type, kind or group. The supporting details describe the characteristics of each group and give examples.
  • Includes abbreviations, symbols, equations, diagrams or graphs. The supporting details explain the symbolism being used or the interpretation of the diagram/graph.

1. Text organisation: Graphic organisers

Graphic organisers

The graphic representation of the patterns in texts helps students:

  • identify the main idea/s
  • summarise/synthesise the main idea/s
  • identify relationships in texts
  • recall important information.

Activity: Read text - organise using graphic organiser _waiting for word on NAPLAN texts

2. Cohesion: Text connectives

Text connectives

Provide readers with signposts indicating how the text is developing and linking stretches of text. Text connectives can be used for the purposes of:

  • clarifying
  • showing cause/result
  • indicating time
  • sequencing ideas
  • adding information
  • stating condition/concession.

Conjunctions join two clauses and only operate within a sentence. Text connectives, on the other hand, form links between sentences and other longer stretches of texts.

(Derewianka, 2011)

Activity: Text connectives

2. Cohesion: Reference

Reference

Words that refer back to something that has already been mentioned. Reference adds to cohesion across a text by making links between parts of the text so that readers can follow the development of meaning.

This can cause comprehension problems when: 

  • the thing being referred to is far away in the text 
  • there are multiple things being referred to 
  • the referring word refers back to a long stretch of text or to something vague and difficult to retrieve.

(Derewianka, 2011)

Examples of reference


Trees absorb carbon dioxide from the atmosphere and use it to make starch for food. This is called photosynthesis.


The researchers at the Kathmandu-based International Centre for Integrated Mountain Development (ICIMOD) monitor the condition of the glaciers and advise on sustainable land management in the HKH region. Collecting accurate information is essential to their work.

Activity: Identifying reference

2. Cohesion: Synonyms

Synonyms

Writers often use words that have a similar meaning, as a less direct way of making links.

Using synonyms adds interest and subtlety to a text but can make comprehension of meaning difficult for struggling readers.

Myths narrate sacred histories and explain sacred origins. These traditional narratives are, in short, a set of beliefs that are a very real force in the lives of the people who tell them.

Activity: Synonyms (need to base on text when decided)

  • Define your key...
    Define your answer...
  • Define your key...
    Define your answer...

3. Visuals in texts

Visuals in texts

When consuming or producing multimodal texts the ability to analyse how the semiotic systems are combined to achieve the intended purpose is critical. In addition to this students need to understand the meanings conveyed by each semiotic system.

(WA: Dept. of Ed., 2013)

Interpreting visuals

Breaking it into manageable 'chunks' for students

  • Read the text and remind students to look at the visual/s
  • Identify the links between information in the text and the visual
  • Identify the purpose of the visual
  • Break down the features

Purpose

Identify the purpose of the visual/s:

  • Exemplify: Gives an example of something from the text
  • Contextualise: Helps you understand how something happens
  • Clarify: Shows something that is hard to explain with words
  • Extend: Adds new information

Features

Break down the features of the visual/s:

Modelling reading comprehension

Modelling reading comprehension: 'Think-aloud'

Involves a proficient reader (teacher) modelling their thinking out loud to students, as they read a text.

They model reading comprehension: 

  • Using a conversational manner 
  • Illustrating and scaffolding for students 
  • Pointing out features and structures of the text 
  • Moving to less difficult related texts if needed 
  • Figuring out unknown vocab 
  • Using electronic resources to support 
  • Summarising and synthesising information