The education sector is often pilloried for riding the waves of various fads, be it the debate of open and closed teaching spaces, the impact of learning styles, the need to send Year 9's to a distant paddock or offering students a chance to choose their own adventure.

 Any path chosen by any school is forever dependent on a core foundation of education:  students learning to read.

 There has been a recent call to address the way that schools approach initial reading instruction and we are proud that Toowoomba Anglican School is at the forefront of this movement.  For decades, the predominant approach to early instruction has been based on derivatives of the 'whole language' or 'balanced literacy' ideology; a belief that learning to read is a natural process, like learning to speak, and that by exposing young children to books and literature, they will learn to read with very little explicit instruction about how the writing system is systematically mapped to spoken language.  What we know as a society - anecdotally and due to research - is that a number of young people (and now adults) experiencing difficulty acquiring literacy skills with this method of instruction can easily slip through the net.

The call for change has been brought to the attention of non-teachers in recent years, via the debate about the phonics check.  A focus on phonics is not new; however, a novice reader's understanding of how letters spell speech sounds and strings of speech sounds form words has often been assumed, rather than taught explicitly.

 Our approach to initial reading instruction follows the InitiaLit program.  We believe it is vital to ensure that our students understand that the English written language system is a code for spoken language, and have explicit knowledge of how it works - that each of the 26 letters of the alphabet work individually and in combinations to write down the 44 speech sounds in Australian English.   It's complicated!  But best practice in early reading instruction demystifies this process.  Students are never encouraged to look at pictures for clues about unknown words or skip words; their knowledge of the written system allows them to systematically decode words by sounding them out.  Instructional reading material is carefully designed with text using only the code skills that they have learnt to date,  allowing them to practise and refine their reliable decoding skills, and gradually map them to automatic memory.

We are proud to have been an early adopter of InitiaLit, a program now gathering momentum across the country.  For parents in our school, whose youngest have been exposed to this approach, they can see that the difference is palpable.

In terms of our own data, our core testing shows systemic progress and improvement.  Previously, up to 35% of students would take part in a literacy intervention program in Year 1 (our bid to ensure students all reach a minimum standard as early as possible).  In 2019, after the first year of InitiaLit adoption, only 15% of Year 1 students took part in the intervention program.

In 2019, the InitiaLit program moved into Year 1 and Kindergarten and in 2020 it will also stretch to Year 2, giving TAS an extensive K-2 introduction to literacy which will provide students with the best start possible to their schooling.

If you would like to learn more about our use of InitiaLit to give students an excellent foundation to their learning, please feel free to contact Mr Jason Locke, Head of Primary or Mrs Fiona Goodall, Head of Learning Enhancement.  We would be proud to show you the progress our students are making.