CSI Literacy NZ

PIRLS of wisdom: How to boost NZ literacy in 2019

PIRLS of wisdom: How to boost NZ literacy in 2019

By Neale Pitches
Co-author of CSI Literacy Kits, Enhance Literacy, and Pathways

Goodbye 2018. And good riddance. Why? Well, in 2018 we read a headline that no educator wants to see:

NZ literacy rankings make poor reading.

(Dominion Post, January 18, 2018)

It was published off the back of the 2016 OECD PIRLS report, that showed New Zealand student scores had dropped in the world rankings of reading achievement.

About the same time, this piece came up, by Professor Stuart McNaughton, published by Education Central.

He made these observations that caught our eye:

  1. The drop in reading scores was more pronounced in the more complex reasoning aspects and with informational texts.
  2. There may be an issue with the reading diet in schools, specifically in the range and variety of texts for reading.
  3. It’s not the decoding of language that is at the root of our problems – it’s comprehension.
  4. With regard to digital devices, it’s generally not screen time that’s an issue – it’s the content and quality of usage.
  5. Engagement and confidence in reading may have dropped and many students in the PIRLS report not be seeing their identity and life experience reflected in everyday school texts.

Not what we want to see! Especially that students are reading less, may be missing out on high-level texts and teaching at school, and may be less engaged in reading in general.

Just how can we all restore Aotearoa New Zealand’s mana in literacy?

  1. Have a greater focus on complex reading – figuring out meanings, appraising and critically reasoning.
  2. Use more informational texts in our classrooms and explicitly teach our students comprehension.
  3. Help students find and use quality content on digital devices, so their world expands from games and social media.
  4. Seek out engaging materials and look for materials that students find interesting and to which they can relate.


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