Learning Difficulties Australia


Effective Instruction

Key Research Papers: General
Project Follow Through
Direct Instruction
Programs and Resources: General
Government initiatives
Useful Links

Key Research Papers


The Santiago Declaration
The education of young children has become an international priority. Science offers irrefutable evidence that high-quality early childhood education better prepares children for the transition to formal education. It helps each child reach his or her potential in reading, mathematics, and social skills. Around the world, there is renewed interest in investing in young children to prepare them for future participation in a global economy. This interest is manifest not only in governmental policies (from Japan to the United States to Chile) but also in popular culture through the media and commercial endeavors marketing educational products to the parents of young children. As internationally recognized scientists in child development, we applaud the attention now directed to the world’s youngest citizens, but we also urge that policies, standards, curricula, and to the extent possible, commercial ventures be based on the best scientific research and be sensitive to evidence-based practice.

Why Can't a Teacher Be More Like a Scientist? Science, Pseudoscience and the Art of Teaching
Author: Mark Carter, Kevin Wheldall - Macquarie University Special Education Centre
Australasian Journal of Special Education, 32:1, 5 – 21 01 April 2008
In this article, the authors argue the case for scientific evidenced-based practice in education. They consider what differentiates science from pseudoscience and what sources of information teachers typically regard as reliable. The What Works Clearinghouse is discussed with reference to certain limitations of its current operation. Given the relative paucity of ‘gold standard’ research in education, an alternative model for assessing the efficacy of educational programs is proposed as a temporary solution.

What Does Evidence-Based Practice in Education Mean?

Dr Kerry Hempenstall, RMIT University 
(Paper presented by Dr Kerry Hempenstall, on his acceptance of the 2006 Mona Tobias Award at the LDA National Conference, Wesley College, St Kilda Road, Melbourne, 19 August 2006)

Teaching has suffered both as a profession in search of community respect, and as a force for improving the social capital of Australia because of its failure to adopt the results of empirical research as the major determinant of its practice. There are a number of reasons why this has occurred, among them a science-aversive culture endemic among education policymakers and teacher education faculties. There are signs that change may be afoot. The National Inquiry into the Teaching of Literacy has pointed to, and urged us to follow, a direction similar to that taken recently in Great Britain and the USA towards evidence-based practice. Acknowledging the importance of teacher education, the National Institute for Quality Teaching and School Leadership began a process for establishing national accreditation of pre-service teacher education. Two problems do require attention. The generally low quality of much educational research in the past has made the process of evaluating the evidence difficult, particularly for those teachers who have not the training to discriminate sound from unsound research designs. Fortunately, there are a number of august bodies that have performed the sifting process to simplify judging the value of research on important educational issues.
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A Seven Year Study of the Effects of Synthetic Phonics Teaching on Reading and Spelling Attainment
Authors: Rhona S Johnston and Joyce E Watson (Scotland)
We have carried out a study on around 300 children of the effectiveness of a synthetic phonics programme that was taught in Primary 1.Performance on this programme was compared with performance on atypical analytic phonics programme, and also with performance on a similar programme that included a substantial element of phonological awareness training. The synthetic phonics programme was by far the most effective in developing literacy skills.
In several publications the authors have charted the development of the children's literacy skills up to the end of Primary 5.  This Insight report describes the progress the children have made from Primary 1 through to the end of Primary 7, focusing on comparing the attainment of boys with that of girls, and the extent to which children underachieve when taught by the synthetic phonics programme, and the impact that synthetic phonics teaching has on the literacy skills of children from disadvantaged backgrounds.

Research on Learning to Read and Spell - Personal-Historical Perspective
Authors: Linnea C. Ehri  Published on-line by The Riggs Institute
This presidential address was delivered at the 1997 annual meeting of Society for the Scientific Study of Reading (SSSR) Chicago. Ehri provides a glimpse of her experiences conducting research on word reading processes in beginning readers for over 20 years. At the outset, she proposed a theory that the spellings of individual words become bonded to their pronunciations in memory, and she conducted studies to obtain evidence for this theory. This led her into various controversies with other researchers over issues such as whether phonemic awareness is a cause or consequence of learning to read, to what extent beginning readers use visual cues or alphabetic cues to read their first words. The disagreements proving most fruitful were those which spawned additional research. Disputes considered unproductive and even harmful were those involving dogmatic views not open to empirical evidence and maligning appelations intended to implant prejudice. This recounting of her career underscores the value of a systematic line of research as well as intensive discussion with other researchers.

Neuroscience and education: from research to practice?
Usha Goswami
Cognitive neuroscience is making rapid strides in areas highly relevant to education. However, there is a gulf between current science and direct classroom applications. Most scientists would argue that filling the gulf is premature. Nevertheless, at present, teachers are at the receiving end of numerous 'brain-based learning' packages. Some of these contain alarming amounts of misinformation, yet such packages are being used in many schools. What, if anything, can neuroscientists do to help good neuroscience into education?

Closing The Gap Between Research And Practice: Foundations For The Acquisition Of Literacy
Author: Molly de Lemos
Over the years two main approaches have emerged in the teaching and learning of reading and writing. One is the 'whole language' approach; the other concentrates more on instruction in phonics. This paper focuses on the theoretical assumptions underlying these two approaches to the teaching of literacy, and the studies which have been undertaken, in the international arena, to find out how children progress, from their earliest educational years, in attaining both initial reading skills and lifelong literacy.

Beyond No Child Left Behind: Value-Added Assessment of Student Progress
Authors: D. Sean Shurtleff and Jesus Loredo
National Center for Public Policy Analysis, October 2008
The federal No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB) requires each state to evaluate every public school annually, and to make „adequate yearly progress toward helping all students meet or exceed state standards in reading and math by 2014. However, each state defines its progress and creates its own tests. Most states measure academic achievement based on pass-fail tests that require students to attain a minimum score.
Unfortunately, pass-fail test scores do not tell administrators which teachers are most effective or how much students have improved. Value-Added Assessment (VAA) is an alternative methodology that evaluates educational progress based on the growth of each student's knowledge base, rather than the attainment of particular test scores.

A Longitudinal Investigation of the Relationship Between Reform-Oriented Instruction and Student Achievement
(USA) Rand Corporation, 2006
This impressive study comes up with some surprisingly candid observations about constructivist math and science.

Long-Run Trends in School Productivity: Evidence From Australia
Author: Andrew Leigh, Chris Ryan
Outside the United States (U.S.), very little is known about long-run trends in school productivity. We present new evidence using two data series from Australia, where comparable tests are available back to the 1960s. For young teenagers (aged 13-14), we find a small but statistically significant fall in numeracy over the period 1964-2003, and in both literacy and numeracy over the period 1975-1998. The decline is in the order of one-tenth to one-fifth of a standard deviation. Adjusting this decline for changes in student demographics does not affect this conclusion; if anything, the decline appears to be more acute. The available evidence also suggests that any changes in student attitudes, school violence, and television viewing are unlikely to have had a major impact on test scores. Real per-child school expenditure increased substantially over this period, implying a fall in school productivity. Although we cannot account for all the phenomena that might have affected school productivity, we identify a number of plausible explanations.

Strong Performers and Successful Reformers in Education: Lessons from PISA for the United States © OECD 2010
The OECD Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) provides the world’s most extensive and rigorous set of international surveys assessing the knowledge and skills of secondary school students. This volume combines an analysis of PISA with a description of the policies and practices of those education systems around the world, country by country, that are close to the top or advancing rapidly, in order to offer insights for policy from their reform trajectories.

Comparative Preschool Study: High and Low Socioeconomic Preschoolers Learning Advanced Cognitive Skills
Author:  Siegfried Engelmann 

During the summer of 1964, the investigator, Siegfried Engelmann, a research associate with the Institute for Research on Exceptional children at the University of Illinois, worked with two groups of preschool children, teaching them content that would be highly unfamiliar to any preschoolers. The children in Group 1 were African American children of lower socioeconomic status (SES). The children in Group 2 were Caucasians of higher SES. On every working day during the experiment, the investigator worked with each group for about 20 minutes. The concern in 1964 over children who experienced 'cultural deprivation' made the experiment important in two ways. It provided a detailed comparison of two groups that were to be taught the same content. The content required children to learn 'formal operations' as described by Piaget. The goals of the study were to demonstrate the extent to which a) preschool children could learn formal operations, b) the learning patterns differed across the two groups, and c) the type of mistakes and problems children had in learning the content.

Improving Reading Rate of Low Performers
Author: Siegfried Engelmann
Trying to improve the reading rate of very low performers can be a frustrating experience for both learner and teacher. The learner typically knows that the goal is to read faster, without making a flurry of mistakes, and the learner tries, but the added effort most frequently leads to word guessing, word skipping, word stuttering, and to greatly increased physical signs of high energy, such as clenching their fists, taking deep breaths, and even sweating. The student knows how to try hard physically and thatʼs what he does. But it doesnʼt work for reading faster. For the teacher, the task is almost as unfulfilling. The teacher has standards and expectations based on achieving projected “benchmarks,” but the learner does not achieve the benchmarks, even when the teacher tries to add stronger reinforcement for reading faster. After trying a few attractive reinforcers, the teacher may even notice that the more desirable the reinforcement the student has earned, the more the student reads with increased signs of energy, but with even less success.

Best practice? Advice provided to teachers about the use of Brain Gym® in Australian schools

Authors: Stephenson, Jennifer (2009) Australian Journal of Education: Vol. 53: Iss. 2, Article 1.

Perceptual motor programs continue to be used in Australian schools despite evidence showing they do not influence academic learning. Brain Gym® is one perceptual motor program that is used in schools in Australia and overseas. There is little evidence to support the claims made about the benefits of Brain Gym®; its theoretical underpinning has been subject to criticism by neuroscientists. A search was made of Internet sites, including state department of education sites to locate information provided to teachers about Brain Gym®. Although education departments and others responsible for providing advice and professional development to teachers espouse research-based practice, they continue to endorse and support the use of Brain Gym®.


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Project Follow Through

EFFECTIVE School Practices,
Volume 15 Number 1, Winter 1995-6
The Story Behind Project Follow Through
Bonnie Grossen, Editor
“Project Follow Through (FT) remains today the world's largest educational experiment. It began in 1967 as part of President Johnson's ambitious War on Poverty and continued until the summer of 1995, having cost about a billion dollars. Over the first 10 years more than 22 sponsors worked with over 180 sites at a cost of over $500 million in a massive effort to find ways to break the cycle of poverty through improved education.”

Comparative Preschool Study: High and Low Socioeconomic Preschoolers Learning Advanced Cognitive Skills
Author: Siegfried Engelmann
During the summer of 1964, the investigator, Siegfried Engelmann, a research associate with the Institute for Research on Exceptional children at the University of Illinois, worked with two groups of preschool children, teaching them content that would be highly unfamiliar to any preschoolers. The children in Group 1 were African American children of lower socioeconomic status (SES). The children in Group 2 were Caucasians of higher SES. On every working day during the experiment, the investigator worked with each group for about 20 minutes. The concern in 1964 over children who experienced 'cultural deprivation' made the experiment important in two ways. It provided a detailed comparison of two groups that were to be taught the same content. The content required children to learn 'formal operations' as described by Piaget. The goals of the study were to demonstrate the extent to which a) preschool children could learn formal operations, b) the learning patterns differed across the two groups, and c) the type of mistakes and problems children had in learning the content.
Available at: www.zigsite.com/PDFs/CompPreschool.pdf

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Direct Instruction

National Institute for Direct Instruction
The National Institute for Direct Instruction (NIFDI) is the world's foremost Direct Instruction (DI) support provider.  This website provides information and resources for administrators, teachers, and parents to help them maximize student achievement through DI.  
The website also contains information on DI's extensive and broad research base, including a searchable database of more than one hundred article summaries.

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MultiLit is a research initiative of Macquarie University, Sydney.
Since 1990, a research team led by Professor Kevin Wheldall from Macquarie University Special Education Centre (MUSEC) has been researching more effective ways of managing children’s behaviour in the classroom and how best to teach children who struggle to learn to read.
In 1995, Professor Wheldall launched the Making Up Lost Time In Literacy (or MultiLit) Initiative at MUSEC as a focus for a program of research and product development. The MultiLit Reseach Unit was established in 2006 as the focus for continuing research.
The early MultiLit research (1996 – 1998) is detailed in the report commissioned by the Commonwealth Department of Education, Training and Youth Affairs (DETYA, now DEEWR) entitled ‘An Evaluation of MultiLit’ (Wheldall & Beaman, 2000).
To keep up to date with research from the MultiLit Research Unit (MRU), click on What’s New at MRU?
A list of Research Publications by members of MRU published since 2000 is available.
Members of MRU have also contributed regularly to the series of MUSEC Briefings, one page summaries of sometimes controversial programs and practices, published by Macquarie University Special Education Centre (MUSEC).

Effective instruction for socially disadvantaged low-progress readers
The Schoolwise Program
Kevin Wheldall, MULTILIT Research Unit, Macquarie University, Australia
(This paper was prepared for the 2008 LDA Mona Tobias lecture, and was subsequently published in the Australian Journal of Learning Difficulties, Vol 14 (2) 2009, Copyright Taylor & Francis.)
In this article, I consider social class and reading performance, outline a non-categorical approach to reading disability, describe the reading intervention program we have developed for older low-progress readers, and seek to demonstrate how students from socially disadvantaged backgrounds can, and do, make substantial progress when offered effective reading instruction based on the available scientific research evidence. Click here to access Professor Kevin Wheldall's 2008 Mona Tobias lecture.  

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Programs and Resources


As a professional association of teachers of students with specific learning difficulties, Patoss is for all those concerned with the teaching and support of pupils with SpLD: dyslexic, dyspraxic, ADD, and Aspergers syndrome. Patoss was formed in 1987 as an association representing teachers who had gained the RSA Diploma for Teachers of Students with Specific Learning Difficulties. Since then, the number of Patoss members has grown to over 2000, working with students across the age range from primary through adult.
If you are seeking information or advice have a look at our information sheets http://www.patoss-dyslexia.org/SupportAdvice/InformationSheets/

Visible Learning for Teachers: Maximizing Impact on Learning
Author: John Hattie
"In November 2008, John Hattie's ground-breaking book Visible Learning synthesised the results of more than 15 years research involving millions of students and represented the biggest ever collection of evidence-based research into what actually works in schools to improve learning. Visible Learning for Teachers takes the next step and brings those ground breaking concepts to completely new audiences.

Intensive instructional support for primary or secondary students with reading difficulties.
Corrective Reading provides intensive, sustained direct instruction to address deficiencies in decoding and comprehension.
Designed to provide differentiated personalised instruction to each learner.
A complete core programme that uses:
Two major strands and four instructional levels address a wide range of reading problems.
The Decoding and Comprehension strands can be used separately as a supplemental reading intervention or combined for use as a comprehensive reading intervention programme.
Multiple points of entry and fast-cycle options appropriately address skill levels of students in Grades 4-Adult.
Fully integrated assessments monitor progress and guide movement through the programme.
Choose the Decoding strand for students who do not read accurately or whose oral reading is choppy, as well as for less fluent readers who lack comprehension when they read.
Select the Comprehension strand for students who need to develop vocabulary, background information, and reasoning skills that are the foundation of comprehension.

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Testing: Myths & Realities
WrightsLaw, August 21, 2003.
This article starts with a short preamble "Why Tests Are Necessary" and then tackles these "9 Myths About Testing":
•    Myth: Testing suppresses teaching and learning.
•    Myth: Testing narrows the curriculum by rewarding test-taking skills.
•    Myth: Testing promotes "teaching to the test."
•    Myth: Testing does not measure what a student should know.
•    Myth: Annual testing places too much emphasis on a single exam.
•    Myth: Testing discriminates against different styles of test takers.
•    Myth: Testing provides little helpful information and accomplishes nothing.
•    Myth: Testing hurts the poor and people of color.
•    Myth: Testing will increase dropout rates and create physical and emotional illness in children.

Big Ideas in Beginning Reading
Types of Reading Assessments
An effective, comprehensive reading program includes reading assessments for four purposes:
•    Screening - Designed as a first step in identifying children who may be at high risk for delayed development or academic failure and in need of further diagnosis of their need for special services or additional reading instruction.
•    Diagnostic - Helps teachers plan instruction by providing in-depth information about students' skills and instructional needs.
•    Progress Monitoring - Determines through frequent measurement if students are making adequate progress or need more intervention to achieve grade-level reading outcomes.
•    Outcome - Provides a bottom-line evaluation of the effectiveness of the reading program in relation to established performance levels.

DIBELS (Dynamic Indicators of Basic Early Literacy Skills)
University of Oregon Center on Teaching and Learning
Dynamic Indicators of Basic Early Literacy Skills (DIBELS) are a set of assessments used for universal screening and progress monitoring in grades K-6. They are standardized, efficient and extensively researched.What do DIBELS do? They help educators identify students who may need additional literacy instruction in order to become proficient readers. DIBELS can be an integral part of most RTI programs.

MOTIf: A new resource for LDA and other professionals
The Macquarie Online Test Interface (MOTIf), developed by Anne Castles and Genevieve McArthur from Macquarie University, is a resource that allows cognitive tests developed by researchers at Macquarie to be administered online. It enables researchers, clinicians and teachers to access and run a range of cognitive tests, both for research purposes and for the purposes of assessment of cognitive functioning in children with and without developmental disorders. Several tests of reading and spelling are available, and the site is regularly updated with new tests and with normative data for existing tests. Access to the site, and use of the tests, is free of charge.

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Government Initiatives

A Summary of UK Government Initiatives on the teaching of reading from 1988 to 2007
prepared by Jennifer Chew for the UK Reading Reform Foundation.

Beginning Reading: Influence on Policy in the United States and England 1998 - 2010
Author: Beth Robins

Report of the National Reading Panel: Teaching Children to Read
In 1997, Congress asked the Director of the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development (NICHD)* at the National Institutes of Health, in consultation with the Secretary of Education, to convene a national panel to assess the effectiveness of different approaches used to teach children to read.

A Synthesis of Research on Reading from the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development
Author: Bonita Grossen
University of Oregon November , 1997

The National Institute of Child Health and Development (NICHD) educational research program, initiated in 1965, began to focus more on reading difficulties as it became clear how extensive the reading problem was in the general population. The 1985 Health Research Extension Act resulted in a new charge to the NICHD to improve the quality of reading research by conducting long-term, prospective, longitudinal, and multidisciplinary research. Reid Lyon led the new charge by closely coordinating the work of over 100 researchers in medicine, psychology, and education in approximately 14 different research centers. (Numbers vary from year to year.)

NRP, National Reading Panel (USA)
In 1997, Congress asked the Director of the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development (NICHD) at the National Institutes of Health, in consultation with the Secretary of Education, to convene a national panel to assess the effectiveness of different approaches used to teach children to read. For over two years, the NRP reviewed research-based knowledge on reading instruction and held open panel meetings in Washington, DC, and regional meetings across the United States. On April 13, 2000, the NRP concluded its work and submitted "The Report of the National Reading Panel: Teaching Children to Read. The NRP Web Site is updated regularly with information about NRP publications and materials. This site is also an archive, featuring the congressional charge to the NRP, biographies of NRP members, meeting minutes, and other historical information.

On 30 November 2004 the then Minister for Education, Science and Training, the Hon Dr Brendan Nelson MP, announced details about the Australian Government National Inquiry into the Teaching of Literacy. The Inquiry was a broad, independent examination of reading research, teacher preparation and practices for the teaching of literacy, particularly reading.
The Committee‚s report, Teaching Reading, comprises the Report and Recommendations, a Guide to the Report and Recommendations for Parents and Carers, a Literature Review, Submission Summaries hyper-linked to Submissions to the Inquiry and Site Visits.

Read report here.

Rose Review (UK)
UK Independent review of the teaching of early reading chaired by Jim Rose

In 2006 Sir Jim Rose completed his independent review of the teaching of early reading. The review report provided clear recommendations on what constitutes 'high quality phonics work'. These recommendations were also summarised in the Core Position Paper 'Phonics and early reading: an overview for head teachers, literacy leaders and teachers in schools, and managers and practitioners in Early Years settings'. All principles underpinning these recommendations have been incorporated into the revised Primary Framework for literacy and the new Early Years Foundation Stage.

Phonic Check
UK Process evaluation of the Year 1 Phonics Screening Check Pilot
Research Report DFE-RR159

In the 2010 White Paper The Importance of Teaching the DfE signaled its intent to introduce a Phonics Screening Check at the end of Year 1 (to five and six year old pupils). The Phonics Screening Check is designed to be a light touch, summative assessment of phonics ability. It includes a list of 40 words - half real, half pseudo - which each pupil reads one-to-one with a teacher. By introducing the Check the Government hopes to identify pupils with below expected progress in phonic decoding. These pupils will receive additional intervention and then retake the Check to assess the extent to which their phonics ability has improved, relative to the expected level.
The aim of the Pilot was to assess how pupils and teachers responded to different versions of the Check and its administration. The DfE recruited 300 schools to take part in the Pilot. All 300 schools administered the Check with Year 1 pupils during, or shortly after, the week of 13th June 2011. Across the 300 schools, the Pilot trialled a total of 360 words (each read by around 1,000 pupils).

UK Year One Phonics Screening Check – Pilot 2011 Technical Report
What is this document about?
This document provides a technical evaluation of the Year 1 phonics screening check, including information relating to Ofqual’s common assessment criteria of validity, reliability, minimising bias, comparability and manageability as set out in its Regulatory Framework for National Assessment arrangements (Ofqual, 2011).
Who is this document for?
This document is primarily aimed at a technical audience, but contains information that will be of interest to all stakeholders involved in the Year 1 phonics screening check, including schools.

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Useful Links

Teach Effectively
This site features evidence-based teaching methods for helping students who are at risk for school failure or who have disabilities. The CEC Alerts series is an initiative of the Council for Exceptional Children. The site offers evaluations of various approaches. They recommend some activities as well supported - GO FOR IT: Phonological Awareness instruction, Class-wide Peer Tutoring, Mnemonic Instruction, Formative Evaluation, and Direct Instruction. They are less enamoured by the research behind other activities - USE CAUTION: Social Skills Instruction, Reading Recovery, Co-Teaching, High-Stakes Assessment

ADI – Association for Direct instruction (USA)
ADI is a non-profit organization dedicated to promoting and supporting the use of Direct Instruction programs. That support includes conferences, publications, on-line networking and assistance, and two semi-annual publications Direct Instruction News and The Journal of Direct Instruction.

Videos on Direct Instruction on YouTube

The Institute For Literacy and Learning
This website has overheads and sound files of eminent researchers discussing evidence-based instructional interventions for struggling readers, young and old, including:
Dr. Deb Glaser - "Planning Professional Development for Positive Reading Success and Growth"
Dr. Rollanda O'Connor - "Teaching Older Poor Readers to Read words"
Dr. Jan Hasbrouck - "Using Assessment Data for RTI Decisions"
Dr. Sharon Vaughn - "Teaching Older Students with Reading Difficulties"
Dr. Randy Sprick - "Introduction to School-wide and Classroom Discipline: Getting the Year off to a Great Start"
Dr. Ed Shaprio - "RTI: What's Working?"
Dr. Louisa Moats - "Teaching Those Who Teach Reading: How We Develop Expertise"
Dr. Joe Torgesen - "Interventions for Struggling Adolescent Readers"
Dr. Barbara Foorman - "Early Interventions for Struggling Readers"
Dr. Marilyn Jager Adams - "Soliloquy Learning Reading Assistant "
Dr. Jan Hasbrouck - "Collaborative Coaching"
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