Effective literacy instruction in our primary schools is essential to overcoming disadvantage


Professor Pamela Snow from the SOLAR Lab explains the causes and consequences of poor literacy instructions in our schools. If we lament the fact that currently, 30-40% of students aren’t meeting minimum literacy benchmarks, the task is to ensure every teacher in every classroom in the country teaching K-2 has access to the best knowledge and practice on how to teach literacy.

Over her career, Professor Pamela Snow has undertaken extensive research into how people end up in the youth justice, out-of-home care systems and factors leading to non-participation in mainstream education. Principal amongst the correlations are poor language and reading skills. Disadvantaged young people who don’t get good early literacy opportunities fall out early from mainstream education because they are not coping. Her research uncovered alarmingly high levels of unidentified oral language difficulties and high rates of very low literacy in these prisons and out-of-home.

This is part of what drives Professor Snow. She sees evidence-based reading instruction based on the “big six” as a powerful social justice issue. If we don’t get what happens in the earlier years of school right, the burden falls heaviest on disadvantaged children. They are often already starting from behind with oral language development but we can reverse this disadvantage if we give our teachers the right techniques or skills. Sadly, if we don’t, we end up with what Professor Snow tragically describes as the ‘school-to-prison pipeline’.

Snow’s journal article SOLAR: The Science of Learning and Reading discusses the requirement of effective literacy instruction during the pre-school years, especially for those students who have had little exposure to social and oral language experiences.

Knowledge Society CEO Elena Douglas was lucky enough to interview Professor Snow on what’s at stake with literacy in the first three years of school.