Tread lightly: the cement is not quite dry

Dr Christine Braid, Tātai Angitu, Massey University


Part One of Tread lightly discussed the tentative nature of research and the difficulty that presents for practice. Part two is for those interested in considering how to implement literacy with a treading lightly approach. It is a tentative approach. The table shows some key ideas in literacy, and briefly outlines what we know, and what we might need to keep thinking about. The treading lightly section suggests how we might approach the thinking in our practice, using the evidence.

The table is not a definitive document but an invitation to learn more. I hope it shows that there is a way forward that involves considering what research tells us for practice even if not in absolutes. I know I have to challenge myself to read beyond things that just confirm what I think is right and walk in the uncomfortable place of reading things that challenge.

There are many other ideas that could be explored and the ideas here are an example of exploring the tensions and possible solutions.


Debbie Hepplewhite about the balance of explicit and incidental teaching

Kearns, D 2020 Does English have useful syllable division patterns

Syllable types may add to cognitive load and the role of morphemes


Berninger, V, & James, K. (2019). Why handwriting should be taught in the age of computers.

Castles, A., Rastle, K., & Nation, K. (2018). Ending the reading wars: Reading acquisition from novice to expert. Psychological Science in the Public Interest, 19(1), 5-51. doi:10.1177/1529100618772271

Dehaene, S. (2019). Reading in the brain. New York: Penguin.

Ehri, L. (2022). What teachers need to know and do to teach letter-sounds, phonemic awareness, word reading, and phonics

Ehri, L. (2020). Reading Research Quarterly, 55(S1) pp. S45–S60 | doi:10.1002/rrq.334

Gentry, R. J. (2004). The science of spelling: The explicit specifics that make great readers, writers (and spellers). Heinemann.

Seidenberg, M. S., & McClelland, J. L. (1989). A distributed, developmental model of word recognition and naming. Psychological Review, 96(4), 523-568. doi:10.1037//0033-295x.96.4.523

Shanahan, T. (2023).,is%2C%20thinking%20about%20thinking).

Share, D. L. (2008). Orthographic learning, phonological recoding, and self-teaching. Advances in Child Learning and Behaviour, 36, 31-82. doi:10.1016/S0065-2407(08)00002-5

Solity, J., & Vousden, J. (2009). Real books vs reading schemes: A new perspective from instructional psychology. Educational Psychology, 29(4), 469-511. doi:10.1080/01443410903103657

Steacy, L. (2022).

Tunmer, W. E., & Chapman, J. W. (2012). The simple view of reading redux: Vocabulary knowledge and the independent components hypothesis. Journal of Learning Disabilities, 45, 453-466. doi:10.1177/0022219411432685

Venezky, R. L. (1999). The American way of spelling: The structure and origins of American English orthography. New York: Guilford Press.


Tread lightly: the cement is not quite dry

Dr Christine Braid, Tātai Angitu, Massey University – August 2023


Knowing how to best teach for literacy success is a careful walk of combining research and practice. As a practitioner, I want to know what to do. As a researcher, I want to find the next small step and the next big question.  As a practitioner based in research, I aim to guide teachers in what is best for their learners.  However, the conundrum is that research is ever evolving and it can be very hard to be definitive about what to do in practice. Research is cumulative and a scientific approach involves being open to not knowing and to keep on looking.

The experience of hearing researchers at the Society of the Scientific Studies of Reading conference (2023) made me think that following the research can sometimes be a walk along a newly cemented pathway. Researchers present tentative results and fledgling ideas. If we tread too boldly with too definitive an approach based on early results or one interpretation, we may become locked in a method that is later proved wanting. A narrow interpretation of the research puts us in danger of becoming stuck in the way previous methods are now accused of being stuck.

Taking a tentative approach does not mean we don’t change the way we teach. It is important we keep open in our practice in teaching literacy as we find the best way for our learners. My personal experience with changing how I understand the teaching of reading is a story of being open to change (eventually), an experience that I have referred to as unstitching some of my teaching DNA. But we also need to be cautious of our new knowledge and our excitement with it and beware of narrow interpretations that might result in getting stuck.

The notion that nobody knows everything is a helpful one. The fact we don’t know everything is not a hopeless cause nor an invitation to do whatever we like. There are some things we can know and do with confidence. There are other things we should approach more tentatively and with a light step. As much as we want a very clear pathway, following a narrow pathway can be counter to best practice that stands the test of time. We have seen this happen before.

The research to practice pathway has some cement already dry and other newer pathways that we need to approach tentatively. There are some non-negotiables. We must teach children to decode successfully and this involves explicit teaching. It is likely that a scope and sequence, and decodable texts help in establishing mastery of the early patterns for all learners and is an essential approach for those with any difficulty. We know handwriting and spelling have a vital role in writing outcomes and that handwriting affects both spelling and reading acquisition. We must give many opportunities for children to develop strong oral language, including vocabulary and sentence structure. We know background knowledge is important to understanding a wide range of texts.

But there are many ideas that are more tentative. The number of spelling patterns that need to be taught before self-teaching begins is unknown, but self-teaching must occur for efficient and sustained learning. How long we need to use decodable texts for is an under-researched area so we must tread carefully with guidelines. It is not clear the role that explicit teaching of syllables plays and whether this teaching is confusing for some learners. Some researchers advocate for phonological awareness tasks without letters, while others state that phonological is best taught with the letters. These are just a few of the ideas I have heard arguments about and loud voices can crowd out healthy discussion and make experienced and capable teachers feel they can no longer trust the teacher they have been.

For a successful change to literacy practice, we must be careful not to get locked into ideas that haven’t set yet. We can hold opinions gently to bring others along and to give ourselves the chance to continue growing. We need practitioners who try out resources and continue to watch and think and respond to their learners as they implement new practices. Teachers deserve to have their experience and expertise valued. They must have licence to question and they need support to keep on finding out. We all do.

The approach of not knowing may be uncomfortable for those of us who are more of the practitioner. For researchers, it is just one more step. We do know some things about how to teach reading and writing but we can’t know everything. No-one can. As practitioners, I hope we can remind ourselves to tread lightly on cement that might not be quite dry so that our practice can stand the test of time for the sake of our learners.


My journey with te reo Māori Part 2

Driven by my own interest in learning languages and being a committed Facilitator at Tātai Angitu, which is part of a Tiriti led University, last year I enrolled in Te Ara Reo Māori (level 1& 2), a course run by Te Wānanga o Aotearoa, to study the Māori language and enhance my language competency. The one-year course constituted of a three-hour face to face class every week, a one-day wananga every two months, and four noho Marae. For me, the language course offered a dynamic and organic way of learning with face-to-face sessions complimented by an online anytime, anywhere learning space, ‘Akorau’. I enjoyed my course to such an extent that even while holidaying in India, I attended a couple of classes through Zoom. The entire course was well resourced with study materials, interesting quiz/kahoot sessions, and interactive activities aimed at enhancing the language.

As a person who thrives on social contact and kōrero, the kanohi ki te kanohi experience was the most influential aspect in helping me to learn the language. At the beginning of the course, I was a bit apprehensive of my own competencies and capabilities of learning the language in a classroom space with other tauira. However, as the year proceeded, I was comfortable with my classmates and my Matua, and found the class a safe space to unpack my own understandings of te reo Māori and explore more avenues.

At the end of this language course, I see myself humbled by the long road of learning ahead of me. If you ask me what I learnt so far, I will reply with a quote from my mother tongue Tamil- “கற்றது கைமண் அளவு, கல்லாதது உலகளவு”, “Katrathu Kai Mann Alavu, Kallathathu Ulagalavu”, meaning, what I have learnt is a mere a handful, what I haven’t learnt is the size of the world. After completing this Level 1&2 Māori language course I have come to the realisation that while it is great to have made a beginning, it is vital to keep persevering to practise what I have learnt and keep the journey of learning ongoing. I have realised that the measure of growth does not really matter – it may be small steps in the language learning journey or a giant leap, but the important factor is to keep the momentum going, keep doing. As Pere (2011, p. 107) says, “If you are operating from your own power and your own wisdom, and you are responding to gaps as they appear, you can’t have plans or strategies, you have got to adapt as you do it. If you stop to think about some strategy or strategic plan, by the time you get into that, the tornados torn through the place!”

I have miles to go, and I must keep going, but I am reminded through this whakatauki that while seeking distant horizons, I must also cherish my achievements. “Ko te pae tawhiti whāia kia tata, ko te pae tata whakamaua kia tina”.

This is me for now, with my updates on my te reo Māori journey. Ka kite ano e te whānau!

Pere, R. (2011). Standing in my own power. In K. Irwin, C. Tuuta & S. Maclean (Eds.), Mātiro Whakamua: Looking over the horizon. Wellington, New Zealand: Families Commission.

Sujatha Gomathinayagam

13 June 2023


Reading progress when using a structured approach

Dr Christine Braid, Tātai Angitu, Massey University

It is useful to consider an overall and general scope and sequence. A sequence particular to a book series is helpful, but it is important to consider a broader view when considering children’s progress.



Teachers can match the skills focus from the above progression to the decodable book series they are using. It is important to be able to say what the learning and teaching focus is for the child/group rather than just what book they are reading. Focus on the skill to teach and select the appropriate book. A teacher can also select the book from the sequence and teach the skills needed to successfully read that text.


Progress monitoring will occur at end of each book stage and within lessons. Ongoing assessments form an important part of progress monitoring and knowing when progress is concerning. Teachers can use the assessment points specific to the book series they are using.

For more standardised assessments, the following suggestions ensure we are using reliable data checks.



It is difficult to match decodable texts to non-decodable books and the colour wheel. Consider a Burt word test during Step 1c (approximately fourth term at school) and trial colour wheel books as indicated by the Burt score (eg scoring 22 on Burt equals 6 year reading age and may indicate green level). Continue with decodable texts and a systematic, explicit approach to teaching the code but consider that for some children, one of the small group lessons in the week could include expanding into less controlled texts. Select colour wheel texts that have word patterns that match the level of word pattern knowledge.

NB: When moving to colour wheel books, it is vital that students continue to use the decoding strategy of using the word patterns, just as taught for decodable texts. Do not use a 3-cue approach of looking at picture to work out unknown words.