The ‘high reliability literacy teaching procedures to building students’ literacy knowledge

John Munro

Background to this approach to literacy teaching

I developed this approach because, over several years I noticed that existing literacy education programs were ineffective for some students,  for several reasons:

  • They targeted literacy teaching activities,  rather than what students need to learn to do,  in order to comprehend text.
  • They did not specify explicitly what teachers needed to say /do in their interactions with students to build literacy.
  • They did not build literacy as a key aspect of learning generally and they did not see it as a ‘platform’ or ‘service knowledge’ for other areas of learning.
  • Teachers did not have a clear idea of what literacy knowledge actually ‘looked like’,  and could not,  therefore, see it in their teaching.  They had difficulty identifying and monitoring its growth and the literacy progress of their class.
  • Teachers tended to focus on literacy outcomes and were not clear on how to teach the actions readers need to do to achieve the outcomes.
  • Teachers were not clear on how to teach literacy knowledge in a developmental way that allowed students to gradually automatize aspects of their knowledge in systematic,  explicit way.  Many did not understand its relationship with oral language knowledge.
  • Teachers had difficulty embedding new literacy teaching procedures in their practice in a sustained and permanent way.
  • Contemporary research on the acquisition of literacy knowledge,  literacy education,  professional learning and school improvement were often not used as a basis for improving literacy education provision in schools.


This approach was intended to target these aspects.   The implementation needed to involve a number of components.  These are the bold headings in the following sections.

A clear assumption re what literacy is :  that literacy is the knowledge,  skills (or strategies,  cognitive actions),   and attitudes readers use to convert written text information to knowledge about the text.

The reading comprehension process, for example,  is conceptualised as involving two phases: the reader

  • represents or constructs a model of a text using what they know both about the topic of the text and a range of thinking strategies; the ‘comprehending process’,  that involves ‘reading the text into the reader’s existing knowledge’.


  • thinks about and reflects on this model in various ways; the ‘comprehension process’ in which the reader uses the knowledge gained from text,  for example the reader retells,  questions,  uses,  analyses,  applies,  evaluates or infers from the representation encoded.

This assumption allows teachers to actually ‘see literacy knowledge’ in students’ behaviours,  to target it with their teaching and to monitor and assess it.   If teachers can’t ‘see’ the knowledge they intend to teaching,  their teaching is less likely to focused or directed.

What the literacy approach assumes readers do to comprehend text.

Teachers need to be clear on what they want their students to learn.   The literacy approach assumes students comprehend a written text by ‘acting’ on the text information in various ways.   The purpose of the teaching is to enhance the actions the students use and the knowledge they gain by doing this.

The types of comprehending actions are:

  • ‘getting knowledge ready’ actions that involve readers stimulating what they already know that is relevant to the text.  Key actions here include deciding the likely topic of the text, imagining what the text might tell them, the questions it might answer,  the words and sentences it might say and the comprehending actions they might use.
  • ‘while reading actions’  that readers use to ‘read the text’ into their existing knowledge.  These actions include :
  • Word actions that involve working out how to read new words and what they mean,  working out individual meanings in a context,  linking with synonyms known by the reader.
  • Sentence comprehending actions to link individual meanings into sentence meanings by paraphrasing,  parsing and visualising sentences.
  • Discourse comprehending actions to link sentence meanings into paragraph meanings by inferring from and  linking sentence meanings,  summarizing,  synthesising and deleting.
  • Topic or theme comprehending actions that involve inferring the topic,  up-dating their understanding of the topic at any time and using the topic to integrate and synthesize and predict.
  • Dispositional actions that involve inferring the intention or purpose of the topic,  the author’s disposition,  how the reader aligns their attitudes with the ideas from the text and engages emotionally with parts of the text.
  • Review and consolidation actions that involve the readers synthesising what they have learnt during the reading (new vocabulary,  ideas,  extended topic, etc), their emotional response to the activity,  their up-dated identity as readers,  their knowledge of how to read,  new language structures and encoding these in long term memory.

These actions are used in an integrated,  co-ordinated way with the reader’s existing knowledge at any time (this includes their emotional and attitudinal dispositions to reading and to themselves as readers;  their self efficacy and self identity as readers. Together this is the ‘multiple level of text processing’ (or ‘MLOTP’) model of reading

Each action delivers some knowledge about the text.  The more automatically this occurs,  the richer and more elaborated is the reader’s model/s of it. The synthesized outcome is the reader’s comprehension at any time.

The reading actions can be applied to all types of texts and task formats.

Ineffective use of these types of actions has been linked with lower reading efficiency,  difficulty learning through literacy,  and in the extreme,  has been linked with literacy learning disabilities such as dyslexia.

The teaching approach

Teachers need to be aware,  explicitly, of what the intended teaching should look like,  both in terms of what is taught,  how and when (that is,  how to organise the teaching in ‘classroom activity’ time).

What is taught  The teaching approach comprises a number of literacy teaching procedures that teach each of the reading comprehending actions explicitly.   Together they are called ‘high reliability literacy teaching procedures’ or HRLTPs because their effectiveness is widely supported by research.

The teaching procedures teach the students explicitly to

1.             ‘get their knowledge ready’ for reading. This includes

  • using their relevant experiential knowledge and visualise ideas that may be mentioned in the text
  • using their existing verbal knowledge to map their relevant imagery knowledge into sentences and
  • bridging their existing knowledge to the text they will read.


2.             use ‘reading the text aloud’ strategies  so that they encode it in their thinking spaces.

3.             decide the topic and disposition of the text they are reading.

4.             comprehend the vocabulary in the text; to recognize and use the letter clusters that make up the written words, to recall the meanings of known words and to work out what unfamiliar words mean, suggest synonyms for them and work out how to say them .

5.             comprehend sentences in the text by using actions such as paraphrasing and visualising the meanings of sentences .

6.             link sentences in the text by suggesting the key questions answered by sentences,  inferring from sentences,  ‘thinking ahead’.

7.             summarize a paragraph and then a set  of paragraphs.

8.             consolidate and review what they have read and automatize key text knowledge and content knowledge.

These teaching procedures guide students to learn the corresponding comprehending reading actions or strategies.   The students learn to use the actions as tools for understanding and learning from the text they read.

How each action is taught.   These actions can be taught on a whole class basis,  in small groups,  or individually. They can be taught during English,  reading or  literacy in primary schools and can also be used to teach topic knowledge.  In secondary schools they can be used to teach the content in each subject area,  for example,  science,  technology,  art,  physical education,  etc.

Teachers teach each comprehending action or strategy in a systematic way and guide the students to automatize how they use each.  Teaching sequence:  students

  • are scaffolded to use the strategy
  • describe it in words (so that they can transfer it) and evaluate how it helps them (to increase their motivation to use it in the future)
  • say that they will use the strategy before they begin to read a text;  this is to cue themselves in to comprehending the text
  • practise applying the strategy more wisely
  • link the strategy with other strategies they know.


In any lesson the actions are developed in three phases in terms of  ‘classroom activity’ time:

  • Orienting :  students learn to ‘get their existing knowledge ready’ for learning and reading about a topic
  • While learning and reading :  students learn new ideas while being scaffolded /directed to use particular literacy actions
  • Consolidating,  reviewing and automatizing:  students consolidate the new knowledge they have learnt and also what they have learnt about written text and literacy.


How teachers and schools learn to implement the literacy teaching.

Schools and teachers needed to see that the teaching approach is supported by a professional learning program that equips schools and teachers to implement the literacy program explicitly.    The professional learning program has been extensively trialed,  evaluated and modified.  It is described in part in some of the articles mentioned in a later section. Aspects include:

  • Training a group of staff to lead the implementation in the school (leaders of professional learning)
  • Training for school leaders
  • Training for classroom teachers
  • A three-tier implementation strategy that involves the identification of literacy improvement each term for teachers,  students and school leaders,  a explicit professional learning program each term and a weekly implementation plan
  • Explicit data gathering re student literacy outcomes,  student use of actions,  teachers’ use of literacy teaching procedures and data re instructional leadership for literacy  for school leaders.


On line materials that support the literacy approach and its implementation in schools

Schools and teachers need to see how the teaching approach fits with other contemporary innovations in literacy curriculum in Australia.   education and is supported by on-line materials.

The literacy learning continuum  The types of reading comprehending actions taught in the approach form the basis of the VELS English curriculum in reading,  writing and speaking and listening.   You can see the continuum of learning in each area at     The types of comprehending actions are described as ‘indicators of progress’  for each six monthly increment in reading knowledge.  Dr Munro was contracted by the Department of Education and Early Childhood Development to design this developmental sequence in 2006 for all schools in the state of Victoria.

The Language Disorders Program  Dr Munro designed and developed the Language Disorders Program for the DEECD.  This is professional development program that provides teachers and schools with the knowledge and skills needed to teach oral language as a basis for learning in other areas.   The link for this resource is

Resources to support students with Reading Difficulties and Dyslexia.  Dr Munro was contacted by the Department of Education and Early Childhood Development to design a set of online resources to assist teachers and parents to help support students with reading difficulties and dyslexia.
The resources include practical ways to identify the nature of a student’s reading difficulty and focused teaching strategies that can be used to support the development of a student’s reading skills. The strategies will help to support and monitoring a student’s learning and progress in reading.  The link to this resource is
Examples of the teaching being implemented   You can see the teaching procedures being implemented in regular classroom teaching at

Link to videos:
John Munro introduction
Teaching examples
Karen –
Connie –
Lillian –
Alison –

These are available to any school or teacher interested in seeing the HRLTPs actually being implemented in classrooms.

Examples of the professional learning materials   A set of professional learning materials to support and guide the development of teacher knowledge has been developed. This set of web pages supports the implementation of the HRLTPs in a major school improvement project in the Northern Metropolitan Region of Melbourne.   You can see:

  • examples of the professional learning resource materials used to guide teacher learning and to assist teachers  and schools to implement each HRLTP in a systematic way at page 1.



  • articles that report the effectiveness of the literacy teaching in individual schools in this region in published in international education journals in a section below.

Professional learning for teachers to lead the literacy learning.   Teachers trained in the in Masters of Education Early Literacy Intervention,  designed and implemented by Dr Munro at the University of Melbourne have trialed aspects of the HRLTPs in action research studies.  You can see over 400 teacher reports of this trialing of literacy teaching procedures with underachievers at and click on Research projects or Teaching strategies and then follow the direction to the total list of projects.  Many schools in Australia use this set of reports as an integral part of their annual professional learning. 

These research reports also provide additional evidence for the validity of the HRLTPs and support their use in classrooms.

Guidance with diagnosing individual students’  literacy problems.  Many schools and teachers use the Checklist for identifying reading difficulties at

Published articles written by Professor Munro to assist classroom teachers to improve aspects of their literacy teaching.  The following published articles can be located at and click on Literacy Learning Disabilities and then Literacy Learning Disabilities: Teaching :

  • Sample lesson plans to demonstrate the high reliability literacy teaching procedures.
  • High reliability literacy teaching procedures: A means of fostering literacy learning across the curriculum in secondary schools?
  • What is a useful way of conceptualising the multiple demands of reading.
  • What do we mean by phonological and phonemic awareness?
  • Integrating phonological, semantic, phonic and orthographic teaching
  • Effective literacy intervention strategies Parts 1-3: A model for fluent reading, The developmental pathway and Characteristics and causes of reading difficulties.
  • Effective literacy intervention strategies Part 4 : A diagnostic pathway for reading difficulties.
  • Effective Literacy Intervention Strategies   Part 5 : Intervention strategies.


Evidence that the literacy program has research support.

Schools and teachers need to know that the approach to literacy and to literacy teaching is supported by research.

Published articles written by Professor Munro that describe the research that underpin the literacy program. The following published articles can be located at and click on Literacy Learning Disabilities and then Literacy Learning Disabilities: Research:

  • Multiple factors cause early reading difficulties.
  • How much phonological knowledge to learn to read?
  • What is dyslexia?


Published articles written by Professor Munro that report research examining the teaching innovations. The following published articles can be located at and click on Literacy Learning Disabilities and then Literacy Learning Disabilities: Teaching.

  • A comparison of three literacy intervention options for Year 2 students who are at risk of experiencing ongoing reading difficulties. (Munro, 2006).
  • Literacy improvement is possible in a secondary school.
  • The Bellfield literacy story: Literacy improvement in a primary school.


Evidence that supported the professional learning and the leadership aspects of the implementation of the literacy program

Schools and teachers want to know about the professional learning program and the involvement of staff  (teachers,  teacher leaders and school leaders) in it.   Published articles written by Professor Munro that describe the professional learning framework and the leadership aspects of the implementation of the literacy program are located at   and then click on Leading Professional Learning.  The articles include

  • School leaders need to be knowledge savvy but what do they need to know?
  • Leading the learning edge.
  • Building a professional learning capacity in a school : A key component of the knowledge of effective school leaders in the Twenty-first Century
  • Leading literacy learning: Some key questions to guide the leadership.
  • Coaching -A learning based approach.
  • Professional Coaching – A case study.
  • A blueprint for guiding professional learning.
  • Pedagogic capital and practice.
  • Leading professional learning.
  • Learning more about learning improves teacher effectiveness.

Additional articles describe how a school can improve its literacy teaching by becoming a professional learning community.   Articles can be accessed at and click Leading Learning Communities.  Articles include

  • Leading learning communities.
  • Implementing a learning community.
  • Fostering school improvement through the leadership of learning.