R2L is based on the principle of preparing learners to succeed with learning tasks. Learning is effective when tasks are done successfully. To prepare effectively, teachers must understand the nature of each task. Most learning tasks in school involve language, especially written language. When a task is done successfully, it may be elaborated with a higher level of understanding. These three steps in learning cycles are called Prepare, Task, Elaborate.
The second R2L principle is that every learner in a class must be supported to succeed at the same level of learning tasks, no matter what their abillity. Differentiation is in the level of support that learners receive, not in the level of tasks they are given. This is how R2L works to close the gap.
In the first years of school, R2L strategies support all children to become independent readers and to write successful texts. Reading aloud story books and other texts to the whole class, teachers using R2L cover all the skills involved in reading and writing, such as comprehension, word recognition, spelling, letter formation, sentence construction and story writing. In middle and upper primary school years, R2L supports all children to read and write stories for pleasure, to learn from reading and writing factual texts, and to evaluate issues and points of view in their reading and writing. They use texts in the subject areas that the class is studying, to teach skills in reading and writing, at the same time as learning the content of each subject area. They support all students to read and write texts at the same high level. In this way they ensure that all students are ready to succeed in secondary school.
In the secondary school, the strategies support all students to learn the content of each curriculum area through reading and writing. They enable teachers to balance the curriculum demands for ‘covering the content’, with teaching the skills that students need to independently learn the curriculum from reading and writing.
In R2L all the skills in reading and writing are brought together in the sequence of activities we have described. This applies to all stages of school. The sequence is shown here in the shape of a butterfly, that starts and ends with whole texts, and focuses on details of language in the middle.
The R2L sequence always starts with preparing and reading whole texts, where the focus of learning is on what the text is about. Short passages are then chosen for a detailed reading, when the focus is understanding in depth and detail. One or more sentences are then used for sentence making, spelling and sentence writing, which focus on basic skills in reading and writing, such as word recognition, grammar, spelling and hand writing. Joint rewriting then uses short passages to focus on using the patterns of written language. Finally, joint construction focuses on how to write whole texts.
These skills in spelling, word recognition, reading and writing are at a much higher level than the syllabus for the early years. This is because the syllabus only expects children to spell and recognise very simple words. But real stories in the early years contain all kinds of words with complex spelling. The R2L strategies are designed so that every child can read and write these stories. That means they must learn to recognise and spell all the words in the stories. Many of these are above what the syllabus expects.
In the early years, R2L strategies are different in important ways from standard literacy methods. The standard methods begin with memorising letters of the alphabet, then blends of letters called ‘phonics’, and then common written words, called ‘sight words’. Instead of starting with the bits of written language and building up to meaning, R2L strategies start with meaning, and all the parts of language flow from understanding meanings.
One of the most important literacy activities in the early years is Shared Book Reading, where the teacher reads a story, and talks about it with children, again and again until every child understands it and can say many of the words along with the teacher. This is just what parents do with children when they read at home, expect the teacher must do it with her whole class. R2L strategies ensure that every child is fully included in this process.
Once every child understands and can say sentences along with the teacher, they can learn to recognise the written words that they can already say. This is done with an activity called Sentence Making. The teacher writes a sentence children know from the story on a cardboard strip, and guides the children to point at each word as they say it. This only takes a few repetitions for each child, until they can all point and say each word. Then the teacher guides them to cut the words up, mix them up, and put them together again. After doing this a few times, every child can put the sentence together and read it accurately. They can recognise and say every word in the sentence.
The next activity is Spelling. The teacher guides children to cut up words from the sentence into groups of letters, that show how the words are spelt. The children practise writing these groups of letters on little whiteboards, as the teacher guides them. This is also how they learn the alphabet. After doing this a few times, they learn to spell each word accurately. They also learn letters and spelling patterns that will help them to read and write other words later.
Once all the children can spell the main words in the sentence, the next activity is Sentence Writing. The teacher guides them to write the whole sentence on their whiteboards, using their memory of the words and spelling. The next day, each of these activities may be done on another sentence from the story, and then on another story. Very quickly, every child learns to recognise dozens of written words, spell them accurately, and read and write whole sentences and texts.
It is essential that children can read and write independently to be ready for the next stage of learning in school, which is learning how to learn from reading. One important factor about knowledge in school is that it comes in different kinds of texts, including stories, factual texts and persuasive texts. Factual texts describe things, explain how things happen, and tell us how to do activities like recipes. Persuasive texts argue about issues, and also evaluate books, films, art and music in reviews. These are all part of the syllabus in middle and upper primary years, so children need to learn how to read and write these different kinds of texts.
R2L uses different kinds of teaching strategies for each kind of text. The first step is an activity called Preparing for Reading. This is like Shared Book Reading, because the teacher explains what to expect in the text before it is read. With stories, the teacher gives a summary of the story and then reads it aloud. The summary helps all children to follow as it is read, without struggling to understand.
With factual texts, the teacher gives a summary, but then reads it one paragraph at a time. After each paragraph is read, she may guide children to highlight key information in the paragraph, in their own copies, and talk about what it means. Preparing for Reading enables every child in a class to understand texts as they are read. That means they are learning school knowledge from reading together, at the same time as they learn how to learn from reading.
After reading a whole text, the next strategy teaches children how to read it in depth and detail. This is called Detailed Reading. Each child has a copy of a passage from the text and a highlighter. The teacher guides them to highlight each chunk of meaning in each sentence, and talk about what they mean. These chunks of meaning are groups of words in the sentence. After the Detailed Reading, every child is able to read the passage fluently.
Next, the class may do Sentence Making, Spelling and Sentence Writing on some sentences from the reading passage. These activities reinforce their understanding of meanings and grammar, and also practise spelling and handwriting skills. They also prepare the children for writing, because they can use the cut-up words to make new sentences.
The next activity is called Rewriting where the teacher guides the class to write a new passage, using the same language as the passage they have been reading. If it is a story, they use the same sentence structures to write a new story, with new characters and events. This teaches the children how to borrow the language of authors in their own writing. It rapidly improves the writing of all students in a class. Children take turns to write the new story on the board, with the teacher’s help. If it is a factual text, notes are made from the words that were highlighted in the reading text. The children take turns to write the notes on the board, while other children read them the highlighted words in their reading texts. This joint notemaking is an important activity that teaches cooperation, as well as reading, writing and spelling skills. The teacher then guides the class to write new sentences using the notes. Again, children take turns to write the new sentences on the board.
The last activity is called Joint Construction which prepares children for writing a whole story or factual text. It is like Rewriting, but instead of a short passage, the class practises writing a whole text. Instead of rewriting sentences from the reading text, Joint Construction concentrates on how to organise the whole text. If it is a story, a well written story is used as a model, and the teacher guides the class to write a new story on the board with the same structure as the model. If it is a factual text, notes are made on the board, and the teacher guides the class to write a new text from the notes.
While Rewriting helps children to build up their language skills, Joint Construction helps them to organise their writing. After these activities, children write their own texts independently. We have found that all children in a class can write much better than they could before. Preparing for Reading and Detailed Reading help children to read with understanding. Sentence Making, Spelling and Sentence Writing help them with grammar, spelling and handwriting skills.
In the secondary school, R2L strategies support all students to learn the content of each curriculum area through reading and writing. They use the texts that students are expected to read in each subject area, to guide them to learn through reading, and to demonstrate what they have learnt in writing. They enable teachers to balance the curriculum demands for ‘covering the content’, with teaching the skills that students need to independently learn the curriculum from reading and writing. They are designed to ensure that all students are well prepared for further education after school.
R2L supports all students to read literary texts with understanding, to recognise the language choices of authors, and use them in their own narrative writing. They guide students to evaluate literary texts, arts and music, using appropriate language and text structures.
R2L has a set of strategies for supporting students to read maths word problems, to read and write technical definitions and explanations, and to succeed with maths processes at each stage of the secondary maths curriculum. The science, technology, engineering, mathematics and PE strategies support students to become independent learners, by teaching curriculum content through reading curriculum texts. They also teach students to read technical language and use it in their writing, and to construct technical texts such as experiment reports, case studies and design briefs. R2L strategies for teaching secondary science and maths are demonstrated in a series of videos, with accompanying resources, on the NSW education department website here.