Million-dollar boost for children's literacy

La Trobe University’s renowned Science of Language and Reading (SOLAR) Lab has partnered with the Australian Education Research Organisation (AERO) to carry out ground-breaking research to advance early reading instruction in schools.

The partnership will expand the successful SOLAR Lab offerings, to examine the impact of specialist school-based coaching for teachers alongside professional learning courses and high-quality resources for teaching practice.

After a successful pilot coaching program that delivered support and training to teachers across eight Victorian schools, the AERO partnership will expand the SOLAR Lab’s reach to twenty schools, using a semi-randomised controlled trial methodology to measure impact. The project includes $1.5 million to fund SOLAR Lab professional learning and coaching over two years, with further contributions from both partners to complete the research.

La Trobe University’s Professor Pamela Snow and Associate Professor Tanya Serry founded the SOLAR Lab in 2020, collaborating with researchers, teachers, school leaders and allied health professionals to integrate evidence-based learning approaches into classroom practice to promote success in reading, writing, and spelling.

According to recent data, an alarming number of Australian students are falling behind with their learning. In fact, recent NAPLAN results show one in three students are failing to reach expectations in reading and writing.

Associate Professor Tanya Serry said the funding will support an examination of the overall effectiveness of coaching for teachers, as well as identifying which aspects of teacher coaching and professional support are most successful in the classroom.

“We have seen terrific success with our SOLAR Lab program so far and this partnership enables us to measure the impact of our work and expand our reach into additional schools. Literacy is a fundamental life skill, and this project has a focus on the first three years of school which are critical to children learning to read and write,” Professor Serry said.

Professor Pamela Snow said that recent NAPLAN data, which showed that over 30 per cent of Victorian Year 3 students were not reading proficiently, highlights the need for exemplary evidence-based professional learning and support for educators.

“How reading is taught is critically important. When taught well, most students will read proficiently after three years of school with just a small percentage needing extra support. At present this is not the case.  Victorian schools can choose their own approach to reading instruction, so some students experience exemplary, evidence-based instruction, while others are exposed to less effective methods, that don’t explicitly teach novice readers to ‘crack’ the alphabetic code,” Professor Snow said.

Professor Joanna Barbousas, Dean of the La Trobe School of Education welcomed the partnership.

“The collaboration between the Australian Education Research Organisation (AERO) and the School of Education at La Trobe University shows a shared commitment to developing evidence-based research that makes a difference to young learners in our Schools,” Professor Barbousas said.

Read more about the SOLAR Lab