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School Literacy System Checklist

The Ontario Human Rights Tribunal's " Right to Read" report (2022) on literacy practices in Ontario public schools provides a roadmap showing how to create effective literacy systems.  I used the report's recommendations to create the "School Literacy System Checklist."  The checklist is a simple tool to help educators determine if the qualities of effective literacy systems are present or needed in their school. 

There are 5 areas that we need to consider when creating an effective school literacy system:

1. Curriculum and instruction that use evidence-based practices

2. Early screening of all students

3.  Reading interventions that are early, evidence-based, intensive, and systematic

4. Accommodations (which are not used as a substitute for teaching students to read)

5. Professional assessments (which are timely and based on clear, transparent, written criteria that focus on the student’s response to intervention)

Curriculum and Instruction

Quality            Excerpt from the Right to Read Inquiry Report               Is it in place?

Systematic and Progressive

Teachers’ instruction in letter-sound relationships and how to use these to read words should be planned and sequential so that children have time to learn, practice and master them.

Access to evidence-based curriculum and programs

Teachers need to be provided with an evidence-based curriculum and programs that lay out the scope and sequence of phonics instruction best suited to developing readers, and instructional routines and lesson plans that can build confidence in their phonics teaching. This frees the teacher from scrambling to develop what and how they will teach each day, to focusing on teaching it well, and gauging students’ progress.

Explicit instruction in phonemic awareness

The National Reading Panel found that teaching two phonemic awareness skills (blending and segmentation) had stronger effects than teaching more and varied phonological awareness skills. Critically, incorporating letters as early as possible, when students have learned grapheme-phoneme associations, into instruction teaching children how to blend and segment phonemes, is more effective for increasing children’s phonemic awareness, decoding, and spelling skills.

Explicit instruction in phonics

High-quality, systematic phonics work means teaching beginner readers:

  • Grapheme/phoneme (letter/sound) correspondences (the alphabetic principle) in a clearly defined, incremental sequence

  • To apply the skill of blending phonemes in order as they sound out each grapheme

  • To segment words into their constituent phonemes to spell out the graphemes that represent those phonemes.[669]

Phonological awareness teaching begins in pre-kindergarten

It is taught through methods “such as singing and learning nursery rhymes, learning to recognize and produce rhyming words, and playing with the chunks of sound that make up words, like syllables and beginning sounds.”

Phonological awareness taught in kindergarten

The evidence is clear that instruction in phonological awareness, letter knowledge and sounds, and simple decoding should be included in daily instruction for all Kindergarten students.


Students need to develop the critical phonemic awareness skills of identifying phonemes in the beginning, end and middle of words, and then blending and segmenting individual phonemes in words


Kindergarten students should “be taught, using engaging and age-appropriate methods, letter names and letter-sound associations, and how to use these to read simple words.


instruction in phonemic awareness, sound-letter knowledge and phonics

Alphabetic knowledge taught kindergarten

Alphabetic knowledge: For children just starting formal schooling, teachers need to provide instruction and activities that help all students learn the letter names, sounds and shapes and to start printing. Teachers can help children have fun with building their alphabet knowledge.


Teach using explicit instruction, morphology, word families, and multisensory teaching methods

Teaching strategies for reading comprehension

“...teaching cognitive strategies [was found] to be an effective component of reading comprehension instruction.”

Teachers are trained in effective reading instruction practices

What good reading teachers need to know:

  1. Knowing the basics of reading psychology and reading development

  2. Understanding language structure for both word recognition and language comprehension

  3. Applying best practices concerning all components of reading instruction

  4. Using validated, reliable, efficient assessments to inform classroom teaching

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Ineffective Instructional Practices

Remove these if they are in your system.

3 Cueing System

Reading science does not support approaches that rely on teaching children to read words using discovery and inquiry-based learning such as cueing systems.

In Place?

Balanced Literacy

“…balanced literacy proposes that immersing students in spoken and written language will build foundational reading skills – but significant research has not shown this to be effective for learning to read words accurately and efficiently.”

In Place?

Levelled Books

"Decodable books are preferrable to levelled books because they allow new readers to develop their decoding skills rather than their guessing skills" (Audet).

In Place?