Fresh approach to literacy research, teacher education programs, and expert reading benefits student outcomes

Claire Halliday
Claire Halliday

Australian Catholic University’s Australian Centre for the Advancement of Literacy aims to benefit school students through cutting-edge research, enhanced teacher education programs and a new literacy clinic.

With one of the largest concentrations of reading researchers in the world, as well as being Australia’s largest provider of teachers, ACU Executive Dean of Education and Arts Professor Mary Ryan says the institution has positioned itself at the forefront of efforts to improve students’ literacy, with the centre’s renowned academics and their rigorous research was being used to inform ACU’s education courses. She says strategies set by the new ACU Literacy Clinic will help students in need of literacy support.

“We have created a powerful nexus between our expertise and research, our teaching programs, and the clinic to ensure everything we do and teach is evidence-based and effective,” Professor Ryan says.

“It is this triangulation that will ensure we use our leading research and expertise to enhance our teaching courses and provide hands-on help for those in need of more intensive literacy interventions.”

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Centre Director Professor Rauno Parrila says ACU teaching courses had been strengthened by a more in-depth focus on evidence-based reading strategies, including systematic and explicit phonics instruction.

Upskilling teachers to boost student literacy outcomes

Professor Parrila says two certificate programs were also available for existing teachers to upskill in the areas of evidence-based reading and writing instruction including a focus on phonics and spelling, and comprehension.

“It is important that the teachers of the future, as well as current teachers, receive high-quality training and ongoing professional learning underpinned by scientific knowledge and solid research,” Professor Parrila says.

The new not-for-profit clinic would translate research findings into practice to support children and young people who had difficulties with reading and spelling, he says.

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“Centre staff are conducting cutting-edge research on the typical and atypical acquisition of reading and spelling, their assessment and remediation. The clinic is a key part of this cycle of research and practice.”

Early intervention changes lives

Clinic inaugural Director Professor Saskia Kohnen says the new service provided in-person and online assessments and interventions for Australian children with reading and spelling difficulties.

Professor Kohnen says evidence-based professional learning opportunities for teachers and clinicians was also available, with plans to develop online literacy resources for parents and educators.

“We have a stellar team of clinicians and researchers. As a university-based clinic, our assessments and interventions are based on existing evidence, but as literacy researchers, this means we are agile. We adapt our approach to newly emerging science and always ensure that we cater to the needs of individual children,” Professor Kohnen says.

She says the connection between the Australian Centre for the Advancement of Literacy, the ACU Literacy Clinic, and ACU’s teaching programs is unique.

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“We are educating future teachers using scientific knowledge and implementing evidence-based interventions to assist children who have not reached their literacy goals. The science is at the core of what we do,” she says.

“Being a university clinic also means we can use data and observations to contribute to the scientific knowledge and fill evidence gaps. It’s a beautiful cycle of scientific support to the clinic, information back, and effective literacy teaching practices and instruction for future educators.”

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Claire Halliday has an extensive career as a full-time writer - across book publishing, copywriting, podcasting and feature journalism - for more than 25 years. She lives in Melbourne with children, two border collies and a grumpy Burmese cat. Contact: claire.halliday[at]